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NTU Singapore, ExxonMobil and A*STAR launch corporate lab for low carbon solutions

Lab will advance global research efforts in lower-emissions technologies in areas including converting biomass into lower GHG emission fuels for adoption in maritime, aviation and chemical sectors.

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NTU Singapore, ExxonMobil and A*STAR launch corporate lab for low carbon solutions

ExxonMobil Technology and Engineering Company (ExxonMobil), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore), and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) on Tuesday (26 April) said they have established the ExxonMobil-NTU-A*STAR Corporate Lab to develop solutions that would help lower carbon emissions, contribute to resource efficiency, and help build a more sustainable future.  

The Corporate Lab was officially launched today by Mr. Heng Swee Keat, Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Chairman of the National Research Foundation (NRF). Corporate labs allow companies to draw on Singapore’s strong foundation of scientific capabilities to address real-world challenges. The partnership between industry and academia helps to strengthen the industry relevance of researchers’ R&D and enables innovative enterprises to stay globally competitive through gaining insights into new application possibilities.

Researchers in the SGD 60 million Corporate Lab will apply their expertise to advance global research efforts in lower-emissions technologies in five areas:

  • Convert biomass into lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emission fuels for adoption in aviation, maritime and chemical sectors that are potentially more cost-effective and efficient;
  • Carbon capture and utilisation using by-product industrial brines, such as desalination brine to produce alternative construction materials, turning industrial side streams into useful materials;
  • Turn methane into low-carbon hydrogen and solid carbon materials: Develop new process technologies to produce hydrogen from natural gas, while identifying potential and new applications for carbon;
  • Develop efficient carbon capture and carbonation technology for industry by-products: To produce solid carbonates for use in building and infrastructure applications;
  • Large-scale application of carbon in concrete: Produce and validate concrete with carbon materials for large-scale deployment to enable, durable, and sustainable building and construction applications.

The new Corporate Lab - the latest addition to over 20 corporate laboratories across Singapore – is hosted by NTU’s Energy Research Institute @NTU (ERI@N) and A*STAR’s Institute of Sustainability for Chemicals, Energy and Environment (ISCE2), through the Industry Alignment Fund-Industry Collaboration Project (IAF-ICP) initiative, and will work on joint research programmes over the next five years. These will be focused on helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance resource efficiency. 

The IAF-ICP initiative is a grant scheme under Singapore’s Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2025 (RIE20251) plan to increase the base of enterprises engaging in research and innovation activities in Singapore. It aims to foster industry-relevant public sector R&D efforts, and advances collaboration between public sector researchers with industry, with a line of sight to potential economic outcomes.

Working to meet Singapore’s and society’s growing needs for stable supplies of energy and essential products while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions in support of a lower-emission future, will require unprecedented innovation and collaboration at scale.

The research programmes identified by the Corporate Lab can contribute to Singapore’s energy security, unlock new socio-economic potential, and help support its progress towards a net-zero future.

NTU Vice President (Industry) Professor Lam Khin Yong, said: “The partnership between NTU, ExxonMobil and A*STAR is an example of how close collaboration with academia, industry, and public agencies is crucial in developing innovative solutions to address real world challenges. This is in line with NTU’s long-term strategic efforts to tackle grand challenges facing humanity and will build on NTU’s deep expertise in sustainability to help amplify Singapore’s on-going efforts to develop low carbon solutions. The new corporate lab ensures that our research results have the opportunity to be translated into impactful, real-world innovations, bringing us closer to a cleaner and greener future.”

ExxonMobil Asia Pacific Pte. Ltd. Chairman and Managing director Geraldine Chin, said: “I’m excited that ExxonMobil with its global leadership in energy and material technology, will continue to work with Singapore’s world-class researchers to accelerate research development for a lower-carbon future. Our involvement in the translational R&D stages can help scale up projects for commercial deployment. We look forward to collaborating with our corporate lab partners on innovative discoveries that can help change our industry and the world.”

A*STAR’s Assistant Chief Executive, Science and Engineering Research Council, Professor Lim Keng Hui, said: “A*STAR’s collaboration with ExxonMobil and NTU signifies our shared commitment to achieving a carbon circular economy through technological innovations. The corporate lab combines ExxonMobil’s industry expertise with A*STAR’s and NTU’s cutting-edge research, to accelerate technological deployments for a more resource-efficient future in support of Singapore’s net zero goals.”

Singapore Economic Development Board Executive Vice President Lim Wey-Len, said: “The Corporate Lab by ExxonMobil, NTU and A*STAR is a first in Singapore launched with a global energy player. The joint lab is a valuable addition to our ecosystem that will spur solutions for a greener future, while developing home-grown talent in R&D and sustainability here. Singapore is a location where innovation and diverse partnerships thrive, and we continue to welcome like-minded players to join us in developing low carbon solutions from Singapore for the world.” 

Leading the Corporate Lab as co-directors are NTU’s Professor Xu Rong, School of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology and Research Director for Engineering and Physical Sciences, and Dr. Saifudin Abubakar, ExxonMobil  strategic portfolio manager for technology & engineering research, and advisor to the Singapore Energy Consortium.

The five research programmes undertaken by the new Corporate Lab are expected to generate several technical disclosures, patents, and prototypes. Additionally, it provides an excellent platform to train a talent pool of graduates, research engineers, postgraduates, and postdoctoral fellows in the emerging field of carbon circular economy. 

The Corporate Lab will bring together more than 50 researchers, postgraduate and undergraduate students, and engineers from ExxonMobil, NTU, and A*STAR. The collaboration presents unique opportunities for our talent to grow practical skillsets and gain insights beyond research capabilities.

 

Photo credit: Nanyang Technological University Singapore
Published: 2 May 2024 

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Legal

Interview with a Helmsman: Issues regarding bunker trader employee movement

Matthew Teo, Director, Head of Employment at Helmsman LLC, answers questions on privileged knowledge, non-compete clauses, non-solicitation, payment during garden leave, and more.

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Bunker trading firms are part of the marine fuels supply chain. When a bunker trader starts representing their company, they usually gain access to privileged information and industry contacts as part of their line of work; this is especially so for senior staff.

Marine fuels publication Manifold Times is privileged to have Matthew Teo, Director, Head of Employment at multi-disciplinary law firm Helmsman LLC, answer questions relating to staff movement.

Employment law is one of Matthew’s areas of specialisation. He often advises on restrictive covenants, contentious terminations of employment and non-contentious aspects such as drafting employment contracts and disciplinary policies. Matthew also acts regularly in employment disputes in Singapore.

MT: How should employment contracts within bunkering firms be structured where privileged knowledge is kept within company walls even when a trader leaves?

Employers generally utilise a mix of contractual obligations placed on employees in order to protect confidential trade information. There are normally confidentiality clauses and restrictive covenants (e.g. non-competition and non-solicitation clauses). However, these are not a panacea. In reality, it is difficult to police and prove breaches of confidentiality clauses. Similarly, restrictive covenants are, by default, unenforceable unless they meet certain criteria.

For more effective protection, employers should consider segregation of confidential information within the company and ensure that only people with a “need to know” are granted access to such information. Employers can also implement data loss policies and measures to monitor and track unauthorised download of confidential information. For example, if a trader resigns, the employer should immediately cease the trader’s access to the company’s confidential information.

MT: Regarding non-compete clauses, what are employer’s and employee’s rights on enforceability of ex-traders joining competitors?

The default position is that as a matter of public policy, non-competition clauses are unenforceable unless they protect a legitimate proprietary interest of the employer and are reasonable.

In recent cases in 2024, the Singapore courts have taken a very strict approach towards analysing non-competition clauses and held that confidentiality clauses which are premised on the protection of confidential information or trade connections are unenforceable where the employment contracts also contain confidentiality and non-solicitation obligations. There has been some academic discussion as to whether this approach is correct but this remains the current status of the law until the Court of Appeal of Singapore decides otherwise.

This is not to say that non-competition clauses will always be deemed unenforceable. Much will depend on the extent of the particular circumstances of each case and the ambit of the clause.

MT: On the topic of non-solicitation, can a former employer stop ex-traders from trading with previous customers even when bunker trading is such a niche market?

Non-solicitation clauses generally restrict the solicitation of an ex-employer’s customers. In other words, it requires a positive act of solicitation. On that basis, if the non-solicitation clause is reasonable in terms of period of restraint, scope of restraint and geographical area of restraint, it is possible for such a clause to be upheld as enforceable.

On the other hand, clauses which purport to prevent a former employee from trading with a previous customer without any solicitation may not be enforceable.

MT: What is the difference between notice period and garden leave?

A notice period is the period of time between the date on which an employer or employee notifies the other party that it intends to terminate or cease employment. This is a statutory requirement and most employment contracts will stipulate the specific notice period (failing which the Employment Act provides for the minimum period which will apply). For example, if an employment contract has a notice period of 1 month, then if the employee resigns today, the employee will have to serve the employer for another month (i.e. the notice period) unless the employee pays the employer 1 month’s salary in lieu of notice.

Garden leave is different concept. It is a period of time during the notice period in which the employee may be asked to stay away from the workplace and not conduct any work. The purpose of this is to cease the employee’s access to other employees and trade connections, as well as confidential information, so that the employer can then take steps to build relationships with those trade connections or prevent employees from being influenced to leave the company. In order to place an employee on garden leave, the employer must have included a right to do so in the terms of employment.

MT: It is common for big bunker trading firms to impose non-competition clauses for up to a year which prevents traders from being bunker traders during the period. Who should be paying the trader in this period and what can be considered fair for an ex-trader to ‘comply’ when considering a 100%/50%/0% non-competition payment scheme?

There are various jurisdictions in the world which have specific legislation governing non-competition clauses and in some cases, the laws of these jurisdictions may require the employer to make payment of a percentage of the employee’s last drawn salary during the period of post-termination restraint. Singapore, however, does not have any legislation governing this issue. Nevertheless, some employers in Singapore have drawn inspiration from these jurisdictions and introduced the concept of payment of “salary” during the post-termination period of restraint in Singapore to compensate ex-employees for not competing.

In my view, if an employer wishes to restrain an employee from working in the industry and utilising his skill sets post-termination, and if the period of restraint is very long (e.g. a year), then the employer should consider compensating the employee. Otherwise, the employee may have no alternative but to find work in the industry and “compete” with the employer in order to earn a livelihood.

The quantum of payment during such period of post-termination restraint is also a difficult issue. Whilst an employer may think it is fair if it pays the employee 100% of the employee’s last drawn salary during the period of post-termination restraint, the employee’s perspective may be different because the employee will be out of the industry for a long period and there may be a negative impact of the employee’s future career development that is greater than the compensation received. In other words, there is no law or fixed rule as to what percentage of salary payment would satisfy an employee, but I would think that a former employee would find it more palatable to accept such a clause and abide by it if there is a bigger financial incentive.

MT: Can an ex-trader compensate the former employer if he/sure wishes to seek relief from the non-competition period? How can it be done?

There is no specific legislation or law in Singapore that governs this issue. As such, this will have to be a negotiation between the former employee and former employer. In reality, a former employee is likely to obtain legal advice on the enforceability of the non-competition clause. If such legal advice is favourable to the employee, the employee may decide to proceed as if there was no such clause and test the former employer’s appetite in pursuing legal action.

Note: Matthew can be contacted at [email protected] for further enquiries.

 

Photo credit: Helmsman LLC
Published: 24 July 2024

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Bunker Fuel

Cargo ship “Tony Stark” detained in Spain for bunker fuel spill

Authorities have not allowed the Antigua & Barbuda-flagged ship to leave the port on Africa’s north coast until the owners pay bail of EUR 120,000.

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Marine Traffic / Raul Buque

Spain detained a cargo ship for causing a spill during a bunkering operation near the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, according to Reuters on Tuesday (23 July). 

Authorities have not allowed the Antigua & Barbuda-flagged Tony Stark ship to leave the port on Africa's north coast until the owners pay bail of EUR 120,000 (USD 130,129), Reuters reported, citing comments from Spain’s Merchant Fleet. 

Trails of fuel oil were found in front of Benitez beach, the breakwaters of the port and San Amaro beach in Ceuta, in the Alboran sea.

The Merchant Fleet estimated the size of the fuel spill was one metric tonne. It opened a disciplinary procedure that will determine the final fine.

 

Photo credit: Marine Traffic / Raul Buque
Published: 24 July 2024

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Wind-assisted

NYK installs wind-assisted ship propulsion system on bulker “NBA Magritte”

NYK Bulkship (Atlantic) installed two wind-assisted ship-propulsion units on Cargill-chartered bulk carrier on 8 July at the port of Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

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NYK installs wind-assisted ship propulsion system on bulker “NBA Magritte”

NYK Line on Tuesday (23 July) said NYK Bulkship (Atlantic) N.V. (NBAtlantic) has installed two wind-assisted ship-propulsion units on the bulk carrier NBA Magritte on 8 July at the port of Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

The bulk carrier is engaged in a long-term charter contract with Cargill (USA). 

“This is the first time a unit of this type has been installed on an NYK Group vessel,” NYK said on its website. 

Sitting on a 20-foot-long (approximately 6-metre) flat rack container with no walls, VentoFoil has a 16-metre vertical wing that acts as suction sail which expects about 5 times as much force compared to no-suction versions.

Features of VentoFoil

・VentoFoil creates propulsion with the pressure difference on both sides of the wing and is expected to help reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions during vessel navigation.

・It takes in wind through its suction port and obtains greater propulsion by amplifying the pressure difference.

・The system can be easily activated and deactivated through a touch panel installed on the bridge, enabling operation without increasing the crew’s workload.

・It is smaller than similar wind equipment, making it easy to install and relocate.

・It can be folded in about 5 to 6 minutes, keeping it out of the way of cargo handling. (See video below.)

NBAtlantic will collect data on the propulsion generated by this equipment, as well as meteorological and ocean conditions during navigation, and measure the unit’s effectiveness in collaboration with Cargill International Inc. and NYK R&D subsidiary MTI Co., Ltd.

This initiative is part of NYK’s long-term target of net-zero emissions of GHGs by 2050 for the NYK Group's oceangoing businesses. The NYK Group will utilise the knowledge gained in this research and development to promote initiatives related to various energy-saving technologies, including the use of wind power.

 

Photo credit: NYK Line
Published: 24 July 2024

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