NUS academics Professor Lam Khee Poh, Dean of NUS Design and Environment, Professor Liu Bin, Head of NUS Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Associate Professor Ernest Chua from NUS Mechanical Engineering presented the University's research on designing healthy and sustainable cities during the NUS IdeasLab on 24 January at the exclusive World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2019 in Davos, Switzerland.
After a brief introduction by NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye, the lively session kicked off with Prof Lam’s presentation on urbanisation and the incessant rise of mega cities — defined as having more than 10 million inhabitants — particularly in Asia. Highlighting that the way we plan our cities and design our buildings will affect the energy balance and resulting thermal environment, Prof Lam urged the adoption of a holistic user-centric life-cycle approach which addresses sustainability issues along with the health and wellbeing of a building’s occupants, and which necessitates broadening engagement with medical, public health and social science experts. Prof Lam added that targeting 20 to 30 per cent energy savings will not be enough to abate carbon emissions and effort must be made to strive towards net-zero energy buildings, like the newly completed SDE4 building at NUS.
Prof Liu, representing the NUS green energy programme, spoke about the programme's efforts in harnessing solar radiation to meet mankind’s future energy needs. With the rising population and industrialisation of developing countries, the world needs affordable clean energy solutions that maintain an ecological balance critical to sustainability. The solution could be to convert the sun’s energy into stable, energy-dense chemical fuels such as green alcohol — “liquid sunshine in a barrel” if you will. The University is therefore looking into developing scalable, affordable and practical technologies and energy systems to produce green alternative fuels on a gigaton scale. These include carbon capture and regeneration; hydrogen production from water; reduction and hydrogenation of carbon dioxide to alcohols; and alcohol upgrading to aviation fuels and chemicals.
Finally, Assoc Prof Chua introduced NUSCool, a novel hybrid membrane water-based air conditioner that provides confined spaces with cool and dry air — critical for human comfort and safety as climate change intensifies heat waves, as well as for the operation of delicate equipment. Today’s air-conditioners consume large amounts of energy, cause significant environmental harm due to the use of chemical refrigerants, and dissipate large amounts of heat. The next-generation air-conditioner invented by Assoc Prof Chua and his team uses water as a cooling medium to remove heat from the air and membranes to remove moisture, without warming the planet. It can also harvest clean water from humid air which could be used in countries facing water shortages. NUSCool is expected to cost up to 40 per cent less and to be 30 per cent cheaper to operate due to lower energy consumption.
Said Professor Ho Teck Hua, NUS Senior Deputy President and Provost, “It is an honour for NUS to be invited to the prestigious World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, where numerous initiatives of global importance have been launched. It is a testament to the transformative and inspiring work being carried by our talented researchers, as well as the University’s commitment to helping to solve complex global challenges for the betterment of society at large. We are proud that our researchers have been given the opportunity to share their valuable work and experiences in the area of sustainability, alongside other renowned thinkers, on such a respected global platform.”