1. I am honoured to officiate the opening of the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Waste-to-Energy Research Facility today. It is the culmination of many years of conceptualisation, discussion, planning and collaboration between NTU, the National Environment Agency and our many partners and stakeholders.
2. I graduated from NTU over 30 years ago, and I am heartened to see the progress the University has made in championing scientific and technological research and development over the past decades. Thanks to the tireless efforts of faculty members and staff, NTU’s R&D capabilities and achievements have grown in leaps and bounds, and today it hosts world-class scientific research.
3. The opening of this Facility showcases the University’s focus on the science of sustainability, and your commitment to our national effort towards a cleaner and greener Singapore. This Facility fills a gap in the local waste-to-energy research landscape, by providing a platform for scientists and companies to demonstrate or test-bed their innovations and prototypes in an actual operating environment. It also provides hands-on education and practical training that will help grow our local expertise in waste-to-energy processes.
4. This Facility can take in up to 11.5 tonnes of waste a day, and will treat all municipal waste generated by the University. This is aligned with NTU’s aspiration of becoming a zero waste campus, through harnessing energy and recycling slag and metals from its waste. I am proud that my alma mater has placed such a serious emphasis on sustainability, and I encourage all NTU staff and students to also play your part by practising the 3Rs of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle in your everyday lives. We have launched the Recycle Right movement this year, and by participating and learning to keep our recyclables clean, dry and free from food, you will make a big difference in our national journey towards becoming a Zero Waste Nation.
Year Towards Zero Waste and a Circular Economy
5. 2019 is our Year Towards Zero Waste, and as we launch this cutting-edge facility, it is timely to reflect on how our waste management landscape has evolved tremendously since our Nation’s independence. As a densely urbanised city with scarce land, we started to move away from landfilling our waste towards incineration as early as the 1970s. Today, our four Waste-to-Energy plants treat about 8,000 tonnes of waste per day and are self-sufficient in energy, supplying excess electricity to the national grid amounting to between two to three percent of our total national electricity demand.
6. Nevertheless, even though incineration reduces the volume of waste by 90%, at our current rate of waste generation, Semakau Landfill will be filled up by 2035. To minimise the amount of waste headed for the incineration plants, we have gone one step further. We will recover value from ash or treated waste to optimise our remaining landfill, and keep it open as long as we can. MEWR and NEA have thus worked with the waste management industry to co-create sustainable, circular solutions to turn trash into treasure. For instance, we are working on turning Incineration Bottom Ash (or IBA) into NEWSand that can be used as construction material, instead of sending it to the landfill. NEA has developed provisional environmental standards for the use of treated ash in roads and footpaths, and has engaged industry players to demonstrate their ash treatment technologies.
7. Likewise, NEA has channelled $1.5 million under the Closing the Waste Loop R&D Initiative to support a research project that aims to recover metals from incineration ash which can then be used in catalytic convertors for vehicles. This project is led by researchers from NTU, who are collaborating with scientists from the University of Warwick as well as Johnson Matthey, an international chemicals company.
Innovation in Slagging Gasification
8. Beyond incineration and recovering value from ash, slagging gasification is another promising technology to turn our waste to valuable resources.It involves heating waste or ash to temperatures much higher than traditional mass-burn incineration, in an oxygen limited environment. The slag produced by this process is inert, giving it great potential as an aggregates replacement, akin to NEWSand, that could be used in road pavements and concrete.
9. To fully develop the potential of slagging gasification, NEA contributed $12 million towards developing this Waste-to-Energy Research Facility. It is the first of its kind in Singapore to employ high temperature slagging gasification as the platform technology, where experiments can be conducted to treat diverse mixed waste streams and convert them to inert slag. The Facility incorporates various plug and play features to facilitate test-bedding different aspects of gasification technology. For example, it can host experiments on cleaning syngas from waste gasification to increase energy recovery. The facility could also be a platform to develop novel membrane separation technology to produce enriched oxygen air to sustain high furnace temperatures needed for melting ash into slag. With this facility in place, Singapore will be able to host sophisticated slagging gasification research, and develop our local expertise in waste-to-energy processes. NEA will explore plans to further support research activities here, such as providing funding for the research community and industry to conduct test-bedding.
10. This is akin to PUB’s hydrohub, where more than 180 companies come together in a plug and play environment to experiment processes and contribute to the water ecology. This facility could be an ash or incineration hub, a plug and play facility which I hope would address our waste-related concerns. Therefore, I would like to invite our local industry players to make use of this facility, to work closely with academia to develop solutions that will serve their business needs. This facility is meant to be an open platform to spur collaboration and help translate lab-scale technologies into commercially deployable products and services. Researchers and companies will be able to demonstrate their prototypes in an actual operating environment, and tap and extract product samples for analyses and experimentation.
11. We are investing in waste-to-energy and waste-to-resource R&D to not only tackle our waste challenges at home, but also help companies gain a new competitive edge, and export innovative solutions to overseas markets. On this note, I am glad to see that JFE Engineering Corporation, which built this facility, has set up an Innovation Centre for Environmental Technology with the support of EDB. They are collaborating with NTU on gasification-related R&D areas, such as exploring the use of slag as a secondary material for building footpaths.
12. I hope we will also address Big Hairy Audacious Goals, or B-HAGs, such as what we had done with water, specifically halving the amount of energy required for desalination. I hope this research facility will produce breakthrough technologies that would address problems faced all over the world, for urban set-ups like Singapore. With the research work we will embark on in this brand new Facility, and our other ongoing efforts to reduce waste, recycle, and maximise resource efficiency, Singapore can become a hub for advanced waste management science and technology. Together, we can make our vision of becoming a ‘Zero-Waste’ Nation a reality.