Singapore aims to become a global knowledge centre in membrane-related research with the launch of the new Membrane Science and Technology Consortium (MSTC). Led by the National University of Singapore (NUS), the development aims to encouraging more research collaborations, commercialisation activities and funding opportunities across a range of membrane topics, with particular emphasis on water, energy and environmental applications.

The global demand for membrane technology has been rising rapidly and innovations in this area are expected to open new markets in the coming decade. Advances in membrane technology have wide applications in areas such as water purification, environmental protection, energy security, climate change, urbanisation, and food and beverage processing.

Currently more than 25 faculty researchers from the NUS Faculties of Engineering and Science have signed up as MSTC Fellows, with a number of enterprise companies and government agencies joining the MSTC Industry and Government Affiliates Programme (IGAP). Further links are being developed with global academic and institutional partners involved in membrane-related research.

Professor Ho Teck Hua, Deputy President (Research and Technology), NUS, said: “The MSTC will encourage collaborations, which will hopefully lead to the development of novel membrane materials and innovative membrane process technologies. We also hope the MSTC will help further build up international recognition of NUS as being at the forefront of membrane research as well as a key player in translational research leading to new applications that benefit mankind.”

Over the past 10 years, NUS has secured nearly S$50 million in funding for membrane-related research, from organisations including the National Research Foundation (NRF), the Economic Development Board (EDB), and the Environment & Water Industry (EWI) Programme Office led by PUB, Singapore’s national water agency.

One key NUS membrane research project aims to create a new desalination and water purification process by ‘copying’ the process that allows mangrove trees to thrive in seawater. A team from the Department of Biological Sciences is studying the transport of salt across a cell membrane in this phenomenon, with support by a grant from the NRF.

Another project supported by the NRF concerns organic solvent nanofiltration (OSN). Organic solvents are used widely in the pharmaceutical and petrochemical industries – key sectors for Singapore. OSN not only recovers organic solvents, but can also concentrate high-value pharmaceutical and petrochemical products. A team from the Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering aims to develop novel solvent-resistant, hollow-fibre membranes with controllable nano-scale pores for solvent recovery.

Meanwhile, a team from the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering is combining anaerobic digestion and membrane technology to create an anaerobic membrane bioreactor for use in wastewater treatment, water reuse and energy recovery. The anaerobic membrane bioreactor converts organics present in wastewater into biogas, while producing cleaner water by removing micro-organisms and other suspended solids.

Harry Seah, Chief Technology Officer of PUB, Singapore’s national water agency, said: “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 given that desalinated water and NEWater are estimated to meet up to 80 per cent of Singapore’s water needs by 2060.”

 

Featured image: MSTC Coordinator Professor Gary Amy, Director of the UNESCO Centre for Membrane Science and Technology Professor Greg Leslie and NUS Faculty of Engineering Dean Professor Chua Kee Chaing, via NUS