Addressing National Challenges with Multi-Disciplinary R&D Capabilities
Materialising A Better World
17 Jan 2022
Material specialist by profession and environmentalist at heart, Mr Ong Kian Soo is on a mission to improve sustainability through innovations in agritechnology.
With the rising threat of climate change, ‘sustainability’ has become one of the biggest buzzwords in recent years. Driven by his passion for environmental sustainability, Kian Soo is purposeful in incorporating it into his work. “I see it as my personal mission to research and develop green and sustainable technology that will help to reduce the climate change issues caused by human activities. All our research projects are geared towards decarbonisation and sustainability.” says Kian Soo.
It is in this vein that Kian Soo conceptualised the Hybrid Lighting system. The system uses smart materials and structures to manipulate both natural and artificial lighting, creating farm environments where vegetables can grow better with less energy.
Mr Ong Kian Soo (first from right) is a Principal Specialist at A*STAR’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE), where his research focuses on focuses on thin film technology, nanoimprinting of structures and energy saving solutions for farming.
The Agritech and Aquaculture Horizontal Technology Coordinating Office (A2HTCO) at A*STAR oversees the Hybrid lighting project, which is hosted by the Institute of Material Research and Engineering (IMRE) and co-led by the Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC), Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech), National University of Singapore (NUS), Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory and Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
A2HTCO brings together multi-disciplinary capabilities across A*STAR to develop innovative agritech and aquaculture solutions that support Singapore’s "30 by 30" goal of producing 30 per cent of our nation's nutritional needs locally by 2030.
SUSTAINABLE HYBRID LIGHTING FOR FARMS
The Hybrid Lighting system optimises the use of both natural (sun) and artificial lighting (LED) to achieve energy savings of up to 80 per cent in greenhouses and vertical indoor farms. High consumption of energy is a key challenge faced by local farms - not only is it costly; it is also detrimental to the environment. The system utilises energy-efficient LED lighting and solar light collectors to reduce energy consumption.
Kian Soo (extreme right) with his team of researchers at IMRE which specialises in Quantum Dot & tuneable LED research.
It also enables improvements in crop yield by increasing the lighting coverage in vertically stacked farms, as well as customising and fine-tuning light wavelengths to achieve optimal photosynthesis rates. "Using smart materials and processes, we are able to develop innovative agritech solutions to improve crop quality and yield per unit of land area – this is particularly important in small countries such as Singapore where energy and land for growing crops is limited,” explains Kian Soo.
As the lead Principal Investigator for this project, Kian Soo’s days are packed with project discussions with his team. They are working fervently to bring the project to fruition - designing, fabricating, and characterising workable prototypes, which they will integrate and validate in local farms.
The team is also working on eight other projects that develop energy saving solutions by sunlight manipulation, LED lighting, as well as developing and optimising the lighting recipes for plant growth, and a plant library platform.
Kian Soo holding xiao bai cai which was grown with an optimised spectrum recipe under a tuneable LED panel developed by IMRE
Kian Soo's research has also made him better appreciate nature’s ways. For instance, he finds it fascinating how plants use energy from the whole range of light spectrum to perform photosynthesis, producing chemical energy while absorbing carbon dioxide from the environment. In between his research on material sciences, Kian Soo works on a project that aims to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen, by replicating the photosynthesis process.
As part of the Hybrid Lighting system, Kian Soo and his team at IMRE were trying to manipulate natural sun light so that it can be ‘bent’ (refracted) and redirected in the opposite direction from its source. He shares a highlight from the project: the team discovered that they were able to blend selected wavelength of sunlight with artificial lighting, so that the incident sun light can be directed towards crops that are located far away so that these crops get the sun light needed for their growth.Kian Soo (extreme right) with his team of researchers who specialise in energy saving lighting for agriculture.