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Separation Technologies Applied Research and Translation Centre (START)

The Separation Technologies Applied Research & Translation (START) Centre, a national facility, was launched in June 2016 to develop and commercialise innovative separation and filtration technologies, and it aims to reduce risk for companies to adopt the new technologies. START plugs an important gap in the ecosystem between lab-scale R&D carried out in local as well as overseas research entities and market adoption by focusing on translation and technology scale-up to accelerate the commercialisation process. We collaborate with Institutes of Higher Learning and various industrial partners to achieve this goal.

Choosing the appropriate technologies for scale-up is key to the success of translation and commercialization activities. The centre, which is staffed by several industry experts, begins by doing a rigorous techno-commercial analysis of down-selected inventions. If the analysis is positive, the process includes scale-up of the membranes (hollow-fibre or flat-sheet), followed by module design, fabrication and testing at increasing sizes. This is followed by system design, integration, and piloting at scale under real-life conditions. Throughout this process, we work closely with potential industrial partners.

Typically, small-stage membrane materials are made with high-grade lab chemicals and a very controlled process. In order to fabricate the same technology on an economically viable large scale, we need to shift to industrial-grade chemicals and manufacturing equipment. This requires significant process development and optimisation. Once we have a stable membrane process, the next step is replicating the membrane performance in the lab, at the modular stage. We do this through a gradual scale-up to 2 inch, 4 inch and 8 inch modules, while retaining key membrane and module properties including e.g. rejection and flux.

Some of the projects we have worked on include nano-filtration membranes for low-pressure water softening applications, membrane distillation, Pressure Retarded Osmosis for energy optimization in desalination, as well as modular and skid design. In addition, START Centre has collaborated with various industry players on the application and pilot testing of these technologies.

START Centre moved into its second phase from October 2021. One of the key areas we have undertaken is the setup and operation of a demonstration scale (~1 MGD) Integrated Validation Plant for seawater desalination. The main purpose of this plant is to select and test, in collaboration with PUB, cutting-edge technologies at various stages in the entire desalination process at scale, with the objective of driving down the overall energy cost, and achieving process optimization. These results obtained will provide significant inputs towards decision making for new desalination plants, as well as retrofitting existing plants in Singapore.

In addition to the activities above, START has also expanded its translational activities to include separations outside the water domain. The two key projects which we are involved with include gas separations for carbon capture and solvent separations for industrial processes.

At the technical site visit, participants will see START Centre’s unique scale-up and translation facilities, including flat-sheet and hollow-fibre fabrication, element and module construction, and testing at various scales.

Flat Sheet Membrane Phase Inversion Line.jpg
Flat Sheet Membrane Phase Inversion Line
Flat Sheet Membrane Thin Film Composite Line_1.jpg Flat Sheet Membrane Thin Film Composite Line_2.jpg
Flat Sheet Membrane Thin Film Composite Line

Domestic-scale Automated Element Rolling Machine.jpg
Domestic-scale Automated Element Rolling Machine
Industrial-scale Automated Element Rolling Machine.jpg
Industrial-scale Automated Element Rolling Machine
Hollow Fiber Membrane Fabrication Lab_1.png Hollow Fiber Membrane Fabrication Lab_2.png
Hollow Fiber Membrane Fabrication Lab

Gas Separation Membranes Testing and Treatment Facilities_1.png Gas Separation Membranes Testing and Treatment Facilities_2.png
Gas Separation Membranes Testing and Treatment Facilities

Sample Characterization and Testing Facilities.jpg
Sample Characterization and Testing Facilities
Membrane Characterization and Testing Facilities.png
Membrane Characterization and Testing Facilities