Saturday, 27 August 2016

Outdoor cooling system on trial at Singapore Zoo: Airbitat Smart Cooler

Singapore-designed outdoor cooling system now on trial uses 80% less energy than air-con
By Tiffany Fumiko Tay, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2016

If a visit to the Singapore Zoo has been a hot and humid affair for you, here's some good news: There are plans to install a new outdoor cooling system in some areas of the park, which could cool air to 24 deg C.

The Airbitat Smart Cooler, developed by Innosparks, an ST Engineering subsidiary, was unveiled at the zoo yesterday at a media briefing.

Each unit, about the size of a refrigerator, blows out cool air to about 5m to 10m, and can cool an area of about 55 sq m, slightly smaller than a three-room HDB flat.

The cooler is eco-friendly, uses 80 per cent less energy than an average air-conditioning unit and does not produce heat, unlike air-conditioning.

Four units have been placed in the zoo's ticketing area since Tuesday for a six-month trial. If successful, 80 to 100 units will be installed in "cool zones" in all four of Mandai Park Holdings' wildlife parks: the Singapore Zoo, River Safari, Night Safari and Jurong Bird Park.

The cool zones include areas such as ticketing counters and restaurants, said Mandai Park Holdings group chief executive officer Mike Barclay.

"Singapore's outdoor heat and humidity can discourage our guests from extending their stay. We would like to address this heat issue in a sustainable, energy-efficient manner," said Mr Barclay, referring to the use of the Airbitat cooler.

He said that it would be impractical to cool all areas of the parks, given their vast size.

"If we can mark cool zones on the map where people can stop and eat lunch or sit down and recharge, people may stay longer," he said.

While a timeline for the rollout and costs have not been determined, Mr Gareth Tang, the project's engineering lead and general manager for Innosparks, said cost-effectiveness is a key consideration in cooling large outdoor spaces.

An Airbitat unit costs $2.50 a day to run, while an air-conditioning unit with similar capacity costs about $12.50, said Mr Tang.

The machine is built around a "cold water core", where water is circulated and chilled through an evaporation process. Warm air is drawn in and cooled by passing through the running water.

Sensors monitor the environmental temperature and humidity, and determine the temperature output.

The coolers have been in development for 18 months and are expected to go into mass production next year, said Mr Tang.

Other suitable locations for deploying the coolers include semi-open industrial spaces, such as aircraft hangars, which are not suitable for air-conditioning.

"We want to encourage the use of sustainable cooling and pumping less heat into the environment," he said.

Dr Michael Chiam, senior tourism lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said that given Singapore's warm weather, the proposed cooling zones would significantly improve visitor experience.

Account executive Jane Lau, 41, who was queueing in the zoo's ticketing area yesterday, said that the breeze from the Airbitat units placed there was a welcome respite from the heat.

"My two boys... always complain that it is very hot. If only the coolers can be placed at more places in the zoo."

NTU team creates coating to keep plants cool and let light in
By Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2016

Plants need light to make food, but too much heat kills them.

But the world is getting hotter, putting harvests at risk.

Enter some clever Singapore researchers, who have created a coating which can block about 90 per cent of the heat while allowing light to pass through materials such as glass and acrylic.

This makes the material ideal in keeping things cool but bright in greenhouses - making it the perfect environment for plants.

The researchers who have made this possible are from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), and their coating is made of heat-absorbing nano particles and inorganic oxides that can be applied on different surfaces.

Dr Goh Chin Foo, who is a member of the team who developed the coating, said: "When it comes to coatings, a lot of people have the perception that removing the heat also means that light cannot pass through, but this isn't the case." He is senior scientist and cluster director at the Energy Research Institute at NTU.

The idea came after university staff asked if there was a way to make the school atrium cooler.

That was when Dr Goh and his team at the Energy Research Institute and School of Materials Science and Engineering at NTU started the project .

The material has been applied on the atrium roof and gives students and staff members respite from the heat. It helped to reduce the temperature by about 8 deg C.

To take the project a step further, the team will be testing the coating at Kok Fah Technology Farm in Sungei Tengah Road.

If all goes well, the coating could be commercialised and made available to other farmers in three months.

There are now 56 vegetable farms here contributing 13 per cent of Singapore's annual vegetable supply, amounting to about 11,400 tonnes of leafy greens last year.

Mr Wong Kok Fah, managing director of Kok Fah Technology Farm, said that he is keen to test the technology. "Anything that helps to bring down temperature."

Every year, his 9ha farm produces about 1,000 tonnes of leafy vegetables, such as caixin and kailan, which are supplied to supermarkets such as FairPrice.

He added that the warm weather has become increasingly long- drawn in recent years, affecting the growth of his crops and causing leaves to turn yellow. He now uses a net over his greenhouse, which helps to block out heat and reduce the temperature in the greenhouse by about 4 deg C. Unfortunately, the net also blocks out light, which is essential for the vegetables to grow.

Mr Wong came to know of the coating after he met Adjunct Associate Professor Matthew Tan from NTU's School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering during a technology-sourcing trip organised by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) in Japan last month.

Prof Tan, who is helping to commercialise the coating, said that while there are other films in the market which can help to block out heat, the nano coating is expected to cost less than half the price, and can be applied to a wider variety of structures, not just flat surfaces.

A film in the market could cost anywhere between $100 per sq m and $150 per sq m.

The NTU coating could also be useful in the aquaculture industry, added Prof Tan, who is also the chief technology officer of abalone producer Oceanus Group.

"It takes away the heat but allows some light to pass through. This is important for hatchery use, especially for newly hatched fish larvae to find their fish food."

The AVA has also requested a sample of the coating, which will be applied to its greenhouse at Sembawang Research Station.

The impact on vegetable growth will be measured, said an AVA spokesman.

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