$200m boost for water research

The Arcadis design and consultancy firm's exhibit at the City Solutions Singapore exhibition at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre yesterday. The exhibition is part of the ongoing World Cities Summit, Singapore International Water Week and CleanEnv
The Arcadis design and consultancy firm's exhibit at the City Solutions Singapore exhibition at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre yesterday. The exhibition is part of the ongoing World Cities Summit, Singapore International Water Week and CleanEnviro Summit Singapore.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

This is to ensure it has enough water to cope with effects of climate change

To mitigate the effects of climate change and ensure that Singapore has enough water, the Republic is pumping $200 million into water research over the next five years. 

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, announcing the funding at a dialogue yesterday, said research and development have helped ensure an adequate supply of water for Singapore over the years and the country will continue to spend on them. 

"Droughts are going to be a problem for us in Singapore. We have to prepare for our own water supply which, for us, has always been a strategic and high-priority issue, and we are putting a lot of resources into it," he said at the Lee Kuan Yew Prize Award Ceremony and Banquet at the Ritz-Carlton Millenia.

The Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize and Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize - which recognise excellence in water and urban innovations respectively - were given out respectively to renowned hydrogeologist John Anthony Cherry and Medellin, Colombia, at the event last night.

PM Lee was responding to a question from Professor Chan Heng Chee, who asked if the region was spending enough on infrastructure to mitigate the effects of climate change. Prof Chan chairs the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

It is hoped that the water industry will contribute $2.85 billion to Singapore's gross domestic product (GDP) and create 15,000 jobs by 2020, said national water agency PUB and the Economic Development Board. The latest investment - some 40 per cent more than the previous tranche - will also go towards helping the industry commercialise innovations more quickly and export them overseas, and develop a suitable talent pool. 

PM Lee said climate change will bring about more extreme weather, droughts, floods and rising sea levels, and that some of the effects could be felt faster than predicted.

But these can be mitigated. "There are things you can do about these if you have lead time, and the resources and the attention," he said.

While the official forecast of the rise in sea level is 18 inches (46cm) in 100 years, he warned that this could turn out "faster and higher than as predicted".

So new projects will take this into account. The upcoming expansion of Changi Airport, for one thing, will take place on higher ground to guard against rising sea levels.

It is hoped that the water industry will contribute $2.85 billion to Singapore's gross domestic product (GDP) and create 15,000 jobs by 2020, said national water agency PUB and the Economic Development Board.

The latest investment - some 40 per cent more than the previous tranche - will also go towards helping the industry commercialise innovations more quickly and export them overseas, and develop a suitable talent pool. 

In total, the Government has committed $670 million to R&D in the water industry since 2006. The industry contributes more than $2.2 billion to Singapore's GDP and has created over 14,000 jobs. 

PUB chief executive Ng Joo Hee said: "Singapore today is really the Silicon Valley of water research and we started from nothing... We have invested and built up capabilities and, today, Singapore is one of the handful of places in the world where real cutting-edge research on water is taking place."

Singapore's current water demand stands at about 430 million gallons of water per day and this could more than double by 2060 - with non-domestic water demand estimated to make up 70 per cent of overall water use.

One key area that PUB is looking into is to reduce the energy involved in producing desalinated water or treated seawater. Current technology uses about 3.5 kilowatt hours of energy to desalinate a cubic metre of water, but the aim is to slash this by 70 per cent.

The technologies being looked at by PUB include one by American company Evoqua, which uses a process called electrodialysis to remove salt ions from seawater.

In a push to ensure the sustainability of Singapore's water supply, General Electric (GE) and PUB have a five-year agreement to explore new research opportunities and develop novel water-treatment technologies and R&D projects locally.

Mr Hoshang Subawalla, regional executive for GE Power (Asia-Pacific), said the agreement was a big step towards helping Singapore become water-independent, by increasing the efficiency of the water-purification process in Singa- pore's desalination plants.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2016, with the headline '$200m boost for water research'. Print Edition | Subscribe