From their base halfway across the globe in Singapore, Cambridge researchers are working with colleagues from around the world to reduce carbon emissions in industry.

Jurong is an ideal laboratory for looking at ways to reduce emissions and improve sustainability.

Markus Kraft

For a chemical engineer, Jurong Island is a kind of paradise. The artificial island, built upon seven smaller islands off the Singapore mainland in the 1980s and 1990s, is now home to nearly 100 global petroleum, petrochemical and speciality chemical companies, indicating Singapore’s status as a global crossroads.

All those plants and factories produce a lot of carbon emissions – in fact more than half of global emissions come from industries like those based on the Island. With so many companies in such a small space, Jurong is an ideal laboratory for looking at ways to reduce emissions and improve sustainability. Little wonder that it has become the centre of Singapore’s efforts to cut its emissions intensity by 36% (compared with 2005 levels) by 2030.

“Because Singapore is a city-state, you’re never too far from the people who have the power to enact policy change,” says Professor Markus Kraft. “In Singapore, it’s easier to see the impact that certain changes can have on the carbon footprint of the whole country – it’s an ideal test bed for researchers. We can then use our results from Singapore as an example to roll out to other cities and other countries.”

Kraft is Director of the Cambridge Centre for Advanced Research and Education in Singapore (CARES), a wholly owned subsidiary of the University based at Singapore’s Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE), which was established in 2007 with funding from Singapore’s National Research Foundation to encourage collaboration between universities and industry.

The team in Singapore is made up of researchers from Cambridge, local universities and other institutions. Its unique setting, combined with a diverse membership that ranges from PhD students to professors, has enabled CARES, which was established in 2013, to be involved in several research and industry collaborations. The most recent, with fellow CREATE partners, the University of California, Berkeley, the National University of Singapore and the Nanyang Technological University, will develop new ways to transform industrial CO2 emissions into compounds that are useful in the chemical industry supply chain.

The overall goal of the researchers based at CARES is to reduce industrial carbon emissions and improve sustainability through the development of cleaner fuels, carbon capture and efficiency improvements in industrial processes.

Research to assess and reduce the carbon footprint of an eco-industrial park like Jurong Island is happening under CARES’ first research programme (the Cambridge Centre for Carbon Reduction in Chemical Technology). The work has been split into complementary areas that include making chemical processes and reactions more efficient, creating cleaner fuel blends and reducing energy consumption within electrical and chemical supply systems.

Their flagship project is the J-Park Simulator, an AI-driven engine that combines mathematical modelling with the ‘Internet of Things’ to help reduce carbon emissions, as Kraft describes: “In the future, we may be able to access whole networks of machines, and the machines will talk to each other.

“There are models behind industrial processes, but to build them you need a semantic representation of everything you might find in an industrial plant. You also need mathematical models that contain knowledge about any given physical entity. These entities can broadcast data into the model – it’s a bit like the nerves in your hand sending a signal to your brain. The J-Park Simulator is essentially that brain.”

The J-Park Simulator aims to provide a virtual representation of multiple domains in real time. It could have the ability to represent every plant on Jurong Island, and every piece of equipment in each of those plants from data that is constantly fed into it.

“Each piece of data is like a single brick – when you have enough bricks, you can start to build walls and houses; the idea of the Simulator is to allow you to design plants in ways that you couldn’t before because now we can make better use of mathematical optimisation,” says Kraft, who is a Fellow of Churchill College.

The Simulator attempts to represent the highly interconnected nature of Jurong Island, and could be a powerful tool to demonstrate the effects of certain policies. For example, if a single power plant was able to reduce its carbon emissions by 10% through optimising its processes, the J-Park Simulator could show the effect of that reduction across multiple domains – it could allow the impact of different ‘what-if’ scenarios to be modelled in real time.

“We are developing the Simulator with the aim of helping us to understand cross-domain connectivity and to create alternative scenarios for us to study which policy to implement,” says Kraft. “To reach an optimum symbiotic relationship among industries and other networks, all resources need to be taken into account simultaneously.”

In its first phase, the CARES team investigated technologies with the potential to save more than eight million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year from Singapore – approximately 18% of Singapore’s 2012 emissions. In its second phase, the team want to take its ideas forward and closer to real-world application.

“One of the ideas we developed in Phase One was to blend biodiesel with diesel fuel for road transport,” says Kraft. “We’ve estimated that this could save approximately 0.8 million tonnes per year of CO2 for Singapore. What we plan to look at in Phase Two is whether we can do something similar for marine shipping traffic. We have estimated that this has the potential to save approximately an additional 0.5 million tonnes per year of CO2 in Singapore, but it also has the potential to be adopted worldwide. This could have a much broader global impact, far beyond just shipping in the Singapore Strait.”

In CARES’ second phase, the J-Park Simulator will be extended and expanded, and the team is exploring the possibility of connecting it to a real-world smart grid. Kraft and his team are also busy building relationships with government and policymakers in Singapore to implement their research and help reduce Singapore’s carbon footprint.

“I’m grateful that we can work in Singapore with so many colleagues from around the world,” says Kraft. “Our work here has also had a positive impact in Cambridge – not just because of the funding, but also because of the international exchange of ideas and talent. It’s an ideal platform for collaboration.”


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