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All living things need water to survive. Yet billions of people around the world lack access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene.

According to the United Nations, an estimated 2.3 billion people live in water-stressed countries.

As the world’s population increases, it is expected that the demand for drinking water will increase exponentially. As such, there is a need to increase the availability of water for everyone.

Providing safe drinking water

Researchers at the Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute (NEWRI) are devising practical solutions such as desalination, used water treatment, food and municipal solid waste management, and climate change, working with public agencies such as PUB, the national water agency, and the National Environment Agency.

Leveraging expertise in membrane technology, scientists at the Singapore Membrane Technology Centre (SMTC) led by NEWRI have developed biology-inspired membranes for low-energy desalination as well as water purification membranes for food and beverage.

Through the NEWRI Technology Accelerator (NEWRITech) and working together with NTUitive, NTU’s innovation and enterprise company, several research efforts have been transformed into tangible applications, with several technologies commercialised as start-ups and spin-offs. An example is Aquaporin Asia, which develops membranes incorporated with aquaporins - proteins responsible for transporting and purifying water in living cells - to filter drinking water.  

The Nanomaterials for Energy and Water Management (NEW CREATE), a joint research project between the Singapore-Hebrew University of Jerusalem Alliance for Research and Enterprise (HUJ) and NTU, aims to develop novel materials and devices for three themes: Printable energy materials and devices, energy modulation and storage systems for buildings, and materials and processes for energy-water nexus. Scientists in the project have developed an environmentally friendly membrane that minimises the chemicals required for water treatment.


Water quality monitoring

Water quality monitoring is also vital for ensuring the safety of drinking water while monitoring sewage for pathogens aids in the early detection of disease outbreaks.

Supported by NEWRI and NTUitive, NTU scientists have invented a handheld device for quick monitoring of drinking water quality. Using an organic substance within the circulating human bloodstream, called a chelating agent, the device can detect trace levels of heavy metals in drinking water in five minutes.

The Environmental Process Modelling Centre (EPMC), previously known as the DHI-NTU Centre at NTU within the NEWRI Ecosystem, develops innovative technologies and trains water and environment professionals to generate new water knowledge and to strengthen the water and environment industry in Singapore. Among the technologies developed is the use of AI and machine learning techniques in water treatment and monitoring systems.

To help public health officials manage COVID-19 in the community, NTU scientists, in collaboration with researchers from other institutes and government agencies in Singapore, have developed an approach to detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, and other viral pathogens in wastewater. The researchers say that the detection of SARS-CoV-2 and other infectious pathogenic viruses in wastewater will reduce the impact of viral pandemics in the future. 



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