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New Soil seeks to break new ground in land reclamation

New Soil Technologies founder and managing director Phua Lam Soon with the new earth or New Soil that has been treated so it can be used for land reclamation.
New Soil Technologies founder and managing director Phua Lam Soon with the new earth or New Soil that has been treated so it can be used for land reclamation.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Firm fits the entire treatment process for marine clay within a portable machine

Newater has become a household name for treated dirty water but less well-known is the story of "new earth" - a name first used by former national development minister Khaw Boon Wan in a blog five years ago.

New earth is basically recycled soft clay and other common construction waste that gets dug up on construction sites. When properly treated, the clay takes on the properties of a new material that can be used for land reclamation.

Mr Khaw wrote: "In most countries, excavated material is dumped on land - this takes up precious space and is also unsightly. In Singapore, we have a better way to manage such material."

Inspired by these words, local construction firm Boldtek Holdings began a journey 21/2 years ago to produce its own brand of new earth, which it calls New Soil.

Boldtek, which was listed on the Catalist board in 2013, formed the New Soil Technologies joint venture with a building materials supplier. Boldtek owns 60 per cent of the entity. One of the features that set New Soil Technologies apart is that it has been able to fit the entire marine clay treatment process into a portable 10m-by-20m machine, making it mobile.

New Soil can lease its machines out to different work sites and help contractors save on trucking costs.

Only two general workers and one general excavator are required to operate the machine, which can produce 20 to 200 tonnes of New Soil an hour.

The treatment time can range from hours to days, depending on the raw material's water content and the strength required, said Mr Phua Lam Soon, chief executive of Boldtek and founder and managing director of New Soil Technologies.

Tests run by technical consultant Lu Jin Ping found that New Soil is as permeable as sand, which is the most widely used reclamation fill material.

The difference is that the company can afford to price New Soil at a 20 to 30 per cent discount to the price of sand, Mr Phua said.

The company began marketing New Soil to contractors and mining firms a few months back by taking the clay from excavation sites and producing treated New Soil samples that have been sent to potential customers for testing.

Mr Phua told The Straits Times last month: "It's a new product. We've done a lot of testing and, very soon, someone will accept it."

Marine clay can be found all over Singapore where MRT tunnels or basement carparks are being dug, since nowhere here is far from the sea.

Raw marine clay cannot be used as a foundation as it is sticky and almost impermeable, and so more prone to flooding.

New Soil's technique reduces the water content of clay via a chemical reaction with certain additives. The formula for the additives is a trade secret.

New Soil Technologies has invested $69,000 in developing New Soil. It has also received a $392,000 grant from the Building and Construction Authority and other government agencies.

Formerly known as Logistics Holdings, Boldtek changed its name in August as it is primarily in construction, not the logistics business.

It made a net loss of $1.3 million in the 12 months to June 30 as the industry remains stuck in contraction mode.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 15, 2017, with the headline 'New Soil seeks to break new ground in land reclamation'. Print Edition | Subscribe