NTU Secure S$40m in Grants for Sustainability Research Projects

Four proposals from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have won up to S$40 million in research funds from the National Research Foundation (NRF). This follows NRF's fifth call for proposals under its Competitive Research Programme (CRP) Funding Scheme which awards up to S$10 million for each successful research proposal, over three to five years.

Since the inaugural CRP grant call was launched in April 2007, NTU has received a staggering S$130 million in CRP grants from NRF. This underscores the significant role NTU plays as Singapore's leading science and technology university in fuelling the nation's drive for excellence in research and innovation.

The latest CRP call with the theme "Sustainable Urban Systems," saw NTU garnering four awards for proposals involving the development of new biofuels, the development of an underwater city, sustainable urban waste management, and the harvesting of sunlight to create chemical energy.

Engineering biology for next-generation biofuels

One of the winning proposals is by the Chair, School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, Professor Ching Chi Bun. The project focuses on developing advanced next-generation biofuels in an economical and sustainable manner. The new biofuels are expected to meet immediate energy needs within Singapore and the region and will also contribute towards mitigating global climate change.

"We are pleased to receive funding from NRF which is an acknowledgement that our project is not only of high scientific value but one that also meets the national research agenda. We aim to create microbial factories that can make chemical and fuel molecules by studying properties found in microorganisms to produce specific fuel molecules. The advantage of such next-generation biofuels is that it can be readily used by existing automobiles and transportation infrastructure," says Professor Ching.

Building an underwater city

Another successful proposal, by Associate Professor Chu Jian, Director of the Centre for Infrastructure Systems, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, aims to develop specially prefabricated super-scale cylindrical structures to build underwater infrastructures or an underwater city.

On his winning the grant, Associate Professor Chu Jian says, "We are honoured to receive this grant from NRF. It is a recognition that our proposal to develop NEw Underwater Space or NEUSpace is viable and will contribute to the sustainable development of land-scarce Singapore. The proposed construction method, which at the same time creates land above the underwater city, combines cavern and land reclamation methods. Without the need for a large amount of fill materials such as sand, it will be a much more efficient, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly construction method."

Associate Professor Chu Jian added that apart from creating more space in land-scarce Singapore, NEUSpace can also be integrated with port, shore protection and energy harvesting developments and provide a new life style - living underwater.

Sustainable urban waste management for 2020

This successful proposal by Associate Professor Wang Jing-Yuan, Co-Director of NTU's Residues and Resource Reclamation Centre (R3C), aims to develop a programme to create sustainable urban waste management solutions for Singapore.

"This funding is a golden opportunity for NTU to realise new ways of thinking in developing sustainable urban waste management solutions. Our unique proposal involve ideas such as the conversion of wastewater treatment plants into urban eco power stations that can eventually meet 80 per cent energy self-sufficiency for existing plants, and developing new technologies for the rapid land reclamation of closed urban dumping grounds. Our ideas may create new Made-in-Singapore products such as "NEWPower" and "NEWLand" that can be later introduced to other Asia cities and the world," says Associate Professor Wang.

Towards efficient sunlight harvesting

This project by Associate Professor Zhao Yang, from School of Materials Science and Engineering aims to facilitate the design of artificial photosynthetic devices by studying how solar energy absorbed by green plants and bacteria is converted into chemical energy.

"We are pleased to have been selected as a recipient of a CRP grant. We believe it is extremely beneficial to learn from Mother Nature's elegant designs of photosynthesis perfected by millennia of evolution. Our research aims to understand how pigments in bacteria harvest solar energy and transmit it instantaneously to reaction centres, where it is converted into chemical energy. Knowledge gained will be used to facilitate the design of artificial photosynthetic devices of high efficiency and robustness, which will benefit various sectors of the clean energy industry in Singapore and beyond."

NRF's CRP Funding Scheme supports R&D programmes through a competitive bottom-up (investigator-led) approach, with submissions assessed by international scientific reviews. The aim of the scenario-based CRP call is to build up research capability to address major societal challenges relevant to Singapore.

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