NTU research programmes will develop innovative technologies to solve problems in landfills, waste-to-bio-fuels, and plastic waste recovery.
Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has won three out of the five inaugural Environment and Technology Research Programme grants awarded by the National Environment Agency (NEA).
This follows NTU's win of four out of five competitive research awards in sustainable development worth up to S$40 million in research funds from the National Research Foundation (NRF) on 28 January 2010, following NRF's fifth call for proposals under its Competitive Research Programme Funding Scheme. With the theme 'Sustainable Urban Systems', the four NTU projects involved the development of new bio-fuels, the development of an underwater city, sustainable urban waste management, and the harvesting of sunlight to create chemical energy.
This underscores the significant role NTU plays as Singapore's leading science and technology university in fuelling the nation's drive for excellence in research and innovation.
The ETRP is a S$15-million seed funding programme to build up technological competencies in waste management and to support a growing ecosystem of companies and researchers undertaking Clean Environment R&D. Administered by NEA and the Environment and Water Industry Development Council ((EWI), it provides funding support for Singapore-based companies, research institutes, and institutes of higher learning to develop and pilot advanced technologies for waste management.
The ETRP awards grants to R&D projects on a competitive basis in the field of waste management, specifically in the areas of energy recovery, resource recovery, and special waste treatment. It aims to find sustainable and cost-efficient environment solutions for Singapore as well as other countries facing similar waste management challenges.
NTU's three winning projects are:
Enhanced Biological and Physical Stabilisation in Landfills
Led by Professor Ng Wun Jern, Executive Director of the Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute (NEWRI), the research team will develop technologies to accelerate landfill stabilisation and to tap the landfill as a source of energy by using an enhanced biological process which includes sequestering carbon. They will use Incineration Bottom Ash (IBA) as a material for landfill capping and liner membrane, which will allow large structures on completed landfills sooner.
"This project could result in landfill sites being used for redevelopment in a much shorter timeframe of 10 to 15 years, instead of the usual 30 to 40 years," said Professor Ng. "Other benefits include increased revenue from the sale of recovered energy and reduced landfill aftercare costs, the development of chemical binding additives with IBA for landfill lining and capping materials, which will not only help to address the issue of IBA disposal but will reduce subsequent costs of construction during redevelopment by reducing the need for additional reinforcement on the soil foundation."
The project has commercial potential in regional markets as there is growing demand to rehabilitate old landfills near urban cities for higher-value real estate development.
Advanced Waste Gasification/Pyrolysis for Bio-energy (Bio-oil or Bio-syngas) Production
Currently, sewage sludge and municipal solid waste (MSW) are commonly disposed of by incineration, land-filling or agricultural use. However, these methods do not remove the risk of contamination of the environment.
Adjunct Assistant Professor Yan Rong of the School of Materials Science and Engineering, Senior Scientist and Centre Director of the Institute of Environmental Science and Engineering (IESE) and her research team aim to develop and commercialise a sustainable waste management technological process (gasification/pyrolysis) to convert sewage sludge and MSW into bio-energy like good quality fuels and electricity.
"We aim to achieve highly efficient bio-energy production from sewerage sludge and MSW, to develop and demonstrate this technology in Singapore, and to apply the technology in the region to treat sludge and MSW in a sustainable manner," said Dr Yan.
Conversion of Municipal Plastic Waste into Biodegradable Polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) Material
Led by Associate Professor Wang Jing-Yuan, Director of the Residues and Resource Reclamation Centre (R3C), the research team aims to develop a biotechnology which will allow the mining of resources from municipal plastic waste, and the use of these resources to produce higher-value biodegradable polymers known as polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). PHA is the basic building block for making biodegradable materials, for example, in medical applications such as surgical threads.
The team will do this in a two-step process. "In the first step, plastic waste will be exposed to high temperatures, which will break down the polymer into gaseous hydrocarbon products," said Associate Professor Wang. "The gases are then passed through a condenser and cooled down to form a hydrocarbon-rich oil mixture. In the second step, the oil mixture will be fed to special micro-organisms that use them to make PHA."
The researchers expect the PHA materials produced from waste to be much cheaper than those currently produced from pure sugar or glucose, and this would also bring about greater environmental, economic and social benefits.