Wednesday, July 2, 2014

National University in Singapore, Public Housing, Senoko Waste To Energy Plant

After a very short early morning nap upon our arrival in Singapore, we began our first day of in-country programming.

National University of Singapore:  We are being housed by the National University of Singapore and had a chance to tour the campus.  This is a university that is considered among the most prestigious in the country and has aspirations of being a leading institution of higher learning on both the regional and global stage.  That being said, there is a palpable energy here, with the feeling that both Singaporean and a good number of students from around the world are here because they sense the growing global role the Pacific Rim and Asian Powers will play in creating and reaping the benefits from the economic landscape of the twenty-first century.

It also turns out that NUS is a fantastic place to begin exploration of Singapore as a true "Garden City".  Despite the fact that the city and campus is highly urbanized, there is incredible attention paid to providing green spaces, landscaping, and fostering a relationship with nature amidst the concrete and steel.  As a consequence, the sweltering heat and humidity is drastically mitigated by the fountains, breezeways, green corridors, and shade, while abundant greenery improves air quality and provides oxygen.  The expected urban "heat island effect" found in so many cities felt like it has been reversed through some very thoughtful planning and design.

UTown Green at National University of Singapore
A huge fan efficiently moves the air in this outdoor study area
Trees and shrubs bring the tropical rainforest back to the urban jungle

Vines run the entire height of this high-rise commercial and academic complex

Public Housing:  On our way to the Senoko Waste to Energy Plant this afternoon, we had the opportunity to witness much about the layout and priorities of urban design in Singapore.  One aspect that we will be learning more about later, but I found very interesting, was with regard to how public housing operates in Singapore.  This conversation was sparked by seeing some of the public housing developments we passed on the roadway.
Public housing development

Public housing in Singapore is built by the government to encourage ownership by the resident.  Housing is very expensive, but favorable, long loan terms are offered, and the property is well-maintained by the government.  These flats have proven to be an excellent way to build a valuable asset for the homeowner over time, as the lack of land and economic growth have driven property values higher.  Again, there is a good possibility that I may expand on this topic later in our visit, but this program does show the value the government places on home ownership and how high ownership rates of quality housing can be a stabilizing force in society.

Senoko Waste To Energy Plant:  With a growing population due to immigration and lack of available land, waste management is a huge concern in Singapore.  Part of the strategy to address this issue is to build plants capable of incinerating large amounts of garbage to reduce landfill needs, but also produce energy.  Here are some images that help to illustrate the process:

This solid waste incineration process requires (from Left to Right) the delivery of the waste, grabbing waste with mechanical claw, placing it in a hopper to release onto a moving grate where trash is incinerated and temperature is tightly controlled, this heats water in a series of pipes, which drives the steam turbines to create power.  Heavy metals, particulates, and other pollution are captured, processed, and/or filtered so that pollution from the stacks is reduced to below rigorous Singapore air quality regulations.

A few interesting points about the process and results:
  • Energy required to power the whole waste incineration process is only 20% of what is produced, so 80% goes back into national grid.
  • Original mass of waste is reduced by 80% and waste volume by 90%
  • Water is in a closed loop steam system and is incredibly pure so as not to damage the turbines.
  • Processed material that does reach the landfill will not produce the methane that is typically produced in landfills because there is little to no new decomposition that will take place.
  • This is Singapore's primary trash solution as there are Waste To Energy plants across the country that handle their respective region.  While recycling is often available in public spaces throughout Singapore, home recycling in high-rise apartments and public housing is rare because centralized trash shoots built into these structures do not allow for the sorting of trash.  (Basically, it is too easy to throw it all away, rather than pull out the recyclables.)
Tomorrow, we are off to the central business district and other iconic sights of the city!

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