Best of our wild blogs: 25 Jan 18

Marine BioBlitz at the Sisters Islands Marine Park
Celebrating Singapore Shores

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Mindef showcases a different shade of green

Audrey Tan Straits Times 25 Jan 18;

Green, the colour of army fatigues, camouflage-streaked faces and dense jungle canopy, is almost synonymous with the military.

But as Singapore gears up for its Year of Climate Action - which will be launched soon - the Ministry of Defence wants to showcase a different shade of green: environmentally friendly military buildings.

One of them is the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) hangar in Paya Lebar Air Base.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, in a Facebook post earlier this month, said: "Modern militaries use enormous energy to power their platforms - that's a fact.

"But wherever we can, we should try to reduce our consumption and become greener, and the most effective way to do this is through design."

Built in 2015, the RSAF hangar has water-and energy-efficient fixtures, and measures to promote the use of natural light instead of artificial light. It is also ventilated by natural airflow, instead of noisy, energy-expensive mechanical ventilation systems.

Such green building technologies are not new. But Mindef faces the unique challenge of having to balance green initiatives with operational concerns.

The hangar, for example, has to be fully enclosed so that the use of classified equipment or covert operations conducted are not compromised, said Military Expert (ME) 4 Dave Singh, 31, from the RSAF 807 Squadron at Paya Lebar Air Base.

Key to this balancing act is design, which the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) does with input from the Singapore Armed Forces.

DSTA principal architect Aw Boon Seong, 40, had collaborated with the RSAF for the design of the green hangar. He said: "One of the challenges we faced was finding out how to balance this security concern with the need to add in natural light and ventilation."

This was done in a number of ways. Translucent fibreglass panels were incorporated into the thick doors of the hangar to let in sunlight. The hangar also uses a lighting system that can track the movement of the sun across the sky, which helps to reflect sunlight into the interior.

For ventilation, the hangar was designed to tap the natural movement of air. An airflow simulation was first done to help engineers identify "hot spots", and where louvres - overlapping steel slats which let in light and air - should be placed to help heat dissipate.

In civilian developments, there are gaps between the louvres through which the interior can be seen. But for the hangar, the DSTA engineers had to design them in a way that would close off the interior completely.

Dr Ng said: "Security is maintained as the hangar is still fully enclosed. The result? Reduced electricity needs by a fourth!"

Energy savings aside, ME4 Singh said the green measures also made working within the hangar a more pleasant experience, and could help boost morale among the crew.

"In a conventional hangar, it may get stuffy despite the mechanical ventilator, which tends to be noisy. Working in a green hangar is cooler, brighter and quieter, which boosts concentration and reduces fatigue," he said.

Another military green building is a boat shed at the Republic of Singapore Navy's (RSN) Changi Naval Base, which is used for the storage and maintenance of unmanned surface vessels and specialised marine craft.

The boat shed is powered by renewable energy from the sun, which accounts for some 94 per cent of the building's total energy demand.

Mr Charles Chan, 40, programme manager for building and infrastructure at DSTA, said that as part of ongoing green efforts for Changi Naval Base, engineers will continue to explore opportunities to increase the use of solar energy to 100 per cent so that the building does not need to draw power from the grid.

Reducing overall energy demand by using energy-efficient LED lighting and tapping sunlight and natural airflow for ventilation is key to this, he added.

These measures have allowed the RSN to reap daily energy savings of 200kWh - equivalent to the daily energy requirements of 21 three-room flats.

The boat shed has a rainwater-harvesting system which saves water too. The system collects rainwater on the roof, which is used for cooling engines during vessel tests. The used water is then channelled into an underground water tank for reuse in subsequent tests.

Without such a system, about 100 cubic m of piped potable water will be used each week for such tests, said RSN's Mr Jason Chong, 58, who heads the infrastructure development branch of the Naval Plans Department. He added: "Piped seawater will cause corrosion to the pipes, while (using) potable water is wasteful and expensive, so rainwater is the best cost-saving option."

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High-octane petrol sales continue to fall

Christopher TanS Straits Times 24 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE - The use of high-octane fuel among motorists here continues to dwindle - a trend experts hail as positive for health.

According to the Department of Statistics estimates, 98-octane petrols accounted for just 25 per cent of pump sales last year (17) - down from 55 per cent in 2005.

Meanwhile consumption of 92 and 95-octane fuels climbed from 45 per cent in 2005 to reach an estimated 75 per cent last year.

The department indicated that total pump sales (petrol and diesel) have hovered around 8 million barrels per year in the last decade. One barrel is about 159 litres.

It added that the statistics were rounded to the nearest 5 per cent.

Oil industry consultant Ong Eng Tong attributed the trend to wider publicity and a better educated motoring public.

"Newspapers like The Straits Times have over the years run reports on why high-octane petrol is not necessary for most vehicles,"Mr Ong said. "The message has finally gotten through."

He added that the trend has a positive impact on human health, as the use of higher octane fuels produces more pollutants.

The rising acceptance of lower octane fuels notwithstanding, there are still motorists who lean towards 98-octane. Engineer Gay Eng Joo, 47, said his Honda Civic Type R would not operate optimally with lower octane fuels.

Businessman Leslie Chia, 52, uses 98 octane for his Audi A6 and BMW 1-series but 95 for his Maserati GranCabrio. "I was told 95 will cause 'knocking' on turbo engines," he said, referring to premature ignition which can cause power loss and lower efficiency.

Checks with BMW and Audi however, revealed that all current models from both brands can accept 95-octane fuels - even high-performance variants.

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Shark's fin to spark debate over Chinese New Year

Straits Times 24 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE - The consumption of shark's fin is controversial, but with Chinese New Year fast approaching - on Feb 16 and 17 - the ingredient will be on the shopping list of many families, and spark many debates.

Lianhe Zaobao reporter Lee Lay Ming travelled to Spain, one of the world's largest shark meat producing countries, and Taiwan, a big player in the entire shark's fin supply chain, to understand the trade and customs of people who catch, trade and consume shark.

The article first appeared in Lianhe Zaobao on Sunday (Jan 21) and is translated here by Lim Ruey Yan.

This is Ms Lee's story:


The local fishing activities are concentrated in this coastal town in north-west Spain which also has the largest fishing port in Europe.

According to data provided by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore, Spain was among the three biggest exporters of shark's fin to Singapore from 2012 to 2016. The amounts exported ranged from 692 tonnes to 1,073 tonnes.

Large-scale fish auctions are held in Vigo, and the catch includes blue sharks and mako sharks.

On a trip there last July, I visited Vigo SeaFest, organised by the Cooperative of Shipowners of the Port of Vigo. There, I sampled a meal of blue shark and mako shark - a common dish in Spain - for the first time.

Other than in Spain, people in Europe, including Italy, France and Iceland, also consume shark meat. The demand for shark meat has been rising in recent years in some South American countries, including Brazil.

While the total global import of shark's fin dropped by about 18 per cent between 2004 and 2011, the import and export of shark meat increased by an average of 4.5 per cent annually between 2000 and 2011, according to a report released by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations in 2015.

Mr Joaquin Cadilla Castro, president of Spain's Organisation of Longliners from A Guarda, said: "We should not talk only about shark's fin when discussing sharks, as shark's fin is for the 'nobles' in Asia.

"The most important part of the shark is the body, and the places which sell shark meat are the poorest parts of Europe, as the people cannot afford fish which are more expensive."

Fish wholesaler Juan Rojas, 72, who started his business at age 15, said most of the shark meat he purchases is supplied to markets in southern Spain, while some is exported to Italy.

"Shark's fin was thrown away, with no value, when I started my business. The shark's fin trade began to rise about 15 years after I started my business. The fins have extra value after China started to buy them," he added.


The shark's fin factory in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. PHOTO: LHZB
After a 48-hour trip to Vigo, I travelled to Taiwan, where there are shark's fin processing plants on the island.

Like in Spain, people here consume shark meat as well.

Mr Wu Ming-fen, the Marine Conservation Section chief at the Deep Sea Fisheries Division of the Fisheries Agency under the Council of Agriculture, said sharks are important for the Taiwanese.

"We hope for sustained availability of the shark resources, so that our descendants can eat sharks too, and our food culture can be passed down to generations," he said.

But the trade in shark's fin is on the decline.

Trader Chen Chin-cheng, 55, runs a factory in the suburbs of Kaohsiung which can produce more than 1,000 tonnes of shark's fin annually at the peak of the business. It now produces less than 200 tonnes a year.

"The outside world feels that our shark's fin industry is very glamorous, but in fact... the current profit is only 3 to 5 per cent. We are just helping the fishermen, so that the economic benefits of the sharks they catch can be stretched further," he said.

'Focus on demand for shark meat instead'
Straits Times 24 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE - The demand for shark's fin in Singapore is estimated to have dropped by more than 50 per cent over the past decade, said Mr Melvin Foo, chairman of Marine and Land Products Association (MLPA).

MLPA represents 14 traders in marine products.

Mr Foo, 62, got this figure based on feedback from restaurant owners and company shipments.

Mr Lee Chiang Howe, 55, the owner of Teochew Restaurant Huat Kee, noted that people are now eating less shark's fin, and different age groups have different attitudes about it.

"Youngsters nowadays think eating shark's fin is a kind of sin, so during festivals like Chinese New Year, grandparents who want to eat shark's fin are stopped by their grandchildren," he said.

Out of more than 400 types of sharks, only seven types of sawfish are listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) Appendix I, which means they are threatened with extinction. Trade is allowed only in exceptional circumstances.

Another 12 types of sharks are listed in Appendix II, and these sharks are not facing extinction. International trade can proceed on the condition that the survival of the shark species is not threatened.

Mr Foo said most of the shark's fin sold and bought by local traders comes from shark species not listed on Cites.

According to MLPA's estimates, 60 per cent of shark's fin in the local market is from blue sharks, 20 per cent from rig sharks, 15 per cent from school sharks and the remaining 5 per cent from silky sharks and other types of sharks.

Only silky sharks are listed in Cites' Appendix II.

MLPA said its traders abide strictly by Cites regulations and members must sell shark's fin from only sustainable sources.

Dr Robert Hueter, a senior scientist and director of the Centre for Shark Research at United States not-for-profit organisation Mote Marine Laboratory, said in an e-mail interview that more emphasis should be placed on the demand for shark meat, and the mortality of sharks.

"This is more important than just focusing on the fins," he said.

Dr Giam Choo Hoo, a consultant on international wildlife conservation and former representative for Asia at Cites, made a similar point in a letter to The Straits Times last year.

He said that Western countries and some developing countries harvest sharks for their meat, and shark conservation should focus on shark meat instead of shark's fin.

But the US Congress is currently considering a ban on the trade of shark's fin in the country.

Dr Hueter and Dr David Shiffman, a research fellow with Canada's Simon Fraser University, said banning the sale of shark's fin would not make it illegal to continue to catch and kill sharks.

It would only regulate how the parts of dead sharks can be used. They said forcing fishermen to discard fins from sharks caught in sustainably managed fisheries would contribute to wastefulness.

It may even cause fishermen to simply catch more sharks to obtain the same income they earned before the ban.

Ms Kathy Xu, 35, the founder of The Dorsal Effect, doubts people really want to eat shark meat.

Her Singapore-based eco-tourism company aims to provide shark fishermen in Indonesia's Lombok with new income sources.

She believes people feel that since the sharks have been caught and the meat is cheap, they may just as well find a use for it.

Ms Xu, who is also a volunteer at Shark Savers Singapore, said: "I feel that once you get the fin, you have to find a way to make sure that something is said for the demand of the meat so it doesn't make the fin look so bad to be wanted and be so expensive... Demand needs to stop first."

But traders and catchers are calling for sustainable trade in shark's fin to continue.

Mr Foo said: "Sustainability is very important, as it will provide the supply of raw materials which will drive the industry."

Mr Joaquin Cadilla of Spain's Organisation of Longliners from A Guarda said sustainability includes environmental, social and economic aspects, all built on a sense of responsibility.

"Fishermen nowadays have a 'new conscience'... fishing is no longer the right of a fisherman, but a right given to fishermen by society to make use of natural resources to feed a community, and this will make you fish in a responsible way," he added.

Mr Foo said: "We want to work with the conservationists, but they have their own stance and are determined to end the shark's fin business."

Singapore can play key role, say nature groups

In May 2017, global wildlife trade-monitoring network Traffic and nature group World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) released a report, quoting figures from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations between 2005 and 2013.

WWF numbers show that Singapore ranked second in the world for the import and export of shark’s fin.

Between 2012 and 2013, the total value of shark’s fin imports in Singapore reached US$51.4 million ($67 million), with exports of shark’s fin reaching US$40 million.

Traffic and WWF feel that Singapore has an important role to play in tackling the crisis, and that the authorities should adopt stricter regulations. The report set off a new round of discussions on shark’s fin in Singapore.

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Locations hit by flash floods on Wednesday are known hotspots: PUB

Today Online 25 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE — Flash floods were reported in the Western and Central parts of Singapore, after an afternoon of heavy rain on Wednesday (Jan 24).

The PUB said in a statement on Wednesday night that the flash floods occurred at three locations at around 5.15pm - Jalan Boon Lay/International Road, Craig Road and Outram Road.

According to the agency, Jalan Boon Lay/International Road, Craig Road are known flood hotspots.

It added that there are "plans for drainage improvement works at Jalan Boon Lay/International Road in tandem with upcoming development works in the area".

PUB says it is studying measures to improve the drainage at Craig Road.

"The flood at Outram Road is next to PUB’s drainage construction worksite and we are investigating further," it said.

PUB says it expects the ongoing Northeast Monsoon season to continue till March.

Members of the public who who require flood updates can find the information on PUB's Facebook or the agency's mobile app "MyWaters".

Heavy rain causes flash floods in Tanjong Pagar, Boon Lay
Channel NewsAsia 24 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: Flash floods were reported in the western and central parts of Singapore following a heavy downpour on Wednesday (Jan 24) afternoon.

National water agency PUB said in separate alerts on Wednesday that flash floods occurred at Jalan Boon Lay/International Road at 5.15pm and Craig Road at 5.16pm.

In an update late on Wednesday, PUB noted that the two areas are known flood hotspots.

"There are plans for drainage improvement works at Jalan Boon Lay/International Road in tandem with upcoming development works in the area. PUB is studying measures to improve the drainage at Craig Road," it said in a statement.

Video sent by Channel NewsAsia reader Daeun Amy Yoo showed the wheels of vehicles partially submerged in the flash flood, with water rising up to ankle level at Tanjong Pagar Road.

Photos sent in by another Channel NewsAsia reader, who wanted to remain anonymous, showed Outram Road covered in muddy water.

Barriers from a nearby construction looked to have dislodged from their positions and floated onto the middle lane of the road, obstructing vehicles.
PUB said in its statement that the flood at Outram Road took place next to the water agency's drainage construction worksite. "We are investigating further," it said.

The agency added that Singapore is still experiencing the northeast monsoon season, which is expected to continue till March.

It urged the public to exercise caution and avoid flooded areas.

Flood updates are available on PUB’s Facebook page, as well as its mobile app MyWaters.

Tanjong Pagar, Boon Lay, Outram hit with flash floods; PUB says areas are known hot spots
Ng Huiwen Straits Times 24 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE - Heavy rain caused flash floods in Craig Road, Outram Road and the junction of Jalan Boon Lay and International Road on Wednesday (Jan 24) with high flood risk reported in many other areas across Singapore.

National water agency PUB said in a statement on Wednesday night that the three locations are known hot spots, prone to flooding because of specific localised conditions.

There are plans for drainage improvement works in Jalan Boon Lay and International Road, together with upcoming development works in the area, PUB said.

The agency is studying measures to improve drainage in Craig Road, and it is investigating the flood in Outram Road, which occurred in front of the Tan Boon Liat Building next to PUB’s drainage construction worksite.

PUB first tweeted at about 5.15pm that two out of three lanes at the junction of Jalan Boon Lay and International Road were affected by flash floods.

It said that Craig Road in Tanjong Pagar was closed to traffic due to the flash floods as well.

In an update at around 5.25pm, PUB tweeted that the flash floods in Boon Lay have subsided and that traffic is passable.

PUB first tweeted at about 5.15pm that two out of three lanes at the junction of Jalan Boon Lay and International Road were affected by flash floods.

Soon after, it tweeted that Craig Road was open to traffic.

​Several areas in central and western Singapore also reported a high flood risk on Wednesday.

These include the junction of Yuan Ching Road and Yung Kuang Road, and the junction of Exeter Road and Somerset Road.

In the statement, PUB added that the north-east monsoon season is expected to continue in Singapore till March. “We urge the public to exercise caution and avoid stepping into or driving into flooded areas,” the statement said.

Craig Road flash flood: Eateries take it in stride
Lim Min Zhang Straits Times 25 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE - Wednesday's (Jan 24) flash flood in Craig Road led to an eatery in the area having to close for an hour for rainwater to clear.

However, many of the food and beverage outlets The Straits Times spoke to on Thursday said flooding is a rare occurence.

The Craig Road-Tanjong Pagar Road junction, where many F&B outlets are located, is one of the 55 areas identified by national water agency PUB as hot spots that might experience flash floods due to intense storms or specific localised conditions, such as road depressions.

One F&B establishment located at the site of the flooding said rain water flowed into the premises on Wednesday.

"The flood brought along with it leaves and cigarette butts, so we had to spend an hour clearing up the shop, even though the flood subsided in 15 minutes," said the F&B outlet's manager, who declined to be named.

"Not only could no customers come in during this period, the flood alert also discouraged people from even coming to the area," he added.

Five other eateries in the area said they did not experience flooding in their stretch of the road. However, the rain still had an impact on business.

Mr Dennis Bonaobra, 29, the manager of burger restaurant Two Blur Guys, said: "When it rains, our customers can drop by as much as 80 per cent, but it's not due to flooding (if it occurs). Rather, they are looking for something hot to drink, like soup, instead."

He added that he has not experienced water entering his restaurant during rainy days for the last three years.

A previous flash flood in the same hot spot caused by intense rain had occurred on Jan 9, affecting two lanes along a 30m stretch.

Director of PUB's catchment and waterways department Yeo Keng Soon said on Jan 17 that it is not practical to design drains to accommodate every extreme storm, as this would lead to significantly higher costs and the use of a lot more land.

Security officer Abdulaziz Taib, 64, who has worked in the Tanjong Pagar area for more than 20 years, said that flooding along the road is not common, noting that it could happen two to three times a year.

"Maybe it is not worth taxpayers' money to upgrade the drainage system if the flooding happens so rarely," he added.

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Don’t trash your old clothes, they may be able to save lives

SIAU MING EN Today Online 24 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE – Instead of throwing out that old, worn cotton T-shirt, it can now be turned into a supermaterial to help save lives, and keep drinks cool for a longer time.

In a world first, a team of researchers from the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Faculty of Engineering has found a “fast, cheap and green” way to convert cotton-based fabric waste from unwanted clothing into cotton aerogels, a highly porous and light material with strong absorption capacity and low thermal conductivity.

First created in the 1930s, commercially-produced aerogels today are usually derived from wood and glass fibre. They are used to absorb water-insoluble liquids such as oil, as well as for heat and sound insulation.

Associate Professor Hai Minh Duong, one of the lead researchers on this project, said their method of producing aerogels is more cost-efficient and quicker as compared to the commercially produced versions, which take three to seven days to produce. In comparison, cotton aerogels can also be produced within eight hours to two days, said the researchers as they unveiled their findings in a media conference on Wednesday (Jan 24). They can also be easily compressed, reducing storage and transportation costs.

Their product is also more eco-friendly, as fabric waste which is usually resold as second-hand clothes or donated to others, can now be turned into aerogels. Assoc Prof Duong also noted that Singapore disposes one tonne of textile waste every five minutes, and 92 per cent of such waste is incinerated as there is no textile recycling plant here.

“This new eco-friendly cotton aerogel is a major improvement from the aerogel that our team had previously developed using paper waste,” said Assoc Prof Duong. He added that they “will continue to explore new functions for this advanced material”.

The NUS team took more than two years to develop and patent their method, which cuts fabric waste into small pieces before blending to form recycled cotton fibres. Water and a solvent is added to the fibres before they are placed in the freezer for 24 hours. The mixture is freeze-dried to remove the water and then cured for three hours before the cotton aerogel is formed.

There are two main uses for their product. At present, haemorrhage control devices comprise a syringe filled with small capsules of cellulose-based sponge. This is inserted into a gunshot or deeply penetrating wound - which can be life-threatening - to release the capsules, which expand and apply pressure on it to stop blood flow. The pellets made from cotton aerogels developed by the NUS researchers can expand to 16 times its size in 4.5 seconds, and absorbs blood three times faster than existing pellets, said Assoc Prof Duong.

The research team also worked with DSO National Laboratories, the largest defence research and development organisation here, to develop a thermal jacket for the military canteens that soldiers use to carry fluids. The jacket, which weighs about 200 grams, comprises cotton aerogel that is sandwiched between neoprene and polyester fabrics.

This allows for the ice slurry of crushed ice and liquid water in military canteens to stay at a temperature of -2°C for four hours. Without a jacket, a canteen can only keep water cold for about 30 minutes.

Its manufacturing cost of about S$8 is also cheaper than a vacuum flask, and the thermal jacket is also lighter and more effective at heat insulation.

Professor Nhan Phan-Thien, who is also a lead researcher on the team, added that the heat insulation properties of the cotton aerogels can also be applied to other consumer product such as cooler bags to keep food items fresh.

“We also foresee tremendous potential for other high value applications, such as pipeline insulation and transportation of liquefied natural gas which needs to be stored at a low temperature,” he said.

The team is currently in talks with two companies from Singapore and the United States to commercialise the technology.

NUS researchers turn unwanted clothing into 'supermaterial'

Channel NewsAsia 24 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: A research team from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has devised a "fast, cheap and green method" to convert cotton-based fabric waste such as unwanted clothing into a type of aerogel, announced the varsity on Wednesday (Jan 24).

Aerogels can be used to keep military water bottles cold, as well as control of rapid bleeding effectively, among other uses.

They are sometimes called a "supermaterial" because they are among the lightest materials in the world, highly porous with strong absorption capacity and low thermal conductivity. However, when aerogels were first created in the 1930s, they were not widely used by industries due to the high production cost.

Scientists have since found ways to improve the manufacturing process, and the team from NUS has taken it a step further by pioneering the development of aerogels using cotton fibres harvested from textile waste.

"This new eco-friendly cotton aerogel is a major improvement from the aerogel that our team had previously developed using paper waste," said Associate Professor Hai Minh Duong, who led the team with Professor Nhan Phan-Thien.

Both are from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at NUS.

"It is highly compressible, hence storage and transportation costs could be greatly reduced. Furthermore, these cotton aerogels can be fabricated within eight hours - this is nine times faster than our earlier invention and about 20 times faster than current commercial fabrication processes. They are also stronger, making them more suitable for mass production," said Assoc Prof Duong.

The scientists have demonstrated several uses for the cotton-based aerogels including in the making of a lightweight thermal jacket for military canteens, which offers "better heat insulation performances compared to commercial insulated water bottles such as FLOE bottles". The cotton aerogel-insulated flasks are "highly comparable to that of vacuum flasks", said NUS, but are lighter and less costly.

This property of the cotton aerogels can also be applied to other products, such as cooler bags that keep food items fresh and has "tremendous potential for other high value applications such as pipeline insulation and transportation of liquefied natural gas which needs to be stored at a low temperature", said Prof Nhan.

The team also showed how the material can be used to effectively treat excessive and rapid loss of blood, which can be life-threatening. Existing haemorrhage control devices use cellulose-based sponge, which has "relatively slow" expansion and absorption rates.

NUS' cotton aerogel pellets are more effective than the sponge, with each pellet able to "expand to 16 times its size in 4.5 seconds - larger and more than three times faster than existing cellulose-based sponges - while retaining their structural integrity," said Assoc Prof Duong.

NUS said the team has filed a patent for the novel cotton aerogels and is exploring commercial opportunities.

Source: CNA/hs

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