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ASH, a by-product of waste burned at incineration plants, and traditionally carted off and buried six feet under, could soon be recycled and utilised on the surface of buildings as a construction material.
This has been made possible after research and development efforts by researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), and a government-supported drive to research, test-bed and eventually commercialise such recycling technologies is underway.
The waste-to-energy (WTE) incineration research facility, which is expected to be built by 2018, will enable researchers and industry players to collaborate on emerging WTE technologies for demonstrating and test-bedding their research.
The facility will be jointly developed by NTU and industry regulator the National Environment Agency (NEA) in a S$40 million partnership.
The collaboration, inked at a signing ceremony on Wednesday, will see NEA and NTU co-fund the costs of developing the project. Both parties declined to reveal their stakes in the collaboration.
"What we do in the labs is research; (but that) is still a long way from actual application . . . we need to move research to engineering, so what this facility allows us to do is to address the engineering issues," said executive director at the Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute Ng Wun Jern.
The facility will house a next-generation gasification incinerator, which has a higher heat output than the current mass burn systems in place here, Prof Ng said.
He added that S$20 million will be used for constructing the facility; the remainder will be used for funding research projects over the next decade.
Operating on a plug-and-play model - which is a first for the incineration industry here - different projects with varying equipment needs could be undertaken in the facility. Projects in the pipeline include potentially turning waste to slag - an inert, glass-like material that has applications in the construction industry.
Other applications could be to convert waste and biomass into synthetic gas, which could then be bottled and sold or used to generate electricity. This is compared to mass burn systems, which produces heat and steam to drive turbines for electricity generation. For all that it produces, the facility will also be noted for what it reduces: air pollution.
Said Prof Ng: "Once we get into increased temperatures, the risk of organics that are not so nice escaping into the atmosphere is much reduced, so it is safer from the air pollution perspective."
Manpower training to build competencies in key WTE domains is another key area that the facility will help to develop, Prof Ng added. When completed, it will house six to 12 full-time staff; engineering training, which emulates real world conditions, will also be provided for about 12 to 20 postgraduate students every year.
Said chief executive of NEA Ronnie Tay: "This collaboration with NTU underscores our commitment towards Singapore's vision of becoming a zero waste nation.
"We hope that this facility will provide stakeholders . . . with a platform to collaborate in and create more effective and sustainable waste management solutions."