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S$10.8 million Environmental Robotics Programme and Closing the Waste Loop research funding initiative from NEA Singapore

The Singapore Government launched the Environmental Services Industry Transformation Map (ES ITM) today. One of the key thrusts in the ITM is to facilitate the development and deployment of innovative and smart technologies.

As part of research funding initiatives to encourage greater use of technology and automation in the environmental services industry, the National Environment Agency of Singapore (NEA) has developed a S$10.8 million Environmental Robotics Programme, with support from the National Robotics R&D Programme.

The Programme will enable the development of robotics solution to enable productivity gains, enable a sustainable manpower stream and enhance current capabilities, along with the development of new ones.

Through the research, development, demonstration and deployment of robotic solutions, NEA seeks to reduce both NEA’s and NEA contractors’ manpower requirements for current-day operations as well as for future operations in an increasingly urbanised environment.

The use of robotic technology can transform current manual tasks that are traditionally lower-skilled, lower paying and strenuous, into jobs that are higher-skilled, more productive and better-paying. This would make such jobs more accessible and attractive to a wider demographic base, including locals.

Robotics is also expected to improve the safety and effectiveness of NEA officers and enable them to better access confined and dangerous areas to carry out inspection, monitoring and sampling tasks.

In the initial phase, the Environmental Robotics Programme, will develop robotics solutions for NEA’s work areas in: 1) Cleaning of Public Spaces; 2) Waste Management (Collection, Transportation, Sorting and Disposal); and 3) Inspection, Monitoring and Sampling for Pest and Pollution Control.

This programme seeks to catalyse the local robotics industry, providing opportunities for small and medium enterprises, institutes of higher learning, and research institutes to build up expertise and experience in delivering environmental robotic solutions which can be commercialised and exported.

The funding will be awarded through open and competitive mode. As part of this initiative, NEA, together with the Ministry of Transport (MOT), had issued a Request for Information (RFI) for the design, development and trial of autonomous road sweepers, pavement sweepers and refuse collection in October 2016. The information collected from this RFI is being used to facilitate preparations for a subsequent Request for Proposal (RFP) through this programme.

Closing the Waste Loop

NEA will start a new Closing the Waste Loop (CTWL) research funding initiative to boost Singapore’s R&D capabilities in developing solutions to extract value and resources from key waste and residue streams including plastics, food, electrical and electronic products, and incineration ash. By converting waste to resources and keeping the recovered materials in the economic cycle, NEA seeks to enhance resource efficiency, reduce dependency on incineration and landfilling while at the same time, help to maintain high levels of public health.

The initiative is supported by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Ministry of National Development (MND) under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 Plan (RIE2020), with a funding of S$45 million under the Urban Solutions and Sustainability (USS) domain.  The objectives of the initiative are illustrated in the figure below.

Above image: Overarching Objectives of the CTWL Initiative/ Credit: NEA

The initiative will focus on four thematic areas, namely:

  • Segregation and value recovery (includes Hydrometallurgy methods, which involve use of aqueous chemistry to extract and obtain metals, for e-waste recycling; Sustainable and bio-benign plastic packaging materials and Food waste conversion to energy and nutrients)
  • Landfill conservation (includes cost-effective & energy efficient treatment processes for incineration of bottom ash and fly ash and non-incinerable waste;Treatment for recycling of industrial residues)
  • Environmental remediation (includes rapid site investigation and assessment methods; cost-effective remediation technologies; and on-site treatment of soil and residues)
  • Digital and data-driven management systems (includes analysis of waste generation and management in the whole value chain; modelling and simulation to inform on planning and policy decisions; and influencing human behaviour through behavioural science)

These proposed themes will complement the existing Waste-to-Energy (WtE) Programme that NEA is leading under the USS Energy sub-domain to enhance energy recovery from waste.

NEA will also continue to work closely with partner government agencies, such as Economic Development Board (EDB), Employment and Employability Institute (e2i), Info-Communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA), SPRING Singapore and Workforce Singapore (WSG) to support the environmental services industry in developing and adopting innovative technologies. The government will also continue to explore ways to provide the necessary support for cleaning and waste management businesses to allow them to build capabilities. A list of these existing programmes is available on pages 4 and 5 of the document on the funding schemes here.

The NEA also signed Letters of Intent (LOI) with seven partners today to begin a series of trials that will be carried out at partners’ premises over the next few years. The premises range from Changi airport and hospitals to malls, office buildings and entertainment venues. Examples of technologies include autonomous cleaning equipment, smart bins, and targeted and effective control of rodent population through data analytics.

Featured image: Terence Ong/ CC BY-SA 3.0

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