Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) has awarded S$27.5 million (US$19 million) in research funding for 28 projects in four key areas of sustainable development: Carbon Capture and Utilization; BioEnergy and BioFuels; Sustainable Construction; and Sustainable Materials.
The funding from A*STAR’s Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC) will support research teams from A*STAR research institutes and local institutes of higher learning to develop solutions to manage environmental deterioration, pressures on natural resources and climate change brought on by rapid growth and urbanization.
A*STAR is also conducting research in Solar Photovoltaics, Next Generation Power Grids, Intelligent Energy Distribution, Fuel Cells, Sustainable Production of Fuels and Chemicals and Sustainable Manufacturing.
Carbon Capture and Utilization. Seven of the 28 projects, which will be led by Dr PK Wong, Deputy Director (Research) at A*STAR’s Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences (ICES), will develop technologies to capture, store and utilize carbon dioxide effectively to address the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide and reduce its adverse effect on the environment.
In particular, one of the projects will explore the idea of using cheap and widely available magnesium oxide-based mineral silicates to trap carbon dioxide from industry flue gases via a process known as dry mineral carbonation. The by-products of this can be used as construction or landfill materials. Another project aims to use hollow fibre membranes as a reactor to convert carbon dioxide and methane in natural gas into syngas, an intermediate product useful in the chemical industry that can be further processed to synthesize a wide range of chemicals and fuels.
BioEnergy and BioFuels. Seven other projects will carry out research in BioEnergy and BioFuels. A key deliverable is to explore optimal ways to maximize how non-edible biomass resources such as microalgae, urban waste and residues from agricultural crops can be converted into biofuels and other useful products, according to Associate Professor Jeffrey Obbard from NUS, program manager for the seven projects.
An example is the project that will examine ways that marine microalgae, the fastest growing plant in the world, may be processed to produce a higher yield of biodiesel. To maximize the potential of microalgae, the researchers will explore ways in which the residual biomass, that which remain after first extraction, can be further harnessed to produce more biodiesel using thermochemical conversion techniques. Another will look at how lignocellulosic materials from biomass of waste timber and agricultural crops can be converted into useful end-products via a bio-refinery.
Sustainable Construction Six projects will focus on research in Sustainable Construction. They will explore ways to develop novel, environmentally-friendly materials for the building and construction industry to optimize the use of sustainable, natural resources for urban cities.
A collaborative effort between A*STAR and the Building and Construction Authority (BCA), the research will introduce new functions by improving the mechanical properties of construction materials, and develop alternative materials to reduce long-term reliance on imported ones.
Of particular interest is the project to employ microbial biotechnology to develop an environmentally-friendly and sustainable approach to producing cement for applications in geotechnical engineering. Biocement, made by combining naturally occuring, non-pathogenic microorganisms and cheap waste materials at ambient temperature, is the new alternative to conventional cement manufactured from limestone, sand and clay. With the availability of this option, dependence on cement and sand is greatly reduced.
Energy consumption, pollution, and cost are also significantly reduced in the production of Biocement, since the microorganisms responsible for production are abundant in nature and can be easily reproduced. In addition, Biocement can be used over large areas or in places where machines cannot access since it can penetrate great depth, making it particularly useful in land reclamation and underground construction.
Another project employs nanotechnology to optimize development of multifunctional construction materials (MFCMs) for the dual role of self-cleaning of concrete surfaces and for the removal of air pollutants. Such intelligent materials are manufactured by the addition of nanosized, photoreactive additives to construction materials ranging from concrete to mortar to cementitious coatings. When activated by sunlight, chemical reactions on the surface will repel dirt and filter airborne particulates.
Sustainable Materials: Composites and Lightweights The final eight projects aim to develop composite and lightweight materials that are energy efficient, non-toxic, and recyclable for targeted industries such as the aerospace and automotive sectors.
The new materials developed are to have enhanced properties that will make them durable and reusable, thus improving cost-efficiency and enabling better management of industry waste. Two of the projects will explore the various ways lightweight, high strength magnesium-based alloys and composites may be used to enhance mobility, save fuel and reduce carbon dioxide emissions due to their capability to realize weight savings and improve fuel economy.