Speech by Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean at the Official Opening of the Technology Centre for Offshore and Marine, Singapore (TCOMS) Ocean Basin on 26 July 2022.
Innovation, Partnerships and Capabilities for Oceans of the Future
Ms Chan Lai Fung, Chairman of A*STAR,
Professor Tan Eng Chye, President of NUS,
Professor Chan Eng Soon, CEO of TCOMS,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Good afternoon. My congratulations to TCOMS, and its parent agencies A*STAR and NUS, on this significant milestone of making the ocean basin fully operational.
I visited the facility back in 2019 when it was still under construction and the pool had not been filled yet. It is heartening to see how far the team has come in spite of the disruptions caused by the pandemic, to realise the vision we initially set out.
Singapore’s Marine and Offshore Engineering Sector
Singapore has long had a strong and competitive Marine and Offshore Engineering (M&OE) sector that continues to evolve, innovate and adapt to the world markets and global developments.
Ocean engineering will continue to be an important sector. The oceans cover over 70 per cent of the earth’s surface and yet remain a relatively unexplored “inner space” on Earth, with over 80 per cent of them yet to be explored. This is mainly due to the harshness and remoteness of the ocean environment.
The oceans are also a major conduit for transportation. They separate the land masses, but when combined with technology, they connect us both physically and digitally. More than 80 per cent of the world’s traded goods are carried by sea transport. More than 90 per cent of the world's communications are transported around the world via fibre optic submarine cables, powering our internet, emails, television sets and smart devices.
Ocean engineering is evolving rapidly into new fields that require new technologies, to make the oceans more accessible as a sustainable resource for energy, transportation, food, minerals and even as a habitat.
In the emerging green economy, technology hurdles need to be addressed to make offshore renewable energy and the decarbonisation of maritime shipping more cost-competitive against fossil fuel-based solutions, safer to operate, and more resilient against the harsh ocean environment.
Nearshore infrastructure that protects against climate change will also be needed by Singapore and other coastal megacities to address the threat of rising sea levels and storm surges.
Singapore intends to continue playing a key role in ocean engineering and M&OE. In the past three to five years, our M&OE and sea transport sectors have started to diversify into the green economy and lower-carbon solutions. These range from the design and installation of offshore wind farms to the electrification of vessels, and the use of cleaner fuels such as ammonia and hydrogen to drive ocean-going ships. Local players are also exploring the transportation, storage and bunkering of ammonia and hydrogen.
Innovation in the ocean engineering space will help our companies transform and find opportunities in these new growth areas. We will be building on the multi-faceted ocean engineering expertise that Singapore has built up over the past several decades, in areas such as ship repair, rig building and conventional oil and gas projects.
Singapore will continue to invest strategically in emerging growth areas to spur greater innovation. TCOMS is a very good example of such a national R&D centre that will help push the envelope for ocean engineering R&D, simulating the harsh ocean environments that these new solutions will need to operate in.
TCOMS – Innovation, Partnerships and Capabilities
TCOMS is well positioned to bring together capabilities from across the local R&D ecosystem, including researchers from the public sector, academia and industry, to find new technological solutions to address these emerging challenges.
TCOMS’ core capability is to simulate the physical ocean environment and complex scenarios that ocean systems operate in. This is done through the coupling of the physical simulation in the ocean basin with numerical simulation, supported by the petascale supercomputing capabilities of the National Supercomputing Centre (NSCC) Singapore.
The volume of water in this ocean basin is equivalent to 15 Olympic-sized swimming pools, and in the centre lies a deep pit that goes 50 metres down from the waterline. The deep pit allows for simulations of ocean depths of up to 3,000 metres. The basin seeks to replicate the ocean conditions in terms of waves and underwater currents that ships and offshore platforms encounter, including realistic scenarios of the potentially harsh conditions that they may face.
Through such simulation capabilities, our researchers can work with companies to better understand complex marine environments and help them validate and enhance the design and performance of their solutions. This will enable innovative solutions by combining design with key technological advancements in digitalisation, artificial intelligence, data analytics and communications. This will help companies shift towards smart operations and intelligent asset management.
TCOMS will be a key part of Singapore’s R&D efforts in ocean engineering by taking the lead in three key areas: (i) catalysing innovation; (ii) building partnerships; and (iii) building long term capabilities.
First, catalysing innovation. Singapore adopts an ecosystem approach to create a conducive environment for the generation and implementation of new ideas.
Investments in innovation and the knowledge to design, build, and manage smart ocean systems and infrastructure help to differentiate Singapore and our companies from global competition.
TCOMS hosts the Centre of Excellence for Autonomous and Remotely Operated Vessels, also known as CEAOPS. Funded by the Maritime & Port Authority of Singapore and the Singapore Maritime Institute, CEAOPS serves as a national focal point to advance research and technological innovation in maritime autonomous surface ships and the safe and efficient operations of smart vessels, especially in challenging operating environments. It has collaborated with industry players such as Wartsila and Keppel Offshore & Marine in the development of autonomous tugs. It is also working with Singapore Polytechnic’s Centre of Excellence in Maritime Safety (CEMS) to establish a digital testing framework for smart vessels.
TCOMS is also catalysing innovation in emerging fields such as marine robotics, to explore new applications in search and rescue, and maintenance of sea-based infrastructure including offshore wind farms. To achieve this, TCOMS is partnering NUS and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) to explore novel concepts involving intelligent underwater vehicles, so that human operators can remotely control underwater vehicles flexibly and with enhanced sensing. Industry participants such as local start-ups BeeX and Subnero are contributing their in-house developed autonomous underwater vehicles and underwater acoustic communications respectively, to the marine robotics programme. I am glad to see that some of these companies have been started by very young entrepreneurial engineers in Singapore. I met some of them when they were first interning in China on exchange and I am glad that some of them have come out and started their own companies and are progressing well.
Second, building partnerships. The opportunities in the oceans are boundless. To unlock the potential of our oceans, we need to strengthen our local and overseas partnerships to consolidate our collective expertise and push the frontiers of technology.
To develop smart offshore systems, such as floating offshore wind turbines, TCOMS is leading a multi-institution research programme that includes A*STAR, NUS and Nanyang Technological University (NTU), as well as Keppel Offshore & Marine and Sembcorp Marine.
TCOMS has also established a partnership with Deltares, the Dutch water research institute. This collaboration will enrich our knowledge of the effects of climate change and climate adaptation, and achieve new breakthroughs in coastal resilience solutions.
Third, we need to build long-term capabilities by nurturing and grooming our engineers, scientists and researchers. A strong engineering and R&D workforce form the foundation of realising our industry transformation and continuous innovation.
The Singapore government supports our companies to develop and retain local skilled professionals. Initiatives such as the Marine Career Conversion Programme (CCP) administered by the Association of Singapore Marine Industries (ASMI), help the workforce transit to new or evolving job functions through reskilling and upskilling.
It is also important that we inspire our young to be part of Singapore’s science and engineering future, and shape them to be creative problem solvers, and innovative scientists and engineers. The research work that TCOMS pursues, together with A*STAR Research Institutes and Institutes of Higher Learning, offers opportunities for students to have hands-on learning and experimentation.
TCOMS has also entered a strategic partnership with the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), to strengthen research collaboration and grow Singapore’s pool of professionals for the maritime and other ocean sectors. This ocean basin will be available to students as part of their learning and talent exchange.
I look forward to seeing more initiatives like this that will inspire students to dream and create future solutions that tap ocean resources in green and sustainable ways.
The oceans are a lifeline for global trade and commerce, and technology is helping to make the oceans more accessible as a sustainable source of energy, food and liveability.
Particularly for Singapore, as a maritime nation, the oceans and seas are our future. Both our M&OE and sea transport sectors play a key role in maintaining Singapore’s role as a global business hub for Asia and the world.
So let us now “get underway”. Congratulations to TCOMS once again. I wish TCOMS and its partners “fair winds and following seas” no matter what kinds of storms and huge waves that you may generate in your ocean basin. Thank you very much and all the very best to everyone.
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