Singapore The Global Hydrohub

Feb. 1, 2009
In four decades, Singapore built a sizeable, innovative environmental industry and now aims to supply technology and products to 3% of the global water market in the next 10 years.

By Chee Kiong GOH

In four decades, Singapore built a sizeable, innovative environmental industry and now aims to supply technology and products to 3% of the global water market in the next 10 years.

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As the world moves to address climate change, fossil fuel depletion and rapid urbanisation, a need for more eco-friendly products and solutions will accelerate. Cities and nations alike now seek sustainable answers for water and environmental management needs — especially so in Asia, home to almost three billion people, many living in crowded urban spaces.

NEWater bottles
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Singapore has come a long way since its water rationing days in the 1960s. It successfully turned a vulnerability into a strength by investing in research and technology to develop water management and treatment capabilities. Work in the past 40 years has no doubt put us it in good stead to tap vast opportunities in Asia and beyond. Today, the country has identified the environment and water industry as a strategic growth area to help diversify the economy. In the next decade, it aims to supply technology and products to 3% of the global water market.

To establish it as a global hydrohub, the Singapore Ministry of Environment & Water Resources (MEWR) set up the Environment & Water Industry Development Council (EWI) to coordinate efforts of various government agencies. EWI, led by the Public Utilties Board (PUB) — Singapore’s national water agency — and Economic Development Board (EDB), aims to attract more companies to locate in Singapore. It also helps groom local water and environment players, encourage more companies and research institutes to develop cutting-edge technologies, and further export Singapore’s capabilities to growing markets especially in the Middle East and China.

Environmental innovation is no stranger to us. We were an early adopter of innovative solutions such as NEWater (wastewater reclamation) and the Deep Tunnel Sewerage System. The island nation continues to attract and welcome major global water and environment players to use it as a test-bedding and piloting base for new environment and water technologies, after which Singapore is often used as a launch pad to expand into the region. In fact, water and wastewater treatment expertise and technologies developed by leading global players in Singapore are being deployed to their other projects around the world. Meanwhile, homegrown firm Hyflux is building the world’s largest seawater desalination plant in Algeria.

Other corporations include GE Water & Process Technologies, which is investing S$130 million over the next decade to establish a world-scale Global Water R&D Centre at the National University of Singapore. The centre will house 100 researchers with full R&D capabilities to transform innovative concepts into products and solutions to address real-world issues, such as water treatment and systems integration, chemical and membrane applications, and ion exchange technology.

Global engineering consultants Black & Veatch and CH2M-Hill established regional headquarters in Singapore to manage Asia-Pacific operations. B&V also launched a Global Advanced Water Design Centre in 2007, providing engineering-design services to support its water projects worldwide. B&V’s only such strategic centre outside its U.S. headquarters, it also incorporates a global Centre of Excellence for Desalination.

Siemens Water Technologies also set up its S$50 million Global Water Technology Research Centre in Singapore. The facility is critical to its plans to become a regional competence hub for water and used-water technologies. And, already using Singapore as a headquarters outside the USA, Siemens won a S$4 million grant under the EWI-organized 2008 Desalination Challenge as well.

As an R&D base and source of proprietary solutions, Singapore is ideal as a global nexus for the water sector’s intellectual capital. As such, the annual Singapore International Water Week organized by PUB serves as a unifying event. The inaugural meeting in June 2008 brought together almost 8,000 policymakers, industry leaders, experts and practitioners to address challenges, showcase technologies, and discover opportunities. A need for water and environmental management solutions in an increasingly urbanised world will remain a global concern despite near-term challenges caused by the financial crisis. Thus, Singapore believes long-term prospects for the global water industry remains bright, and it is geared up to ride this wave. WWi

Author’s Note:

Chee Kiong GOH is Cleantech director at the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB). More information on industry development efforts can be found at the websites of EDB,, and the Environment & Water Industry Development Council,

Singapore International Water Week

Pitched as “the Gateway to clear and sustainable solutions for Asia and the world,” delegates and trade visitors from 79 countries and 350 exhibiting companies from 40 countries attended this inaugural event in June 2008, with 70% foreign participants. And business deals worth over US$270 million; MOUs by Singapore with Bahrain, India and UAE; and the US$320M AmKonzen Asia Water Fund were announced. This year’s event takes place June 22-26 and includes: the Water Convention & IWA Leading Edge Technologies (LET) Conference; Water Expo (including a new Korea Pavilion); Water Leaders Summit; Business Forums; Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize, and Symposium for Young Water Talents.

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