Engineering Solutions to Leap Forward Green Growth

"Scalable engineering innovations and solutions are necessary for substantive progress in emissions reduction, safeguarding living beings from extreme weather, and circular economy-led green growth" Seeram Ramakrishna and Dalson CHUNG, President of The Institution of Engineers Singapore (IES)
Published in Sustainability

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Countries pledged zero emissions by 2050 to mitigate climate change.  Specifics on how to get there are vague and patchy. Curbing emissions alone is not enough to protect nature.  Efforts must be made to reduce the material intensity i.e. materials, water, and energy used per unit of GDP.  Opting for technological innovations enabled circular economy infrastructure helps to reduce emissions and waste put into nature while pursuing green growth.

Policy developments in Singapore as well as the European Union suggest that they are adapting green economic growth as new engines of growth amidst global uncertainties and limits of imitative strategies.  Green growth includes greening existing industries and creating new green industries.  How to transform is a trillion-dollar question.  Answers depend on the country’s economic structure and industrial strengths, geography, demography, access to resources and technologies, international relationships, investing ability and politics. 

The Institution of Engineers, Singapore (IES), the national society of engineers, formulated the IES Green Plan 2030 ( aligned with Singapore’s green growth interests.  At its launch on 17 January, Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment said Tackling climate change is a complex engineering problem. It requires innovation in products, productions, and systems. Over the years, from our water and energy infrastructure to housing, and transport systems, engineers have established new frontiers for Singapore with your expertise and innovative solutions. Looking ahead, there is great potential for engineers like yourselves to lead and contribute in a significant way to Singapore’s sustainability journey.

Singapore’s approach towards water is an example. Singapore employed smart and innovative engineering solutions to collect, treat, recycle, and supply water.  Per capita household water consumption was reduced from 165 litres per day in 2000 to 141 litres in 2018. About 130 litres is the target by 2030.  Smart and circular water solutions are green growth opportunities as the clean and safe water demand for cities is growing around the world. 

Singapore began to decarbonise energy which has been dominated by fossil fuels.  Energy efficiency technologies and solar energy adoption by industrial estates and residential complexes are steadily growing. Full transformation to a sustainable energy system requires harnessing low-carbon hydrogen energy at scale and nuclear energy. Safety concerns about nuclear energy and lowering the energy intensity of hydrogen production require engineering solutions across many sectors. Carbon capture and storage technology, electrolyser technology, heat pumps, gas adsorption, compression and transport technologies, and decentralised energy systems to name a few.  Singapore’s reliable engineering experience in chemicals, precision engineering, construction, marine and offshore is useful. Sustainable energy generation, transport, and smart grid technologies are poised for mass production as the global market for them will grow to a trillion dollars per year in the next two decades.

Energy systems of land, sea and air transport are undergoing transformation.  The market size of longer life batteries, safer fuel cells, scaled-up biofuel, and efficient carbon capture and conversion technologies to grow as the logistics use low-carbon energies. 

Decarbonised materials with higher circularity for plastics, packaging, textiles, sports, recreation, construction, buildings, decoration, health care, and transportation need process, manufacturing, product, and business innovations.  New products to employ decarbonised steel, aluminium, and concrete. Net-zero and energy-efficient buildings use circular materials, thermal management, and digital technologies with reduced embodied carbon as well as operational carbon. Growing demand for urbanization around the world suggests growth opportunities for these engineering and design innovations.  They are also needed in building data centres without which modern information and communication technologies cannot grow. The multitude of digital technologies enables the functioning of the modern world.  Green growth to benefit from the digital solutions enabling circular economy, and the sustainability approaches shaping digital technologies.

For example, the success of extended producers’ responsibility, the EPR scheme already implemented for e-waste, and the forthcoming beverage containers return scheme, BCRS require harnessing digital technologies such as labelling, reverse vending machines, and robots for automatic sorting and segregation.  They would facilitate waste circular economy industries and new jobs. Digital technologies are helpful to monitor carbon offsets and nature-based climate solutions so as to develop investors' and public confidence.  For example, engineering solutions using drones and data for real-time and predictive analytics, and for cost-effective management of large-scale physical assets.

Engineering scale-up of urban farms and biological process innovations are necessary to satisfy the food nutrition and security needs of the growing world population.  Producing valuable materials from food waste and farm waste is yet another green growth opportunity. 

Human civilization survived and thrived on Earth via a series of innovations and improvements.  Further innovative engineering solutions are needed to mitigate rising sea levels, coastal erosion, biodiversity loss, extreme weather, and natural calamities.  Singapore engineers are expeditiously building polders at Pulau Tekong.  Such engineering solutions are needed to restore terrestrial, marine and urban ecosystems.  Furthermore, cyber-informed engineering ensures the security of the critical infrastructure.

The 32 square kilometres of Jurong Island is a major pillar of Singapore's economy.  Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said “Jurong Island today serves as the base of operations for over 100 leading chemical and energy companies. Jurong Island is also constantly examining ways to remain competitive and sustainable in an increasingly unpredictable world”.  The aforementioned technologies underpin industrial symbiosis led green growth of Jurong Island. 

To pursue green growth, industries need to invest in skills and technologies.  The IES Green Plan 2030 is aimed at bridging the skills gap among engineers. SkillsFuture Singapore collaborates with IES as the Skills Development Partner. The IES Chartered Engineering Certification Programme provides a non-academic pathway for engineering technicians to progress to engineering technologists and then engineers across various sectors.  Another example is the development of an accreditation scheme with the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) for Engineering Consultancy under the Built Environment Skills Framework.

The aforementioned solutions have the potential to affect every inhabitant of Singapore. Scaled-up engineering solutions, thoughtful delivery of green infrastructure, green investments, market inducements, upskilled human resources, new business models, and green-conscious behaviour of consumers, will enable Singapore to realise green growth while avoiding falling behind international competitors aided by green trade wars.   

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