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Singapore becomes water treatment hub

SINGAPORE -- Water treatment technology has become a strong pillar of Singapore's industry.

     Singapore used to heavily rely on imported water from Malaysia. It began working 15 years ago to become self-sufficient in the resource.

     Today, the country has a three-pronged strategy for making sure its taps never run dry.

Waste not, want not

Marina Barrage, which has a 350-meter-long weir to keep out seawater, is a 240-hectare reservoir that stores freshwater that can meet 10% of Singapore's demand. It was constructed in 2008. Although Singapore has a large amount of rainfall, its land area is too small to store it. The country was therefore heavily reliant on water imports.     

A reservoir in Singapore's Marina Bay keeps out seawater.

     Singapore was ranked 170th among 190 countries in the capacity of supplying freshwater, according to a 2002 report by the United Nations. Its government therefore made water management a policy priority. The country has built 17 reservoirs so as not to waste a drop of water. They are capable of storing rainfall on two-thirds of the country's land mass.

     NEWater, a program to recycle water, was also started in 1998. The program today makes water of high purity using microfilters and reverse osmotic membranes, and sterilizing it with ultraviolet rays.

     The first NEWater plant began operating in 2003. Singapore is now building the fifth such plant jointly with a consortium of Chinese and Singaporean companies. It is slated for completion in 2016. Existing NEWater plants supply high-purity water to semiconductor and other factories as well as reservoirs.

Gift from the sea

Desalinating seawater also helps Singapore. A first facility for this was put into use in 2005; the second was completed in 2013.

     NEWater and desalination facilities meet 30% and 10% of demand for water respectively. The government plans to raise the respective ratios to 55% and 25% by 2060, when water demand is forecast to roughly double.

     The Public Utilities Board, responsible for water management measures, has funded water treatment research and development programs and lured overseas companies to the country.

     Hyflux, a water treatment company in Singapore, has grown rapidly since it participated in the construction of the first NEWater plant in 2001. It has diversified into desalination, and is also involved in global water projects in locations such as China, India and the Middle East.

     The board launched WaterHub, a facility adjacent to its sewage treatment plant, in 2004 for water management studies. Companies from all over the world gather around the facility. Singapore has world-leading technology for water management, with 150 related companies operating there, including Japan's Asahi Kasei and Toray Industries, and 26 research institutions.

     Increasing water production volumes, improving quality and cutting costs are three main themes of R&D for the board, said Senior Assistant Director Moh Tiing Liang. Singapore can be a platform for water management companies and research institutes wishing to work in Southeast Asia, China, India, the Middle East and other markets, he added.

Long process

Meidensha of Japan recently established a base in Singapore.

     At a Meidensha facility in Jurong, an industrial area in western Singapore, a foul odor comes out of the tanks. Black water from more than 300 petrochemical, pharmaceutical, food and other manufacturing plants nearby pumps into the facility, which was finished last spring. The water is kept in tanks for four hours to be homogenized. It then goes through anaerobic, microbial and activated sludge treatment processes. Finally, it is treated by a ceramic flat membrane system to become reclaimed industrial water.

     The facility is a two-year demonstrating plant between Meidensha and the utilities board, subsidized by the Singapore government agency. It is capable of processing 4,500 cu. meters of water per day. Ceramic flat membranes are durable and do not clog even after processing oil, so they are highly effective for treating liquid waste from industrial plants.

     Meidensha plans to build a production plant for ceramic flat membranes in Jurong this summer. It aims to export them to Australia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and other markets.

     "Various cutting-edge technologies from all over the world have been brought together at WaterHub in Singapore," Mamoru Sugii, managing director of Meidensha's local unit, Meiden Singapore, said. "Officials from water-treatment businesses worldwide also gather at international trade fairs regularly held at WaterHub."

     Water scarcity is likely to become a global problem as populations increase and developing nations experience economic growth. The Asian Development Bank says $400 billion will be spent on water treatment infrastructure in Asia alone between 2010 and 2020.

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