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News Article | August 31, 2016
Site: www.nature.com

A little over a kilometre off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula sits a plot of land just 42 kilometres across and 23 kilometres wide. The main island of Singapore is half the size of Los Angeles, with limited natural resources — certainly not enough to cater for its 5 million inhabitants. Faced with global competition in its traditional industries, 25 years ago Singapore began to pursue a future as an Asian research hub, putting science and technology at the centre of its economy. This was an ambitious goal for a country without an established research culture. But driven by necessity, and generous government funding, Singapore has drawn some of the world's leading scientists, science-driven corporations and research institutions to set up labs either alone or in partnership with local universities, businesses and government. In many respects, the country is succeeding in achieving its research and development (R&D) goal. It is home to the two highest-ranked universities in Asia; it has among the strongest industry–university links in the developed world, as determined by the World Economic Forum; it has become a leader in water-processing technology, exporting it to the rest of the world; it is an electronics industry powerhouse, including a centre for superconductor development and manufacturing; and it is rapidly establishing itself as a hotspot for biomedical science. Despite this, some are questioning whether the government money that has poured into science is generating sufficient bounty in terms of jobs and national income to justify the largesse. Singapore's gross domestic product (GDP) hovers at around S$410 billion (US$304 billion). More than S$35 billion has been allocated by the government to foster home-grown science and technology since 2000. Earlier this year the government promised a further S$19 billion between now and 2020 with the slogan “Winning the Future”. Singapore is now one of the bigger spenders on research, with 2.2% of GDP going towards R&D in 2014. But some scientists and funders fear that translation of this research may be happening too slowly and in the wrong parts of the economy to support the continued growth in funding. Although Singapore's multinationals and large local enterprises have done very well, the small- to medium-sized enterprises that employ 70% of the country's workforce, have yet to incorporate R&D into their businesses in a substantial way. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has suggested that this may be because of a national aversion to risk-taking. But science leaders now fear that public support for R&D spending and the country's aspirations to become a science-led economy may be dwindling. “We see science and technology as a very important pillar in our future economic growth,” says Teck Seng Low, head of Singapore's science funding agency, the National Research Foundation (NRF). Moreover, he says, these endeavours are key to “providing us with solution options to our national challenges”. Water scarcity is a continual problem in Singapore. The city-state has no rivers of substantial size and is dependent on importing water from Malaysia. The NRF has invested heavily in water research, and Singapore is now one of the world leaders in the field, particularly when it comes to the development of membranes for reverse osmosis, desalination, filtering and, more recently, for an innovative approach known as forward osmosis. The country hosts 180 companies involved in water management and is home to 28 research centres focused on water. The Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute (NEWRI) was established in 2008 as part of Nanyang Technological University (NTU), with the support of the NRF. NEWRI is one of the world leaders in water research and has been instrumental in the development of forward osmosis. This low-energy osmosis technique uses variations in the concentrations of liquids to draw small molecules such as water through fine membranes, leaving impurities behind. It requires much less energy than reverse osmosis and will potentially be a sustainable and cost-saving technology. As part of a project funded by a S$2.5 million NRF grant, Darco Water Technologies in Singapore and a spin-off from NTU called Aquaporin Asia is piloting the technology for commercial use in industrial wastewater treatment. “We invested heavily in water-related research and today Singapore is self-sufficient and secure in water,” says Low. “Alongside this security we have actually built a very vibrant water industry.” Long-term government initiatives to foster science as part of the economy have been fundamental to the nation's recent successes. In its first five-year National Technology Plan in 1991, the National Science and Technology Board, as it was then known, allocated S$2 billion to R&D. The five-year cycle continues to provide the context in which science, and much of research translation, is done. Today, the NRF administers the five-year plans, determining national research priorities and funding distribution. Given that Singapore has been governed for almost 60 years by the same political party (the People's Action Party), there has been little policy upheaval to threaten the creation of a knowledge ecosystem comprised of top-ranked universities and research institutes and research-intensive industries with global reach. One of the country's research priorities is to become a global player in the biomedical sciences. The drug-development pipeline is one of the longest and most treacherous for translating research into tangible economic outcomes, but Singapore has established itself as a major player. Each year the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) runs about 30 new projects with international pharmaceutical companies. And pharma giants such as Abbott, MSD, Novartis and Pfizer have all set up production facilities in Singapore. In 2015, Chugai Pharmaceutical announced it would invest an additional S$476 million in its research facilities in Singapore. The centrepiece of Singapore's biomedical push is Biopolis, a research hub established in 2003. Biopolis is home to A*STAR's Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology. Earlier this year, researchers from the institute, in collaboration with computing giant IBM, described a giant molecule — a hyperbranched amine-based polymer — with the capacity to help immune cells defend against a broad range of viruses, including Ebola, Dengue and Marburg, by rendering the viruses unable to replicate ( et al. Macromolecules 49, 2618–2629; 2016). Although it is early days, the development could be used to protect against these deadly diseases. But even if all goes smoothly, commercial production could be a decade away. This lengthy wait is part of science, but it is slowing down the country's trajectory to a science-led economy. The innate weaknesses of Singapore's economy — a small domestic market, a reliance on international trade, a scarcity of natural resources and a high cost of labour and property in comparison to the rest of Southeast Asia — make science a necessity for future prosperity, says Yuen Ping Ho, associate director of research at the National University of Singapore's Entrepreneurship Centre. “To remain competitive in the face of these constraints, the economy has been moving towards a more knowledge-based structure,” Ho says. “Science and technology is essential in this transition in two ways — doing things better, and doing new things.” But Ho's research shows that the impact of R&D on Singapore's economic growth hasn't been as great as in other members of the OECD ( et al. Singapore Econ. Rev. 54, 1; 2009). Ho attributes this to the country's relatively recent embrace of science investment. Although strong links have been established between researchers and large industry corporations, there are still few partnerships with small to medium enterprises. These companies are the bulk of the country's economy and are where productivity improvements and product disruption could have greatest effect. As NTU president, Bertil Andersson has seen first hand the dramatic effect that the government's science push has had on Singapore's research capacity. The most important development, he says, has been the ability to attract the best talent from around the world and to lift the education standards in schools and universities. It's what he calls the 'brain-gain game'. “Singapore doesn't have a long academic tradition, so science and research is fairly new,” Andersson says. The country wants a return on its investment, a goal that he acknowledges is still a challenge. “I am confident that it will happen, but it may take some time.” But politicians can be impatient. Pointed questions are being asked, says Low. “All of them are asking 'Now that we have invested S$40-odd billion in the last 25 years and S$20 billion in the next 5 years. What can we expect?” Recent figures are encouraging. They show that business expenditure on R&D reached a new high of S$5.2 billion in 2014, up from S$3.9 billion in 2010. The greatest increase came from small- and medium-sized companies, which spent S$800 million. Activity that suggests companies are more willing to take risks. Despite these signs that Singapore's domestic businesses are responding positively to the stimulus of long-term generous government investment in science, Low says that government funding will not continue to increase in the same way it has for the past 25 years. He thinks that as the science ecosystem of Singapore matures, government support will plateau where it is at around 1% of GDP. If the dynamic island at the end of the Malay Peninsula is going to continue its progress towards a science-led economy, private funds will need to fill the gap. “We have this ecosystem in place,” Low says. “But it is what we make of it that will allow us to see some measure of success.”

Li Y.,Nanyang Technological University | Zhu G.,CAS Research Center for Eco Environmental Sciences | Ng W.J.,Nanyang Technological University | Ng W.J.,Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute | Tan S.K.,Nanyang Technological University
Science of the Total Environment | Year: 2014

This paper presents a comprehensive review of the current state of research activities on the application of constructed wetlands for removing pharmaceutical contaminants from wastewater. The focus of the review was placed on the application of constructed wetlands as an alternative secondary wastewater treatment system or as a wastewater polishing treatment system. The design parameters of the reported constructed wetlands including the physical configuration, hydraulic mode, vegetation species, and targeting pharmaceuticals were summarized. The removal efficiencies of pharmaceuticals under different conditions in the wetlands were evaluated at the macroscopic level. In addition, the importance of the three main components of constructed wetlands (substrate, plants and microbes) for pharmaceutical removal was analyzed to elucidate the possible removal mechanisms involved. There is a general consensus among many researchers that constructed wetlands hold great potential of being used as an alternative secondary wastewater treatment system or as a wastewater polishing treatment system for the removal of pharmaceuticals, but relevant reported studies are scarce and are not conclusive in their findings. Current knowledge is limited on the removal efficiencies of pharmaceuticals in constructed wetlands, the removal mechanisms involved, the toxicity to constructed wetlands caused by pharmaceuticals, and the influences of certain important parameters (configuration design, hydraulic mode, temperature and seasonality, pH, oxygen and redox potential, etc.). This review promotes further research on these issues to provide more and better convincing evidences for the function and performance of larger laboratory-scale, pilot-scale or full-scale constructed wetlands. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.

Chen J.L.,Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute | Ortiz R.,Nanyang Technological University | Steele T.W.J.,Nanyang Technological University | Stuckey D.C.,Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute | Stuckey D.C.,Imperial College London
Biotechnology Advances | Year: 2014

Anaerobic digestion is increasingly being used to treat wastes from many sources because of its manifold advantages over aerobic treatment, e.g. low sludge production and low energy requirements. However, anaerobic digestion is sensitive to toxicants, and a wide range of compounds can inhibit the process and cause upset or failure. Substantial research has been carried out over the years to identify specific inhibitors/toxicants, and their mechanism of toxicity in anaerobic digestion. In this review we present a detailed and critical summary of research on the inhibition of anaerobic processes by specific organic toxicants (e.g., chlorophenols, halogenated aliphatics and long chain fatty acids), inorganic toxicants (e.g., ammonia, sulfide and heavy metals) and in particular, nanomaterials, focusing on the mechanism of their inhibition/toxicity. A better understanding of the fundamental mechanisms behind inhibition/toxicity will enhance the wider application of anaerobic digestion. © 2014 Elsevier Inc.

Kunacheva C.,Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute | Stuckey D.C.,Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute | Stuckey D.C.,Imperial College London
Water Research | Year: 2014

Effluents from biological processes contain a wide range of complex organic compounds, including soluble microbial products (SMP) and extracellular polymers (ECP), released during bacteria metabolism in mixed culture in bioreactors. It is important to clearly identify the primary components of SMPs and ECPs in order to understand the fundamental mechanisms of biological activity that create these compounds, and how to reduce these compounds in the effluent. In addition, these compounds constitute the main foulants in membrane bioreactors which are being used more widely around the world. A review on the extraction of ECP, characterization, and identification of SMPs and ECPs is presented, and we summarize up-to-date pretreatments and analytical methods for SMPs. Most researchers have focused more on the overall properties of SMPs and ECPs such as their concentrations, molecular weight distribution, aromaticity, hydrophobic and hydrophilic properties, biodegradability, and toxicity characteristics. Many studies on the identification of effluent SMPs show that most of these compounds were not present in the influent, such as humic acids, polysaccharides, proteins, nucleic acids, organic acids, amino acids, exocellular enzymes, structural components of cells and products of energy metabolism. A few groups of researchers have been working on the identification of compounds in SMPs using advanced analytical techniques such as GC-MS, LC-IT-TOF-MS and MALDI-TOF-MS. However, there is still considerably more work needed to be done analytically to fully understand the chemical characteristics of SMPs and ECPs. © 2014.

He C.,Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute | He C.,Nanyang Technological University | Giannis A.,Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute | Wang J.-Y.,Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute | Wang J.-Y.,Nanyang Technological University
Applied Energy | Year: 2013

Conventional thermochemical treatment of sewage sludge (SS) is energy-intensive due to its high moisture content. To overcome this drawback, the hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) process was used to convert SS into clean solid fuel without prior drying. Different carbonization times were applied in order to produce hydrochars possessing better fuel properties. After the carbonization process, fuel characteristics and combustion behaviors of hydrochars were evaluated. Elemental analysis showed that 88% of carbon was recovered while 60% of nitrogen and sulfur was removed. Due to dehydration and decarboxylation reactions, hydrogen/carbon and oxygen/carbon atomic ratios reduced to 1.53 and 0.39, respectively. It was found that the fuel ratio increased to 0.18 by prolonging the carbonization process. Besides, longer carbonization time seemed to decrease oxygen containing functional groups while carbon aromaticity structure increased, thereby rendering hydrochars highly hydrophobic. The thermogravimetric analysis showed that the combustion decomposition was altered from a single stage for raw sludge to two stages for hydrochars. The combustion reaction was best fitted to the first order for both raw sludge and hydrochars. The combustion of hydrochars is expected to be easier and more stable than raw sludge because of lower activation energy and pre-exponential factor. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.

Zhang D.,Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute | Gersberg R.M.,San Diego State University | Ng W.J.,Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute | Ng W.J.,Nanyang Technological University | Tan S.K.,Nanyang Technological University
Environmental Pollution | Year: 2014

Pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) in the aquatic environment are regarded as emerging contaminants and have attracted increasing concern. The use of aquatic plant-based systems such as constructed wetlands (CWs) for treatment of conventional pollutants has been well documented. However, available research studies on aquatic plant-based systems for PPCP removal are still limited. The removal of PPCPs in CWs often involves a diverse and complex set of physical, chemical and biological processes, which can be affected by the design and operational parameters selected for treatment. This review summarizes the PPCP removal performance in different aquatic plant-based systems. We also review the recent progress made towards a better understanding of the various mechanisms and pathways of PPCP attenuation during such phytoremediation. Additionally, the effect of key CW design characteristics and their interaction with the physico-chemical parameters that may influence the removal of PPCPs in functioning aquatic plant-based systems is discussed. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Wang H.,Nanyang Technological University | Xie M.,Nanyang Technological University | Thia L.,Nanyang Technological University | Thia L.,Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute | And 2 more authors.
Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters | Year: 2014

Substitutional nitrogen doping in graphene has been a very powerful tool to tailor the pristine property of graphene and furthermore extend its application. While nitrogen-doped graphene (N-graphene) has shown many potential applications in catalysis, electronics, sensors and so on, there is still a lack of accurate control of substitutional nitrogen doping, and higher performance toward various applications is always needed. This Perspective summarizes the ongoing developments toward better control of nitrogen doping. Moreover, two recent strategies aiming to promote the activity of N-graphene are also discussed. © 2013 American Chemical Society.

Gao P.,Nanyang Technological University | Liu J.,Nanyang Technological University | Sun D.D.,Nanyang Technological University | Ng W.,Nanyang Technological University | Ng W.,Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute
Journal of Hazardous Materials | Year: 2013

Graphene oxide (GO)-CdS composites were synthesized via a novel two-phase mixing method successfully. CdS nanoparticles were uniformly self-assembled on GO sheets at water/toluene interface. The photocatalytic degradation (photodegradation) and disinfection activities of GO-CdS composites were investigated thoroughly. The results show that GO-CdS composites exhibit higher efficiency in photodegradation of various water pollutants than pure CdS nanoparticles under visible light irradiation. In addition, the interactions between GO sheets and CdS nanoparticles inhibit the photo-corrosion of CdS and leaching of Cd2+. Only 3.5wt% Cd2+ of GO-CdS was leached out after photodegradation, while 38.6wt% Cd2+ of CdS was lost into aqueous solution. Furthermore, the disinfection activity of GO-CdS composites was investigated for the first time. Nearly 100% of both Gram-negative Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Gram-positive Bacillus subtilis (B. subtilis) were killed within 25min under visible light irradiation. The excellent performances of GO-CdS composites can be attributed to that (1) effective charge transfer from CdS to GO reduces the recombination rate of photo-generated electron-hole pairs; (2) uniform deposition of CdS on GO sheets eliminates aggregation of CdS nanoparticles; and (3) the strong interactions between GO and CdS enhancing the durability of GO-CdS composites. Finally, the mechanism behind these excellent performances was verified by transient photocurrent measurement and further confirmed by ESR technique as well as employing a radical scavenging species - dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO). © 2013.

Lim J.W.,Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute | Lim J.W.,Nanyang Technological University | Wang J.-Y.,Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute | Wang J.-Y.,Nanyang Technological University
Waste Management | Year: 2013

Microaeration has been used conventionally for the desulphurization of biogas, and recently it was shown to be an alternative pretreatment to enhance hydrolysis of the anaerobic digestion (AD) process. Previous studies on microaeration pretreatment were limited to the study of substrates with complex organic matter, while little has been reported on its effect on substrates with higher biodegradability such as brown water and food waste. Due to the lack of consistent microaeration intensities, previous studies were not comparable and thus inconclusive in proving the effectiveness of microaeration to the overall AD process. In this study, the role of microaeration pretreatment in the anaerobic co-digestion of brown water and food waste was evaluated in batch-tests. After a 4-day pretreatment with 37.5mL-O2/LR-d added to the liquid phase of the reactor, the methane production of substrates were monitored in anaerobic conditions over the next 40days. The added oxygen was consumed fully by facultative microorganisms and a reducing environment for organic matter degradation was maintained. Other than higher COD solubilization, microaeration pretreatment led to greater VFA accumulation and the conversion of other short chain fatty acids to acetate. This could be due to enhanced activities of hydrolytic and acidogenic bacteria and the degradation of slowly biodegradable compounds under microaerobic conditions. This study also found that the nature of inoculum influenced the effects of microaeration as a 21% and 10% increase in methane yield was observed when pretreatment was applied to inoculated substrates, and substrates without inoculum, respectively. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.

Goei R.,Nanyang Technological University | Goei R.,Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute | Lim T.-T.,Nanyang Technological University | Lim T.-T.,Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute
Water Research | Year: 2014

Ag-decorated TiO2 (Ag-TiO2) photocatalytic membranes have been fabricated by using Pluronic P-123 as a pore-forming and structure-directing agent. Six different hierarchical architectures were obtained by multilayer coating of different Ag-TiO2 sols. The porous structure of the resulting layers could be fine-tuned by altering the amounts of P-123 and AgNO3 added during the preparation of TiO2 sols. Physico-chemical and morphological properties of different Ag-TiO2 layers were thoroughly investigated. Ag nanoparticles were successfully incorporated into the TiO2 matrix. The Ag-TiO2 membranes possessed multi-functionality of membrane retention, Ag-enhanced TiO2 photocatalytic activity and anti-bacterial action. They were evaluated through experiments using a batch reactor and a photocatalytic membrane reactor (PMR). The best performing membrane was able to remove up to 1007mgm-2h-1 of Rhodamine B in the PMR. Two phenomena (photocatalytic degradation and adsorptive-membrane retention) that were responsible for the RhB removal were evaluated. In the batch reactor operated in dark, the membranes were able to remove greater than 5-logs of Escherichia coli. The membrane with the highest percentage of Ag incorporated was able to remove close to 7-logs of E. coli when operated in the PMR. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.

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