Water security to benefit from greater partnership between research and industry

Mr Masagos Zulkifli (second from right), Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, officially launches the Start Centre, on June 2, 2016.
Mr Masagos Zulkifli (second from right), Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, officially launches the Start Centre, on June 2, 2016.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Sunee Wongchitphimon, a research fellow, overseeing the manufacture of thin-film hollow fibre membranes at Singapore Membrane Technology Centre.
Sunee Wongchitphimon, a research fellow, overseeing the manufacture of thin-film hollow fibre membranes at Singapore Membrane Technology Centre.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - Amid increasingly uncertain global weather patterns and recent fluctuations in water supply in the region, Singapore's water security and reputation as a global water hub has just received a $30 million boost.

A new national centre, the first of its kind in the Asia-Pacific, will now speed up the commercialisation of membrane technologies for applications such as desalination and wastewater treatment.

The Separation Technologies Applied Research and Translation (Start) Centre was launched on Thursday (June 2) by Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli. Located at CleanTech Park near Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Start is supported by NTU, the Economic Development Board (EDB), national water agency PUB and the National Research Foundation.

It will have comprehensive facilities for fabricating membranes, assembling them into complete systems and analysing their performance.

Start managing director Dr Adil Dhalla highlighted the importance of developing new technologies to optimise cost and efficiency "to be able to recover every last drop of water", given that Johor's agreement to supply part of Singapore's water will expire in 2061.

PUB chief engineering and technology officer Harry Seah said: "Membrane technology has played a vital role in the development and augmentation of Singapore's water resources," adding that the agency remains keenly interested in technological advancements.

Start staff will include experts from GE and Hyflux, and negotiations are in progress with about 15 water companies. There are about 180 local and foreign water companies based in Singapore.

Mr Goh Chee Kiong, executive director of Cleantech at EDB, said: "Start represents a vital new investment by the Government to bridge the gap between research and the industrial marketplace."

Mr Masagos added that Start will reduce companies' investment risks by co-sharing manpower and equipment costs.

Besides desalination and wastewater treatment, Start will diversify over time into applications such as environmental and air filtration.

Dr Dhalla also hopes that Start's innovations will not only benefit larger companies but also stimulate Singapore's startup ecosystem as local startups take some of those innovations forward.

Said Mr Masagos: "We have transformed Singapore's challenge of water scarcity into an opportunity."