In an ideal world with infinite money and goodwill, 28-year-old Koay Yi Jing dreams of building high-tech farms. "The world always needs more food. With new technology, we can create a high-rise oasis right here in Singapore," said Yi Jing.
For the time being, the alumna from National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Faculty of Engineering is content with her role as a maintenance engineer at Sembcorp Industries. Every day, she manages the assets in Sembcorp’s Combined Cycle Cogeneration Plant on Jurong Island – a state-of-the-art facility that provides clean energy to the power-hungry Singapore grid.
It is not cold fusion just yet, but Yi Jing’s job presents its unique set of challenges.
Inside the gas turbine’s combustion chamber, temperatures can reach up to 1,000 deg C. The plant is extremely sensitive, requiring utmost precision in its management. Even the smallest of changes such as a 2 deg C increase in the temperature of the seawater cooling the condenser would lead to plummeting efficiency, resulting in major energy and financial losses.
“My greatest fear is a plant trip. We would work through the night to get the plant back as the loss of production could result in significant financial impact.”
In order to keep everything shipshape, Yi Jing has to carefully work out asset management strategies for the plant’s mechanical equipment. The aim is to improve plant efficiency as well as increase availability and reliability of assets while balancing costs.
“During planned plant outages, I have to make numerous trips up and down the 12-storey facility, which can be quite exhausting.”
It is hard work keeping our nation powered, but Yi Jing is fuelled by her commitment to a cleaner future and her resilience and time in NUS has prepared her for the role. During her NUS days in Kent Ridge Hall, she was an active participant in no fewer than five CCAs. She was active in the dance club and the students’ union, while being involved in Kent Ridge Hall’s soccer and floorball teams.
When there was no-one to tackle on court, Yi Jing filled her time by tackling thorny environmental issues. As the chairperson of Kent Ridge Hall’s Green Club, she led her fellow environmentalists in building a rooftop garden that kept the building cool. She also rendered food waste into a usable cleaning detergent and co-founded NUSBike – a bike sharing project within NUS.
“If I felt like trying out something or embarking on a personal project, it was easy to just go ahead and do it in NUS. The university is a great testbed for your ideas.”
The multi-disciplinary system at NUS also afforded her a well-rounded, holistic education that gave her an edge in her career. Although she majored in mechanical engineering, Yi Jing received plenty of exposure to business through her technopreneurship modules and her eye-opening participation in the NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) Singapore programme.
“While on the programme, I could see how young entrepreneurs moved at a breakneck pace. If something did not work, they kicked it up, started all over and changed everything.”
Unorthodox? Maybe. Yet, the programme imparted skills that she has found useful in her current role with Sembcorp.
“Even as an engineer, you must learn how to make proposals and business pitches.”
While taking part in the NOC programme, Yi Jing interacted with engineering visionaries like GCoreLab’s Dr Lee Poh Seng, an NUS professor who founded his own thermal management company.
“He could easily be contented with just teaching and conducting research, but he decided to take things a step further by starting up his own company in order to commercialise his research. For me, that is what engineering is truly about – a passion for solving problems and building the next big thing.”
For the future, Yi Jing remains committed to her cause of furthering environmental sustainability. She wants to engineer a world with less wastage, more efficiency and a cleaner future for everyone.
To achieve all this and more, she continues to learn and build upon fundamentals imparted to her by NUS.
In accordance with the first law of thermodynamics, her boundless energy simply cannot be destroyed.