Event Summary: Denmark-Singapore Water Dialogue
Updated: Aug 18, 2021
An exploration of collaborative ties between Singapore and Denmark during Singapore International Water Week on June 25th, 2021
The event brought together key thought-leaders and water sector experts to raise challenges and analyse what is being undertaken in both Singapore and Denmark to advance a shared collective goal of achieving a greener and more sustainable future.
Watch the webinar on demand here.
The line-up of speakers consisted of:
HE Ms. Sandra Jensen Landi, Ambassador of Denmark to Singapore and Brunei
HE Ms. Lea Wermelin, Minister for the Environment, Denmark
Professor Shane Snyder, Executive Director, Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute (NEWRI), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Welcome remarks by Mr. Finn Mortensen & HE Ms. Sandra Jensen Landi
Denmark and Singapore face a number of similar issues such as high living costs, an ageing population, high labour costs and more. Above all, Denmark and Singapore share a collective commitment to achieving a more sustainable and climate-friendly future, of which has culminated in the signing of a 5-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).
Keynote Speech: The Minister of Environment of Denmark, HE Ms. Lea Wermelin
Denmark has set bold targets. By 2030, we want to reduce our CO2 emissions by 70%. To ensure success, every sector in Denmark must be actively involved. For water, Denmark has set the goal of being the first country with its water sector that is climate and energy neutral by 2030.
Right now, Denmark notes 3 main water-related challenges:
Too little water
Too much water
Too dirty water
To mitigate these challenges, Denmark is dedicated to protecting our fresh water, minimising water loss and maximising the recovery of resources from our wastewater. We treat near 100% of our wastewater in Denmark and utilise the energy potential of wastewater wherever possible. Almost 80% of phosphate in Danish wastewater is reused as fertiliser in our agricultural sector, and Danish wastewater plants now produce 88% of the energy they consume due to smart solutions. In fact, these wastewater plants are energy neutral and net energy producers.
On a global scale, the water sector amounts for 4% of all electricity consumption. In the EU, the figure is 3%. In Denmark, it is 1.8%. If more countries adopted technologies for efficiency like Denmark, we would save enormous amounts of CO2.
Since 1987, Denmark has succeeded in reducing water consumption by near 40%, with the water consumption per capita at 101 litres in 2019. Water loss has been brought down to a national level of 6% and in Copenhagen, our capital city, to 5%.
Reducing industrial water consumption is also important. Denmark has just completed a partnership project where the focus has been on reducing water consumption by 30% in most water-consuming industries. For instance, Carlsberg - the Danish brewery group - is on a mission to reduce 50% of water consumption by 2030. This will not only save the company money but reduce pressure on our water resources and benefit the environment.
Denmark has set utility prices on water to incentivise innovation. If the public and private sector work together, it brings together experts, companies, authorities, utilities and knowledge institutions to co-create the best solutions.
Since 2014, Singapore and Denmark have worked together on effective water management through a cooperation agreement. In 2020, Singapore and Denmark joined force once again to revise this agreement on water with a focus on waste management and soil pollution too. Working together to find solutions to these global challenges is imperative in order to advance our efforts to ensure a greener future.
Keynote Speech: Minister for Sustainability and the Environment of Singapore, HE Ms. Grace Fu
Singapore, according to the World Resources Institute, will be one of the most water stressed countries in the world by 2040. At present, Singapore is addressing water challenges through research and technology, regulations and collaborations with partners such as Denmark.
Singapore will rise to the challenge of water resource management with 3 strategies:
In 2002, after more than 3 decades of research for innovation, PUB, Singapore's national water agency, unveiled NEWater, Singapore's high grade recycled water. Today, Singapore has closed the water loop with 5 NEWater plants, which complement Singapore's 4 desalination plants including the newest large-scale dual mode (sea water and freshwater) desalination plant. As water recycling and desalination are energy-intensive, Singapore aims to reduce the energy intensity and carbon emissions from their operations. Singapore is exploring electro-de-ionisation and biomimetic membranes to improve the NEWater recovery from 75% to 90% with no increase in energy consumption.
Singapore aims to reduce the energy required to produce desalinated water from 3.5 kilowatt hours to 2 kilowatt hours per cubic metre by 2025. In July 2021, Singapore will unveil the world's largest floating solar panel system at Tengeh Reservoir. This will produce enough power for all of Singapore's waterworks that treat reservoir water, making Singapore one of the first countries in the world to have a waterworks system fully powered by renewable energy.
Work on Tuas Nexus, Singapore's first integrated solid waste and used water treatment facility is also underway. Tuas Nexus will maximise energy and resource recovery by harnessing synergies across the water, energy and waste nexus. It will co-digest used water sludge and food waste in the same plant, producing 40% more biogas than if the two waste streams were separately treated. Tuas Nexus will be energy self-sufficient and also provide electricity to the grid. This will reduce more than 200,000 tons of CO2 annually - equivalent of taking 42 500 cars of the roads.
Good water management policies spanning from water prices to water conservation are essential too. Water in Singapore is priced to reflect its scarcity which encourages consumers to use it wisely. It is pegged to the cost of supplying the next drop of water or the marginal cost of producing water. Since 2015, businesses and industries that consume 60,000 cubic metres of water or more per annum must submit water efficiency management plans to help manage their water usage better. With the mandatory water efficiency labelling scheme, household appliances such as taps, flushing cisterns, and washing machines must bear labels to help consumers make informed choices. Minimum water efficiency standards must be met for some products, therefore nudging suppliers to introduce more water efficient fittings into the market. Commercial fittings and appliances such as washer extractors, dishwashers and high-pressure washers will be subject to these standards starting January 2022.
Public education is a priority to encourage responsible water usage. Water conservation is taught in the schools, and PUB actively engages the community on water conservation through awareness campaigns and events.
These allow Singapore to advance its national agenda on sustainable development under the Singapore Green Plan 2030. Under this plan, Singapore aims to reduce water consumption from 154 litres in 2020 to 130 litres per capita per day by 2030.
Singapore and Denmark are committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 set out by the United Nations - in particular, SDG 6, ensuring clean water and sanitation for all. In spite of the Covid-19 pandemic, the implementation of the 2020 MOU between Denmark and Singapore on environmental and water matters has been successful and ongoing. This include technical exchanges on limiting water loss and business seminars on unlocking the potential of wastewater. Danish companies - Grundfos, Ramboll and VCS Denmark - have contributed to Singapore's water ecosystem.
Singapore and Denmark have been working together with ASEAN countries in technical assistance in areas such as circular economy, waste and water resource management and climate change. This has helped the region identify opportunities in the sustainability sector and shortened the learning curve to building back better and greener during these times.
Fireside Chat Session: Resource Recovery
Question: What does the word "resource recovery" mean to you and your utility?
Mr. Dines Thornberg: We have to strive to use everything and engage in sorting before treating it.
Mr. Lars Schrøder: If we look at wastewater as resource water, we thus focus on all types of resources. Then we can learn, develop and extract not only energy but all kinds of interesting things from it.
Mr. Mads Leth: It is about moving from a normal utility to a sustainable utility. Energy conservation and energy production was our thing but as a result of natural progression, we are moving in to explore what other resources we can extract from waste water like nitrogen and phosphorus.
Question: Resource recovery is often associated with costs. What are the realities of your cost structure and how have you overcome this?
Mr. Lars Schrøder: Our current treatment plant is a little old and a new one is in store. Returns on investments are necessary. There also has to be a focus on energy and not just wastewater treatment. If this is done correctly, you can make a very good and cheap investment, while expecting short return payments.
Question: How important is partnership between technology companies, utilities and academia?
Mr. Mads Leth: Partnership is crucial to bring about new ways of thinking. We cannot solve the challenges alone. International partnerships are being sought after as part of our natural progression.
Question: What are the main drivers or enablers of resource recovery in Denmark. Could you shed some light on the regulations involved?
Mr. Dines Thornberg: Regulation and legislation are key drivers. Legislation about nitrous oxides drives us to do things about it. Years ago when we were creating the environmental plans in Denmark, we were striving towards nitrogen and phosphorus removal due to legislation. Obligation is an important part of achieving resource recovery. There has to be cooperation because we need fresh ideas from experts across different fields.
Question: What are some measurable targets set by your utility towards meeting climate and net zero goals? What are some project examples being undertaken or planned in the space of resource recovery?
Mr. Mads Leth: We are net energy positive as of today. In our operations, we consider the extent of capital investments and the footprint it leaves behind. Direct and indirect emissions must be measured but this is difficult. In the coming years, we are continuing to focus on CO2 emissions - how we can measure, calculate and account for our CO2 footprint - but most importantly, we look at our methane and N2O emissions. We look at how to capture, reduce and utilise or even sell the products of these emissions.
Mr Lars Schrøder: Another key driver is the desire to be efficient. Efficiency is connected to sustainability. We have reduced our costs since 2010 and by more than 2% each year. Another driver is the emphasis on needing to be energy neutral.
Mr. Dines Thornberg: Our ambitions are written in our strategy. That's enough of a driver for us.
Panel Discussion - Track 1: Collaboration & Business Opportunities and Operation Models within Resource Recovery
Question: Considering wastewater as a resource is a relatively new perspective. However, we now widely recognise that the organic content in wastewater can be a resource for energy production, phosphorus can be used for fertiliser production with several advantages compared to the application of sewer sludge on agricultural land. Finally, water can also be cleaned to high standards and reused in a number of ways - flushing toilets, laundry machines or crop irrigation or drinking water in Singapore. How has resource recovery been in Singapore and Denmark?
Dr. Pang Chee Meng: Singapore has treated wastewater as a resource for many years. Since the early 2000s, we have closed the water loop. Water in Singapore is recycled to high purity standards and is supplied to industries for their non-potable use. Wastewater treatment involves anaerobic digestion of wastewater sludge.
We are looking to reduce the amount of sludge produced so that the existing pressures on our landfill are lessened as well. As a land scarce country, Singapore may have its one landfill - Pulau Semakau - filled by 2035 if our processes are not changed and improved. In order to ensure we extend the life of the landfill and achieve our vision of being a Zero Waste Nation, we need to find ways to stabilise the sludge and channel these stabilised products into higher value uses. Technologies we are considering involves pyrolysis to convert sludge to biochar and more energy-intensive processes like gasification to convert sludge into slag particles - a more stabilised construction material.
The pandemic has also changed our attitudes towards supply chain management. If we can find an opportunity to source essential chemicals used in our water and wastewater treatment from local sources, we would be more resilient.
Mr. Mads Leth: Optimising our wastewater plants is important to us. We also constantly optimise for cleaner effluents and to include digitalisation. We look to be energy efficient, economically efficient and leave a positive environmental footprint. Sharing knowledge between utilities is crucial but we also need to share this knowledge with other sectors as all sectors play a role in helping us achieve our goals.
Mr. Lars Schrøder: I agree that we must use sludge in better ways than we are right now, and this can be achieved through better technologies. I'm a strong believer that we have to centralise the wastewater treatment plants. We can make resource factories to reduce the extent of sludge in our processes.
Mr. Dines Thornberg: We incinerate the sludge in Copenhagen to recover it and we try our best to recover everything and make a circle out of it. Energy is recovered from the flue gas and we treat the gas to ensure minimal pollution too.
Question: Are there any special challenges or opportunities in this resource recovery process that need taking care of? Or are there any surprises?
Dr. Pang Chee Meng: Winning the public's acceptance to use recycled water was a challenge for us. To secure and maintain this trust, we embarked on a nation-wide education programme, which has three main pillars. Firstly, it is to reduce the negative connotations associated with the source of our recycled water. We went on a massive public campaign to recalibrate the thinking of wastewater to convey water's ability to be used and reused again. We have also omitted words such as "sewage" to reduce the 'yuck factor'. Additionally, we engaged stakeholders such as the general public through mass media and opinion leaders (religious leaders, political members of parliament, grassroots leaders etc) to convey the idea that recycled water is safe to use. During one of our National Day celebrations, we also had our members of parliament toast to a glass of NEWater - recycled water produced by PUB - in front of everyone thereby suggesting trust in our product by the government. Lastly, we also engaged the industries that would take in our product as part of their processes. We also introduced a lower tariff for NEWater for these customers.
Mr. Dines Thornberg: There are many challenges - technology, market, acceptance and more. The end-of-waste criteria and Waste Directive Framework also provides clarity the principles on this to help us achieve a circular economy better.
Mr. Mads Leth: In Denmark, we have too much water of the wrong quality. Our groundwater is compromised and we experience more intense rainfalls. As a wastewater company, our first priority is to protect the environment by handling wastewater.
Question: What are the emerging technologies we see now?
Mr. Kishor Deshmukh: Digitisation and innovative technologies may an important role in the application and optimisation of resource recovery. Simplifying the technologies to be less chemical and energy intensive is needed too.
Mr Dines Thornberg: Membranes are growing in importance. Even a membrane to extract nitrogen is useful for us because this is a problem we are facing.
Mr Mads Leth: A lot of heat is stored in the treated wastewater. How can we extract the heat from our drinking water and wastewater?
Mr. Lars Schrøder: We want to know how to extract sludge better.
Panel Discussion - Track 2: International Collaboration with a focus on new R&D and Innovation on the Horizon within Resource Recovery
Question: What is the 2030 vision of wastewater resource recovery?
Professor Snyder: To be energy neutral and to be energy positive. Looking forward to 2030 one, of the biggest goals that I see on the horizon is having adequate sanitation for those who do not have it today, and that's something that we are very keen to look at. Taking the technologies we have today, scale them, and make them economically viable to a point where perhaps less fortunate countries could implement them. And see a net change to both climate change and environmental sustainability.
Professor Ng: The wastewater treatment plant will have resource recovery facilities to be energy neutral and natural energy positive. To make it happen, we need to incorporate AI solutions, machine learnings, digital twins to optimize the whole process. Regarding resource recovery, we are looking at water recovery, water reuse, and nutrients, especially phosphorus, limiting resource. Another critical aspect is developing intelligent sensor systems to prevent legal discharge or accidental discharge upstream of the wastewater treatment plant. Lastly, sludge management converts sludge into other applications such as biochar for soil augmentation or even construction. These areas involve collaboration, research, and government agency in a structured manner.
Miss Nerea: It involves three components. Firstly, bringing more utilities into research activities is beneficial for the utilities and the local community and brings academia closer to the problem, which brings the technology, manufacturers closer to the end-user. Secondly, is to include and attract young people into the water sector. Lastly, recovering the high-value product and shifting from energy-based research recovery beyond that.
Professor Mikkelsen: Focusing on new knowledge and building new generations to work in this sector. We should look into the future from the lens of wastewater treatment while using technologies that are not yet upscaled.
Question: How do we attract young people to the water sector?
Ms Nerea: To collaborate with universities and promote the importance of the water sector more visible. In reality, this can be done in many ways, such as innovation hubs and events. All organizations, small or large, can take their part in empowering young talents. VCS has visitors from all stages of education schools, high schools, universities, ensuring that students are aware of this sector.
Professor Ng: We are revamping our education to attract the youngster to choose a career within this area by moving towards digitalization into environmental management. This will hopefully transform our area from traditional discipline studies into an exciting space.
Question: What are the key challenges hindering collaboration R&D and innovation?
Professor Mikkelsen: The first challenge is related to attracting youngsters into this sector. But, there is a significant issue on the system level on how to get access to data to research and innovation that is required. So having a trustful relationship between the readers and the readers and the data owner is valuable.
Professor Shane: In terms of collaboration, we have good experience in the past working with DTU and other universities and international partnerships across the globe. Trying to keep continuity is the biggest challenge in an international collaboration that I have face during the pandemic.
Question: What kind of game-changing data information do you think we will be able to see and any issue with private ethics?
Professor Snyder: We can find almost anything nowadays, so it has become a question of ethics in certain countries if we probe that deeply. But it is undoubtedly a valuable tool to do wastewater based epidemiology.
Professor Ng: We go ahead to look at data optimization involve utilities, especially data from public utilities. Utilities have a strict policy on the data, so there must be a collaboration agreement from the utilities and the researchers to access the real data. Another thing is that we need to have a concrete program between our funding agency in Singapore and Denmark, bringing collaboration to a more formal level to realize our shared goals in both countries.
Question: From the collaboration globally, how far do you see this can take us regarding high-value resources, and what would make sense in this space?
Ms Nerea: It is essential to point out that one solution does not fit all for used water, and solutions have always had to be adapted to each specific place. Looking at the problem globally, we can all learn from each and many other opportunities.
Contact the Royal Danish Embassy in Singapore for more information about business opportunities and how Denmark seeks to inspire green transition in Southeast Asia:
Mark Edward Perry
Sector Expert at Royal Danish Embassy Singapore
Phone: +65 9088 5567