Future-proof is needed for Jurong Island sustainability to protect it from the impacts of climate change.


Rethinking climate adaptation: Safeguarding Singapore’s industrial hub with sustainable solutions

At Jurong Island, rising sea levels represent an ongoing threat to infrastructure and future land reclamation work. In addition, the island’s ongoing demand for energy and subsequent high levels of air pollution have prompted further research to understand what is needed to both future-proof the island, protect it from the impacts of climate change and introduce greater sustainability to local operations.

How can climate risks be managed for an industrial island? Aurecon’s Stéphanie Groen, Director, Coastal and Climate Change, imagines what innovative engineering solutions might meet these dual challenges.

Located southwest of the main island of Singapore, Jurong Island is home to many facilities from the world’s leading oil, petrochemical, and specialty chemical companies. The purpose-built industrial site was artificially developed from seven small islands back in 1995, yet the area is still not yet fully reclaimed, with plans to add further growth in the coming years.

Despite its substantial industrial operations, Jurong Island has long tried to minimise its impact on the local environment. For example today, it functions as an integrated hub, where the output from one plant is used as the input for another, allowing companies to feed off each other and optimise the use of resources. Even so, Jurong Island still contributes about three-quarters of industries’ emissions in Singapore, making it a strong focus for reduction.

With this in mind, the Singapore government agency JTC Corporation commissioned a study in early 2019 – the Jurong Island Circular Economy Study – to map water, energy and waste flows on the island. The study aims to identify synergies to both reduce resource use and move towards a circular economy approach.

At the same time, authorities must contend with the other significant challenge facing Jurong Island – and Singapore as a whole – rising sea levels. While Jurong Island is currently protected by coastal revetment and quay walls, Singapore’s sea levels are predicted to rise by several metres in the centuries ahead, so further protection will undoubtedly be required.

Challenge: Protecting a world-leading industrial site

Jurong Island is not only one of the world’s largest oil refining and petrochemical complexes, it is also one of the most vulnerable parts of the country, with some areas sitting at an extremely low level. In future, additional protection will be needed to supplement the existing revetments.

Typically, engineers would look at making these bigger, either inland, seaward or both. However, at Jurong Island, most of the existing buildings, pipelines and infrastructure are close to the sea, so there is limited space to make revetments bigger inland. At the same time, making them bigger seaward will affect the coastal hydrodynamics around part of the island as well as the operability of marine jetties that industrial companies use as an essential part of their logistics.

Removing or relocating assets to make space for quay walls could be one solution – however, the island is an intricate, established network of plants, pipelines, warehouses and other infrastructure, so moving assets around becomes a complex and expensive process.

Concept: A greener Jurong Island for a brighter future

Renewing coastal protection on Jurong Island presents a great opportunity to simultaneously reinvent the hub, pushing it towards carbon neutrality and setting a positive example for other countries. There are a wide range of options that might be considered in re-thinking Jurong Island. Here are four options that might work for the location:

Option 1: Steel sea walls to protect critical infrastructure

While the challenge of protecting against rising sea levels might seem daunting, expensive and slow, one option could be the creation of steel sea walls at a scale similar to those used in the construction of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai Macau Seaway project.

Drilling very large diameter steel piles into the soil at record speed around the island and using them as a base for the main sea wall will still have an impact on the overall hydrodynamics around the island, but it would also make it easier to accommodate and upgrade the jetties used by companies around the island.

While undoubtedly a large-scale project, the success of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai Macau seaway project shows that the process works and can be deployed at a short timeframe. And despite its scale, such a project may still be less complex than attempting to raise platform levels on Jurong island itself.

Further, with fast advancing digital engineering techniques, designing and optimising a wall of such scale is more feasible than ever before. Survey data can be processed and digitised to deliver 3D virtual models which show how the wall will impact its surroundings from an environmental and hydrodynamic perspective, how it can be deployed and how it performs its duties over years or decades, considering any number of variants in environmental change.

In the past, this kind of design engineering planning might have taken years to develop but today it can be simulated in a matter of months.

Option 2: Autonomous and electric transport

With an industrial site that is better protected for the long-term, the attention can be turned to sustainability and one of the first areas to look at is the transport infrastructure. Given the island is predominantly used for industrial purposes, there is a great opportunity to push for a transition to autonomous electric vehicles for the majority of journeys.

In addition, improved bicycle routes, bus links, improved greenery and shaded walkways can help encourage active or mass transport for workers and visitors on the island, which in turn reduces transport emissions and improves the air quality in the area.

Encouraging people to switch to active transport – cycling, walking and micro mobility – is something many cities are trying to enact. In our experience, getting the engagement of stakeholders at the earliest time in the project is key.

In Christchurch, New Zealand, for example, Aurecon undertook a similar project, working with the city council to develop a network of cycle routes and working closely with the local community to understand the human experience of potential solutions. Taking this human-centred approach delivered great success, with the first route surpassing forecasts in year one, reaching over 1,400 users per day.

Option 3: Solar powered ‘things’

Energy has already been an obvious area of attention when rethinking Jurong Island. The Jurong Rock caverns – opened in 2014 – are an example of an innovative storage solution for oil and petrochemicals. However, to transition towards green energy sources, solar power has the potential to make a significant difference.

While the industrial plants on the island are unquestionably demanding in terms of energy usage, solar could deliver a substantial portion. Panels could be deployed on buildings, storage tanks, floating hubs and empty spaces; it could also provide a green stand-alone micro-grid.

Solar energy not only offsets electricity costs, it also has a low environmental impact and allows greater energy independence. Over the last few years, solar energy has become increasingly cost-competitive and researchers at MIT have found the advantages of solar photovoltaics – such as market, health and climate benefits – outweigh any concerns over costs.

But what about taking it a step further and develop solar-powered infrastructure, like roads and cycle networks? Initially designed in 2014 to unveil a real-life impression of the painting ‘The Starry Night’ to commemorate the 125th death anniversary of one of the greatest painters in history (Vincent van Gogh), would this solar-powered cycle path solution in the Netherlands be scalable to implement on larger road infrastructure networks to capture more energy that feeds back into the grid to light the streets at night?

Many organisations are increasingly keen to take advantage of the 173,000 terawatts of solar energy that hit the earth every day. For example, earlier this year, Aurecon helped the University of Queensland to create a 64-megawatt solar farm in Warwick, Australia, enough to support 100 percent of the university’s electricity use. And in Vietnam, Aurecon and other project partners built the largest photovoltaic power plant in Southeast Asia, the Dau Tieng 1 and 2 Solar Power Plant, in less than a year.

Option 4: Adopting Sponge City principles to save and recycle precious water

There are multiple ways to preserve water in areas like Jurong Island, but one that might work well here is the adoption of the Sponge City principles. This involves creating more infrastructure that includes open green spaces, interconnected waterways, channels and underground ponds to absorb rainwater. Once collected, this water can be extracted, treated and reused for the island’s water supply.

China is already adopting these principles on a substantial scale as it looks to tackle its impending water crisis. In addition to promoting significant recycling of water, the Sponge City principle also improves overall water quality, reduces the risks of flooding, promotes carbon sink (CO2 absorption) through planting more trees and greenery, and lowers the overall urban heat island intensity.

Call to action: Transition into a low carbon economy and develop physical protection measures

Can you imagine Jurong island becoming a world-class net zero, and sustainable industrial island that has future proofed itself against the long-term impacts of climate change in 2025? Navigating and implementing innovative solutions to transition into a low-carbon local economy and developing physical protection measures against sea level rise and rainfall inundation – though complex – will make this possible in Singapore.

For Jurong Island, managing physical risks should be the priority. This will address new coastal protection measures and at the same time, address the island’s coastal logistics and water management strategy. Furthermore, it will give the opportunity to developing resilient infrastructure and in return, support sustainable industrial hubs and communities.

Leading design engineering firms like Aurecon, are well positioned to use data and digital technologies to develop and test engineering solutions to speed up decision making processes, before construction proceeds.

Transitioning towards a net zero emission strategy and developing a transition plan for Jurong island will require time and significant investments in future energy and new fuel technologies. A good start is to explore and implement solutions to aid the decarbonisation of the island’s transport network and use data and intelligent transport infrastructure to make a significant positive impact.


About the Author

Stéphanie Groen is Director of Coastal & Climate Change in Asia for Aurecon, an international engineering, design and advisory company. Groen has over 19 years’ professional experience in water, marine and environmental consultancy and has helped clients in Asia, particularly in Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines implement environmental best practices and understand the various impacts of climate change.

She has overseen the completion of more than 15 large marine infrastructure developments often related to land reclamation works, whilst working closely with institutions such as the Singapore Government and the World Bank, as well as engineering firms, universities and insurance companies.

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