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Crowdsourcing Innovative Water Solutions in Singapore

National Water Agency, Public Utilities Board (PUB) has launched its second edition of the Global Innovation Challenge (GIC), inviting companies and researchers around the world to co-create innovative water solutions that can improve its operational excellence and meet future water needs. This initiative is part of PUB’s efforts to accelerate the discovery and adoption of digital solutions and technologies to transform into a Smart Utility of the Future.

These are the four aspects of the project: a) The real-time identification of prohibited organic compounds in sewers, (b) Mapping of underground utilities, (c) Cost-effective rainfall monitoring, and (d) Innovative solutions for coastal protection measures.

Shortlisted proposals will receive pilot funding of up to S$250,000 each, mentorship from PUB’s in-house experts, access to real-world testbeds in PUB facilities and the opportunity to commercialise these solutions.

The first edition of the project had six aspects that focused on garnering digital and smart solutions for increased efficiency, productivity and safety in PUB’s operations. This pilot run sparked worldwide interest, receiving over 100 submissions from 20 countries over just five weeks. Ten local and foreign companies were subsequently shortlisted to develop their solutions.

In 2020, PUB called for solutions in sensor data integrity monitoring, real-time detection of taste and odour compounds in water, seamless coagulation control, automated earth control measure submission evaluation, robotics for water tank cleaning, and automated identification and enumeration of midge populations.

A local company was awarded for a solution that greatly reduced the manual handling and counting of chironomid (midges) adults and larvae, achieving more than 80% reduction in counting time. Another local company collaborated with a Switzerland-based company to propose a solution that can achieve near-real-time identification and quantification of organic compounds in water, a significant improvement from the usual 30 minutes required by conventional solutions. This will greatly enhance PUB’s water quality monitoring operations in the plants and out on the field.

PUB’s first edition project saw a successful run that garnered strong interest from global innovators and technology companies. PUB is continuing its efforts this year in sourcing ground-up solutions from a wider target audience, gleaning ideas from across the globe in the digitalisation journey. They aim to support the development, deployment and adoption of these solutions to meet Singapore’s future water needs.

Wastewater that could potentially contain viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens is a problem in Singapore. As reported by OpenGov Asia, The COVID-19 pandemic has reignited interest in wastewater surveillance. Non-infectious fragments of the virus’s genetic material have been discovered in untreated wastewater worldwide.

COVID-19 wastewater surveillance could have numerous advantages. It is a low-cost method of surveying the transmission dynamics of entire communities. It is free of the biases that other epidemiological indicators have. It collects information from people who do not have access to healthcare. If it is successful in revealing infection dynamics before diagnostic testing, it could provide public-health officials with near-real-time disease prevalence data.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has also taken the initiative to implement the programme and will be expanding its wastewater surveillance programme to cover more than 400 sites by next year, the agency recently announced. Since February of last year, more than 200 sites, including workers’ dormitories, student hostels, welfare and nursing homes, and residential sites, have been under surveillance.

Wastewater testing is a “non-intrusive” way to detect COVID-19 transmission in a community and supports the monitoring and management of the coronavirus, NEA said. “With the clearance of transmission in dormitories, wastewater surveillance today complements rostered routine testing of individuals for early detection of COVID-19 transmission in dormitories, to facilitate early intervention and isolation of cases.”

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