Our Favourite Local Engineering Innovations That Are Saving the Environment
By Engine Room Posted 8mth(s) ago Reading Time: A few minutes
This is not a drill. Temperatures are rising, ice caps are melting and innocent turtles are dying from ingesting plastic. Climate change is very real, but the good news is, we’re not ignoring it.
As natural problem solvers, engineers have been playing an important role developing solutions that work for the greater good. This World Environment Day, we show some love for local engineering innovations that are helping us save our planet.
Sensors that tell how plants are feeling
Imagine a day when all the veggies on display at your favourite cai png stall are locally grown. For that to happen in a small city-state like Singapore, urban farming will need to succeed. And this means having plants grow and thrive in small spaces - something not all are good at naturally (a bit like us!)
Thanks to a team of engineers and scientists from the Disruptive and Sustainable Technologies for Agricultural Precision (DiSTAP) research group, that day might not be so far away. The DiSTAP team has been working on nano and optical sensors that can track and measure plant growth, helping us understand how the plants are feeling and in turn engineer the right conditions for them to flourish.
Fun fact: when plants “talk” they release molecules in the air that are then received by other plants - the sensors will allow us to intercept and analyse these molecules.
Air-conditioners that becomes more efficient as it gets hotter
There’s no better way to beat the heat than by blasting the air-conditioner. In fact, our love for air-con is so strong that we have the most installed per capita in Southeast Asia. But keeping cool comes at a price, especially since air-conditioners produce large quantities of greenhouse gases.
Luckily, a team of researchers from the National University of Singapore has engineered a hybrid air-conditioner that reduces our carbon footprint. Unlike conventional air-cons which generate heat when used, this hybrid uses heat from the sun and surroundings to power itself instead. Which means that the hotter it is outside, the more efficient it becomes!
Eco-friendly masks that protect
Face masks have been, and will continue to be, vital in our fight against COVID-19. If they aren’t disposed properly, the disposable surgical masks can end up as plastic waste on beaches and in the sea.
Medical engineers from local firm Gill Lab have since created an innovative face mask that is not only more sustainable, but is also way more comfortable than a cloth one. Inspired by scuba-diving masks, it consists of a silicone face piece that moulds to your facial features for comfort, and an eco-friendly, reusable respirator with an air-tight seal to protect you from droplets and even airborne transmission. Plus, it lasts up to two years, making it more eco-friendly and cost effective than a disposable mask.
Solar panels that float on our reservoirs
Seeing solar panels on land or rooftops isn’t something new, but floating solar panels on our reservoirs could be! REC Solar, together with EDB and PUB, successfully piloted a floating solar PV system on top of Tengeh Reservoir. It’s now being expanded and when completed in 2021, will be as big as 45 football fields. Two other smaller floating solar panels have also been built at Bedok Reservoir and Lower Seletar Reservoir.
Together, these floating solar panels will be able to generate enough energy to power the equivalent of 15,500 four-room HDB flats for a year. They will also help to reduce our carbon emissions by around 37 kilo tons each year, the same as taking 8,000 cars off the road!
Engineering is key to fighting climate change and it’s not only environmental engineers who can play a part. Engineers across all sectors can and are doing something, even if it’s making our dabao containers a little more eco-friendly. The beauty of our work is that it’s broad - sometimes, the sensors we develop power the latest iPhone so we can talk to our friends, and sometimes they help us “talk” to plants. Who knows what we’ll come up with next?