Sustainability Has Become a Defining Megatrend in this Century

Sustainability Has Become a Defining Megatrend in this Century

Three new research centres are being set up to look into energy and power usage in Asia. These are  in addition to The Earth Observatory, which is already conducting fundamental research on earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunami and climate change in and around Southeast Asia, to lead toward safer and more sustainable societies. It believes there is urgency in further accelerating the integration of sustainability knowledge into the decisions taken at senior levels today in business and with policy makers.

Feng Zengkun in Straits Times (15 Jun 2011):

THREE new research centres will be set up here to look into energy and power usage, said the National Research Foundation (NRF).

The centres will study solar energy, ways to convert carbon dioxide into electricity and fuel, and how to create consumer and household products that use less power. They will be housed at a complex at the NUS University Town, which will be completed by the end of the year.

Funding will come from the NRF’s Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (Create) programme, which pairs up local and foreign institutions.

NRF chairman Tony Tan, 71, said on Monday that the projects are important for Singapore as it lacks natural resources and has a highly industrialised economy. ‘Each of these initiatives will tackle the energy problem from a different perspective,’ he said.

The first centre is a ‘low-energy electronic systems’ project by scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), under the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (Smart) centre. The scientists intend to find new ways to make household items such as lights and television screens use less electricity.

Traditionally, this was done by making the semiconductors in them smaller and more dense to minimise loss of energy. But the scientists said new techniques may yield more energy savings.

The project brings together experts from MIT, the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU). They will be from different fields, such as materials, devices and circuits.

Lead principal investigator Professor Eugene Fitzgerald of MIT said the diversity is more likely to lead to a breakthrough. ‘This collaboration could define innovative paths for the industry,’ he said.

The second research centre will look at ways to make solar power cheaper and to convert sunlight into liquid fuels. It is a collaboration between NTU, NUS and the University of California, Berkeley.

The researchers noted that solar energy is good for the environment but is not widely used because it is too expensive. The Energy Market Authority here has estimated that the cost of solar power is double the cost of electricity from fossil fuels. Part of this is due to the inefficiency of current solar panels, which the scientists said can convert at most 25 per cent of sunlight received into usable energy.

‘We want to double the conversion to at least 50 per cent,’ said University of California, Berkeley’s Professor Ramamoorthy Ramesh, the project’s lead principal investigator. This would make solar panels more worthwhile and solar power cheaper to produce on average. The scientists are also looking at ways to use the same amount of sunlight to split more water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen can be used to make methanol, a liquid fuel that can replace fossil fuels.

In the third centre, China’s Peking University will work with Singapore universities for the first time to recycle the carbon dioxide in industrial waste gases into energy and fuel.

Lead co-principal investigator Zhang Dongxiao of Peking University said this would give the manufacturing and chemical industries a greener image. ‘This can also make products from both our countries more competitive,’ added Professor Zhang.

The new centres bring the Create programme to eight overseas collaborating universities and 12 research groups. Previous collaborations under the programme have resulted in projects like the Future Cities Lab, which looks at ways to develop sustainable buildings and keep a city’s water supply clean.

NRF has set aside a total of $1 billion for the Create programme.


Earth Observatory Singapore

Here’s some insight into the Earth Observatory of Singapore (EOS), an Institute of the Nayang Technological University. Its director is Kerry Sieh.

Kerry SIEH initiated the field of paleoseismology thirty five years ago, with the discovery of how fast California’s infamous San Andreas fault slips and how often it generates great earthquakes. Subsequently, in the formative years of the Southern California Earthquake Centre, Sieh led its effort to characterise earthquake faults beneath Los Angeles.

Prior to his arrival in Singapore, Sieh was a chaired professor in Caltech’s Tectonic that he and others at Caltech created.  Over the past two decades he and his colleagues have used coral reefs and GPS measurements to understand the patterns of great earthquakes on the Sunda megathrust, offshore Sumatra.  These discoveries have led to useful forecasts of recent and impending large Sumatran earthquakes and tsunamis. He and his students recently completed a 6-year study that redefined the active tectonics of Taiwan, and are now engaged in a comprehensive study of the earthquake faults of Myanmar.

Earth Observatory

EOS was officially launched at the Nanyang Technological University in February 2009, to study and forecast natural phenomena threatening Southeast Asia.

Natural hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and global climate change pose major threats to our very young, 10,000-year-old, increasingly fragile civilization.

The first few years of the 21st century have provided ample evidence of our vulnerability and our exposure. The devastations of Acehnese and Thai coasts in 2004, of Kashmir and New Orleans in 2005, of southwest Java in 2006, of Sumatra again in 2007, western Sichuan and Myanmar in 2008 and, in the early days of 2010, of Haiti, comprise a nearly incessant litany of death, loss and suffering.

In some of these cases we knew well that we were living on dangerous ground; in other cases we did not. For example, New Orleans and Port au Prince had long been recognised as a catastrophe waiting to happen, but for a variety of reasons that knowledge had no effect. Similar incongruities exist here in Southeast Asia as well. There are places sitting in the jaws of a dragon that have no scientific awareness of the tenuousness of their existence. Such was the case of the hundreds of thousands who perished in Aceh and Kashmir.

These tragic examples, one of very basic ignorance and the other of the inability to translate knowledge into action, illustrate well the challenge of acquiring basic scientific knowledge of natural processes and then utilising it effectively and in a timely fashion. 

The Earth Observatory is well positioned to face this challenge. We intend to help blaze new paths through the fascinating mysteries of this dangerous, dynamic, thin shell of our planet that we call home. We look forward to sharing our research with civic leaders, engineers, planners, and many others working to make the world a safer and a more enjoyable place.


To conduct fundamental research on earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunami and climate change in and around Southeast Asia, toward safer and more sustainable societies.

Sustainability has become a defining megatrend in this century. International negotiations on global climate change policy framework, stimulus packages targeted at accelerating economic transformation towards ‘green’ industry sectors, the inclusion of ‘eco-strategies’ as a thrust for multinational corporations – this all bears witness of the development.

We believe there is urgency in further accelerating the integration of sustainability knowledge into the decisions taken at senior levels today in business and with policy makers.

Through our research, executive education programs and other forms of engagements we want to contribute in building up and conveying this knowledge.


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