Public Release: 

New S$30 million national center to speed up commercialisation of separation technologies

Nanyang Technological University

Singapore has set up its first national centre to develop and commercialise innovative separation and filtration technologies, such as membranes, and to make them easier for companies to adopt.

Located at CleanTech Park, the new Separation Technologies Applied Research and Translation (START) Centre will build and test advanced separation technologies and processes, in partnership with the industry.

First of its kind in the Asia-Pacific, START will invest in comprehensive facilities to fabricate large-scale advanced membranes, assemble them into complete systems, and analyse their performance using the latest testing and analytical equipment.

The new centre is supported by Nanyang Technological University Singapore (NTU Singapore), Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), Singapore's national water agency PUB and National Research Foundation (NRF) Singapore.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Mr Masagos Zulkifli launched the new centre today.

Technology areas where START will explore include novel membranes and processes that can help to lower energy costs and increase higher yields for seawater desalination, crucial for Singapore's water resiliency.

Seawater desalination, which uses advanced filtration membranes to separate salt and other contaminants from seawater to produce fresh water, is one of Singapore's Four National Taps and can meet up to 25 per cent of Singapore's water needs today.

Separation technologies also find applications in the treatment of wastewater, gas separation in the natural gas industry and even in the removal of bubbles from blood in artificial lung machines.

NTU Singapore's innovation and enterprise arm, NTUitive, is leading the university's efforts in this national initiative.

CEO of NTU Innovation and NTUitive Dr Lim Jui said: "START provides a much-needed platform to develop innovative technologies into actual products, given the increasing demands for clean water for both industrial and domestic use in urban cities worldwide.

"While there are many innovative water technologies developed from universities and industry, one of the biggest challenges for companies is in scaling up their technologies, because of the financial stakes and risks involved."

He added that there is a large gap between lab research and product commercialisation, and this is where START will position itself to connect the two ends and to accelerate the commercialisation process. With its deep expertise in membrane and other separation technologies, NTU is confident it will contribute positively to this important national initiative.

One-stop facility linking academia to industry

With a floor space of almost 600m2, START is staffed by industry experts from companies such as GE and Hyflux, and will serve as a one-stop shop that links companies with academia. This will enable access to new separation technologies developed at local institutions such as NTU, National University of Singapore and local polytechnics.

START is expected to have 15 to 20 engineers with industry-relevant experience who will build water treatment systems, test them in real life scenarios, and get them ready for industry adoption.

The Managing Director of START, Dr Adil Dhalla, said the new centre will look at the rich pool of technologies and intellectual property at the various research institutes in Singapore, shortlist the most promising solutions that address industry's needs and find partners for commercialisation and adoption.

"We want to choose innovative solutions which are most likely to succeed when scaled-up for real-world applications, and to work with an industry partner who will then take it to the market after it is tested and proven by us," explained Dr Dhalla, a serial innovator with 20 patents to his name.

The projects' criteria include their novelty and feasibility, ease of implementation, market demand, and competitive analysis.

Meeting industry needs

According to the Global Water Intelligence, the global water industry is estimated to be worth more than US$850 billion in 2016 and expected to grow at an average annual rate of nearly 4 per cent until 2020.

Today, Singapore is recognised as a global hydrohub, with around 180 local and foreign water companies based here. These companies represent the entire value chain of the water industry, spanning from upstream component players, Original Equipment Manufacturers and system integrators, to downstream Engineering, Procurement and Construction players and project developers.

Mr Goh Chee Kiong, Executive Director, Cleantech, EDB, said, "Singapore has invested heavily into water research and innovation in the past decade, and we are now stepping up our commercialisation efforts in the next phase. First of its kind in the Asia Pacific, START represents a vital new investment by the government to bridge the gap between research and the industrial marketplace. We look forward to START helping our Singapore-based companies grow new businesses in membranes and other separation technologies."

PUB Chief Engineering and Technology Officer Harry Seah said, "PUB is heartened by the efforts in advancing R&D in membrane technologies towards commercial adoption. Membrane technology has played a vital role in the development and augmentation of Singapore's water resources through seawater desalination and NEWater, and continuous improvements in membrane technologies remain a keen interest for us."

START is located in close proximity to multinational and local companies in the water and clean technology sectors, as well as NTU's Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute (NEWRI).

Over the last decade, NTU Singapore has developed strong expertise in environmental and water research and development. The university's investment and continued partnerships with industry players to drive the commercialisation of technologies are well aligned with the recently announced Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2020 plan, which maps out Singapore's R&D priorities for the next five years.


Media contact:

Ang Hui Min
Assistant Manager
Corporate Communications Office
Nanyang Technological University

About Nanyang Technological University

A research-intensive public university, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) has 33,500 undergraduate and postgraduate students in the colleges of Engineering, Business, Science, Humanities, Arts, & Social Sciences, and its Interdisciplinary Graduate School. It has a new medical school, the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, set up jointly with Imperial College London.

NTU is also home to world-class autonomous institutes -- the National Institute of Education, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Earth Observatory of Singapore, and Singapore Centre for Environmental Life Sciences Engineering -- and various leading research centres such as the Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute (NEWRI), Energy Research Institute @ NTU (ERI@N) and the Institute on Asian Consumer Insight (ACI).

Ranked 13th in the world, NTU has also been ranked the world's top young university for the last two years running. The University's main campus has been named one of the Top 15 Most Beautiful in the World. NTU also has a campus in Novena, Singapore's medical district.

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