Singapore's Water Industry Doubles to 100 Companies

June 7, 2012
With technology as driver, strong growth in Singapore's water sector will generate 460 jobs

Since being identified as a strategic growth industry in 2006, Singapore's water sector has experienced rapid growth, with the total number of companies doubling from 50 to about 100. Over the same period, Singapore-based water companies also secured over 100 international projects worth close to S$9 billion.

Singapore's water industry continued its growth momentum in 2011 with investments that will add S$130 million of annual value and generate 460 jobs when fully realized.

"The growth of the water industry over the last five years is backed by a strong foundation in water management that has propelled Singapore from a water-challenged nation to an internationally recognized name in the global water community. With an integrated approach to water management, sound water policies and investments in water technologies, Singapore has turned its vulnerability into a valuable asset today. R&D and technology is a key driver of this vibrant eco-system that spans the entire water value chain from consultancy to O&M, to equipment suppliers," said Chew Men Leong, chief executive of national water agency PUB and executive director of EWI.

Leading efforts in making Singapore a global hydrohub is the Environment and Water Industry Programme Office (EWI)—an inter-agency body led by PUB, the national water agency, and involving the Economic Development Board (EDB), International Enterprise (IE) Singapore and SPRING Singapore. EWI has identified technology development, cluster development and internationalization of Singapore-based companies as three strategic thrusts to grow the water industry.

Underpinning these strategies is Singapore's firm emphasis on water technology research and development (R&D) and testbedding. To date, S$470 million in cumulative research funding has been committed by the National Research Foundation (NRF) through EWI to drive public and private sector water research. This has resulted in the establishment of 25 private and public R&D centers, up from just three in 2006.

In addition, PUB has also taken a major role in generating research and innovation activities in water technologies by collaborating with R&D centers and private water companies. Some of these collaborations have been facilitated by EWI schemes like TechPioneer, which encourages water companies to tap Singapore as a living laboratory so that cutting-edge technology can be testbedded and commercialized in a real-life environment. PUB, together with the local research community, has undertaken 348 R&D projects valued at S$221 million.

The research efforts undertaken by R&D centers such as Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institutes (NEWRI), NUS Environmental Research Institute (NERI) and PUB, are steadily succeeding and the resulting technologies and solutions are making their way into the local and global marketplace. This trend has been spurred by another EWI scheme called Fast-Tech. One major commercialization outcome has been the proliferation of new water technology enterprises like HydroVision Asia, Aquaporin Asia, Visenti, Fluigen and Water Optics.

For example, Danish aquaporin membrane company Aquaporin A/S, with the support of EWI funding, has collaborated with the Singapore Membrane Technology Centre (SMTC) of NEWRI to develop an aquaporin-enhanced biomimetic membrane for application in desalination and water reclamation. Aquaporins are proteins embedded in cell membranes that nature uses to selectively shuttle water in and out of cells with minimal resistance while blocking out salts. The use of aquaporins enhances the performance of the membranes by allowing water to flow through more rapidly while still stopping the salts and pollutants. As a next step to bring the new membrane technology closer to market, a new joint venture called Aquaporin Asia was set up to conduct further R&D and piloting and eventually manufacturing in Singapore.

EWI's efforts have also been centered around attracting water companies to establish high-value business activities in Singapore. Companies like PWN Technologies, Toshiba, Mann+Hummel are just some of the companies that have, in the past year alone, added to the vibrant ecosystem of local and foreign water companies in Singapore. These companies conduct a variety of activities in Singapore including R&D, regional headquarters, supply chain management and manufacturing.

"Singapore has built a vibrant water industry cluster. Companies have set up operations here that span the value chain, including R&D centers, equipment suppliers, system integrators and EPC firms, project developers and financing organizations. This is integral to our vision of developing Singapore as a Global Waterhub. Water companies can synergize and foster partnerships to develop and deliver integrated water solutions to worldwide customers from Singapore. We are confident that this critical mass and comprehensive range of activities resonate strongly with the industry and will help us attract even more companies to Singapore," said Yeoh Keat Chuan, assistant managing director of EDB and deputy executive director of EWI.

Contributing to the vibrancy of the water ecosystem are also the local small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) such as MattenPlant and Memiontec, which are offering water solutions to global companies. SPRING helps local SMEs compete regionally by strengthening their capabilities in developing new technologies and innovative solutions in the water industry.

"Environmental issues have become a priority in rapidly growing cities. Hence, there are increasing opportunities for SMEs offering innovative water solutions to showcase their potential and create niche business opportunities in Singapore and the international market. As a result of their innovative technologies and products, many water SMEs have successfully regionalized, boosting Singapore's reputation as a global waterhub," said John Lu, deputy director (Manufacturing and Engineering), SPRING Singapore.

To enable SMEs with little research capabilities to take on technology development, SPRING partnered Ngee Ann Polytechnic to set up the Environmental and Water Technology Centre of Innovation (EWT COI) in 2006. The Centre provides SMEs the technical expertise to develop new technologies and translate intellectual property into applications. EWT COI has since worked with companies to develop more than 60 water and wastewater technology projects, to help in the growth of the industry.

Besides attracting investments into Singapore, homegrown champions like Hyflux, Keppel, Moya Asia, Salcon and Sembcorp have also successfully exported water expertise to key overseas markets such as China and the Middle East region. Last year, Moya Asia clinched a S$145 million 25-year build-operate-transfer (BOT) project on a freshwater treatment complex in Tangerang City, West Java, Indonesia. The BOT project will be rolled out in three zones, with a combined capacity of 168,480 cu meters per day when fully completed in 2016.

Said Kow Juan Tiang, group director, Environment and Infrastructure Solutions, IE Singapore, "The track record built up by Singapore companies gives them strong leverage to share and export their services globally. This not only benefits the companies in their overseas expansion; the international experience gained in turn adds to the development of Singapore's water industry. To help the water players sustain long-term growth, we will look at strengthening presence in more traditional markets such as China and the Middle East, while also diversifying into other markets like Southeast Asia and Latin America, where there are rising water needs for both municipal and industrial purposes."

Looking forward

Since the inception of EWI, Singapore has developed deep capabilities serving the municipal water segment. EWI has identified three key areas for Singapore to focus on in the next phase of growth, namely industrial water solutions, smart water and the energy-water-waste nexus.

Industrial water solutions

The global industrial water market is the fastest growing segment of the water industry, driven by factors such as rapid industrialization, tightening water discharge regulations and increased pressures by industrial water users to reduce their water footprint. EWI intends to diversify our efforts into the industrial water segment by leveraging our existing capabilities and strengths in the municipal water and wastewater sectors.

Intelligent Water Management Systems

Cities and utilities around the world are increasingly looking at Intelligent Water Management Systems (IWMS) to better control water quality, manage water assets, forecast demand and predict disruptions across the entire water cycle. The EWI hopes to position Singapore as a key innovator and fast adopter of IWMS, which will pave the way for water companies to scale up and commercialize IWMS solutions from Singapore.

Water-energy-waste nexus

The production of energy requires a significant amount of water; and the production of potable and industrial water also necessitates energy consumption. Both the production of energy and water also produces significant amount of waste in the form of sludge, brine and waste heat. As energy prices climb and water becomes an increasingly scarce and valuable resource, there is a need to rethink the way water, waste and energy are managed. Technology is evolving to allow us to harness synergies at this water-energy-waste nexus, and Singapore is taking steps to encourage and work with companies and research institutes to develop such technologies.

Singapore International Water Week

Complementing EWI's efforts to grow Singapore into a hub for water technologies and research is the Singapore International Water Week, a water event for the who's who in the global water community to share and discuss practical solutions to pressing water challenges.

"As the global platform for the sharing and co-creation of innovative water solutions, the Singapore International Water Week is perhaps the best showcase of our global hydrohub aspirations. Through this platform, we aim to facilitate and drive more R&D collaborations and partnerships amongst the water players in the public and private sectors to come up with sustainable water solutions," said Chew.

(1) The BOT contract was signed between PT Moya Indonesia (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Moya Asia Limited) and Perusahaan Daerah Air Minum Tirta Benteng Kota Tangerang (PDAM Tangerang).
(2) Intelligent Water Management Systems ("IWMS") refers to the integration of sensors, communications, computer modelling and analytics technologies to monitor and optimise traditional water supply networks.

Source: Hill+Knowlton Strategies