Speech by Minister Desmond Lee at the Singapore International STEM Innovation Challenge (SISTEMIC) 2023 Opening Ceremony

May 24, 2023

Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to this event.

It is my great pleasure to be here today to kick off the Singapore International Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Innovation Challenge (SISTEMIC) 2023.

The theme for this year's challenge is “Designing a Sustainable Tomorrow”. It is about integrating creativity and collaborating across different Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields, or STEM in short, to devise sustainable solutions. I am delighted to see so many young minds from Singapore and around the world gathered here, to showcase your innovative ideas that can contribute to sustainable development. I am looking forward to seeing your proposals. I’m going to cover a little of how we used to design buildings and cities and how sustainable design in urban planning and construction have become more efficient.

Emerging Developments in STEM and BE sector

We have seen how innovation in technologies have changed the way we live, study, work, and play. One area where we are seeing exciting progress is in the built environment sector, which has influenced the way we plan, construct, and operate in a more resource efficient and sustainable manner.

Traditionally, designs are done in 2D drawings and drawn by hand at the design stage. This is often uncoordinated, which results in the need for long hours of coordination among stakeholders that is extremely time-consuming. Now, we have progressed to using 3D models and Virtual Reality (VR) to streamline the design process. This helps to improve visualisation, reduce conflicts of design, as well as save time and manpower. You can walk through the place before a single brick has been laid.

Beyond improving visualisation and productivity, the 3D models can also be used to perform energy-usage calculations and estimate the required amount of building materials to procure and reduce material wastage. The designer can also select the right material to develop more eco-friendly buildings. With the 3D models, the contractor can also simulate the construction sequence to reduce material and manpower usage. Before you even start work, you can go through the entire building process virtually.

Another digital technology is the use of advanced modelling tools to simulate environmental conditions that can help optimise our towns and cities to improve natural ventilation.  This is important to provide cooling and shade for our residents against the warmer weather caused by climate change, and also contributes to lower energy usage in buildings. Such advanced modelling tools were adopted in the urban design plan for Tengah town.

At the construction stage, we are also exploring 3D concrete printing to construct interesting building structures. This process can remove the need for moulds or formwork and allow free-form production of concrete elements, which opens up new opportunities to create 3D objects with intricate details and less material wastage. In fact, I was recently in Switzerland where I visited the NEST in Zurich. It uses robotic arms to print the whole room and save 60% on concrete. At the same time, they use a wave form instead of a flat panel structure which manages to achieve the same level of structural loading with less concrete, and the product is architecturally beautiful. 

HDB is conducting a pilot to 3D-print unconventional streetscape furniture and landscape features for the new towns in Tengah and Bidadari. If the pilot proves to be successful, larger structures like pavilions and shelters can also be 3D-printed in the future.

We are pushing builders to adopt Advanced Manufacturing and Assembly technologies, learning from the manufacturing sector in order to improve the way we build. This involves building components in a controlled factory environment through greater adoption of automation, before transporting to site for assembly.

Over the next few years, the construction sector will look very different from today. For example, we may see more robotics and AI being used. This will mean that we can build more efficiently, with less manpower and material wastage.

After the building is constructed and occupied, we employ a range of strategies such as smart energy management systems, AI and solar panels, to reduce energy consumption in our buildings.

We are making good progress on this front. For example, we have greened more than half of our buildings in Singapore through various initiatives, such as HDB Green Towns Programme and more.

And in the past 1 year, around 1 in every 5 of our new buildings has attained Super Low Energy standards. This means that these buildings have achieved a minimum of 60% energy efficiency improvement over the 2005 standards, when the BCA Green Mark was first introduced, bringing us closer to our national target of achieving 80% energy efficiency by 2030.

Beyond Super Low Energy buildings, we have pushed on to achieve green buildings with positive energy generation, like the Samwoh Smart Hub. This building has fitted solar panels at the building façade and rooftop to generate enough energy to power 300 4-room HDB flats. In fact, at least 25% of the energy generated by around 2,600 solar panels will be contributed to the national grid. There are also plans to install solar panels at more HDB blocks in the coming years, as part of our drive to harness clean energy.

Breaking New Boundaries for Construction Sector

Moving forward, we will continue to innovate and create new materials that are more sustainable to reduce environmental impact. For example, industrial by-products, such as slag from iron manufacturing, are often discarded. However, HDB has upcycled these by-products to develop Ground Granulated Blast Slag that replace part of the cement mixture used for construction.

Apart from increasing the strength and durability of cement, this is also more sustainable because the by-product requires less energy for production and produces less carbon emission compared to using conventional cement.

We are also looking into new technologies like Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) that will sequester waste carbon dioxide into building materials, such as concrete.

Building our Future Singapore Together

Singapore has come so far because our people are willing to dream, to innovate, and to seize technological opportunities to build the thriving city that we have. You can look forward to plans like the Greater Southern Waterfront, and the future relocation of Paya Lebar Airbase under the Long-Term Plan Review. These developments are the result of the careful planning of our pioneer leaders decades earlier.

Now, we need your ideas, energy and creativity as we build on these opportunities to make these developments more sustainable and liveable for your generation and the generations that come after. We are already seeing what can be possible in the Jurong Lake District – we are developing it into a model sustainable district that provides opportunity to pilot new urban solutions and initiatives.

It is now your turn to convert your ideas into reality and start shaping the way we design and build to keep our city green, liveable and to meet our needs. If you are keen to learn more, I would like to encourage you to join the iBuildSG Club. This student interest group will provide you with useful knowledge and skills through workshops, digital learning journeys and competitions.

You can also participate in the Pinnacle Competition, a virtual escape room challenge to learn more about the built environment sector, that is running till 31 May 2023.  Find out more about the MOE Singapore-Industry Scholarship (SgIS) for the built environment sector as well to kick-start your career with one of the sponsoring organisations.

The scientific endeavour is about working together, sharing ideas and persevering towards the common goal of improving our living environment. Sustainability will require an all-hands-on-deck approach, involving students, researchers, urban planners, architects, engineers and builders to come together as we push towards a more sustainable future. 

Together, we can build a better world for ourselves and for future generations. I hope you will embody this same spirit of collaboration and help take the lead to make a difference to the development of Singapore. Thank you.