Tech Doing Good

From cleaning up mountains of untreated sludge to making railway stations fully solar-powered, technology is an ally to those hoping to solve Asia’s environmental problems.

AsianScientist (Jul. 22, 2019) – “Think Global, Act Local,” is nowhere else more applicable than in a continent as diverse as Asia, where 60 percent of the world’s population shares 30 percent of the world’s land. Strong population, urban and economic growth in recent decades has often spilled over to the environment, leading to issues such as pollution, haze and biodiversity damage from unsustainable resource use.

Among the 48 countries in Asia, huge variations exist in terms of land and population size, economic development, governance, culture, religion and language. In addition, each community faces a slightly different set of environmental challenges, which means that solutions will have to be tailored to suit local needs.

In this special feature, we showcase ten sustainable technologies developed in Asia. They are aimed at solving the most pressing issues within their communities across four domains—pollution control, renewable energy, food security and waste management.

1. Pollution control: Saving the sacred Ganges River from oil spills

Household trash, sewage, industrial wastewater and even ashes of the cremated are routinely disposed into the Ganges River, making it the sixth most polluted river in the world. Attempts to clean up the sacred river are embarrassingly behind schedule, and potential oil spills from leaking pipelines along the river bed pose serious health hazards to the 400 million people it provides drinking water to.

To give engineers advance warning of pipeline defects before leakages occur, Chennai-based startup DeTect Technologies, which was spun off by alumni and faculty of the Indian Institute of Technology—Madras, has developed the Guided Ultrasonic Monitoring of Pipe Systems (GUMPS), a network of sensors that operate at extreme temperatures deep underwater.

Using ultrasound, the GUMPS network detects corrosion as well as corrosion rates of pipelines up to 60 meters from a fixed point, and transmits the data it collects to the cloud. The data is then automatically analyzed to provide early detection of pipeline defects.

The technology has attracted interest from Indian petrochemical companies such as Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited. In 2018, the company received US$3.3 million in Series A funding to expand into international markets, including the US and Singapore.

2. Pollution control: A laser-clear solution to a hazy problem

There are no flames in sight, only thick clouds of smoke rising from the ground. The fire burns on, for weeks and even months. This is known as smoldering combustion, which frequently occurs when peatlands, with their dense vegetation and layers of partially decomposed matter, are set ablaze by farmers to make way for oil palm and timber plantations, as well as to grow food crops.

These peatland fires cost the Indonesian economy US$16 billion in the devastating 2015 fire season, and are partly responsible for the haze that blankets many Southeast Asian cities in what is now nearly an annual affair.

In 2018, the Indonesia-based International Peat Mapping Team won the US$1 million Indonesian Peat Prize, a competition organized by Indonesia’s Geospatial Information Agency to find the most accurate, timely and cost-effective methodology for mapping peatlands.

Using satellite imagery and aerial LiDAR (which uses lasers for remote sensing), in combination with on-the-ground measurements, the winning team created 3D terrain models of peatlands at ten-meter resolution, or at a scale of 1:50,000.

The 3D models will be used by authorities to clamp down on illegal land clearance for plantations, helping to prevent a repeat of annual forest fires that plague the region while also reducing the country’s carbon footprint.

Lidao is a chemistry undergraduate at the University of Oxford, UK. An aspiring scientist, he is excited to learn about the latest discoveries and even more intrigued by the fascinating stories behind them. In his free time, he enjoys badminton, swimming and running around Singapore to uncover the best durian spots.

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