Scientists at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have developed smart utility plant that could pave the way for a more environmentally friendly and cost-effective way of producing key essentials for daily living. By just using a single, integrated system, the plant can produce all four essential key utilities.
Scientists developed this smart utility plant to use especially in tropical countries. It serves greater energy and cost savings, and it is also more space efficient. Moreover, it reduces carbon dioxide emission by more than 30 percent while meeting the various needs of electricity, water, cooling, and heating.
Assoc Prof Chua said, “Currently, a significant amount of energy is required for the generation of electricity, water, air-conditioning, and heat. Running four independent processes also result in extensive energy wastage, and such systems take up a huge floor area.”
“With our smart plant, these processes are carefully integrated together such that waste energy can be harvested for useful output. Overall, this novel approach could cut energy usage by 25 to 30 percent and the 4-in-1 plant is also less bulky. Users can also enjoy cheaper and a more resilient supply of utilities. Furthermore, this approach could reduce Singapore’s carbon emission by 2 to 4 percent at business-as-usual levels.”
This newly developed system uses natural gas to power microturbines to produce electricity. There is exhaust gas that generates waste heat to efficiently recover and channel back to power chillers to produce chilled water. Chilled water cools and dry air for air-conditioning. This waste heat can then be used to produce hot water or steam.
The plant system also consists of a dual-dehumidification system. It increases the efficiency of air-conditioning provision. With the help of super adsorbent materials and membranes, the system removes more than 50 to 60 percent of moisture from the air.
Additionally, it cools water up to 13 to 18 degrees Celsius.
Assoc Prof Chua said, “The tropical climate is hot and humid, and our smart utility plant is uniquely designed to operate efficiently in such weather condition. We developed innovative membranes to remove moisture from the air and coupled with a novel method of cooling the air, the plant significantly reduces the amount of energy needed to meet air-conditioning needs. This is unlike existing methods, which are usually very energy intensive.”
Scientists also added additional features to the plant- real-time tracking of power consumption and controlling valves and pumps remotely. This leads to an evaluation of energy efficiency and optimisation of the different processes based on the specific needs of each community of users.