Founding of Hyflux
In 1989, Olivia Lum, a chemistry graduate from the National University of Singapore, left a promising career at Glaxo Pharmaceutical to fulfil her dream to set up her own business. Challenged by the difficulties that industries faced in treating the wastewater from their processes and anticipating increasing pollution of waterways with rising urbanisation and industrialisation, Olivia saw that the water treatment business could only be a “sunrise” industry. So armed with a big dream and youthful idealism to solve the world’s problems, Olivia sold her apartment and her car to raise S$20,000 as start-up capital for the business. Hydrochem (S) Pte Ltd was incorporated on 20 June 1989 and started operations with two other staff. During the early days, Olivia knocked on countless doors of factories in Singapore and Malaysia to sell water treatment products and systems using traditional technologies.
Early Formative Years
In 1992, acting on the foresight that membranes would be the next big trend for the water industry, Hydrochem obtained the exclusive rights from a supplier to distribute membranes and membrane filtration plants to industrial customers. Not only did the company acquire the knowledge of membrane installation, it also sparked some early research into membrane technologies.
In 1994, just as China was opening its doors to foreign investments, Olivia decided to venture into the vast Chinese market, setting up an office in Shanghai. It was an uphill task for a young Singapore company with limited resources and little knowledge of a market which had not even heard of, let alone embrace, the concept of wastewater treatment. Patience, perseverance and optimism paid off eventually, and the Hyflux’s presence in Shanghai also allowed it to serve existing clients in Singapore who were moving their production lines to China.
The late 1990s saw Hydrochem establishing a reputation for itself in the area of membrane filtration technology for the water industry. Because the technology was relatively new to industries, the Company conducted more than 100 pilot plant trials of membrane applications and water treatment technologies for the pharmaceutical, food and electronics industries. Its efforts paid off when the company began to secure larger projects.
In 1999, a R&D team was set up with the aim of manufacturing its own range of membranes. Having a proprietary technology would set Hydrochem apart from its competitors in the growing water industry. The first generation of Kristal® hollow-fibre ultrafiltration (UF) membranes was successfully produced in-house and proved their robustness when put to test in Singapore’s Jurong Bird Park wastewater recycling project.
Since then, several generations of Kristal® UF membranes have been produced and today, the brand is a market leader and have been installed in some of the world’s largest membrane-based desalination plants. Several membrane products, systems and applications have since been developed out of the R&D centre, currently one of Asia’s largest for membranes and materials technologies.
In preparation for a public listing, Hyflux Pte Ltd was incorporated on 31 March 2000 to assume the role of an investment holding company for the Group. Hydrochem became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hyflux. Subsequently on 20 December, Hyflux Pte Ltd was converted to a public limited company and the name was changed to Hyflux Ltd.
On 9 January 2001, Hyflux launched its initial public offering, and on 17 January, Hyflux shares began trading on the secondary board of the Singapore Exchange (SGX). Hyflux was the first water treatment company to be listed in Singapore. On 14 April 2003, Hyflux was promoted to the SGX mainboard, having met all requirements for a mainboard listing.
First NEWater Project
2001 was a defining year for Hyflux for yet another reason – the company was awarded its first municipal water treatment project in Singapore to supply and install the process equipment for the Bedok NEWater Plant, the country’s first NEWater plant which would mark the launch of the Third National Tap.
Following the success with Bedok NEWater Plant, Hyflux secured another project from PUB, Singapore’s national water agency, in 2002 to design, construct and commission the country’s third NEWater plant in Seletar.
That same year, Hyflux won its third PUB project, Chestnut Avenue Waterworks, Singapore’s first waterworks that uses membrane-based filtration to produce potable water.
First Desalination and PPP Project
In January 2003, Hyflux was named the preferred bidder by PUB to build, own and operate Singapore’s first seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) desalination plant and also first Public-Private-Partnership project. It was not just Hyflux’s first desalination project; it was also the biggest project to date. The estimated project value of S$200 million was even larger than Hyflux’s market capitalisation at that time!
The project swiftly got off the ground and was completed three months ahead of schedule. On 13 September 2005, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong turned on Singapore’s Fourth National Tap with the official opening of SingSpring Desalination Plant.
The successful completion of the landmark SingSpring Desalination Plant boosted Hyflux’s profile and visibility in the global water industry. The project won the distinction in the Desalination Plant of the Year category at the Global Water Awards 2006. Hyflux was also named Water Company of the Year.
In 2004, Hyflux was awarded the contract to design, build, own and operate a SWRO desalination plant on 30-year concession in the Dagang District of Tianjin in northern China.
The company established a new footprint in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region when it secured the first project in Algeria in 2006 – a 200,000m3/day SWRO desalination plant with a 25-year concession located in Tlemcen.
In the same year, Hyflux ventured into India.
In 2008, amidst intense global competition with international players, the company won an international tender to build Africa’s largest SWRO desalination plant in Magtaa, Algeria, which would add 500,000m3/day of water supply to the country when fully operational.
In 2009, Hyflux expanded its presence in the MENA region with a contract to design and supply a desalination plant for the Salalah Independent Water and Power Project in Oman.
Hyflux continued to set new benchmarks in 2011. The Group showed its mettle by securing Singapore’s second and largest seawater desalination project amidst very tough competition and surprising the industry with an innovative proposal to incorporate an on-site 411 MW combined cycle power plant to produce electricity for the desalination plant and power grid. The shared facilities of the desalination plant and the power plant would create synergies between the two operations and lead to higher levels of efficiency, thus lowering the cost of desalination. The integration of a water project with a power plant was the first for Singapore and for Hyflux.
Hyflux successfully raised S$400 million through a 6% Cumulative, Non-Convertible, Non-Voting Perpetual Class A Preference Shares issue, the first corporate in Singapore to launch such an issue.
Executive Chairman and Group CEO Olivia Lum made history when she became the first Singapore and the first woman to win the prestigious Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur of the Year in June 2011.
New Global HQ
In 2012, Hyflux moved into its new global headquarters at 80 Bendemeer Road called Hyflux Innovation Centre (HIC). HIC houses the executive and corporate offices, engineering design and technology commercialisation departments that integrate the technologies developed out of the Group’s R&D laboratories into viable, cost-effective and sustainable solutions for the global water industry.
Expanding Presence in Key Markets
In 2014, the company won its largest project in the Sultanate of Oman – a 200,000m3/day SWRO desalination plant with a 20-year concession located in Qurayyat.
Hyflux continued to make further gains in the Middle East with a contract from the Saline Water Conversion Corporation to design, build and supply a containerised desalination system to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Positioning for the Future
Hyflux completed the construction of the 411 MW combined cycle power plant co-located with Tuaspring Desalination Plant in Singapore. This development marked the company’s expansion into a new business that would complement and enhance its competitiveness in its core water business. The power plant is expected to be fully operational in 2016.
In 2015, Hyflux and its consortium partner Mitsubishi Heavy Industries was named the preferred bidder by the National Environment Agency to design, build, own and operate Singapore’s largest waste-to-energy plant. The company’s first waste-to-energy project will have one of the best land utilisation factors in terms of incineration capacity per unit floor area and will also be one of the most efficient in terms of energy recovery per unit waste incinerated in the world. With this win, Hyflux will add energy recovery from waste to its range of environmental solutions as the company focuses on contributing to resource optimisation and sustainable growth for communities and industries.