How Singapore’s defence buildings stay sustainable

By Sean Nolan

Interview with Kuek Choon Han, Head (Environmental Sustainability), Building and Infrastructure Programme Centre, Defence Science and Technology Agency, Singapore.

A government’s military and defence network is supposed to keep citizens safe. But what about when the enemy is carbon emissions? When the threat is rising sea levels and the biggest weapons are solar panels? Military forces also have a part to play in battling climate change.

Singapore’s Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) is working to design sustainable military buildings, including some that don’t require any external power at all. It is using various digital tools like data analytics and simulations to achieve this goal.

Kuek Choon Han, Head (Environmental Sustainability), Building and Infrastructure Programme Centre at DSTA, discusses his team’s most exciting projects and explains the tech behind this progress.

How to achieve defence sustainability 

DSTA uses tech and modelling tools to incorporate sustainable features in projects. The simulated model “allows us to visualise the end product before beginning construction”, helping later planning and decision making, says Kuek.

This modelling technology has been used to test and adapt designs virtually, reducing the amount of resources needed for later changes, GovInsider found out. Another benefit is better use of logistical resources in the delivery and installation of building features.

Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority (BCA) has even deployed AR and VR to help visualise buildings before construction, CEO Kelvin Wong told GovInsider.

One innovative strategy for managing waste is constructing structural, mechanical and electrical features off-site. These controlled environments ensure higher-quality workmanship and reduce the traditional construction time, saving time and resources, explained BCA.

Adopting data analytics has helped to better understand the energy consumption patterns across military infrastructure, says Kuek. The analytics help to identify excessive demand and anomalies, highlighting potential areas for improvement.

Sensors and data analytics can help to detect worn-out building facilities that might need replacing, wrote Iot For All. They can also help to monitor energy efficiency in certain artificial environments like cold storage, the site adds.

To tackle water wastage, only water-efficient-fittings are being used in toilets and pantries across new developments within the Ministry of Defence, says Kuek. Rainwater, air conditioning condensation, and vehicle washing water are all being recycled where possible, he continues.

Net-positive buildings

Singapore was the first country in South-East Asia to turn an existing building into a zero-energy one, according to BCA. These buildings require no external energy, meeting its needs by itself. When asked whether this is a sign of the future, Kuek says we can expect to see more zero energy defence buildings.

DSTA has already helped to create the first positive energy building for the Singapore Armed Forces, a hangar for the A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport aircraft. Built with eco-friendly materials, the hangar harvests rainwater, collects solar energy, and is fully decked out with energy-efficient lighting and air-conditioning.

Designed using modelling simulations and virtual reality, the building generates more electricity than it uses. It is able to generate enough electricity to power over 270 4-room HDB households, Kuek shares.

Creating military infrastructure presents specific challenges as operational requirements are varied and unique. While no one-size-fits-all method can be adopted, DSTA will continue “to push the boundaries of sustainability and green technology” in its projects, Kuek emphasises.

Future projects

Mass engineered timber (MET) is a sustainable initiative the DSTA is assessing for further use. Harvested from sustainably managed forests, using this timber for construction has a lower carbon footprint compared to steel or concrete buildings, Kuek highlights.

MET has already been adopted to build accommodations in a military camp, and DSTA will continue to explore the use of MET in defence buildings and facilities, Kuek shares.

Creating more energy-efficient air conditioning systems is a topic Kuek is personally interested in. With a greater push for sustainability at the national level, he is excited to see more research into reducing the consumption levels of “energy guzzlers”, he says.

When you think of military technology, solar panels and data analytics might not be the first thing that comes to mind. But in the collective effort to tackle climate change, every organisation has a responsibility to go green, especially in the structures that will last decades.

Lead image: Kuek Choon Han, Head (Environmental Sustainability), Building and Infrastructure Programme Centre at DSTA

Images from DSTA