Innovative solutions to support water resilience and environmental sustainability

Innovation and adopting new technologies have always been central to PUB, Singapore’s national water agency as they advance water resilience and environmental sustainability and it is imperative for the water company to strengthen the resilience of their operations and seek more sustainable methods to produce water and reduce their carbon footprint.

Following the success of the last two editions, PUB is bringing back the Global Innovation Challenge (GIC) and inviting water industry partners and innovators to co-develop solutions across four challenge statements. The third iteration of the GIobal Innovation Challenge will anchor on sustainability and smart solutions to enhance the resilience of PUB’s operations. 

The first GIC kicked off in Sep 2020, followed by the second edition in June 2021. The first two editions focused largely on digital and smart solutions to improve PUB’s operational excellence. 

To advance their decarbonisation efforts, PUB is working with SeaChange, a  technology start-up from the University of California, Los Angeles, to build a pilot system for carbon removal at their desalination plants. Another project with CO2Tech, the commercial arm of Australian decarbonisation research organisation CO2CRC, will explore capturing carbon dioxide via solvent absorption and membrane separation, and mineralise it with brine from the desalination plants3 . If these carbon capture projects are successful, large quantities of carbon by-products will be produced. One of the GIC’s challenge statements aim to seek useful industrial applications for these by-products to ensure permanent carbon removal. 

Phosphorous, a critical yet limited resource for modern agriculture, can be found  in significant quantities in used water. As part of PUBs ongoing efforts to improve resource circularity and reduce the volume of waste sent to landfill, PUB is sourcing for solutions to recover phosphorus from the waste streams of the water reclamation plants.  Recovered phosphorous, free of contaminants, in soluble form can be used for  hydroponics cultivation and contribute to Singapore’s push towards food security. 

Two other challenge statements are focused on developing smart solutions (Sewer  Sampling Robot and Smart Drain Inspector) to enhance PUB’s operations. Smart robotic solutions will not only enhance operational outcomes, but also improve manpower productivity and the safety of workers. 

Viable proposals shortlisted by PUB will receive pilot funding of up to $250,000  each. During the development process, organisations and individuals will gain access to real-world test beds in PUB’s facilities and get the opportunity to work alongside PUBs in-house engineers and water experts, with the goal of achieving commercial implementation. 

Said Dr Pang Chee Meng, PUB’s Chief Engineering and Technology Officer: “As  a firm believer in innovation and technology, PUB has been investing in and supporting water related research to develop innovative solutions to overcome water challenges. 

To meet Singapore’s future water needs, while reducing its energy and waste footprint to mitigate climate change, PUB continues to source for new ideas to enhance water resilience and sustainability. 

The Global Innovation Challenge offers an exciting opportunity to companies around the world. We are hoping to leverage the best ideas globally to discover and adopt promising technology to revolutionise our operations, as part of our ongoing transformation to become a smart and sustainable utility of the future.” 

PUB’s last two Global Innovation Challenge editions sparked global interest,  receiving more than 160 proposals. The outreach has been successful with more than 70% of the proposals coming from entities that PUB has not worked with previously. A total of 13 innovative solutions were awarded pilot projects, all of which  are currently at various stages of development. Examples of ongoing projects include: Cost-effective, real-time rainfall monitoring 

Local telco StarHub and water management consultancy Hydroinformatics  Institute (H2i) are working together on a proof-of-concept that taps the former’s network of mobile base stations to function as rainfall sensors. The project aims to assess the potential of using cellular signals and machine learning models to generate real-time rainfall maps, which will further enhance the effectiveness of PUB’s flood monitoring and response efforts during heavy rainstorms. Preliminary results are promising and have demonstrated a correlation between cellular signal strength and actual rainfall measurements from rain gauges. 

Dutch engineering firm Delta Marine Consultants (DMC) is exploring the suitability of a

variant of XblocPlus4, a modular system consisting of interlocking

prefabricated  concrete armour units in Singapore’s coastal environment to tackle sea level rise. DMC has developed several designs based on concepts such as a hybrid approach incorporating nature-based elements. The modular system offers an adaptable and scalable design, which can minimise land-take and integrate with various types of land uses. 

This is advantageous given Singapore’s land constraints. Such a system could also provide a potential option of a more sustainable construction model for coastal protection needs. 

An online information session for the third edition of the GIC will be held on 18  January 2023. Interested parties can sign up via