Singapore’s National Water Agency wants more ideas, like the Bedok Reservoir Floating Solar Farm, to push the utility towards net-zero emissions. Photo credit: Public Utilities Board (PUB)

Singapore’s National Water Agency has launched a “Carbon Zero Grand Challenge” that offers prize funding for innovative solutions capable of removing carbon emissions from water treatment facilities.

Known as PUB (Public Utilities Board), the water agency will host the challenge on enterprise crowdsourcing platform HeroX from October until February 24, 2022, with some $5 million (U.S.) in funding available for winning proposals.

“PUB is seeking carbon capture, utilization, removal, and other solutions at any technology readiness level that can be integrated with its operations and reach commercial scale within a decade or sooner,” the utility states in the challenge’s description.

Up to six proposals will be awarded $185,000 each to develop a proof of concept. In this phase, applicants will develop a desktop simulation or lab-scale study and a detailed design for a pilot project. Up to two applicants will then be awarded $1.8 million each to demonstrate a ~1 kiloton-scale version of their idea at a PUB facility in Singapore.

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While PUB officials state that local water emissions represent less than 1.5% of the city-state’s total emissions, “in today’s climate, every contribution counts,” they noted.

“Without the luxury of space as a small country, it is important to think creatively and embrace technology,” explained PUB Chief Sustainability Officer, Chong Mien Ling, in an official statement. “Through this open innovation challenge, we are inviting researchers and companies from around the world to co-create carbon sequestration and utilization technologies that can be integrated with PUB’s operations. We hope to see game-changing solutions that can meet the operational needs of water utilities, while at the same time, capable of reducing carbon emissions,” she added.

Mien Ling went on to say that PUB hopes to achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century, and shared some of the innovations currently driving the utility closer to that target. Notably, she said, PUB is actively replacing carbon-based energy sources with solar-powered systems deployed on facility rooftops and reservoirs. The utility has two floating solar farms able to generate 1.5 MWp (Mega Watt peak) each, and can currently offset 8% of its annual energy needs.

Additionally, PUB has been working to develop next-generation membranes that can substantially reduce the energy required to desalinate sea water and recycle used water.

Lastly, PUB has teamed with University of California, Los Angeles to explore the use of electrolysis technology to capture carbon dioxide in seawater to form solid carbonates and hydrogen, as well as a softened stream of seawater that can be desalinated at lower energy.

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