Water Crisis Drives Singapore Start-Ups To Explore Tech-Powered Alternatives

Singapore Prime Minister
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks during a joint news conference with Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (not pictured) in Putrajaya, Malaysia April 9, 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin)

Singaporean start-ups have started exploring alternatives in purifying water as demand for water saw a significant hike following Hyflux's debt issues that put the city-state's water supply in the balance.

According to a report on Nikkei Asian Review, EcoWorth is among the companies that stepped up to the plate as Hyflux continues to struggle with liquidation problems. The Nanyang Technology University spin-off firm has raised around $1 million for its new purifying product.

EcoWorth has developed a "super-absorbent" sponge composed of cotton and recycled paper that should absorb industrial contaminants found on the water. Angel investors, grants, and bootstrapping have helped commercialize the new technology.

EcoWorth CEO André Stolz said he is hoping that issues with Hyflux and disputes with Malaysia will push the government to further promote wastewater treatment and conservation among businesses in the city-state.

"We are seeing that the legislation is tightening and the [Public Utilities Board] is pushing back for industries to install their own wastewater treatment. That is the market for us to go into," Stolz said.

Economists said Singaporean leaders and businesspeople refuse to go down and halt the city-state's growth just because it has an inadequate water supply that will sustain all residents.

The government has been investing heavily on potentially going independent in terms of water. Singapore is currently relying on Malaysia for almost 40 percent of its water supply. Corporations and investors are helping the government transition through new purification technology.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah spoke up on the water dispute with Singapore on Tuesday. He said the price dispute that the two sides are working to iron out should be treated fairly. He added that international intervention or arbitration will be the last resort.

Earlier this month, Malaysia's Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said both parties have agreed to settle the issue amicably. Analysts are expecting to see increased discussions from Singaporean and Malaysian officials on this matter in the coming months.

The tech ventures of water suppliers and filter manufacturers were driven by news that Singapore's national water agency will take over Hyflux's Tuaspring plant after 30 days as it has failed to provide adequate water supply for residents.

Adding to Hyflux's issues is SM Investments' (SMI) announcement that it will sue the water supplier due to wrongful attempt to drop the rescue deal that SMI offered. Hyflux is reportedly in talks with potential investors over a rescue deal that could keep Singapore's water agency from taking over Tuaspring.

Furthermore, Maybank has terminated its joint venture agreement with Hyflux, fueling fears that the company may keep losing its partners and in turn, Singapore's water crisis will keep declining.

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