The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) prediction that over two thirds of the world’s population will face living with severe water shortages by 2050 is daunting.
The combination of population growth, climate change and dwindling resources make this a complex problem.
As someone who lives in the UK, this is something that has not really affected us. There have been summers when the water companies impose bans on using hose pipes to water gardens and wash cars. It makes the news headlines and interrupts daily lives, but a dirty car is nothing compared to the problems experienced elsewhere.
In other areas of the world, water scarcity is a daily reality – it’s not just areas of famine hit Africa, but the Middle East and Singapore too. We will all have to address this challenge, in our homes and in the industries that we work in.
Singapore is a country where careful use of water is a fact of everyday life. The water stress has driven innovation and Singapore has become a world leader.
Through government support, two main universities, National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have led innovation and the establishment of several companies that develop and apply the solutions.
There are many examples of excellence in water research in Singapore. This is something that we can all learn from.
Monitoring through sensors and control is playing an increasingly important role alongside other technologies. Membrane Instruments and Technology Pte Ltd (“MINT”) is a company that has developed data and sensor technologies for effective water management.
This technology then led to the formation of another company, De.Mem. This company designs, builds and operates water treatment facilities across the whole of South East Asia.
One of the features of the facilities is that they are small-scale and can be built for specific ‘local’ needs where there is a shortage of fresh water. The use of sensor technologies makes operations more efficient.
Nano Sun is a company, set up by Darren Sun, a chemical engineer at NTU. The company manufactures membranes with multifunctional properties, able to remove pollutants from water. The membranes can be used for drinking water, pre-treatment of saline water (before desalination) and of grey water that is to be reused.
Research and innovation costs money. These examples from Singapore didn’t rely on research funding alone. The development of the technology through the companies went down the route of raising funds from private investment.
With the global economy still recovering, there is more strain that ever on finding finance to take research to real life. As chemical engineers, we must not only identify solutions to address global challenges such as water security, we must also be innovative and entrepreneurial in how we bring them to reality. Technical skills are not the only requirement.
Sticking to the Singapore water theme, congratulations to Anne Marie Ang, process engineer at Changi Water Reclamation Plant (CWRP), who won Young Chemical Engineer of the Year at the IChemE Singapore Awards on 16 October 2014.
Anne graduated from the Imperial College of London in 2012 with a degree in chemical engineering. Since joining CWRP, Anne’s roles quickly expanded from process operation to review and optimisation and then to design and implementation. She is also working with PUB – Singapore’s National Water Agency, to help test new technologies.
Anne’s achievements include implementing an ammonia control regime in bioreactors to improve treated water qualities and reduce energy consumption; developing an integration methodology to determine used water flows in the deep tunnel that brings used water into CWRP; and helping to detect harmful substances using an online toxicity meter.
It was my honour to attend the awards and meet Ann. Congratulations to her and the other excellent winners.