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Keeping our cool

A leading Swiss technical institute is leading the Cooling Singapore project which aims to reduce the impact of heat on the environment here.

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Dr Burkhard moved to Singapore in 2010, and his role has been to build up the Singapore-ETH Centre in Singapore.

AS URBAN centres like Singapore become more densely populated and business activity increases, more and more heat is produced in the process. A leading Swiss technical institute is working on a pioneering project with the aim of reducing the impact of heat on the environment in Singapore. Called the Cooling Singapore project, its progress could have far reaching implications for other densely populated urban centres around the world.

"The Cooling Singapore project aims to mitigate the urban heat island (UHI) effect in Singapore and to improve outdoor thermal comfort (OTC) and liveability. The overarching goal of the Cooling Singapore initiative to remove heat from the urban system is also closely aligned with Singapore's pledge to reduce emission intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030," says Remo Burkhard, managing director of the Singapore-ETH Centre (SEC), which has been set up by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH).

"The idea for the project was seeded by our SEC director Gerhard Schmitt in the Future Cities Laboratory, the first research programme at the Singapore-ETH Centre. The urban heat island effect can raise temperatures in parts of Singapore by up to seven degrees Celsius, with far-reaching effects on health, liveability, productivity and the economy. Based here in tropical Singapore, our researchers saw the need for more scientific and coordinated efforts to tackle UHI in Singapore and beyond."

The Cooling Singapore project was made possible in 2017 when Singapore's National Research Foundation provided the team with a grant under its CREATE programme. Led by the Singapore-ETH Centre, the project brings together professors and researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS), SMART (Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology), and TUMCREATE (established by Technical University of Munich).

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Cooling Singapore, lead by Prof Schmitt, is an ambitious project, first and foremost, in raising awareness and interest in UHI and OTC, but more importantly, in building actionable knowledge and bringing key stakeholders together to work towards UHI mitigation and enhancing OTC.

"Working towards a cooler Singapore cannot be the remit of a single institution or government agency, since it has wide ranging implications for economic development, urban planning, building and construction, and transportation. In practice, it will involve close collaboration between scientists, agencies, industry, and policymakers," says Dr Burkhard.

Singapore is the second most densely populated country in the world. Its small size and high density bring considerable challenges in mitigating UHI and improving OTC. While the UHI is a problem for Singapore, it also presents opportunities. In the tropics and sub-tropics, many cities are facing the same problems.

"Through good urban climate designs based upon scientific evidence, developed in close collaboration with the relevant government agencies, the Cooling Singapore team believes that these challenges can be overcome. Looking ahead, Singapore can become a knowledge hub for urban climate design and technology, with solutions developed here being applied in other cities in the region," says Dr Burkhard.

One of the key tasks of the Cooling Singapore project is to establish an inter-agency task force to actively engage the relevant government agencies and institutions. The task force, which is an integral part of the Cooling Singapore project, makes it possible to exchange knowledge among key stakeholders through a series of workshops, he adds.

The task force comprises members from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), Building and Construction Authority (BCA), Centre for Liveable Cities, Housing and Development Board (HDB), JTC Corporation, Land Transport Authority (LTA), Meteorological Service Singapore, Nanyang Technological University (NTU), National Climate Change Secretariat, National Environment Agency (NEA), National Parks Board (NParks), Singapore Land Authority (SLA), Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

"The Cooling Singapore team has also applied a microscale climate model to three case studies: Jurong Lake District, the Central Business District, and the Punggol neighbourhood. These have allowed researchers to understand how OTC varies over time and space, and to study the effects of different urban designs on mitigating UHI. Initial results of the studies point to the need for more scientific research into UHI mitigation. Such a scientific approach will improve efficiency and cost effectiveness in the planning and implementation of strategies," says Dr Burkhard.

He moved to Singapore in 2010, and his role has been to build up the Singapore-ETH Centre in Singapore. "One of my main motivations is to achieve the highest quality of research with direct impact while making everything as easy as possible for our employees and partners. It is a fascinating job and an honour to work for the ultimate benefit of society," he says.

Beyond what policymakers and planning agencies can do to mitigate urban heating, businesses and the man on the street have a role to play too. Two of the main causes of Singapore's UHI are solar energy trapped and stored in roads and buildings being released as heat; and energy consumed in industry, transportation and buildings, says Dr Burkhard.

The Cooling Singapore team has reviewed, sector by sector, how heat can be removed from the system, and produced a catalogue of 86 possible measures. Businesses in the property development sectors should be more informed about how the choice of building materials may trap or reflect heat, how the orientation of buildings may provide more shade, or how the clustering of buildings may facilitate or hinder wind flow, for instance.

The Singapore-ETH Centre is also working on the Digital Underground project with the Singapore Land Authority of Singapore, in collaboration with the Geomatics Division of the City of Zurich.

"We bring together complementary expertise to develop methods for the accurate 3D digital mapping of underground utility networks and other components. As Singapore continues to explore the use of underground spaces due to the limited land mass, planners will be better equipped to plan underground spaces with an improved understanding of what already exists underground," says Dr Burkhard.

"In the first phase of the Future Cities Laboratory, we brought technology developed at ETH Zurich for energy and space efficient heating systems to the tropics. Obviously, in Singapore, we do not require heating. Instead, this suite of technologies was adapted to cool buildings in the tropics. This is an important development, since air-conditioning takes up more than 50 per cent of energy consumption of buildings and occupies valuable space.

"With the potential to bring down energy consumption by up to 60 per cent, increasing lettable floor space by up to 2 per cent and reducing vertical space consumption by up to 100 cm per floor, the 3for2 Beyond Efficiency project has gained a lot of interest from stakeholders in the building industry. The project has since been implemented at the United World College Southeast Asia, Dover campus as a pilot project; and preliminary results show that energy consumption is more than 40 per cent lower than the 90 per cent quantile of office spaces in Singapore, making it one of the most energy efficient office spaces in the country."

Meanwhile, the Future Resilient Systems programme at the Singapore-ETH Centre, together with the ETH Risk Centre, organised the inaugural Infrastructure Resilience Conference in Zurich this year. The conference saw a meeting of minds of over 200 participants from academia, agencies, and industry to exchange knowledge to make infrastructure systems more resilient.

The next event, the World Congress on Resilience, Reliability and Asset Management, will take place in Singapore in July 2019. The congress is being organised in collaboration with Beihang University, International Society of Engineering Asset Management (ISEAM), Singapore Chapter of the System Safety Society, and the Temasek Defence Systems Institute (TDSI) at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

The Singapore-ETH Centre is the first and only research centre established by ETH Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, outside Switzerland. The Singapore centre was established in 2010 in partnership with the National Research Foundation of Singapore, as part of its Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE).

The centre aims to tackle some of the most pressing challenges in cities in close collaboration with Singaporean and other universities, government agencies, industry and the wider community, to ensure the relevance of its research to the needs of society.

Since its founding, the Singapore-ETH Centre has become a vibrant hub for research with some 200 researchers of diverse disciplines under its two programmes: Future Cities Laboratory and Future Resilient Systems. Future Cities Laboratory (FCL) was set up in 2010 with the aim of making cities more sustainable and liveable, based on insights from science and design. Future Resilient Systems (FRS), established in 2014, aims to make infrastructure systems more robust and resilient.

ETH Zurich says that it is the place where the future begins as it focuses on freedom and individual responsibility, entrepreneurial spirit and open mindedness. It stands on a bedrock of true Swiss values. The university with a focus on science and technology dates back to the year 1855, when the founders of modern day Switzerland created it as a centre of innovation and knowledge.

At ETH Zurich, students discover an ideal environment for independent thinking and researchers have a climate which inspires top performance. Situated in the heart of Europe, yet forging connections all over the world, ETH Zurich is pioneering effective solutions to the global challenges of today and tomorrow.

"A good university doesn't just teach knowledge but the ability to think," says Lino Guzzella, president of ETH Zurich.

Some 530 professors teach around 20,500 students - including 4,100 doctoral students - from over 120 countries at ETH Zurich. Their collective research embraces many disciplines: natural sciences and engineering sciences, architecture, mathematics, system oriented natural sciences, as well as management and social sciences.

The results and innovations produced by ETH researchers are channelled into some of Switzerland's most high-tech sectors: from computer science to micro and nanotechnology and cutting edge medicine.

Every year, ETH registers around 90 patents and 200 inventions on average. Since 1996, the university has produced a total of 380 commercial spin-offs. ETH says that it also has an excellent reputation in scientific circles: 21 Nobel laureates have studied, taught or researched at the university; and in the international league tables, ETH Zurich regularly ranks as one of the world's top universities.

With a view to serving society, ETH Zurich says that it performs many services for the federal government and uses its expertise to make important contributions to public debate.