Budget debate: Sustainability research institute opens on Jurong Island

Jurong Island is to be turned into a " sustainable energy and chemicals park" under Singapore's Green Plan 2030. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A new research institute focusing on how to shrink the carbon footprint of the industrial sector - responsible for about 60 per cent of the country's total emissions - has been set up on Jurong Island.

The Institute of Sustainability for Chemicals, Energy and Environment (ISCE2) has been set up by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) and is led by Professor Yeoh Lean Weng, the agency's chief sustainability officer.

The new outfit was announced on Tuesday (March 8) by Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong in Parliament, during an omnibus session on Singapore's green efforts.

"ISCE2 will advance research areas such as carbon capture and utilisation, low-carbon hydrogen, carbon life-cycle accounting, and synthetic biology to pave the way for alternative green materials, products and processes, to support Singapore's sustainability agenda," he said.

The research institute will continue to partner academia, public agencies, and industry to contribute to Singapore's climate change goals, Mr Gan added, even as he fleshed out how his ministry plans to overcome challenges and capture opportunities in a world trying to wean itself off fossil fuels. 

Singapore depends largely on natural gas - a fossil fuel -  for its energy needs.
Mr Gan said his ministry will work to reduce emissions from power generation by enhancing the efficiency of generation plants, importing renewable energy from elsewhere, and finding new ways of tapping solar energy. 

While solar energy is the most viable form of renewable energy for Singapore, its highly built up landscape makes soaking up the sunshine challenging for the country due to shading from buildings and lack of space for large solar farms. 

Mr Gan cited port operator PSA , which has installed vertical solar panels on the external walls of its Tuas Port Maintenance Base Admin Building as a trial. 

“The Government is also exploring the use of vertical solar panels on other surfaces,” he added. 

The minister also reiterated Singapore’s plan to capture opportunities in the green economy, in the areas of green finance, carbon services, and sustainable tourism. 

A hotel sustainability roadmap will be launched later this month, he said, and will be a key milestone that will spur hotels to adopt sustainable practices.

Innovation and the development of low-carbon solutions are also key to sharpening Singapore’s competitive advantage in the green economy and facilitating the energy transition, Mr Gan added. 

For example, under the Green Plan 2030 - Singapore's blueprint for a more sustainable future that sets out green targets - the Republic wants to turn Jurong Island, the country's petrochemical hub, into a " sustainable energy and chemicals park".

To this end, the new research institute ISCE2 will help to “enhance the synergy” of Singapore’s research and development in low-carbon technologies and solutions, he said. 

The new institute will have three focus areas, said A*Star in a separate statement.

This includes the development of environmentally friendly products, such as those that are biodegradable or made of materials that can easily be recycled, as well as research into how industrial processes can be improved so they are more efficient and less wasteful.

Such improved processes could help make pharmaceutical manufacturing more sustainable, said A*Star.

The third thrust will be decarbonisation - or the reduction or removal of planet-warming emissions into the atmosphere.

This can be done using carbon capture, utilisation and storage technologies, which are attracting research attention worldwide.

Such technologies essentially aim to capture greenhouse gases released from industrial processes before they reach the atmosphere, and then either convert them into useful substances, such as chemicals useful for producing polymers, or store them underground.

A*Star, working with industrial partners and other government agencies such as industrial developer JTC and the Economic Development Board, had earlier announced that it is studying and planning for the development of a carbon capture and utilisation translational testbed on Jurong Island.

Said the agency: "This aims to accelerate industry adoption of emerging carbon capture and utilisation technologies as part of Jurong Island's transformation into a sustainable energy and chemicals park."

Industrial emissions make up about 60 per cent of Singapore's total greenhouse gas emissions, according to the National Climate Change Secretariat.

These emissions, comprising gases such as carbon dioxide, are released from human activity such as the burning of fossil fuels.

The gases accumulate in the atmosphere and act like a blanket in trapping heat on the planet. The extra heat causes earth systems to respond, resulting in melting ice sheets, changing weather patterns and more frequent extreme weather events.

Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a sobering report detailing how the impacts of climate change are going beyond environmental indicators and driving humanitarian crises including the spread of diseases and food and water shortages.

The institute is led by Professor Yeoh Lean Weng, A*Star's chief sustainability officer. PHOTO: THE INSTITUTION OF ENGINEERS, SINGAPORE

A*Star said that the new institute is a re-organisation of its former Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences, which had focused on organic and biomolecular chemistry and process research and development, among others.

"These (strengths) will be combined with core capabilities in sustainable polymer materials from A*Star's Institute of Materials Research and Engineering, and climate change modelling and simulation capabilities from other A*Star institutes," the agency added.

Said ISCE2 head Prof Yeoh, who is also senior director of urban solutions and sustainability at the National Research Foundation: "A*Star has built many deep capabilities in technologies that are important for a sustainable future, and we are now bringing these together purposefully to support Singapore's sustainability goals."

A*Star chief executive Frederick Chew added: "Leveraging science, technology and engineering will be key in Singapore's drive towards net zero emissions."

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