With increasing human activities and population growth, billions of tonnes of solid waste are generated worldwide every year. Effective waste management across all production sectors is crucial to decrease the amount of waste for disposal, save space in landfills and conserve natural resources.
NTU scientists are finding ways to recycle and transform food waste, electronic waste (e-waste) and municipal waste into new products and energy.
Producing energy from municipal waste
NTU and NEA have launched a new Waste-to-Energy Research Facility that turns municipal solid waste from the NTU campus into electricity and resources. Located in Tuas South, the facility is a $40 million project supported by the National Research Foundation Singapore, NEA, the Economic Development Board (EDB) and NTU.
Equipped with a unique slagging gasification plant, that is able to heat up to 1,600 degrees Celsius compared to conventional mass burn incinerators which operate at around 850 degrees Celsius, the high temperature of the plant turns rubbish into syngas (mostly carbon monoxide and hydrogen) that can be used to produce electricity, slag – a glass-like material that can potentially be used as construction material known as NEWSand – and metal alloy granulates that can be recycled.
Extracting metals and recycling plastics from e-waste
Scientists from the Singapore-CEA Alliance for Research in Circular Economy (SCARCE) and NEWRI are using eco-friendly methods of recycling e-waste. One project involves using compounds from discarded orange peels to extract high value metals from batteries. There are now multiple projects underway on eco-friendly processes to tackle other e-waste, for instance, transforming toxic plastics found in items like circuit boards into reusable resources with the help of harmless chemicals.
Additionally, NTU has partnered the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW) and jointly committed S$1.2 million to fund innovative solutions for the global plastic waste problem. NTU researchers are also working with Imperial College London and the University of Nottingham on a carbon-neutral bio-upcycling solution for plastic waste management by converting polyethylene terephthalate (PET) into compounds of industrial value.
Reducing waste during manufacturing
At the HP-NTU Digital Manufacturing Corporate Lab, researchers are focusing on digital manufacturing technologies, specifically in areas of advancing 3D printing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, new materials and applications, cybersecurity and customisation.
Compared to conventional manufacturing techniques such as machining, milling and moulding, less waste is generated by digital manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing as designs are directly transformed into products.
Examples of 3D printed products from the HP printer, which allows for flexible designs with soft plastic
Converting food waste into useful products
Food waste is one of the biggest waste streams in Singapore, accounting for about 11 per cent of the total waste generated in Singapore as reported by The National Environment Agency (NEA). At NTU’s Food Science and Technology (FST) Programme, scientists led by Prof William Chen, Director of FST, have transformed durian husks into antibacterial bandages, recycled brewery waste to grow yeast and invented a biodegradable packaging made from soybean waste.
A hydrogel patch and plaster made from durian husk
At the Environmental Chemistry and Materials Centre (ECMC), scientists are turning bullfrog skin and fish scales into biomaterial for bone repair.
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