An interview with DR Pang Chee Meng, Chief Engineering & Technology Officer, PUB.
Can you please introduce your organisation and field of expertise?
PUB is Singapore’s National Water Agency that manages Singapore’s water supply, water catchment and used water in an integrated way. PUB’s mission is to supply good water, reclaim used water and tame storm water.
I am the Chief Engineering & Technology Officer at PUB. In this role, I lead our Technology Department to administer our R&D program for the development and application of new water technologies in the entire water cycle.
Prior to my current role, I was the Director of the Industry Development Department. I led a team to formulate and implement strategies to grow the Singapore water industry and facilitate the commercialisation of new water technologies.
With whom (other colleagues) from your organisation are you taking part in Watershare?
I have two other colleagues with me.
Chen Yangmasha, Biologist from PUB’s Technology Department, is the account manager for Watershare and World Water Innovation Fund. In her current role, she is part of a team which evaluates research proposals that seek funding from PUB or testbedding proposals, and facilitates the implementation of such projects. She is also in charge of reviewing and implementing our revised Intellectual Property Policy. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology from Imperial College London, and a Masters in Technology Policy from the University of Cambridge.
Dr Huang Yan, Senior Chemist from PUB’s Water Quality Department, is in charge of the Organic Chemistry Laboratory to ensure accurate, efficient and rapid analysis for about 200 organic parameters to support PUB’s operations. She also leads water quality-related R&D projects to address water quality issues in line with PUB’s operational needs. She holds a Master’s degree and PhD in Chemistry from the National University of Singapore.
What can you bring to Watershare and what are you looking for?
We are happy to share Singapore’s experience in integrated water management. PUB’s Water Quality Department has been designated as a World Health Organisation (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Safe Management of Drinking-water and Integrated Urban Water Management, for three consecutive terms since 2012. This is a testament to PUB’s water management expertise and its high standard of water quality.
Over the years, PUB has supported various R&D projects to develop new technologies that are proven to be useful for a water utility’s operations. Seawater desalination is pivotal to Singapore’s long-term water security, but the conventional reverse osmosis-based treatment process is unsustainable due to its high energy consumption. PUB has been investing in research to find more energy efficient desalination solutions, such as the novel RO membranes inspired by nature.
Water quality is paramount, and with PUB managing the entire the water cycle, we have worked with various parties to develop new sensor technologies for different types of waters. We will be happy to share our experiences using these new technologies with Watershare, so that the learning curve for members can be shortened. Some of these new technologies in our operations include:
- To monitor raw water quality – robotic white swans (aptly called NUSwan – short for New Smart Water Assessment Network) are developed to continuously monitor the water quality in our surface water reservoirs for pH, oxidation reduction potential, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, temperature, pressure, chlorophyll and turbidity, and transmit these results back to PUB wirelessly.
- To monitor potable water quality – The fish activity monitoring system, developed by ZWEEC Analytics, continuously monitors the behavior of fish supplied with a continuous stream of potable water. Automated video analytics is used to capture abnormal fish behavior, which suggests possible anomalies in potable water quality.
- To monitor illegal discharge – As Singapore carries out water reuse centrally, the detection of illegal discharges in wastewater is important. We worked with the local start-up EnvironSens to develop an Intelligent Integrated Bio Sensor (I2BioS), which can detect the stress responses of micro-organisms to illegal discharges of heavy metals. By deploying I2BioS at various locations in Singapore’s sewer network, we are able to detect illegal discharges and take enforcement actions quickly.
What are you proud of?
Watershare has established a global network comprising the academia, utilities and industry. This network is a powerful platform for members to learn from and share knowledge with one another. If we collectively pull this through globally, it will facilitate the ease of access to knowledge, technologies, experience and technical capabilities to enable all to have clean safe drinking water and modern sanitation, and therefore a high standard of public health.
What do you see as the biggest challenges for Watershare in 2020-2021?
In the short term, I foresee that most Watershare members will need to adapt to a new normal of working and operating with COVID-19. For PUB, a major initiative is to hasten our digitalisation effort, which we started a few years ago to transform our operations into a Smart Utility of the future. Through smart digital technologies, we aim to provide a safe and sustainable supply of water, manage our water loop more effectively and efficiently, and keep the cost of water affordable. With COVID-19, digitalisation will have to help us deliver beyond these fronts, and into areas, such as increasing automation and increasing resilience to supply chain disruptions. We are happy to share our experience, knowledge and issues and collaborate with other members in this digitalisation journey.
What are your ambitions as a Watershare member?
Watershare has enabled its members to connect with each other globally, learn best practices and share experiences with one another. Beyond sharing and exchange, I believe we can also have deeper engagements among Watershare members through technology collaboration where new solutions developed by one member can be mutually tested by other members. I feel that the faster we can facilitate new technology adoption, the quicker we will all realize the benefits.
Coronavirus/Virus research: What opportunities do you see for Watershare members?
In terms of new projects and R&D, PUB is looking into the monitoring of the novel corona virus in wastewater, and to investigate if it can provide early warning for new infection clusters. We have commenced the sampling and testing of wastewater for SARS-CoV-2 to understand the following.
- To sample and characterize SARS-CoV-2 occurrence on Singapore’s wastewater system,
- To validate extraction and detection methods,
- To study the fate of SARS-CoV-2 during wastewater treatment processes, and the inactivation of surrogate virus models to assess infection risk,
- To provide recommendations for future protocols on wastewater-based epidemiology monitoring in Singapore
Notwithstanding, I believe many Watershare members have also done a lot of work in this area, and I hope to learn from their experiences as well. In the longer run, we can work towards leveraging international effort to establish a global standard for wastewater-based epidemiology, which the whole water industry can use in future pandemics.