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​NTU - NEA Waste to Energy Research Facility Launch

Welcome Remarks by

Professor Subra Suresh
 President, NTU

NTU - NEA Waste to Energy Research Facility Launch

Nanyang Technological University

10:00am, Monday, 27 May 2019


Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources,

Mr Tan Meng Dui, CEO of NEA,

Disguished guests, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

Let me start by offering my congratulations to Professor Shane Snyder, and all of the faculty, colleagues and staff, on reaching this very important milestone.

I also offer my congratulations and gratitude to NEA, to EDB, NRF and to the Singapore government for the partnership and the encouragement.

Today, we're gathered here to launch the NTU-NEA Waste to Energy Research Facility.

With a growing global population and increasing urbanisation, with up to 70% of the world population projected to migrate to cities, to mega cities in the upcoming decades. The amount of waste generated keeps growing exponentially. The World Bank for example, estimates that the overall waste generation around the world will continue to increase to 3.40 billion metric tons by the year 2050. This is 70 per cent increase from where we are today as a global community. Meanwhile, plastic waste continues to find its way into the oceans, affecting marine life and our ecosystem, not to mention the quality of the food we eat from the sea, while electronic waste is quickly filling up landfills around the world.

More space and land are being set aside for landfills. But with space being a finite resource, solid waste management has now become an area of intense focus. For land-scarce Singapore with its only landfill on Semakau Island, the burden of waste is becoming even more unsustainable.

According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), 7.70 million tonnes of solid waste was generated in Singapore in the year 2018. It is estimated that a new waste-to-energy incineration plant will be needed every 7 to 10 years and a new offshore landfill will be needed every 30 to 35 years, should Singapore continue on its current trajectory of generating waste.

To raise awareness of waste issues in Singapore, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) has designated 2019 as the Minister just said, as the Year Towards Zero Waste to educate and work with stakeholders and partners to rally Singaporeans to value our precious resources. It also aims to build a strong 3R (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) culture in Singapore, to pave the way towards a circular economy and becoming a Zero Waste nation.

As Singapore's first EcoCampus and a leader of sustainability research, NTU has been working towards the concept of the "Circular Economy" – which is a regenerative approach to maximise resources and minimise waste. Over the last decade, scientists and engineers from NTU's Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute, or NEWRI, have embarked on an ambitious plan to develop innovative solutions that can tackle the issue of both liquid and solid waste through its Residues, Resource and Reclamation Centre. Together with government and industry partners, they have developed and tested new waste-to-energy, waste-to-materials solutions, which addresses both industry and Singapore's nation's needs.

We also share the same objectives as NEA, aligning closely with the "Closing the Waste Loop R&D Initiative", which encourages collaborations between institutes of higher learning and industry partners, to develop sustainable waste to resource solutions and keeping the recovered materials in the economic cycle.

We have announced our sustainability efforts to reduce the consumption of net energy, net water use, and net waste generation on our campus by 35% by 2021, compared to where we were in 2011. Just a couple of months ago, in March of this year, we launched a research centre, called SCARCE, which stands for NTU's Singapore CEA Alliance for Research and Circular Economy. SCARCE seeks to develop innovative e-waste recycling technology for the circular economy in partnership between NTU the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, called CEA. NEA from Singapore also supports that effort on campus. In line with these activities, I'm very pleased to announce today, that NTU now has the capacity to treat 100 per cent of our mixed solid waste, converting it into energy and usable resources. 

The official opening today of the Waste to Energy Research Facility is one of the many steps towards realising our Zero Waste campus ambition. I think that not many educational institutions around the world can say that they have to potential to treat all of its solid waste and turn it into energy and usable materials.  Thanks for the efforts of our faculty and researchers, and our partnership with agencies such as NEA. This achievement is indeed another key milestone in the university's journey towards a sustainable smart campus that will position NTU as a global leader in green technologies.

Jointly developed by the National Environment Agency and NTU, and supported by the National Research Foundation (NRF) Singapore and Economic Development Board (EDB), the new research facility is the first of its kind in Singapore to combine high temperature slagging gasification technology and the use of biomass charcoal as a greener and renewable auxiliary fuel, as we saw in the video, instead of coal, which is a pollutive fossil fuel.

Slagging gasification technology typically treats waste at twice the temperatures of usual mass burn incinerators, up to about 1,600 degree Celsius (or almost 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit). Instead of bottom ash, the process yields slag (being a material scientist, I have to say that.. a vitrified, glass-like material that can be potentially used for construction) which could potentially help prolong the lifespan of Semakau landfill.

The facility serves as a testbed to explore the use of biomass-derived auxiliary fuels and the applications of next-generation technologies in areas including gas separation technologies, syngas upgrade and flue gas treatment.

NTU takes great pride in nurturing partnerships with industry because it not only ensures our research remains relevant, and especially industry relevant, but also practical and beneficial to society. As a start, we will continue to work with JFE Engineering Corporation, whom we partnered to build this new gasification plant. Over the next few years, we will improve the efficiency of the waste-to-energy conversion as well as to optimise other aspects of the technology.

Food waste management is yet another global challenge, and the ultimate goal is to achieve 100% recycling with zero discharge. To address this problem, NTU is attacking the issue on several fronts, which includes a new pilot plant by NEWRI to turn food waste from the campus into bio-fertiliser without any solid discharge.

On the food science and technology front, our scientists are turning food waste like durian seeds into natural preservatives that keeps food fresher for longer, used soybean residues into cling-wrap for food packaging and to ferment spent beer grains into high-value nutrient fluids to grow probiotics and yeast. These innovations are testament to NTU's strong research focus in sustainability.

As part of its drive to be one of the world's most eco-friendly campuses, the university already holds the national record for the most Green Mark-certified, Platinum certified building projects, so of the 234 or so buildings around campus, 95 per cent are already certified Green Mark Platinum – the highest award for sustainable building design in Singapore from the Building and Construction Authority. The university is also the first recipient of the Green Mark PlatinumSTAR Champion award – the highest accolade in Singapore for outstanding commitment to sustainable design.

Apart from waste management and upcycling, NTU is also looking at renewable energy resources, building the region's first renewable energy offshore micro-grid that will test the integration of solar, wind, tidal-current, diesel, storage and power-to-gas technologies, and to ensure these energy sources operate well together in a synergistic fashion.

The university is committed to achieving a zero-waste target and is an open testbed where government, academia and industry leaders can collaborate to develop new innovations to tackle some of the most pressing challenges facing the world today.

Another aspect of uniqueness which NTU can address this, is our ability not only to do fundamental research in the labs, but equally to scale it up in a way that it can benefit society.

Today marks another major milestone in NTU's effort towards Zero Waste and I thank our partners, National Environment Agency, Economic Development Board of Singapore, and National Research Foundation, Singapore, for their strong support and for walking this exciting journey together with us.

I would also like to express my profound gratitude to Professor Shane Snyder, for his leadership of NEWRI, to Professor Ng Wun Jern, previous leader and all the faculty and staff in NEWRI for their dedicated work to make this partnership come to a reality.

I would also like to thank the NTU students, staff and faculty across the university, who interact with NEWRI and for their hard work and strong support that led up to today's milestone event.

Last but not least, I would like to thank Minister for taking time from his busy schedule to be with us as our guest of honour.

Thank you.