With today's launch of Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) Solar Fuels Lab, Singapore is ramping up efforts to be a regional education, research and development hub in Asia. The lab is the first in Asia to experiment with creating hydrogen fuel from water and sunlight, thus mimicking photosynthesis.
The process of extracting hydrogen from water and sunlight usually requires a substantial amount of energy in the first place, making it cost-ineffective for commercial use. But by imitating photosynthesis, researchers are gaining ground in extracting fuel with minimal exertion, providing a sustainable, alternative energy source. The process, dubbed "artificial leaf technology," is popular with proponents of biomimicry.
"Nature has lots of wonderful ways to renew itself. We can learn a lot from nature if we look hard enough, to find sustainable solutions to some of the world's most pressing problems," said NTU President Professor Bertil Andersson.
It remains to be seen whether the new research will serve to propel Singapore forward as an unmistaken R&D leader in the region, but the University itself is devoting ample resources to the research, combining the efforts of NTU's School of Materials Science and Engineering and the Energy Research Institute.
The U.S. announced a similar initiative last year, which means that if Singapore is successful in its research, the island nation would become a competitive player not just in Asia, but with the West as well.
Education is at the heart of Singapore's quest for regional dominance—INSEAD, MIT, Johns Hopkins, and others have all chosen the country for branch campuses, helping the country grab a part of the $2.2 million international education market, and making room for byproduct revenue streams such as tourism and industry expansion.
"This growing education market in Asia is a major economic opportunity for us," Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs, George Yeo, once said.
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[Image: flickr user Kevin Krejci]