All posts by Heather Catchpole

Early career researcher Jess Moran

Early career researchers make a big impact

Five early career researchers are vying for $10,000 in prize money thanks to CQUniversity and the Co-operative Research Centre Association (CRC Association). The finalists’ fields range from using Artificial Intelligence in mental health to peer pressuring stem cells to become brain cells and creating a beehive “breathalyser” for disease detection.

The five early career researcher finalists were selected from submissions that came from 25 CRCs and the 30 universities that are supporting members of the CRC Association. They are: Dr Kiara Bruggeman, Australian National University; Jessica Moran, CRC for Honey Bee Products; Dr Gemma Sharp, Monash University; Dr Ben Sinclair, Monash University and Dr Julia Stone, CRC for Alertness, Safety and Productivity.

Judges agreed the quality of the submissions was very high this year, and the selected finalists especially stood out by communicating their science, its impact, and their role in delivering it.

Read more: Celebrating 30 years of CRC success

Bee breathalysers sniffs out disease

Jessica Moran is investigating the smell of the honey bee disease American foulbrood in order to create a “beehive breathalyser” that can non-invasively diagnose sick hives.

“We’re currently starting to develop the sensors, but we’re optimistic that the beehive breathalyser will be commercially available within the next five years. Our device will help safeguard Australia’s honey bee industry: by allowing beekeepers to rapidly screen hives for disease, outbreaks will be detected earlier, preventing severe losses in production and revenue,” says Moran.

“In particular, this device will be used to prevent diseased hives from entering pollination sites, protecting the pollination services that are estimated to be valued at $14 billion annually in Australia.”

AI helps to address eating disorders

Early career researcher Gemma Sharp is leading a team working on a novel conversational agent or “chatbot” which uses artificial intelligence technology to provide therapeutic support to people with body image concerns and also to their concerned loved ones.

“Negative body image is a major risk factor for a number of mental health issues most notably eating disorders, the most fatal of all mental disorders,” says Sharp.

“There are 1 million Australians living with an eating disorder and less than 25% of these will receive treatment or support. The chabot aims to fill this gap by preventing and intervening in the development of negative body image and eating disorders.”

Early career researcher Dr Gemma Sharp is using chatbots to provide therapeutic support to people with body image concerns and their families.

Writing a winning application

Sharp says the award application was an excellent opportunity to reflect on the “big picture” impacts of her research and articulating this information in an accessible way.

“It was a very challenging but rewarding exercise”, adds Sharp, who collaborates with The Butterfly Foundation and AI company Proxima as well as Swinburne University of Technology and Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre. 

“There are not enough mental health practitioners in Australia to meet the high demand for services and so online tools like chatbots could be very helpful in meeting these needs.” Watch Gemma Sharp’s 30 second video here.

Moran, who collaborates with AgriFutures Australia and the state bee biosecurity officers to field-test the sensor, says doing the Early Career Researcher award application made her re-think the language she uses to describe her project to the public.

“The exercise has really improved my skills and the way I think about science communication. I would really like to research other bee diseases, particularly those exotic to Western Australia, and create beehive breathalyser-type tools for them too.” Watch Jessica Moran’s video here.

Each finalist receives $1,000. The winner, chosen by popular vote on Jun 24 2020, receives an additional $5,000. Register to watch or vote here.

Read more: University Science delivering water innovation

Wearable sensors track body clock

Monitoring individual body clock time through wearable sensors will provide huge benefits in personalised medicine, says Dr Julia Stone, from the CRC for Alertness, Safety and Productivity, another early career researcher finalist.

“Cancer treatment outcomes can differ depending on the time they are given in terms of an individual’s body clock. However, it is really hard to know what time it is for each individual’s body clock, and that is what my research is trying to solve,” says Dr Stone.

“Similarly, we could use this technology to develop personalised approaches for managing body clock disruption experienced by shift workers. Light interventions can help people adapt better to their night shift schedule, however if they are timed incorrectly, they can actually make things worse.

“Being able to monitor body clock time using wearable technologies would have a huge impact in both of these scenarios, and potentially many more.”

Early career researcher Dr Julia Stone
Early career researcher Dr Julia Stone is investigating wearable tech in the personalised medicine space.

– Heather Catchpole

Professor Chiaro Neto

Latest edition of Australian University Science: Water Futures

As an increasingly dry continent, Australia faces immense water challenges. Australian universities play a critical role in undertaking research and development to assist in the identification of water management problems, the achievement of water security, and the creation of innovative solutions.

Universities engage at each stage of the innovation cycle to help water managers deliver water security to communities, industries, agriculture and the environment.

The stories within this issue highlight university science contribution to enterprise, education and agriculture in Australia.

In the Foreword to the latest edition of Australian University Science, Professor Rob Vertessy, Enterprise Professor (Water Resources), University of Melbourne looks at the big picture issues in water management.

End-to-end solutions

From catalysing new science to ‘pull’ water out of the air using smart, fundamental chemistry to testing research and development (R&D) directly with end users, universities engage at each stage of the innovation cycle to deliver water security to communities, industries, agriculture and the environment.

Australia’s comparative success in addressing our water challenges has much to do with the fact we have had a strong water research and teaching community that functions as an early warning system for emerging problems, and as a training ground for the advanced technical capability that is entrained in the water sector. This knowledge transfer is needed today more than ever before to contribute expertise to the ‘wicked’ problem of equitable sharing of water as a highly contested resource. Achieving water security is one of the great global challenges of our times.

Related: Water sensitivity can be achieved in Australia

Through ideas and people working within and with Australian university science, we create world-leading expertise in water management problem identification and remediation. We still have many serious water security issues to surmount, as evidenced by the recent crisis in the Murray-Darling Basin. Advances will require a national architecture for identifying and funding research priorities. It will also require the ingenuity, tools and people that can bring together research knowledge with fast, effective delivery of solutions.

Consulting with the university science community, the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) and the Australian Academy of Science (AAS) are working to prepare a strategic vision for Australian water research in 2020. That vision will require collaboration between university science, national agencies, industry, researchers, education and end users. Australian universities have a vital role to play in shaping this strategy and promoting it to government.

University science has the facilities, space and expertise to test R&D in the environment in which it will be used, and the remit to train people to address these challenges. Our resilience to a changing climate and water system will rely on this inbuilt capacity and ingenuity.

Professor Rob Vertessy

Enterprise Professor (Water Resources), University of Melbourne

This article appears in Australian University Science issue 2.

Water for country

Bradley Moggridge is a Kamilaroi water scientist, a Fellow of the Peter Cullen Water and Environment Trust and a recent Young Tall Poppy Scientist of the Year in the ACT. Managing the aquifers, water catchments and rivers that span Australia’s arid lands lies deep in his blood. “My people have been interested in water for more than 65,000 years,” he says.

Moggridge is a hydrogeologist who recently led Australia’s only Aboriginal water unit at the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

His Master’s thesis, in 2005, at the University of Technology Sydney explored how Aboriginal knowledge was used to understand and access groundwater. “The flexibility that allows exploratory research through university science gave me the opportunity to connect the dots between hydrogeology, hydrogeochemistry and Aboriginal science,” he says.

Moggridge is now completing his PhD at the University of Canberra, where his research links western science with traditional knowledge to develop best-practice methodologies for water planning and management tailored to specific landscapes.

He says that his own heritage, as a Murri man from the Kamilaroi Nation of north-western New South Wales, deeply informs his work.

Australia has been home to thousands of generations of its First Peoples despite its arid landscapes. Traditional knowledge about how to find water sites has been integral to the survival of Aboriginal people, says Moggridge.

“Move away from the coastal regions and the river lands, and your dependence on surface water diminishes. In a dry landscape, knowing when, where and how to find water, where groundwater is the only source of water, that is how our people survived,” he says.

“Aboriginal ways of thinking and managing country involve scientific processes and generations of observation — why there’s a stand of gum trees here, why birds go to a certain place — but it has been regarded as myth and legend.”

Rangers in the Great Sandy Desert cite stories about one dryland location that had previously been a river. “Hydrogeologists drilling there found evidence of a paleo channel,” says Moggridge. “This is old, old knowledge.

Related: Tracing Change: Past Australian Environments

“Our stories hold the key to managing water on this continent. It’s a knowledge system that has survived changes in climate for millennia. Protecting water remains a cultural obligation.

“The support of university science will let me continue my work, applying an Indigenous methodology to the way we manage water.”

Fran Molloy

PATH

>> Bachelor of Environmental Science, Australian Catholic University

>> Master of Science, Hydrogeology and Groundwater management, University of Technology Sydney 

>> Team Leader, Aboriginal Water Initiative, NSW Department of Primary Industries

>> Special Advisor, First Peoples Water, Water Stewardship Australia

>> Indigenous Water Research Specialist, CSIRO

>> Environmental Officer, Camden Council

This article appears in Australian University Science issue 2.

Drops from thin air

The University of Sydney Nano Institute team

University science is behind some of the most profound innovations and breakthroughs in water research, from the development of cutting-edge techniques to maximise irrigation, to the creation of innovative new materials that can literally capture water from the air.

At the University of Sydney, the Advanced Capture of Water from the Atmosphere (ACWA) project applies nanoscale materials science to mimic the remarkable adaptation of desert beetles in Namibia, a region where just 1.4cm of rain falls each year. The beetle collects water vapour from the atmosphere, turning it into liquid via the intricate shapes of tiny bumps on its exoskeleton.

Biomimicry — learning from, and mimicking, clever strategies found in nature to solve human design challenges — is an important component of the work of the University of Sydney Nano Institute, co-led by chemist Professor Chiara Neto and physicist Professor Martijn de Sterke. Innovations from the research include a nanotextured surface which can repel bacteria, algae and other marine life from ships’ hulls, inspired by a lotus leaf; a nanoscale slippery surface, inspired by the pitcher plant, that can be used for microfluidic channels in bioengineering; and a stain-resistant paint base.

The Institute has attracted top-level researchers from chemistry, physics, materials science and bioengineering from across the university.

“We began with the idea of capturing water from the atmosphere by optimising the surface chemistry of a material so it would enable the formation of droplets out of humid air,” says Neto.

“We are now developing new devices that capture water from the atmosphere through condensation, using no external source of energy, by designing surfaces that spontaneously cool when exposed to the air,” she says.

Related: Software saves rainwater

The team has made two key breakthroughs. First, they have perfected the surface science of nanoscale ‘bumps’ shaped in a way to harvest a very thin film of water vapour, similar to the Namibian desert beetle.

Their second breakthrough is the development of an entirely new surface that is naturally chilled and causes water to condense into droplets. Wherever the atmosphere is above 30% humidity, this surface will automatically collect water vapour from the air.

The ACWA project is well on the way towards its ambitious goal to create materials that capture sufficient water from the atmosphere to alleviate the effect of drought by providing water for humans, animals and plants.

Patents are underway for exciting applications for the technology, including watering devices to use within greenhouses; a portable self-filling water bottle for bushwalkers and emergency crews; and small water stations to sustain wildlife in remote areas

Fran Molloy

This article appears in Australian University Science issue 2.

SMART farms are outdoor laboratories where scientists and growers test out innovations

Smart science at regional universities driving future farms

Outside Armidale, in northern NSW, eight different properties covering 3900 hectares of woodland, grassland, water sources and pasture comprise the University of New England’s Sustainable Manageable Accessible Rural Technologies (SMART) Farms, an outdoor laboratory for the Precision Agriculture team.

These farms include a commercial sheep property, 1000-head cattle feedlot, long-term agronomy plots, a genomic research centre and teaching lab featuring innovative farming technologies that are tested, assessed and monitored on working farms.

UNE crop scientist Dr Richard Flavel says agricultural science works best when universities are in partnership with industry.

Related: Drones increase crop yield

“Universities have an opportunity to bring in expertise and to do the things that industry hasn’t got the time, or the economic drivers, to do themselves, and to really boost innovation.”

For more than three years, UNE scientists have gathered data from a wide network of more than 100 soil moisture probes that create a ‘living map’ reporting on the moisture levels across a segment of the property.

Other sensor networks report on the water use in trees, the growth of pasture and even the amount of honey being produced in the property’s beehives.

Water and its use is always a key focus of the university’s research.

Innovation in farming

Dr Flavel says regional universities are well placed to explore scientific solutions for some of the big challenges facing Australia’s farmers, most of these relating to how best to use limited water resources.

“All of the innovative systems that have come online in farming during the past 30 years — from no-till systems, to maintaining and improving groundcover, to retaining stubble — these are all essentially about managing water,” he says.

At UNE’s campus in Armidale, level-five water restrictions are in place following years of crippling drought.

“Farming in Australia is very responsive to our climate. Our growers are governed by when, and by how much water they get,” says Dr Flavel.

He says with just five per cent of Australia’s crops irrigated, cropping industries in Australia rely on rainfall, and most water for crops is stored in the soil.

“Our research looks at current water use by dryland crops and grazing pasture, and how best to make use of the water when it lands on paddocks,” he says.

University of New England researcher Dr Richard Flavel
University of New England crop scientist Dr Richard Flavel at the Precision Agriculture SMART farm outdoor laboratory.

Sub-soil profile changes could double yields

Decades of research in universities have delivered real improvements in agricultural topsoil structures, with growers now seeing remarkable improvements from techniques that improve soil sodicity, salinity and acidity. The next step is sub-soil management, explains Dr Flavel.

At the University’s SMART farm, moisture sensors show there’s still substantial water being held in sub-soils after harvest.

“When a crop has finished, the water in the sub-soil profile should have been used up and turned into wheat. High sub-soil water shows that plants haven’t been able to access water at depths — that’s a reduction of yield potential for the grower,” he says.

Sub-soils, which sit 15cm or deeper below the surface, are now recognised as an important area for further improvement. Addressing this problem is a focus for more research.

“We’re currently looking at ways to fix sodic or saline sub-soils to improve how much our plants can use the water that falls on the paddock,” says Dr Flavel.

“Unlocking water deep in the soil profile could potentially double yields in some situations.”

Treating hydrophobic soils

Another research area is the massive tracts of soil across Australia’s croplands — nearly five million hectares — which are non-wetting or water-repellent.

University scientists found that some particles of soil developed a water-resistant coating, leaving rainfall to evaporate from the surface rather than penetrate the ground for plants’ use.

“Understanding this phenomenon has involved some tricky physics at a microscopic level,” he says.

Dr Flavel’s research is looking at ways to address this problem, which can include wetting agents, bringing up clay from deep in the soil profile and changing crops.

“Growers are very innovative, and as a scientist that’s exciting. We’ve got a group which is keen to work with our scientists to find and adopt new discoveries.”

Fran Molloy

Cleaning up our waterways

Dr Steven Melvin, research fellow at the Australian Rivers Institute

Science at regional and rural universities can work with local land managers, government agencies and communities to monitor the health of waterways, assess problems on the ground, and to help develop evidence-based solutions that minimise human impact and deliver the best outcomes for sustainable communities.

At Griffith University, in south-east Queensland, the Australian Rivers Institute has a range of industry and government partners through the ARI Toxicology Research Program.

“Our research looks at the source of contaminants, their fate or where they end up, and the effect,” says Dr Steven Melvin, who is a research fellow at the ARI.

Tens of thousands of different chemicals enter our waterways, but most have a relatively low impact, he says. The ARI collaborates with industry and government agencies to identify contaminants that are potentially damaging and looks at ways to treat and remediate these.

“Largely through industry-collaborative, university-led research, we now have advanced technology, such as reverse osmosis, which uses energy and pressure to treat wastewater by forcing it through a semi-permeable membrane that filters out minute chemical compounds that could cause effects in the environment.”

This article appears in Australian University Science issue 2.

Researchers from ANU make a surprising breakthrough for water innovation

University Science Delivering Water Innovation

Peter Mabbitt (left) and Kai Xun Chan (right) from the Australian National University Research School of Biology.

Unexpected outcomes

Scientists from the ANU Research School of Biology made a major breakthrough for world food security while investigating photosynthesis. They discovered that chloroplasts — which convert sunlight into sugars through photosynthesis — can also activate a chemical signal to close stomata on leaves to protect individual plants from losing vital water in drought. By boosting this chloroplast signal in barley plants, the team improved drought survival time by around 50%. The team is exploring ways to boost this chloroplast signal in different crops, through breeding, genetic or agronomic strategies.

Related: The future hydrogen economy is scaffolded by universities

Connecting with industry

More than five million hectares of agricultural land in Australia is hydrophobic, meaning the soil repels water. Global chemical company BASF co-funded research by scientists at Swinburne University, led by chemistry Professor David Mainwaring, with the CRC for Polymers, to develop solutions to help soil accept water. These new soil-wetting agents have increased crop yields. The multidisciplinary team has now patented two polymer surfactants and a soil diagnostic test.

Diverse Teamwork

Murdoch University’s Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Ecosystems is tackling clean-energy and fresh-water challenges with a cross-disciplinary approach. Researchers in aquatic biology and ecology, marine mammal ecology, fisheries, aquaculture, algal biotechnology, oceanography, human-use and habitat assessments, bioinformatics, economics and spatial sciences are all working together. One recent project tackled challenges around the release of aquaculture-bred fish into the wild environment.  

Students help scientists from Murdoch University’s Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Ecosystems release bream into the river

Creating real value

Inspired by plant experiments on the International Space Station, University of Queensland researchers are advancing the technology of ordinary glasshouses with a revolutionary “speed breeding” technique that can cut plant breeding time in half. Dr Lee Hickey and his team developed a ‘desktop breeding cabinet’ that will allow researchers to develop wheat, barley, canola and other crops adapted to drought, changed local soil and climate conditions.

Dr Lee Hickey from the University of Queensland developed a way to allow crops to adapt to drought in new water innovation
Dr Lee Hickey from the University of Queensland
Karen Rouse leads a national effort to take valuable water research from university science to industry and end users

The war on waste

With a career spanning 20 years in the water sector, Karen Rouse is well placed to provide leadership in her role as CEO of Water Research Australia (Water RA). She serves on the Board of the Global Water Research Coalition and Water Industry Alliance, and led the CSIRO urban water research program looking at positive environmental outcomes for wastewater treatment.

A native Brit, Rouse worked as a geologist in the energy and construction sectors in Australia before completing her Master of Environmental Studies at the University of Adelaide. The interdisciplinary nature of the course brought a seismic shift in her career.

“The course I studied had science subjects such as conservation, biology and freshwater ecology, but it also included environmental economics, law and a synthesis subject,” she says. “That has enabled me to see how science gets into policy and practice, and to understand the systems that go around it.”

Water RA transitioned from a Cooperative Research Centre with university partners 10 years ago to being fully industry funded today, coordinating collaborative research between universities to tackle water challenges. “Our members are roughly half universities and half industry, including water utilities, health regulators, consultants and a few small niche companies,” says Rouse. “We call them our big team.”

A major challenge is to work out how to reuse water regardless of where it comes from, whether that be stormwater or treated wastewater, to treat it appropriately and then communicate that to the community. “In towns in western New South Wales where they’re running out of water, we are making sure people in leadership have access to accurate and evidence-based information with which to act,” she says.

Water RA also delivers an acclaimed research leadership program that offers industry sponsorship to Honours, Master’s and PhD students, to make them ready for careers in the water sector. “Our success is a 95% rate of employment within the sector when they finish,” says Rouse.

Students receive industry mentorship, attend leading industry conferences, and importantly, an ongoing program aimed at maintaining a lifelong research mindset.

“It’s a risk as a scientist working in industry to become ‘frozen’ in time if you don’t continue to pursue new knowledge and actively keep up with your discipline. That’s where universities play a crucially important role.”

Brendan Fitzpatrick

PATH

>> Bachelor of Science (Hons), University of Exeter 

>> Master of Environmental Studies at the University of Adelaide

>> Senior Environmental Assessment Officer, SA Planning 

>> Principal Strategist, Environment and Sustainability, SA Water

>> Theme Leader, Water for a Healthy Country Flagship, CSIRO

>> Manager, Source Water and Environment Research, SA Water

>> CEO, Water Research Australia

This article appears in Australian University Science issue 2.

Australian University Science Energy Futures

Australian University Science: university science, universal impact

Australian universities have a critical role in research innovation and technological change. A new publication reveals the impact of university science on innovation, entrepreneurship and employment in future energy technologies.The bi-annual publication is published by Refraction Media on behalf of the Australian Council of Deans of Science (ACDS).

The first issue, launching on 9 September 2019, focusses on the hydrogen economy. The first hydrogen fuel exports to Japan (through Queensland University of Technology’s Redlands Facility) left Australia in March this year. It’s just one of the ways that universities are delivering on this potential multi-billion dollar economy. Australia is also well positioned to become a net exporter of hydrogen, an opportunity expected to create 16,000 new Australian jobs by 2040.

“University science is a fundamental source of disruptive ideas, and a partner for their translation into innovation,” says Executive Director of the ACDS, Professor John Rice. “The emerging hydrogen economy and energy futures are a great example.”

“Australian University Science provides a critical insight into how university science informs, partners and drives innovation domestically and internationally,” says Professor Rice.

The publication highlights a multitude of collaborations with other research institutions and government, CRC partnerships, the CSIRO and private corporations. Some of the hydrogen technologies showcased include artificial photosynthesis (Australian National University), hydrogen-producing bacteria (Macquarie University) and crystal catalysts for solar-produced hydrogen (Curtin University). 

“University science now engages at every stage of the cycle in which knowledge is turned into new and better ways of doing things,” says Australia’s past Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb. 

“University scientists and students do more than explore, uncover and discover. They also use their knowledge to work closely with the people who produce the new technologies and practices that a changing world needs,” he says.

“Whenever there is a great new kind of technology, advances in clean energy, or smarter ways to diagnose and treat disease, you can be sure that university science lies somewhere behind it.”

The publication is free to order and download here.

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Supercharging the next generation

ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials scientists (l to r): Associate Professor Jenny Pringle, Dr Danah Al-Masri, Dr Mega Kar and Professor Douglas Macfarlane.

The ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials is taking teamwork to new levels.

The ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) is an impressive knowledge hub that has significant runs on the board, including the creation of spin-off company AquaHydrex. Set up in Wollongong in 2012, the now Colorado-based energy company utilises fundamental science research outcomes to commercialise an innovative and cheaper way of producing hydrogen.

But talk to the teams that conduct research at ACES and the passion for knowledge translation, training and entrepreneurship are just part of the story. What comes through most clearly is that it’s simply a great place to work.

The ACES focus is on training the next generation of research leaders and providing manufacturing and industry opportunities across health, energy and smart materials. There are five international partners and seven Australian universities on board: the University of Wollongong, Deakin University, Monash University, the University of Tasmania, Australian National University, University of Melbourne and Swinburne University of Technology.

Deakin University Associate Professor Jenny Pringle says it’s a “strong, tight-knit community”. “Students get to hear about everything, it’s really diverse.”

Collaboration is facilitated through weekly dial-in meetings, and twice yearly national and international symposia. Students regularly present at workshops, and training in entrepreneurship and communications is prioritised.

A/Prof Pringle is project leader for thermal energy storage and battery materials, and a chief investigator at the Institute for Frontier Materials, an ACES collaboration partner, where she works with PhD graduate Dr Danah Al-Masri. With colleagues ACES Energy Theme leader Professor Douglas MacFarlane and Laureate Research Fellow Dr Mega Kar, their métier is creating cheaper, safer energy harvesting and storage systems. Dr Kar’s focus is on new battery materials to improve or replace lithium ion batteries, which are widely used in laptops and phones and can be expensive and, rarely, but catastrophically, unstable.

Dr Al-Masri is one of around 70 PhD students at ACES, more than three-quarters of whom come from overseas. “Efficient energy storage is such a complex problem — you have to collaborate and some of the best people are working across the world,” she says. “ACES’s strong international reputation allows us to come together.” 

The centre draws in physicists, chemists, biologists and engineers, with the recognition that basic science is critical. “Exceptional science is at the core of everything the centre does,” says

A/Prof Pringle. The team works across the innovation system, from designing electrolytes — materials with an electric charge — to prototyping batteries that are tested in electric cars, laptops and mobile phones, always seeking energy storage’s holy grail: inexpensive materials that need to be charged less often, but hold their charge for longer. 

“The critical outcome of our research shows we can outperform some of the lithium batteries out there, which has led to some patents and interest from industry,” says Dr Kar. 

“Within ACES, we have a good gender balance and we encourage students from all backgrounds to focus on climate change and global warming. Storage is a hot topic right now and we need the best of the best to be involved,” she says.

Professor MacFarlane says that while it’s exciting to see the application of fundamental science come to fruition, the outcome from ACES is more than great basic science.

“One of our top priorities and our chief outcome is our bright young scientists – that’s what we produce mostly, and the science is the vehicle for that training. If we can produce exceptional science as well, that’s a bonus.”

Heather Catchpole

This article appears in Australian University Science Issue 1.

David Harris

Chemistry expertise led to CSIRO legacy of lowering emissions

University science collaborations have geared CSIRO research director Dr David Harris to uncover ways to move to a sustainable global energy system.

Dr David Harris is a scientist who leads CSIRO’s Low Emissions Technologies Program, a research team exploring ways to lower carbon emissions from renewable and coal-based systems.

His research during the past 30 years has focused on improving the efficiency of systems that generate electricity and power.

As the son of a mechanic and an artist growing up in rural New South Wales, Harris credits his BSc in Industrial Chemistry, from the University of NSW, for giving him the practical foundation for understanding big processes such as steel and glass manufacturing and the use of chemistry and physics in industry. 

For his PhD, Harris worked with BHP’s Newcastle steelworks researching the processes of degradation of metallurgical coke in high-temperature blast furnaces.

“We identified some really interesting chemical and physical processes that you wouldn’t normally associate with steelmaking,” he explains. 

In collaboration with the University of Queensland, University of Newcastle and University of NSW, as well as coal industry partners, these findings led Harris to investigate combustion, mass-transformation and, ultimately, gasification in advanced power generation technologies.

“Not many of these advanced coal technologies were installed in Australia, but those processes led to the technology we are now developing for conversion of ammonia to hydrogen and then separation of hydrogen for other uses,” he says, referring to CSIRO’s ammonia-to-hydrogen fuelling technologies, which range from synthesis gas to new industries for renewable energy exports.

“Now we’re looking at hydrogen-based energy systems, with that hydrogen coming from coal, gas, renewable energy such as biomass, industrial and municipal waste streams, solar or wind,” says Harris.

He says Australia’s high solar coverage gives a real advantage when combined with clever technology to produce hydrogen from solar energy, which could be exported to remove emissions from motor vehicles and energy systems worldwide.

Brendan Fitzpatrick

PATH

>> Bachelor of Science, UNSW

>> PhD (Industrial Chemistry), UNSW

>> Technical Officer, School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW

>> Program Manager, CRC for Black Coal Utilisation

>> Interim CEO, Centre for Low Emissions Technology

>> Research Director, Low Emissions Technologies, CSIRO

This article appears in Australian University Science Issue 1.

hydrogen economy

The future Hydrogen Economy is scaffolded by universities

The world faces a huge challenge in sustainably delivering our energy needs. Hydrogen promises to become a major clean energy contributor, yet currently most of the world’s 70 million tonnes of hydrogen produced each year comes from hydrocarbon/coal processes such as coal gasification, with only around four per cent from ‘clean’ processes involving electrolysis (converting water into hydrogen and oxygen).

Australian university science provides the basis on which the hydrogen industry has evolved and continues to innovate, playing an essential role as a partner in establishing innovation and technological change. This research is coming from surprising places, including centres of biology, chemistry and geology.

Plant science key to unlimited clean fuels 

Using electrolysis to convert water into hydrogen — with a by-product of oxygen — is costly because it must use continuous grid power. At present, these energy-hungry and inefficient processes defeat the purpose of creating hydrogen as an energy source.  

At the Australian National University, chemistry professors Ron Pace and Rob Stranger have taken a leaf from nature, uncovering the process used by all photosynthetic organisms to use the sun’s energy to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen. This natural electrolysis is the most efficient method known and relies on a ‘chemical spark plug’ called the water oxidising complex.

For decades, debate has raged about how the atoms that comprise water are used in this photosynthesis process. Profs Pace and Stranger used Australia’s fastest supercomputer at the ANU’s National Computational Infrastructure facility to model the chemical structure of the manganese atoms involved in this process and to decode the reasons behind its efficiency.

Their discovery has opened up opportunities to develop ‘artificial leaf’ technology with the capacity for potential unlimited future hydrogen production.

Professor Pace now heads a $1.77 million project in partnership with Dr Gerry Swiegers and Dr Pawel Wagner at the University of Wollongong, which uses specially designed electrodes, made of Gor-Tex, to mimic natural surfaces. The materials will help the formation of hydrogen and oxygen gas bubbles to operate more efficiently and also allow them to use fluctuating power sources such as wind and solar energy. 

Hydrogen pilot plant delivers first shipment 

Potential demand for imported hydrogen in China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore could reach 3.8 million tonnes by 2030. The QUT Redlands Research Facility is already geared up to generate hydrogen gas from seawater using solar power generated by its concentrated solar array.

The project received funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to develop next-generation technologies in electrolysis, energy storage and chemical sensing to produce hydrogen without any carbon dioxide emissions. 

The facility is led by Professor Ian Mackinnon, who possesses deep science expertise in geology and chemistry, and also heads QUT’s Institute for Future Environments. The first shipment of green hydrogen was exported from the facility, to Japan, in March 2019 as part of a collaboration between QUT and the University of Tokyo, which uses proprietary technology owned by JXTG, Japan’s largest petroleum conglomerate. It’s just one of the ways in which Australian science expertise, led by universities, is driving a new economy forward.

Fran Molloy

University science delivering key outcomes to hydrogen and energy futures

  • New material splits water into hydrogen cheaply: Professor Chuan Zhao and UNSW chemists invented a new nano-framework of non-precious metals, making it cheaper to create hydrogen fuel by splitting water atoms.

  • Molecular breakthrough helps solar cells tolerate humidity: Nanomaterials scientists at Griffith University, under Professor Huijun Zhao, invented a way to make cheap solar-cell technology more tolerant of moisture and humidity.

  • A spoonful of sugar generates enough hydrogen energy to power a mobile phone: Genetically engineered bacteria that turn sugar into hydrogen have been developed by a team of molecular chemists at Macquarie University who are looking to scale the technology.

  • Solar crystals are non-toxic: Under Dr Guohua Jia, molecular scientists at Curtin University have invented tiny crystals that don’t contain toxic metals but can be used as catalysts to convert solar energy into hydrogen.

  • Green chemistry breakthrough makes hydrogen generation cheaper: Electromaterials scientists at Monash University, led by Dr Alexandr Simonov, have found a solution to metal corrosion caused by water splitting to create hydrogen.

  • Gelion revolutionary battery technology: A University of Sydney chemistry team, led by Professor Thomas Maschmeyer, created low-cost, safe, scalable zinc bromide battery technology for remote and renewable energy storage.

  • Ocean mapping finds prime-tide for energy: University of Tasmania Associate Professor Irene Penesis is using hydrodynamics and mathematics to assess Bass Strait’s tidal energy resources to stimulate investment in this sector.

  • New catalyst helps turn CO2 into renewable fuel: CSIRO materials chemist Dr Danielle Kennedy, with University of Adelaide scientists, created porous crystals that help convert carbon dioxide from air into synthetic natural gas using solar energy.

This article appears in Australian University Science Issue 1.


university

Australian University Science: Knowledge and impact

University science has long been recognised for the stream of fundamental discoveries that stem from its research: from the origins of the cosmos and the causes of climate change to the most intrinsic parts of the atom. But university science is now much more than a catalyst for discovery. 

Through a multitude of collaborations — including with other research institutions and government, in Co-operative Research Centre partnerships, with the CSIRO, or directly with companies large and small — university science now engages at every stage of the cycle in which knowledge is turned into new and better ways of doing things. 

In the modern world, university scientists and students do more than explore, uncover and discover. They also use their knowledge to work closely with the people who produce the new technologies and practices that a changing world needs.

Materials and processes we use every day stem from science. They are so common that many of us simply take them for granted. But whenever there is a great new kind of technology, advances in clean energy, or smarter ways to diagnose and treat disease, you can be sure that university science lies somewhere behind it. 

University teaching is also critical. It develops the science graduates who are an important part of the workforce and possess the finely honed skills to understand, manage and develop new technologies from cutting-edge science. As we endeavour to front the challenges of tomorrow, university science will deliver the tools and people we need to create a better future.

Professor Ian Chubb AC
FAA FTSE FACE FRSN

This article is published in Australian University Science Issue 1.

Solar energy entrepreneur gets her start in university science

Residential rooftop photovoltaics (PV) remains one of Australia’s hottest energy options, with the Clean Energy Council reporting, in December 2018, that two million Australian households had installed solar panels on their homes. 

The energy market is a complex sector, which needs to be dynamic to meet fast-changing consumer requirements and global pressures. In Australia, energy is also a politically delicate area, ripe for disruption.

Solar entrepreneur Emma Jenkin, co-founder of DC Power Co, is uniquely qualified to be part of a revolutionary change in Australia’s energy sector thanks to her strong insight into data analytics and her merged commerce/science background.      

Jenkin completed a Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne then worked in industry before co-founding DC Power Co, an Australian solar energy retail start-up that has completed the world’s most popular equity crowdfunding campaign to date — raising $2.5 million from more than 17,500 investors.

Jenkin is a self-confessed ‘maths geek’ who completed first-year university maths while still in high school, then started an engineering degree before moving to a combined Bachelor of Science and Commerce degree, where she majored in maths and statistics.

“Our research revealed an appetite across Australia to have more energy independence in the face of distrust around the electricity sector,” she says.

“PV solar is driven by people’s desire to take on renewables for cost savings, for self-sufficiency and for the environment.”

Jenkin’s co-founders — Nic Frances Gilley, Monique Conheady and Nick Brass — have all worked in environmental, energy or carbon trading markets, she says. Their aim is to drive mass efficiency and buying power for member households. Research shows that nearly

20 per cent of rooftop solar systems don’t function properly, and DC Power Co uses analytics to identify non-performance and is the only company that alerts customers when their systems don’t work. 

“We spotted a need for an energy company that focused on solar households,” she explains.

Brendan Fitzpatrick

PATH

>Bachelor of Science/Commerce, University of Melbourne

>Executive Director, UBS commodity index training

> Project Manager, Carbon Bridge Ltd

> Executive, Cool nrg International

>Director, FIIG Securities

> Co-Founder and CFO, DC Power Co

This article appears in Australian University Science Issue 1.


energy trading

CRC energy trading research leads to career success

The inspiration for Power Ledger stemmed from co-founder Jemma Green’s PhD on electricity market democratisation. Funded by the CRC for Low Carbon Living (CRCLCL), Dr Green designed a solar and battery system for apartments (the first of its kind in Australia) and an energy trading platform to allow peer-to-peer trading using blockchain.

This foray into destructive innovation led Dr Green to co-found Power Ledger, a platform designed to ease the global transition to low-carbon energy by decentralising energy and allowing ordinary people to become investors in renewable energy assets.

“Our technology uses blockchain to enable energy trading, energy asset financing and carbon markets,” explains Dr Green. “Our corporate mission is the democratisation of power and the delivery of low cost and low carbon energy markets.”


Main image: Chair & co-founder Dr Jemma Green in the PowerLedger office in Perth.

Power Ledger allows consumers to sell and trade electricity from a residential energy generation system using a blockchain environment. Renewable energy assets are tokenized so they become tradeable on the secondary market. “Everyday people can invest in and co-own these assets, whereas previously it had been the domain of institutional investors,” says Dr Green. 

This year, Power Ledger will launch their energy product: a grid connected battery and commercial solar farm. The company is also involved in issuing and trading on carbon credit and is currently working across four countries to tokenize carbon credit so it can be traded on the exchange.

Last year, Power Ledger was the winner of the Extreme Tech Challenge, and the team travelled to Las Vegas and Richard Branson’s Necker Island to pitch their business concept. Dr Green says the original CRC funding was a life-changing opportunity. “I’m enormously grateful for the risk the CRCLCL took investing in me. We’re a group of passionate experts in blockchain and technology at Power Ledger and with scaling and commercialisation, we hope to make a big difference to achieving the Paris climate goals.”

– Larissa Fedunik

CRC LCL

Making warm cities more liveable

The Bowden low carbon development is one of the CRCLCL’s living laboratory research projects in Adelaide.

The Low Carbon Living CRC (CRCLCL) is championing buildings that will withstand the ravages of harsh climates. During the past seven years, the CRC has been researching barriers to a low carbon future which, according to a recent PwC Australia report, will exceed its estimated direct economic benefit to the Australian economy of $684 million by 2027.

“We aimed to save 10 megatonnes of CO2 emissions cumulatively by 2020, but we will have exceeded that target by next year,” says Scientia Professor Deo Prasad AO, CEO of the CRCLCL.

By focusing on how research is adopted into policy, as well as conducting basic research, the CRC has managed to achieve real change — most notably, updating the National Construction Code.

“Traditionally, the National Construction Code has eliminated worst practice,” says Prasad. “We want to move from this to encouraging best practice.”

Even small changes to building regulations could result in significant improvement in energy performance, according to the report, Built to Perform: An Industry Led Pathway to a Zero Carbon Ready Building Code, prepared by the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC) and ClimateWorks Australia, and funded by the CRCLCL.

The report found that households could save $900 a year if new homes were built to better standards. Some changes, such as choosing a dark coloured roof instead of a light one, cost nothing, while others, such as improved insulation, will increase building costs in the short term, but result in massive savings in energy bills over the long term.

“Stronger energy standards for new buildings could reduce energy bills by up to $29 billion between now and 2050,” says Prasad.

This research has provided the solid evidence required for regulatory change and has helped to inform the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), the peak intergovernmental forum in Australia, says ASBEC executive director Suzanne Toumbourou. “There is now a COAG-level commitment to a trajectory for low energy and carbon buildings,” she says.

Prasad says providing this level of certainty can help the construction industry to prepare itself for future changes. However, just ensuring buildings are energy efficient isn’t sufficient to make cities more comfortable as climate change pushes temperatures higher. The way we plan and design cities can also impact temperatures, thanks to the ‘urban heat island’ effect.

Prasad says cities can be made cooler by using vegetation, landscape materials, water bodies and cool materials.

To find out which approaches are most cost effective, the CRCLCL developed Australia’s first Guide to Urban Cooling Strategies. This 2017 report is now guiding the redevelopment of the Parramatta CBD in Western Sydney, where temperatures can be six to 10 degrees Celsius hotter than coastal areas.

“In the future, we will need a more holistic look at cities, not only at sustainability and low carbon, but also how we can build resilience over the long term,” says Prasad.

Rebecca Blackburn

lowcarbonlivingcrc.com.au

This article was published in KnowHow Issue 9.

CRC Association

Innovation, perspiration and consultation

Some vital contributions to successful innovation might be quite small; they might even be deemed mundane or boring. But that doesn’t diminish their importance. These contributions usually fall into Thomas Edison’s ‘99 per cent perspiration’ category of genius, whereas the one per cent inspiration bit gets the recognition.

Perhaps it’s because the perspiration part doesn’t get the fanfare it deserves that innovation can be overlooked during planning.

In planning workshops, I spend a lot of time getting participants to think of those future ‘head slapping’ moments that need to be avoided. These often relate to systems and policies — “of course, no-one can use it until it’s in the building code” or “of course, once the Council of Australian Governments has agreed, we can adopt it.”

These statements of the obvious don’t seem so obvious when R&D is initially planned. Nevertheless, they are invariably preceded by the phrase “of course” when they come up.

Now with 30 years of hindsight, I see the massive blind spot technical people have when it comes to so-called “softer” sciences. I don’t know the origin of calling them soft sciences; if we ignore them, we are just as royally stuffed as if we bet against one of Newton’s laws.

Billions of dollars of applied science funding have failed to meet their promise because the social or human aspects of the research were ignored or downplayed.

“If you build it, they will come” may have worked for Kevin Costner in his film, Field of Dreams, but it hasn’t worked so well for a lot of genetic modification research or certain methods of food production — or, arguably, nuclear power. Assuming that public attitudes, economics and the law will eventually catch up to the science is just asking to be proved wrong.

We technical people are getting better. We’ve started to invite a soft scientist or two to planning meetings. But building our machines and funding our experiments is super expensive and obviously needs to be done first. Inevitably, “human factors” will be “program four” (never “program one”), with details to be worked out later, followed by budgeting a bit later than that (“How much money can they need? A few surveys can’t cost much!”)

It’s time we started to see the human factor as a front-end consideration — rather than an afterthought tacked on a few steps before the finish line — and gave proper respect to the perspiration needed to get us there.

Tony Peacock, CRC Association CEO

crca.asn.au

This article was published in KnowHow Issue 9.

Lowitja CRC

Community driven health research

Lowitja Institute CRC Board and CEO, L-R: Mr Romlie Mokak (CEO), Professor Peter Buckskin, Ms June Oscar AO, Ms Pat Anderson AO (Chair), Mr Selwyn Button and Mr Ali Drummond.

Since 2014, with our 22 Participants, we have achieved demonstrable benefit for the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We have become a point of collaboration and have developed strong national and international networks.

We have provided leadership in the promotion of a definition of value that incorporates what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples hold to be true and intrinsically of value. The translation of those values into the research agenda enables a questioning of the status quo, privileges Indigenous knowledges, and ensures a new, sustainable and more empowering perspective for looking at issues that impact on the health and wellbeing of Australia’s First Peoples.

We are particularly proud that 68 per cent of our projects are led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health researchers and that our projects build in dynamic knowledge translation activities.

We have supported innovative research projects in areas including early childhood development, young men’s health and wellbeing, the cultural determinants of health, the impact of negative discourse and strength-based alternatives. We  convened for the first time in Australia an expert roundtable on disability in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, through which we identified critical areas of research.

We are proud of our achievements since we began under the CRC Programme. The Lowitja Institute will continue to fulfil the vision of Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue AC CBE DSG to be a courageous organisation committed to social justice and equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

lowitja.org.au

This article was published in KnowHow Issue 9.

Pork CRC

Pig power a game changer for pork producers

Blantyre farms, where pork producers create biogas from the effluent from their piggeries.

The Bioenergy Support Program (BSP), an initiative by the Pork CRC, supported pork producers to plan, design and implement on-farm biogas systems. There are now over 20 piggeries with operating
biogas systems, which is 15% of the national pig herd.

A biogas system typically consists of a covered effluent treatment pond where the methane is captured then used to generate electricity and heating. This also provides a way to reduce the farm’s carbon emissions, as methane is 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.

Alan Skerman, program leader of the BSP and Principal Environmental Engineer at The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in Queensland, said they would run calculations to figure out how farmers could get the most out of a biogas system. “We’d estimate what volume of gas they’d get,
and how they might best be able to use that gas to offset their existing energy bill,” he said.

“We were one of the first people to install one of the systems,” said Edwina Beveridge, a pork farmer from Young in New South Wales. “It’s magical: it’s great for the environment, it reduces our odour, and it has really good economic impacts as well.”

She said the BSP was invaluable to the industry in providing the scientific knowledge to fully utilise the resource. “We’re all farmers: we’re used to looking after our animals. Making bioenergy and electricity is a whole new world for us. So having clever people who really know the ins and outs of it has been a wonderful help.”

Skerman said, “We were also able to give some advice on programs like the carbon farming initiative and emissions reduction fund. So a lot of the producers were able to generate Australian carbon credit units which they were able to auction and produce further income.”

Biogas systems could also be a game changer for pork sales. “It may be that in the future the industry could market pork for its low carbon emission qualities,” Skerman said. The Pork CRC concludes June 30, 2019, with programs rolling into the industry supported body, Australasian Pork Research Institute Ltd.

Cherese Sonkkila

porkcrc.com.au

By the numbers – The Pork CRC


3.6 kg: The drop in CO2 equivalents by 2020–2021 (from 2010 levels) from greenhouse gas emissions of the Australian pork industry, according to a Life Cycle Assessment by Dr Stephen Wiedemann of Integrity Ag Services.

16% of the manure effluent from the Australian pig herd is now directed to biogas systems, compared to 2% prior to the Bioenergy Support Program starting.

80% of Australian producers have reduced the confinement of sows by 77–82%, contributing to the term High Integrity Australian Pork, developed by the Pork CRC.

This article was published in KnowHow Issue 9.

CRC ORE

Rejecting mine waste can save billions

CRC ORE staff David La Rosa and Eiman Amini at the production trial site at Minera San Cristóbal in Bolivia.

Globally, conventional mining methods are becoming less efficient and more expensive. Fewer high-grade ore pockets remain and they are increasingly difficult to access.

The Cooperative Research Centre for Optimising Resource Extraction (CRC ORE) aims to use innovation to improve value and reverse declining productivity in the mining industry.

CRC ORE’s Grade Engineering technology will help miners improve the recovery of valuable ore by identifying which separation process is most effective for the specific ore’s characteristics. Less energy and water will be used by rejecting most of the waste material at the beginning of the value chain, then only milling the higher-grade material to extract the desired mineral.

A full-scale production trial of Grade Engineering is currently underway at Minera San Cristóbal S.A. (MSC) in Bolivia — a major global producer of zinc, lead and silver.

The trial involves CRC ORE and its participants, mine owner Sumitomo Corporation, and equipment supplier Metso.

Dr Ben Adair, CRC ORE CEO says initial results of the trial are impressive. “So far, results show that by applying Grade Engineering to areas previously designated as ‘mineralised waste’, the feed grade to the mill can be increased more than 2.5 times,” he says, adding that waste material can potentially be converted into high-grade ore feed.

“In this case, the big benefit of Grade Engineering is its potential ability to extend the life of the mine and add up to $1 billion to its value,” says Dave King, MSC operations director.

Australian mine operators are keenly watching the trial and CRC ORE is currently working with Australian participants to secure equivalent trials at their production sites.

Brendan Fitzpatrick

crcore.org.au

This article was published in KnowHow Issue 9.

CRCNA

Wild about rice up north

Northern Australia rice industry collaborators, L-R: Russell Ford (SunRice), Professor Robert Henry (QAAFI), Jed Matz (CEO, CRCNA) and Paul Ryan (Olive Vale Pastoral).

For more than 10,000 years, people in Australia’s Top End have harvested and eaten native rice, which grows wild in wetlands and includes genetically diverse small-grained species that are nutritious and able to resist drought and disease.

Researchers analysing rice DNA tracked the origins of northern Australia’s wild rice to ancient strains from Africa. Several species were cross-bred with domesticated rice to boost production, and new gourmet markets now exist for this ancient grain.

The CRC for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA) has announced a new 18-month, $505,000 research collaboration to investigate the northern Australian rice sector. The project will evaluate three northern rice industry scenarios: producing wild rice, creating a unique northern Australian rice variety, and commercialising wild rice genes to boost global production.

The project brings together the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) at the University of Queensland, Charles Darwin University, Western Australia’s Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Rice Research Australia (SunRice), Olive Vale Pastoral and Savannah Ag Consulting at James Cook University’s Cairns Institute.

QAAFI’s Professor Robert Henry says northern Australia is well placed to capitalise on emerging markets for speciality wild rice products, potentially worth around $10 million per year within five years.

CRCNA chair Sheriden Morris says the project — one of eight industry situational analyses funded by the CRCNA in 2017–2018 — will zero in on the opportunities for traditional owners and agriculturalists.

The outcome will include an ‘action plan’ for industry and inform future CRCNA investment and research.

Fran Molloy

crcna.com.au

This article was published in KnowHow Issue 9.

iMOVE

Smart move: Australians embrace the transport revolution

The real transport revolution looks to optimising the links between public and private transport, and Australians are all for it. Mobility as a service (MaaS) taps into the digital age by integrating planning, booking and payment and allowing users to personalise their trip. First trialed in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2013, MaaS has now spread to a handful of cities around the world.

New research by iMOVE, a new CRC for transport systems, has indicated that 46% of Australians would use a MaaS service. The 2018 report surveyed community attitudes of 4000 Australians, as well as industry experts and the status of MaaS around the world.

“We hope to look at the international experience and leapfrog over it,” said Stacey Ryan, policy manager of Intelligent Transport Systems Australia, an iMOVE CRC partner.

The benefit of MaaS platforms is their potential to improve the efficiency of existing systems without building new transport infrastructure, which is extremely expensive.

“Some people see MaaS as the holy grail of transport – it’s seamless,” said Stacey.

So how long do Australians have to wait?

“Some suggest six months – just add a ticketing and booking overlay to Google, while others say it will take five to 10 years because you need ticketing integration. The reality is probably somewhere in between,” said Stacey.

The initial focus of MaaS might be to serve niche markets such as tourists or the visually impaired, Stacey added. iMOVE is a collection of 44 partners, in a 10-year project for R&D of innovative transport solutions and technologies for Australia.

Rebecca Blackburn

imovecrc.com

This article was published in KnowHow Issue 9.

MinEx

Cheaper, faster mineral exploration

The RoXplorer Coiled Tube Drilling rig enables safe, efficient mineral exploration.

The RoXplorer Coiled Tube Drilling (CTD) rig that was commercialised by mining firms IMDEX and Barrick Gold in 2018 is now the platform for two complementary research programs at the new MinEx CRC.

Developed originally by the Deep Exploration Technologies (DET) CRC, CTD technology replaces multiple individual rigid drill rods with a single, flexible steel tube wound on a spool. This makes drilling exploration holes much faster and cheaper, says Andrew Bailey, CEO of the MinEx CRC.

The CTD system’s flexible steel tube is led by a drill that uses recirculated high-pressure water to hammer or slice through rock, and can dig up to 110m a day, says Bailey. The assay samples are carried back up to the surface by the water for analysis.

Barrick Gold is now one of 35 participants in the MinEx CRC that began operations in July 2018, focussing on mineral exploration technologies and inheriting some of the now- defunct DET CRC’s research and commercialisation licenses.

Typical exploration holes are 500m deep and the MinEX CRC research aims to double this. A parallel research program aims to harness data generated by on-board sensors for the first time to geo-steer the drill, either towards a predicted mineral lode, or around a known or suspected obstacle.

As well as being faster and cheaper than conventional drilling techniques, the CTD technology is also safer as less direct human intervention is required, and environmentally superior as the system uses water rather than the oil-based ‘mud’ compounds used in conventional drilling.

Gregor Ferguson

minexcrc.com.au

This article was published in KnowHow Issue 9.

ANSTO

Isotope research helping industry and the environment

ANSTO’s Dr Mazumder’s research is helping the Australian aquaculture and seafood industries by developing tools to determine the geographic origin of seafood to combat food fraud.

Experts at tracing the tiny “fingerprints” isotopes leave as they move through earth systems such as water ways, our atmosphere and all living things.

Dr Debashish Mazumder, a Senior Environmental Research Scientist at ANSTO explains, “Plants produce organic carbon during photosynthesis. This carbon has a unique fingerprint which is passed on to animals as they consume the plant material, and this isotopic fingerprint is carried to the top of the food chain through predation.

“Tracing these isotopic fingerprints helps us work out the relationship between species within an ecosystem and the source of their food, which is essential for monitoring ecosystems and predicting changes. It can also play a powerful role in tracking the provenance of foodstuffs.”

Mazumder says the fast growing aquaculture industry is an example. “Isotope analysis of fish tissue and feed can provide insight into the cost-effectiveness of fish farming, whether the fish is farmed or wild-caught, and offers insight into aquaculture’s environmental footprint.”

ANSTO radiochemist Atun Zawadzki specialises in using a range of techniques, including using the radioisotope lead-210 as a “clock” within sediment layers up to 150 years old. Because radioactive isotopes decay at a known rate, a chronology can be established.

“Knowing the age of sediment layers and the substances present, we can construct a clear view of the environmental history of an area and investigate why and how changes have occurred,” says Zawadzki.

For more information on how ANSTO uses isotopes for environmental research, visit ansto.gov.au.

— Gregor Ferguson

This article was published in KnowHow Issue 9.

CRC for Honeybee Products

A hive of activity in bee research

The CRC for Honeybee Products is seeking to revolutionise Australia’s honey industry.

“We’re proud to be a catalyst in accelerating research and new solutions, and products are already coming to light due to our diverse academic expertise and a fast-growing and demanding industry,” says Liz Barbour, CRCHBP CEO.

Barbour believes 2018 was a watershed year for honey bees in Australia. “Land use changes and intensified fire management are challenging the reliable and diverse supply of bee food, and impacting bee health, as never before,” she says. Climate change and shifting patterns of nectar flow have also caused uncertainty in the industry.

Barbour says the industry has also suffered from misleading accusations of adulterated honey during 2018. “This caught the world’s honey industry ill-prepared, and there was no chemical analysis system able to provide a clear answer to adequately address the public’s confidence,” she says.

CRCHBP has been at the forefront in trying to establish techniques and testing policies to address this problem.

A worldwide focus on ‘saving the bee’ has attracted more people to beekeeping.

This has led CRCHBP to develop better training programs for beekeepers to help protect Australia’s envied biosecurity status.

Barbour says the global buzz around New Zealand’s Manuka honey also offers a potential boon for Australian honey.

“CRCHBP has been successfully developing the other 80 Leptospermum species throughout Australia,” she says. “Some of these species have higher levels of active antimicrobial ingredients than reported from New Zealand.”

Brendan Fitzpatrick

crchoneybeeproducts.com

This article was published in KnowHow Issue 9.