PUB stays ahead of the curve with innovation and R&D

To stay ahead of the curve, PUB spearheads national water R&D initiatives and invests in the development of new, innovative technologies across the water loop to sustainably increase future water resources and improve the efficiency of water treatment processes and operations.

Since 2002, PUB together with research partners and the National Research Foundation have invested S$453 million in more than 600 R&D projects in collaboration with partners from 27 countries.

These projects span across the technology readiness spectrum from basic research to lab-scale prototypes, pilot studies and demonstration plants before full-scale deployment and commercialisation.

“R&D is the process of looking for solutions today to solve problems of the future. As we become increasingly reliant on desalination and water reuse, the challenge is to ensure that technological advancements continue to keep up with increasing water demand so that these sources remain sustainable,” Mr Harry Seah, PUB’s Assistant Chief Executive (Future Systems and Technology), said. “PUB is pushing the frontier of water technology to tackle the pressing challenges in energy and sludge management efficiently and is on track to meet its long-term targets. The key to this is collaboration with the local and global research community to develop real, applicable solutions to keep the water supply secure and affordable.”


Key projects and R&D

For almost 20 years, PUB has been working with water industry partners and institutes of higher learning to accelerate the development of new technologies to be tested and implemented in its facilities, and it is focusing its R&D efforts on increasing water resources while also reducing energy usage and sludge generation.


Low energy desalination

Desalinated water is Singapore’s fourth national tap and its most energy-intensive source. It currently meets up to 30 per cent of water demand and will meet 30 per cent of future demand in 2060.

PUB’s target is to reduce the energy consumption of the desalination process by more than half from the current 3.5kWh/m³ to 1.5kWh/m³ in the short term, and eventually to 1kWh/m³ as a system in the long term.

Seawater Reverse Osmosis, the present desalination method, pushes seawater through membranes which filter out salts and impurities. At its R&D Facility in Tuas, PUB is demonstrating Electro-deionisation technology and testing Biomimetic Membranes, which are new and more efficient methods inspired by science and nature to desalinate water at low energy levels.


Increasing NEWater recovery at low energy

Singapore produces high-grade reclaimed water on a scale unprecedented anywhere in the world. Currently, NEWater makes up to 40 per cent of water demand and will meet up to 55 per cent of future demand in 2060. NEWater is produced from treated used water which is put through an efficient 3-stage process of microfiltration, reverse osmosis (RO) and ultraviolet disinfection.

PUB’s short-term target is to increase the NEWater recovery rate from the current 75 per cent to 90 per cent at the same energy consumption of 0.4kHh/m³ for its energy-intensive RO treatment stage. The long-term target is a 90 per cent NEWater recovery at less than half the energy consumption rate for RO treatment.

The Flow Reversal Technology demonstrated at the Kranji NEWater Factory and the Electrodialysis reversal-reverse osmosis (EDR-RO) system piloted at the Ulu Pandan Water Reclamation Plant have the potential to reach PUB’s long-term target sustainably.


Energy self-sufficiency and sludge reduction

Used water treatment is a critical part of protecting public health and the environment, as well as the backbone of NEWater production. PUB is actively testing technologies which have the potential to make the used water treatment process energy self-sufficient, producing as much energy as it uses.

PUB has set the target for its water reclamation plants to move from the current 25 per cent energy self-sufficiency to 75 per cent in the short-term, and ultimately to the 100 per cent energy self-sufficiency in the long term.

Energy self-sufficiency and sludge management are inextricably linked, and thus the PUB aims to reduce the amount of sludge generated by the used water treatment process by more than 50 per cent in the long term, through harnessing the biogas generation potential of sludge. This will allow double the amount of used water to be treated in the long-term at today’s sludge footprint.

A novel combination of energy-efficient technologies for used water treatment is being validated at the Ulu Pandan Wastewater Treatment Demonstration Plant. Sludge reduction and enhanced biogas production is also being demonstrated by a Thermal Hydrolysis Process (THP) at the Jurong Water Reclamation Plant, a highlight of the Deep Tunnel Sewerage System Phase 2.

These technologies will be showcased at the TechXchange and Water Innovation Pavilion at Singapore International Water Week, held from the 8th to the 12th of July.