S$200 million funding boost for Singapore’s water industry over the next five years

Singapore to tap on strengths in water to develop solutions for the world, accelerate the commercialisation and export of technologies, and build a range of niche capabilities and talent.

Singapore’s water industry is set to grow further with a S$200 million boost from the National Research Foundation (NRF) under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2020 Plan, bringing total R&D funding for water to S$670 million over 15 years. With this, Singapore aims to achieve S$2.85 billion of annual value-added contribution and 15,000 jobs in the water industry by 2020.

With total funding of S$470 million over the last 10 years, the number of jobs in the water industry has more than doubled to 14,000 today. The water industry has also generated more than S$2.2 billion in annual value-add for the economy, exceeding the 2015 targets of 11,000 jobs and S$1.7 billion in value-add. There is a thriving water eco-system supported by 180 local and international water companies spanning the entire water value chain, and more than 20 public and private R&D Centres.

“Through our whole-of-government efforts over the years, Singapore has built up a global brand name in terms of sustainable water management, and as a provider of water solutions globally,” said Ng Joo Hee, Chief Executive, PUB. “The water sector is brimming with exciting prospects, and as we continue to work with the industry to focus on strategic areas for the next phase of growth, we will build on these achievements, and cement Singapore’s status as a leading global hydrohub,” he added.

New focus areas under RIE 2020
Under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2020 Plan, water, energy, and land as well as liveability research activities will be part of the Urban Solutions and Sustainability (USS) domain. The domain looks at taking an integrated response to our urban challenges, and providing holistic support of Singapore’s future growth, liveability and resilience.

In addition to meeting these national objectives, PUB and the Economic Development Board (EDB) will tap on Singapore’s strengths in water to develop solutions for the world, accelerate the commercialisation and export of technologies, and build a range of capabilities and talent.

Developing solutions for the world
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 expand at an average annual growth rate of nearly 4 per cent until 2020. Singapore thus aims to seize growth opportunities in the global water sector by moving beyond R&D activities that meet national objectives, and building on its strengths in water technologies to develop solutions for the world in targeted areas.

Singapore is presently known for its strengths in membrane, desalination, and sensor technologies. In addition to these areas, Singapore will continue to focus on developing industrial water solutions, building on its core expertise in municipal solutions. It will also look at new areas such as automation and robotics, as well as integrated programmes that tap synergies across related domains.

Accelerating commercialisation and the export of technologies
A vibrant water industry will lead to the creation of more new technologies and emergence of companies from Singapore. Singapore will accelerate the commercialisation and export of technologies by improving and better facilitating the process. To bridge the gap between research and industry adoption and reap greater value from research investments, Singapore will build an effective pool of start-ups, investors, incubators and other ecosystem players.

The S$30 million Separation Technologies Applied Research & Translation (START) Centre was launched in June this year to develop and commercialise innovative separation and filtration technologies, such as in the area of membranes, and to make them easier for companies to adopt. The first of its kind in the Asia-Pacific, START plugs an important gap in the ecosystem between lab-scale R&D carried out in local research institutes and market adoption by focusing on translation and technology scale-up to accelerate the commercialisation process.

Singapore is positioning itself as a living lab where companies can develop, test and commercialise urban solutions in a real-life setting before exporting them globally. Sembcorp, in partnership with EDB, is granting technology providers access to its wastewater treatment facilities on Jurong-Island for test-bedding. As Singapore’s first industrial living lab, the platform will support the commercialisation of innovative industrial water solutions from the pilot-testing stage to market-ready levels. Sembcorp has just started its first collaborations with Mitsubishi Electric and Scinor Water. Successful technologies may be scaled up and deployed in Sembcorp’s global operations, thereby providing companies with not only a chance to gain a valuable track record, but with increased avenues for commercialisation of new technologies.

In addition, EDB has introduced a new Overseas Living Lab programme to support Singapore-based companies with significant R&D activities to commercialise locally-developed technologies in overseas markets with different climatic conditions or user environments not available in Singapore. This will help companies grow their international business by entering new markets or developing new applications. With a budget of S$15 million, the programme will focus on water and clean energy solution providers for the first two years.

Building a range of capabilities and talent
Since 2006, the Singapore Government has funded over 460 trained researchers, scientists and engineers, as well as over 330 Masters/ PhD students in the water industry. It will continue to build and develop a range of capabilities and talent in the water industry to better support the industry’s needs and position Singapore as the preferred location for water companies and solutions.

PUB and EDB will deepen research capabilities to drive innovation by strengthening the pool of PhD and post-doctoral talent, as well as expand the breadth of competency development initiatives. Governance, business and entrepreneurship skillsets will be enhanced through programmes such as the Temasek Foundation Water Leadership Program (governance & policies), the Aquarius Program (business), the SMU-EDB Asia Leaders Programme in Infrastructure Excellence (ALPINE) Program (business) and the Hydropreneur Programme (entrepreneurial). In addition, EDB administers the Industrial Postgraduate Programme to develop postgraduate manpower with industry-relevant R&D skill-sets.

For the first time, PUB, with support from the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) and Young NTUC, will be organising a water career fair at Singapore International Water Week (SIWW) 2016 to highlight the opportunities in the water sector. Approximately 18 companies, comprising both Small and Medium Size Enterprises (SMEs) and Multinational Corporations (MNCs), will be offering more than 90 vacancies, ranging from technical positions such as Technical Specialists and Civil or Mechanical Engineers to business support positions such as Logistic Coordinator and Office Administrator.