All posts by Karen Taylor-Brown

Energy Innovation Series: Making sense of the complex beast that is Australia’s electricity network

Image: Shutterstock

By Katja Ignatieva, UNSW Sydney

News about the energy crisis engulfing Australia’s east coast seems inescapable. Terms such as “grid”, the “National Electricity Market” and “transmission” are being tossed around alongside the frightening prospect of soaring power bills – but what does it all mean?

Here, I break down a few of the terms and ideas underpinning this unprecedented event to help you make sense of it.

What is the electricity grid and how does it work?

An electricity grid doesn’t refer to any specific location, but is a network that delivers electricity from producers to consumers through a series of poles and wires spanning the continent.

The National Electricity Market is one such interconnected grid. Contrary to its name, it doesn’t cover the entire nation, only Australia’s east and south: New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania.

Each time you switch on the light, heater, or toaster, you’re using electricity that arrives to your home via this network.

Power is carried from electricity generators (coal-fired power stations, gas plants, wind and solar farms) to retailers (the company charging your power bills) to your home or business via “inter-connectors” (high voltage towers, undersea cable).

Inter-connectors are particularly important when the demand for electricity in a region is higher than what a local generator can supply, such as during cold snaps or heatwaves. Then, a supplier in a neighbouring region can step in to fill demand using the inter-connectors.

Neighbouring suppliers can also step in if their electricity prices are lower than local suppliers’.

Why do energy prices fluctuate throughout the day?

Energy prices rely heavily on demand. The more electricity is needed, the more expensive it is. And clearly, demand fluctuates throughout the day.

During cold winter months electricity demand is expected to increase as people switch on their heaters. During hot summer months, switching on air conditioners also leads to increased electricity demand.

The winter demand typically experiences two daily peaks: in the cold morning and evening hours, when most people use their heaters. The demand during the day, when the outside temperatures are relatively high, drops to a lower level.

Likewise, the summer demand usually peaks during hot afternoon hours, when most people use their coolers and air-conditioners.

Image: Shutterstock

How are energy supply and prices determined?

The National Electricity Market is not only a physical grid, but also plays the role of a wholesale market which facilities the exchange of energy between generators and retailers.

Because electricity can’t be stored easily, energy supply and demand is matched instantaneously, in real time.

Generators submit their offers to supply the market with a certain amount of energy for a certain period of time. The Australian Energy Market Operator then decides which generators to deploy, starting with the cheapest.

Retailers buy energy from generators at a wholesale price, which is extremely volatile because of sharp unpredictable increases in energy demand and, therefore, price.

Retailers then resell the electricity to businesses and households. Consumers pay a more-or-less fixed price for power. But since retailers need to mitigate their risks related to the extremely volatile wholesale prices, they incorporate this risk into consumers bills.

Indeed, wholesale prices have historically represented around 35% of the final bill for households.

But retailers can’t go overboard – energy prices in the National Electricity Market are regulated by state and federal laws. Though, retailers are allowed to make a reasonable margin.

I have rooftop solar. How am I affected by the current price spikes and shortages?

By installing a rooftop solar, households are expected to escape any sharp increases to their energy bills, and even save around 30% to 60%.

This results in return on investment into rooftop solar system in three to seven years, depending on the location, and usage time, shading, roof direction and inclination.

So it’s not surprising soaring power prices have led to increasing demand for solar panels.

Households can make the most of their solar panel system by adding battery storage – technology that allows you to store any extra electricity your rooftop solar generates – to maintain electricity supply during grid blackouts. Batteries, however, are expensive, which means this option might not be very cost-effective just yet.

Image: Shutterstock

Could price gouging be impacting energy prices?

The increase in energy prices is mainly driven by the increasing global cost of fossil fuels, inflation, and supply chain disruption. But it’s also likely electricity generators are taking further advantage of the situation by price gouging in the National Electricity Market.

This is a situation when generators try to withhold some supply to get higher payments later, making so-called “windfall” profits. It is the energy regulator’s responsibility to look closely into this issue.

Can electricity prices in Australia go down in the short term?

The outlook isn’t very optimistic and we probably won’t see electricity prices decline in the next few weeks or months.

The challenging global environment (largely due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine), the shutdown of coal-fired power plants in Australia, limited generating capacity, and the colder than usual start to winter, are creating extreme demand conditions.

These challenges aren’t going away any time soon, and will likely result in even larger price spikes in the future.

Fortunately, the Australian Energy Market Operator has taken the extraordinary measure to bring some stability to the energy sector by temporary suspending the normal market operations.

This will reduce the risks of blackouts or supply shortfalls. It will also provide transparency on how generators operate, preventing them from price gouging.

Once we reach some stability, ensuring uninterrupted power supply to Australians, ways to reduce energy cost should be explored. This will take a number of months.

Would having more renewable energy help?

The Labor government plans to significantly increase the share of renewables in the National Electricity Market, to 82% by 2030.

More renewable energy in the grid could certainly reduce energy prices in the medium to long term – it’s the most cost-effective way to generate electricity, and as Australia’s produces its own renewable energy, we’ll be better shielded from global market issues.

But transitioning from fossil-fuel generation to renewables will be difficult, as it requires building significant new infrastructure, which takes time.

So while Australia transitions to clean energy, it’s imperative to set up a short-term strategy to ensure the sector is sustainable. This could include government investment in dispatchable generation – energy that can be dispatched to consumers on demand.

Katja Ignatieva, Associate Professor, UNSW Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Energy Innovation Series: Trends and data-driven solutions

Q&A with Grace Young, Chief of Innovation, Wattwatchers

Grace Young is presenting at the EnergyNEXT clean energy event in Sydney on 19 July, 2022. Her topic is Energy Management En Route to Net Zero: Data and the Internet of Things, the Post-Pandemic Reset & the Electrification of Nearly Everything.

In this presentation she’ll be diving into an energy management marketplace in rapid transition—as energy prices surge globally, Net Zero for electricity looms by as early as 2030, the legacy of COVID-19 is resetting work-life balance for millions of Australians, and the rise of electric vehicles (EVs) is accelerating.

Grace will highlight technology trends and data-driven solutions that are propelling energy management integration into new and emerging use cases in proptech, fintech, mobility and more, including emerging opportunities for ‘energy data as a service.’

In the following Q&A, Grace introduces some of the themes and ideas that fall under this wide-ranging umbrella.

Why do people need energy data?

So often when people get a big energy bill, they feel powerless. It’s all seen as a ‘tax’ that just needs to be paid, rather than something they have any agency in changing. Energy companies are not particularly incentivised to change this, which is probably a big reason as to why we still see static energy bills issued in arrears, often every three months. With such a lag between using energy and seeing the effect on our bills, it’s little wonder people are left scratching their heads when the bill arrives.

More and more folks are starting to look for alternatives—installing solar, and increasingly batteries, to take back some degree of control. However, getting solar panels installed is only half the battle. Using that solar effectively is critical in making the most of the many thousands of dollars invested.

In both cases—whether someone has solar installed or not—visibility of what’s happening is super helpful in being able to make informed choices. And that visibility can only happen with much richer energy data than is provided by the typical utility billing meter (even the ones they call ‘smart meters’).

But energy data doesn’t help with how you use energy. It also helps with ‘big ticket’ purchases that have an impact on energy in the household.

For example, a friend of mine was looking to install solar and was informed that his pool pump was the most likely cause of high energy bills. Because he had energy monitoring in place (a Wattwatchers device provided through the ARENA-backed My Energy Marketplace program) he knew that heating was the biggest culprit. This changed how the solar installer sized his system to optimise his cost savings.

This same friend also discovered a thermostat for underfloor heating had been adjusted incorrectly, ramping up energy usage. He found out on the day it happened, so was able to correct the problem immediately, avoiding a big bill shock. He has also determined that his hot water service is doing strange things, and is researching alternatives to optimise his solar usage for water heating. All made possible by energy data.

Now, to be clear. This friend of mine is not like me—not some big energy nerd who works in the industry. He’s a music teacher, father of two, who loves a good beer watching the footy, and is worried about climate change. But he has been empowered by the simple fact he has access to the data he needs to make sound decisions, and is saving a lot of money in the process.

How does a Wattwatchers device work?

Our devices are shaped like the small circuit-breakers that slot into typical household and business meter boxes or switch boards. 

Attached to the device are accessories called current transformers (or CTs for short) that wrap around the individual cables for the electricity circuits coming into, or going out of your meter box, and measure the energy flowing through them. 

In a typical home (which is wired in a single-phase configuration), one Wattwatchers device can monitor up to 6 circuits. This includes the main grid connection, tracking both energy coming in (that you purchase from your retailer) and going out (if you have solar or batteries) of your premises. But in addition, we can also track how much total energy your solar system is generating (if applicable), and what portion of that you are self-consuming on-site; and also key energy-consuming appliances and equipment, like electric hot water, air-conditioning units, pool pumps, EV chargers, and general power and lighting circuits.

In commercial and industrial use cases, one device can cover two 3-phase circuits up to 600 amps, which is quite large. We even have a 3000 amp version (the 3RM, which uses larger circumference Rogowski coils to handle such high currents).

The device reads this information and sends it back to our servers over the cellular internet network (the same one your mobile phone uses), or in some cases over a WiFi network—for example, piggy-backing on the home or business WiFi. This data is sent to our servers every 30 seconds (or as often as every 5 seconds) for real-time applications—that is, seeing what’s happening in your premises right now—and also tallied every 5 minutes for historical use.

How can I access my energy data? Are you nationwide?

The energy data from our devices is sent to our servers (hosted in Australia by Amazon Web Services). We store 5 minute data indefinitely, and the 30 second data is available for a month.

For those of you that are technically minded, we make this available via our well-documented API (short for Application Programming Interface).

This is how different apps and services access your data, to provide you the benefits that having this data available can provide. Some of these are our own apps, like the MyEnergy app for iPhone and Android phones. But many, many more are provided by third-parties—the Use Cases section of our website contains a range of third-party provider examples. 

Often we’re invisible to the end user, powering someone else’s solution. All this can be done anywhere in Australia, and internationally too. One of the great things about electricity is that it’s broadly the same everywhere.

So, there’s a lot more to a Wattwatchers energy monitor than just the device itself!

What things can you track, apart from usage? 

Total usage is a good ‘broad brush-stroke’ indicator for calculating cost, emissions and things like that. But if you have solar, for example, then you also want to know how much of your own generation you are consuming (i.e. on-site self-consumption), and how much that is saving you, whether that be in dollars or carbon emissions.

One of the issues with the so-called ‘smart meters’ used by energy companies (for billing) is that they only provide visibility on two things: the amount you use from the grid, and the amount of solar you send to the grid, if you have solar panels. And this information is usually not available to you at the time it’s being used—often at least 24 hours old, if not more. This is a very limited view that provides very little help to a householder or business owner trying to work out the best way to reduce energy usage.

As mentioned earlier, what is much more helpful is to be able to see usage across the individual circuits, getting real-time alerts for things that don’t ‘look’ right (like the elevated energy consumption my friend discovered in his home).

With real time data, you can make immediate decisions like turning high-energy use equipment on or off, or up and down, as well as being able to take longer-term approaches like energy efficiency and demand management. Wattwatchers devices also collect power quality data, including voltage, which can have a big impact on people’s expensive electronics and appliances if it’s fluctuating too high or low.

What sort of insights can you get from the data? 

There are so many things you can learn, if you want to, from your energy data. Energy data geeks will tell you it can be quite the rabbit hole, once your curiosity is piqued and you start looking into it!

But most of us aren’t energy geeks, and so it’s important to get tools that can do a lot of the data analytics heavy lifting for you, so you’re not having to spend hours and hours poring over spreadsheets and the like to make sense of it all.

Patterns of usage are important. So are seasonal changes. Time-of-use can be vital, especially for businesses that face peak demand caps and penalty payments for exceeding limits. 

But granular, real-time data can reveal a lot more, including the performance and operational well-being of assets like solar systems, and even supporting fault detection and predictive analytics in industry use cases. 

And energy data can be used throughout the process, from finding what you might change through to verifying whether those changes had the impact you expected.

For example, one of our customers specialising in energy saving for data centres uses Wattwatchers data to:

  1. Establish a consumption baseline for cooling units, the main electricity consumers at such sites, 
  2. Design their smart interventions, 
  3. Prove the savings outcomes they promised have been delivered, and 
  4. Provide ongoing monitoring of results over time, staying connected with their customers pending licence renewal negotiation. 

In the Internet of Things (IoT) era for energy, lots of real-time data is a basic prerequisite. 

How can energy data be used to manage and report on carbon impacts?

Our data is often used by householders and businesses to make important energy management decisions, including optimising time of use, or to identify and verify savings, and also for sustainability reporting and ratings.

When it comes to climate impacts from carbon emissions, electricity is one of the biggest ticket items for many homes and enterprises. So whether you’re just wanting your household to do their bit for a brighter future, or a business that is required to report on this for regulatory reasons, or by larger businesses you supply to, knowing what’s happening with energy in your premises is really important.

It’s not just how much energy you’re using, but also how much of it is coming from different sources, including the coal-heavy grid, or your own solar if you have it, for example. Wattwatchers provides the data for our customers to do exactly that.

It’s pretty easy to take the data provided by Wattwatchers devices to generate the reports you need. Firstly, by taking your baseline measurements to know where you really stand. Then by monitoring for the effects of changes you’ve made.

There are a number of carbon accounting platforms coming to life, but for the moment many are relying on averages to do their calculations. But devices like Wattwatchers, that provide more granular data, can make these calculations more accurate. See, for example, our recent blog post on hourly carbon accounting for the sort of difference this can make. The old adage “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” is as true as ever for carbon accounting, when it comes to electricity use.

But there’s so many more possibilities, not just the immediate benefits for a business or household, but for the system as a whole. For example, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) and leading university researchers have been using data from Wattwatchers devices, via one of our oldest customers Solar Analytics, to better understand how solar inverters behave during periods of high voltage variability. This sort of research has proven to be vital in ensuring the stability of the nation’s electricity supply in the age of distributed energy resources (DERs)—a transition led by householders with rooftop solar. 

And this is super-important if we, as a community, want to see more and more renewables powering our electricity grid.

What are some of the more ‘left field’ applications of energy data you’ve seen?

I’ve already mentioned industrial use cases like fault detection and predictive maintenance, drawing on energy data-related ‘signatures’ and ‘patterns’ that can be revealed by granular monitoring. So, this uses our data for much more than just monitoring consumption.

Another example of thinking ‘outside the box’ can be found in using energy data to remotely monitor electricity in a home to provide a ‘protective watch’ over a loved one, across town or perhaps much further away. For example, getting an alert if Nanna doesn’t boil the electric kettle in the morning. Kind of an energy data-enabled chaperone from afar. I personally would have really valued this service when my Mum was ailing and had a fall at home and was unable to get up. Thankfully, in this instance, she had a care visitor later that morning to assist her. There have been startups that have incorporated energy into a broader suite of monitoring tools to provide this exact service. 

By making energy data more accessible, especially via initiatives like the My Energy Marketplace project, we hope to spur innovation and creative, curious thinking to make these innovative services a reality.

Can you explain ‘Energy Data as a Service?’

I came to Wattwatchers from a startup that wanted to do this sort of innovation, creating a platform for local energy trading, where a householder with solar could sell their energy to their neighbours, or family and friends.

When starting out, I was coming to the energy space with a ‘digital innovation’ mindset, having been in the digital world for many years and seeing the rise of data-led startups in ecommerce, social media, entertainment, and many other fields.

I kind of assumed that energy data would be fairly easy to access—that if we got the customer’s permission we’d be able to tap into smart meter data, or the like, to power our service.

Howdoody was I wrong!!

Like myself, I think lots of people underestimate how hard it is to collect energy data, especially at a granular level inside people’s homes. I suspect most people have never really even thought about it. 

Historically this has meant that many business and government initiatives have been designed without actual measurement and verification, and use estimations and deemed results in the absence of real data. Government energy savings schemes, such as those currently operating in NSW and Victoria, are great examples of this. 

Australian and global concerns about consumer data rights, including privacy and security, are making it even harder to collect data, hold it, and make it available to third parties. (We are very supportive of this increased focus on privacy and security, to be clear. But it certainly doesn’t make our jobs, as innovators and creative thinkers, any easier!) 

With some very welcome government support, Wattwatchers has invested in developing a model for data sharing—with pre-approval from customers, and built-in protections and rewards for them—which underpins our emerging business offering that we describe as energy data as a service

Basically this means that we do the hard work of collecting the data, and making it shareable with third parties. This is often anonymised, but even in this form it’s still immensely useful and valuable because it’s so hard to get otherwise. 

Our early data service customers include some of the nation’s leading research institutions working on our energy future. And we’re really excited to explore more and more opportunities.

Energy Innovation Series: Energy tips from the Australia’s top energy experts

Image: Shutterstock

The energy crisis and unprecedented take over of the market by AEMO has spun many customers into
panic, getting a glimpse of the fragility and lack of control we have over our energy supply. And let’s not
even talk about the anxiety that we all now feel when we receive our power bill in the mail!

Threats of black-outs and demands to not use dishwashers at certain times has led the customer to take
a closer look at, what a lot of them thought, was just an ‘on tap’ resource.

But for many customers, there is a bewildering array of options on what to do to make a difference and
many don’t understand that it is many small changes that will effect a big change.

To get some clear direction on things that could genuinely make a difference, the country’s top energy
experts were asked what would be the one piece of advice that they would give to customers and
businesses to help.

These professors and professionals will all be talking at Energy Next, a free-to-attend industry event
focusing on the latest renewable energy and energy management technologies, that is being held in
Sydney on the 19th-20th July 2022.

From solar tips to data management and heating the body rather than the room to fast-tracking EV
purchases, this is what they said:

Consumer Tip:

Home owners that have solar and batteries, and are using them optimally, are somewhat shielded from the big price fluctuations we are seeing. So now is a great time to be looking at whether solar and a battery will work for you, if you don’t already have it. Especially so given new, low-interest ‘green loan’ options that are coming onto the market. But having solar is only half of the battle. Optimising your use of that solar by aligning your usage with when your panels are generating, is critical.

Many solar systems only give you a small part of the picture ‘out of the box’ (e.g. how much you’re
generating). Knowing where your energy is being used, through energy monitoring across all your key circuits (like aircon, pool pumps, hot water, and EV charging), is critical to make the most of your investment.

Business Tip:

The adage “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” is more true than ever in the current circumstances. It can be a surprise to find that what you thought were your ‘big customers’
aren’t the worst (or only) culprits for high energy use. For some businesses, demand charges can also be
a killer—so knowing exactly what you’re using, in near-real-time, can be the difference between a
reasonable bill and a blow-out. And, of course, it’s not just about the direct costs of electricity—many
businesses are now having to report on their carbon emissions, and often electricity consumption is a
big contributor. In all of these cases, having solid energy monitoring in place is key.
Grace Young, Chief of Innovation, Wattwatchers.

Consumer Tip

Bite the bullet and invest in an Electric Vehicle. That sales guy that wants to shift his
inventory of petrol burners is not going to mention that EVs are incredibly cheap to run.

Business Tip

Measure, monitor and manage energy usage and the performance of your solar system.
What gets measured gets improved!
Matt Stubbs, Director, Profergy

Consumer and Business Tip

Data will be the primary determinant of energy investment returns and operational stability. Given the rapidly changing nature of energy models and interoperability requirements, one cannot pre-
determine which data will be most important in the future. Data requirements for asset owners, grid
operators, traders, regulators and analytics companies are vastly different and require different capture
methods, granularity and delivery mechanisms.

The logical approach is that asset owners take full control of their OT data by independently collecting,
normalising and consolidating all their OT data regardless of source. Cybersecurity and accessibility of
this OT data needs to be tightly managed, both inside and outside the organisation, to share with
experts, to integrate new business models and to drive innovation in machine learning, predictive
models and artificial intelligence.

A data-centric strategy is the critical foundation to optimise performance in this highly competitive and
rapidly changing sector.

Energy companies need to discard old operating models and embrace new OT data competencies.
Those that do not will be rapidly “disrupted” out of the industry.

Tim Lane, Ardexa, Senior VP Sales & Marketing Asia Pacific.

Consumer Tip

If you have solar PV, run your power hungry appliances (like washing machines, dishwashers) during the middle of the day. This will help reduce strain on the energy grid and reduce your carbon footprint – and if you have a time-of-use tariff (where the rates are cheaper in the middle of the day) it will also save you money.
Dr Scott Dwyer – Research Principal, UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures

Customer tip

Stop heating the space using an aircon. Instead, use an electric blanket to “heat the body.”

Business tip

Working from home? In the longer-term, co-host the renewable generation capacity and storage for hydrogen production/export within the national electricity market.
Dr Chang Wang, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Monash University

Business Tip

Enosi would recommend that businesses pay attention to both their bottom line and
their ESG responsibilities as they contract for energy supply and manage their use.

Locking in a supply-linked PPA through your retail energy provider that is matched to renewable
sources will both capture the lower cost of renewable power, and support further investment in
renewables. This is known as a 24/7 PPA, and is becoming more popular among ESG leaders in the US
and Europe.

Matching consumption to when your supply is actually generated will put businesses on the path to ‘true
zero’ carbon, incentivising demand shift to when solar/wind are available, and the development of
resources that fill the gaps in renewable supply.
Steven Hoy, CEO, Enosi

Business and Consumer tip

My response for both is energy efficiency – replacing expensive-to-run items, which requires the support of government, landlords, industry etc. It’s not innovative or exciting but remains the first thing anyone should do.
Dr Kathryn Lucas-Healey, Research Fellow, Australian National University

Customer Tip

Put as much solar on your roof as you can fit ASAP. Then use Solar Analytics to find
an awesome electricity deal (hint it is likely to be a retailer who is well hedged or has generation).
Stefan Jarnason, CEO, Solar Analytics

Consumer tip

Install a heat pump for your hot water – that’s >40PJ of saving for Australia right there
(~60% of that would be gas). Just make sure you go for a quality name like Reclaim, Sanden or Steibel
Eltron, otherwise you’ll get a noisy heat pump that doesn’t do enough heating in winter. If you have
solar panels, make sure you can program the heat pump to come on during the day – that will double
your return on investment. If you don’t have panels, make sure you can program the heat pump to only
come on during off-peak electricity times.

Business tip

What can you do in one day? Good maintenance – fix steam leaks, compressed air leaks,
insulation damage etc. What can you do in one week? Get sub-metering installed for electricity, steam, gas and water – that will reveal waste, often fixed by simple behaviour changes (e.g. closing cool room
doors).
Jarrod Leak, CEO, Australian Alliance for Energy Productivity (A2EP)

Consumer tip

Improve your self-sufficiency to rely less on the energy system to meet your demands
by reducing your overall demand, switch to solar energy during the day and complement your solar with
a battery system for peak demand times or night-time or when the grid is down.
Adrian Knack, Director of Engineering, Redback Technologies

Energy Innovation Series: How to manage energy demand thresholds

Image: Shutterstock

Director of Engineering at RedBack Technologies, Adrian Knack, will be talking at Energy Next, the free-to-attend industry event aimed at transforming the Clean Energy sector. The event takes place at the ICC on the 19-20th July 2022. Adrian will be talking about Utilising inexpensive CAT M1 devices to upgrade or replace AFLC infrastructure 

As networks come under increasing pressure due to the increase of renewable energy on the power network, and start to face operational challenges where the demand may fall below the minimum demand threshold, security challenges may occur. While standards have been updated to account for shedding PV capability other solutions exist to optimise the network loads. Utilising low-cost CAT M1 mobile network devices to control loads such as hot water, pool pumps, and even older inverters such that they can obey demand response signaling has become a viable alternative to the replacement of aging audio-frequency load control hardware. 

The benefits of moving to a CAT M1 IoT have numerous advantages of AFLC. Two-way communications for greater insights into the load can be added or removed from the network at any given time. Data over time also allows for a more accurate prediction of the switchable load into the future. The speed of the data transfer means the loads can also react in real-time to un-forecast events. Adding additional capabilities to monitor grid conditions to these devices to protect homes from safety-related issues such as broken neutral, voltage sag and swell and other quality of service metrics means that CAT M1 IoT devices may be the future of ensuring the safe and stable operation of our power networks into the future.

We spoke to Adrian further about this proposed solution to manage possible demand thresholds:

Why will there be a problem if demand falls below the minimum demand threshold with our new renewable energy sources? You talk about security challenges – what sorts of impact would they have?

Adrian: This issue has been a common talking point in the industry for a few years now, I suggest having a quick look at this article from 2020 published by the AEMO (Australian Energy Market Operator) https://aemo.com.au/en/learn/energy-explained/energy-101/energy-explained-minimum-operational-demand

Primarily the issues which we’re seeking to help mitigate are around voltage management, unintended disconnection of distributed solar, frequency response. This would be done by using an IoT device (such as Luceo Link LV) which communicates on Telstra’s CAT-M1 network to monitor and control loads (e.g. hot water, pool pumps, etc.) to either increase or decrease the load on the electrical grid.

Can you explain how the CAT M1 technologies will control power loads?

CAT-M1 is a low power wide area network cellular technology (like 4G/5G but lower bandwidth). It was specifically developed for lightweight edge device processing and control. Utilising this communications medium in the context of load control for the electrical grid means that we are able to monitor power usage and quality of service (of the electrical grid) in real time. Furthermore, because the communications are two ways, just like your phone internet, you can send control signals to connected devices to have them operate in certain ways (which the home owner would have to agree to) in order to support the stability and security of the electrical grid (to help ensure there are no blackouts… or at least a reduced risk).

Can you give us an example of a CAT M1 technology and how many households already have these sorts of units?

I’d probably move away from CAT-M1 at this point, it is just an enabling technology. Other internet based technologies exist (like home wifi) but CAT-M1 is good because it is like your mobile phone subscription it doesn’t require user setup.

In Queensland, they have the AFLC system to control loads on different tariffs, but this is limited because you don’t get feedback from each house/load if it actually got the signal and responded.  The IoT solution ensures compliance to the command being issued and it is easier to assess the impact. It is also easier to turn the control to specific houses, suburbs, device types. etc. 

Some solar and battery inverters offer relay control of devices which could operate in a similar way but inverters are significantly more expensive than a small control device.

How do they integrate into the existing power network/grid integration? 

This is installed in the home owners meter box typically (at least the Luceo Link LV which we offer). This makes most sense because the networks are only interested in large loads (e.g. hot water) which would make a significant difference to the power on the network. But in theory you could extend all the way to things like smart plugs.

How would the consumer integrate these CAT MI technologies into their local/ at home energy network?

An electrician would typically install the device in the home owners (or commercial facility) switchboard  and connect the control relay to the load being controlled.

Has this solution been tried and, if so, what were the results of this trial?

We’ve had a trial of 50 homes in Queensland for the last 12 months. The trial controlled the home’s electric hot water systems and experimented with adjusting the operating times of these systems to perform tasks like solar soak (using excess solar on the grid during the day) and removing loads from the grid during peak usage times (i.e. morning and evening).  

There is a lot of discussion about the instability of a grid powered by renewable energy, what are the key things that need to happen to mitigate against this instability? 

Visibility of the low voltage network is the first step. Once we have clear visibility rather than projections and assumptions we can start to make better decisions on how to operate the grid and where to invest in infrastructure to ensure the stability of the network. This also allows for better decision making in future- proofing the network for 100% renewables, electrification of transportation (e.g. EVs) and net-zero emissions by 2050.

For more information or to register for free for Energy Next, go to: https://www.energynext.com.au/en-gb.html

From Australia to Silicon Valley: 6 lessons in the pathway to deep tech venture capital

Image: Jun Qu, Senior Investment Associate at Main Sequence

To solve this century’s global challenges — and the next — founders, policymakers, industry leaders and
investors must collaborate in order to successfully commercialise research and bring these new
technologies to the world. Senior Investment Associate at Main Sequence, Jun Qu, shares six lessons he’s learnt about building a deep tech innovation ecosystem.

The Silicon Valley Zeitgeist

After spending five years in the Bay Area— first at Stanford University and later with McKinsey’s internal tech incubator and investing group, Launch — there is something to be said about the way ideas are nurtured in and around Silicon Valley.

Although a vast majority of these lessons come from SaaS and consumer tech, the tried and true favourites for venture investors, the fundamentals behind what makes a venture investible or scalable are the same.

For the scientific and engineering solutions needed to fix the planet’s biggest challenges, these elements are arguably even more important, and the stakes have never been higher, so where better to unearth these solutions than Australia, a world leader in deep technology research.

For Aussie deep tech researchers and founders who are taking the leap, here are six lessons we can take
from our American counterparts:

  1. Tell the story
    The most compelling founders are the best storytellers. Irrespective of the complexity of the idea,
    the concise and confident communication of an idea is important. Break it down so everyone from
    everyday consumers to world-leading researchers can understand the impact, and don’t get stuck in the weeds.
  2. Focus on the problem
    In VC, it is common to see numerous ‘solutions’ in search of a problem — aka ‘if you build it, people
    will buy it’. As a former engineer, it took a shift in my own mentality to understand how investors
    and customers think. Maintain focus on the big problem you are solving, and the impact will follow.
  3. Perfect is a luxury
    A mentor once told me “to never let best get in the way of better”. Engineers like to get things
    perfect and bug-free, but the objective for new ventures is to achieve good enough. Up against
    limited capital and time, over-engineering something is a luxury. Start with the minimum viable
    product and consider what is truly necessary to prove your proposition.
  4. Celebrate wins… and losses
    Tall Poppy Syndrome is common in Australia, threatening our entrepreneurial spirit and leaving our
    most ambitious ideas on the table. It hurts us whether we win or lose, and is a key cultural aspect
    that needs to change. We must be proud of the hard lessons, celebrate the wins and swing for the
    fences more often.
  5. Make collaboration habitual
    Business is rarely a zero-sum game and we can unlock more opportunities through collaboration.
    From building new products by combining products to co-investing in shared infrastructure and
    educating across industries, collaboration is essential to growing the deep tech ecosystem. Be
    curious, explore the possibilities, and say yes more often.
  6. Ask for help
    Engineers hate having to ask for help. But, unless we are on the bleeding edge, it’s highly likely
    someone else has done this before. It is more efficient to seek help than start from scratch and it
    means things get rapidly done. It’s okay to not know, but avoid spending precious time and energy
    reinventing the wheel on something that has been done before.

The global opportunity for Australia

From CSIRO’s invention of WiFi to pioneering the Cochlear implant, Australia is responsible for some of the world’s most significant scientific breakthroughs.

More recently, the runaway success of SaaS and fintech darlings including Atlassian, Canva and Afterpay
has returned Australia to the stage as a global leader in innovation. However, the effective translation of
research is where we have an opportunity to really shine.

We’re already seeing the emergence of purpose-driven founders tapping into Australia’s science capability to translate impactful research for planetary gain.

Take Dr Stefan Hrabar and Dr Farid Kendoul as one example. Formerly researchers within the Robotics and Autonomous Systems Group at CSIRO’s Data61, the duo saw the real-world potential of their research and decided to turn these ideas into a commercial enterprise. They have since founded Emesent which has grown to be recognised as a world leader in drone autonomy, LiDAR mapping, and data analytics.

Space startup Quasar Satellite Technologies and industrial AI innovator Presien share similar founding
stories and are leveraging research to deliver technologies that are drastically transforming their respective industries.

Australia’s world-class research capability means the opportunity to be a leader across industries like
hydrogen, space and quantum technologies is well within reach.

Main Sequence Managing Partner, Bill Bartee, often says, “We’ll do anything it takes — we’ll mop the floors if we need to,” and it’s this dedication to building future technologies which sets us in good stead.

While many countries are trying to create the next Silicon Valley, let’s instead lean into our history of
bringing domestic ingenuity to the global stage. Australia’s deep tech ecosystem is thriving, and we’re
confident investors and global leaders will increasingly look toward the southern hemisphere as a place that nurtures the scientific-backed industries that future generations will depend on.

Joint facility to drive development of the aerospace industry in Northern Australia

Charles Darwin University (CDU) will house an advanced manufacturing and test flight facility for the development of drones, as well as broader aerospace and defence industry parts.

The CDU-RMIT TestLab is a joint investment from the Federal Government, the Northern Territory Government and CDU, each contributing $1 million to the project, which will drive workforce transformation in Northern Australia.

CDU will partner with RMIT University, who will offer its knowledge in aerospace and defence industry, and Siemens who will provide high-tech software used by leading aerospace, defence and other industries world-wide.

The facility will be located at CDU’s Casuarina campus and will adopt and showcase Industry 4.0 practices and technologies. Industry 4.0 is the digitisation of the manufacturing process and is significantly transforming the way we innovate high-tech products.

CDU Vice-Chancellor Professor Scott Bowman AO said the TestLab project would showcase CDU’s strengths to support the advanced manufacturing and strategic priorities for Northern Australia. 

“The establishment of the TestLab with RMIT is a tremendous opportunity for us to combine our expertise and facilities to strengthen the Australian aerospace and defence industry,” Professor Bowman said.

“Hosting a TestLab means we have first-hand access to sophisticated facilities that allow the advanced manufacturing of aerospace and other uncrewed autonomous technologies.”

Minister for Education Jason Clare said the Testlab will encourage university and industry collaboration and help keep Australia at the forefront of technological advancements in Industry 4.0, or the fourth industrial revolution.

“The project will strengthen the links between defence and aerospace industries and CDU and contribute to work by the NT Government to strengthen digital infrastructure in Darwin,” Minister Clare said.

“Once established, the Testlab will support advancements in the manufacture of remotely piloted aircraft as well as incorporate AI-assisted virtual planning, production, manufacture and maintenance to accelerate product quality and efficiency.”

Chief Minister of the Northern Territory Natasha Fyles, said the CDU Testlab would be a significant boost to Darwin and the Northern Territory, while also creating new educational pathways and skills relevant to defence and aerospace industries.

“The establishment of an Industry 4.0 Testlab at CDU will be an exciting and welcome addition to the Northern Territory, and gives new and exciting opportunities for our students,” Ms Fyles said.

“We are launching rockets from Arnhem Land, and building the world’s biggest solar farm in the Barkly. The addition of this new technology is the first of its kind for the NT and will build upon our advanced manufacturing capacity and strengthen Australia’s defence and aerospace research capability in the region.” 

Australian Industry 4.0 TestLabs network Chair and former Deputy Vice-Chancellor STEM College and Vice-President Digital Innovation RMIT University, Professor Aleks Subic, said that both universities brought strong capabilities in technology innovation for the aerospace, defence and space sectors. 

“RMIT has been a partner of Australia’s defence and aerospace sectors for around 100 years and this announcement marks an important milestone in the transformation of Australia’s aerospace and aviation industry,” Professor Subic said.

“RMIT and Charles Darwin University will bring the right expertise and collaborative approach to developing relevant technological solutions and workforce transformations that grow local industry.”

Director of the North Australia Centre for Autonomous Systems at CDU, Professor Hamish Campbell said the project would attract innovative new businesses to the Territory.

“We are seeking local businesses or interstate businesses wishing to relocate operations Darwin to partner with the TestLab,” Professor Campbell said.

“This is an exciting opportunity for Territorians wishing to pursue a career within the rapidly growing drone industry.”

Siemens Software Australia Vice President and Managing Director Samantha Murray welcomed the collaboration and said it is critical to prepare future workforces.

“The pathway to Industry 4.0 centres on the optimisation of opportunities presented by digitalisation and the defence industry is a leader when it comes to product ideation and creation,” Ms Murray said.

“We’re proud to partner with CDU and RMIT to bring students closer to the same high-tech software being used by leading aerospace, defence and other industries worldwide, giving them the opportunity to stretch the boundaries of product innovation.”

A range of training programs will be introduced to support Australia’s Uncrewed Autonomous Systems as well as a new Higher Diploma in Advanced Manufacturing, which is being fully funded by the Federal Government, and open to enrolment later this year.

Construction of the TestLab will begin in July in anticipation for a late 2022 opening.

Australia charges ahead with new Lithium Technology

Image: Shutterstock

Lithium demand is being driven by the ever-expanding lithium-ion battery market – the leading technology for portable electronics and electric vehicles, which has revolutionised our lives over the last 30 years.

Australia supplies about 60 per cent of the world’s lithium in the form of a mineral concentrate called spodumene. With an abundance of ‘hard rock’ lithium, we are amongst the countries with the largest lithium deposits globally.

The conventional way of extracting lithium from spodumene is in a rotary kiln, which requires very high temperatures (>1000 °C) and can only be applied to spodumene of a certain type and size.

This process is highly energy intensive, and the constraints placed on the feed applicable to this process, results in a large proportion of the lithium in these hard rock deposits to be wasted.

The issue scientists at ANSTO together with LIT have been working to address, is that these current techniques only recover between about 50 to 70 per cent lithium from the original ore.

The two organisations developed a process called LieNA®, which removes the need for high temperature processing and is ideally suited to processing of the waste, and realising the majority of the (lithium) value from Australia’s hard rock deposits.

Patented by Lithium Australia, the LieNA® technology involves an initial treatment of the waste spodumene with caustic under autoclave conditions to form a synthetic lithium sodalite which can be easily recovered.

Lithium is then easily extracted and purified in relatively straightforward, hydrometallurgical processing steps and finally isolated as lithium phosphate, which can be directly used in manufacture of lithium ferro-phosphate batteries.’

The new technology enables the majority (>95%) of the lithium value to be realised, with vastly reduced energy inputs as compared to conventional processing.

Drive costs down, and get more from your rocks

Dr Chris Griffith, Senior Process Chemist at ANSTO, explained that not only would the new technology improve the overall extraction, it avoids the energy intensive, high temperature step of conventional spodumene processing, and increases the sustainability of lithium operations world-wide.

“Until now, it has been quite accepted by industry that a large amount of lithium is ‘lost’ during processing. We’re the first in the world to achieve such an efficient level of extraction,” Dr Griffith said.

“This technology really has huge potential for an industry which is integral to our transition to the electrification of transport, and ultimately to a cleaner and greener future.”

In early 2020, Lithium Australia Limited was awarded $1.3 million from the Federal Government’s Department of Industry, Science and Technology CRC-P Round 8 program.

The overall objective of the CRC-P program is to progress the development of LieNA® to a Feasibility Study level and eventual commercialisation of the LieNA® technology.

“ANSTO has been pleased to work with Lithium Australia Limited on processing technology development since 2015, and it is sensational to see the LieNA technology reach this stage,” Dr Griffith said.

An industry partnership with huge potential for the Australian economy

Stuart Tarrant, Chief Financial Officer at Lithium Australia, said “Partnering with ANSTO to develop the LieNA® technology has been highly beneficial to Lithium Australia.

“Upcoming ESG regulations are forcing the industry to consider ways to improve recoveries and shorten supply chains.

“If commercialised, LieNA® has the potential to achieve both and as an outcome we have experienced higher interest from lithium concentrate producers.”

Demand for lithium has reached record level highs and the amount of metal used has almost quadrupled in the last decade.

“The possibilities here are tremendous – some estimates are that the global lithium-ion battery market size will grow from USD 41.1 billion in 2021 to USD 116.6 billion by 2030,” Dr Griffith said.

“Innovation like this puts Australia in a good position to move away from simply supplying a mineral concentrate to overseas converters as quickly as possible.

“It provides another avenue for Australia to maximise the value from our valuable critical and energy mineral resources and allows us to conduct more value-adding downstream processing here in Australia.”

Compared to lead-acid batteries, lithium-ion batteries lose less charge when not in use, and almost all lithium-ion battery components can be recovered and re-used.

ANSTO has more than a 40-year track record of partnership with the mining and minerals industries, and a team of more than 60 dedicated professionals and technicians working in the Minerals business unit.

First published by ANSTO.

Ground-breaking research cracks code on engineering’s biggest problem

Image: Shutterstock

With Australia in the grip of its worst-ever engineering skills shortage, first-of-its-kind research by Engineers Australia reveals the reasons women aren’t entering the profession – and what needs to happen to change that.

Shock findings from the Women in Engineering Report show that the biggest reason girls don’t choose to study engineering is that they simply don’t know what engineering is, and what engineers do.

With the new Labor Government committing to both a strong women’s agenda and addressing our skills crisis, Engineers Australia Chief Engineer Jane MacMaster says these findings are a clarion call for swift political action to stem the gender imbalance and, drive a new generation of women engineers

“Women make up 48% per cent of Australia’s workforce, yet account for just 13% per cent of the nation’s working engineers. Women are missing in action from the profession and this research tells us what we can do to change that.”

Of the 1,400 respondents, a whopping 90% of women in non-engineering fields did not consider it as a valid career option. Other barriers include the perception of engineering as too ‘male-dominated’, challenging or boring; and girls not feeling supported to do well in STEM subjects from as early as primary school.

With the research also revealing more than 90 per cent of girls at least partially committed to a field of study before year 11, MacMaster says we now have proof that early intervention and education are the key.   

“We need to target four main groups: schoolchildren, their parents, their teachers and careers advisors. If parents aren’t aware of the breadth of opportunities in engineering, they’re less likely to make their kids aware of it.”

Australian Government Women in STEM Ambassador Lisa Harvey-Smith says attracting women to engineering is critical to meeting the engineering needs of our booming economy.

“It makes no sense to ignore 51% of our population in the design and construction of our infrastructure and technologies. Australia needs to seize this opportunity, with efforts needed in explaining the positive outcomes of engineering better so that more women want to train as engineers, but most crucially in improving the culture and work practices of the industry so that they want to stay.”

Key Research findings

  • Lack of familiarity is the single top stated reason for never considering engineering
  • 90% of women in non-engineering fields either briefly or never considered engineering
  • Concerns around not enjoying or being good enough at maths and physics are also prominent
  • Most common female perceptions of engineering are ‘male dominated’ and ‘challenging’
  • Women are less likely to associate engineering with positive attributes such as ‘respected’, ‘impactful’, ‘creative’, ‘fulfilling’ and ‘exciting’.
  • There is a strong correlation between familiarity with engineering and consideration of study 65% who were familiar considered studying it compared to only 11% that were not at all familiar.

Solutions:

  • To get more young girls into engineering, we need to address their key drivers – around fulfilling work that matches their personality and interests
  • There is a perception that girls must excel in STEM subjects, not merely do well in them, to get into engineering
  • Early intervention and education are key – starting with primary school and into junior high school
  • Engineers (women and men) see value in more exposure and promotion of the profession early

Energy Innovation Series: My Town Microgrid

Image: Shutterstock

Dr Scott Dwyer, Research Principal, UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures explores how Heyfield, Victoria could dictate the path for all edge of grid towns in Australia

More and more communities are looking to make energy work better for them, spurred by a desire to use their local resources more sustainably for the greater benefit of those who live there.

While there is already substantial momentum building with local energy projects, determining a viable path is challenging. What resources can be developed? Which technologies and partners should they choose? What business models will be financially viable? How can the benefits be equally shared among the community?

MyTown aims to answer these questions for the Victorian town of Heyfield, while also seeking to develop a replicable model that can also bring benefits to the surrounding region, as well as other edge-of-grid towns around Australia.

Over the next three years, MyTown will test the viability of microgrids as a local energy solution for the town of Heyfield in Victoria.

A ‘microgrid’ can be defined as a group of homes or businesses that generate, use and share electricity. With the ability to be controlled as a single entity, microgrids are able to connect and disconnect from the main electricity grid as required.

Microgrids have the potential to enhance the integration of renewable energy, draw on local resources, drive deep carbon reductions, and overcome local grid constraints. They can also support the decarbonisation of the wider energy system while also improving overall system resilience.

However, there are many options for communities looking to understand whether a microgrid makes sense for them and determining a viable path can be difficult to navigate.

A group of people at the MyTown community energy project launch

[l-r]: Moragh McKay, Julie Bryer, Caroline Trevorrow, Tim MCoy, Emma Birchall, Scott Dwyer, Kristy Walters

The Heyfield community

main street Heyfield

Heyfield is a town of around 2,000 people located in Wellington Shire, Victoria. With a long track record in sustainability initiatives and considerable potential for low-cost and local energy, Heyfield is an ideal location to pilot a new approach with a community at the helm.

Using Heyfield as the model community, the project will bring together progressive industry, community and research partners to pilot an innovative approach to a microgrid feasibility 

As well as understanding the feasibility of a microgrid for Heyfield, the project will also develop the knowledge and tools to make it faster, easier and cheaper for other fringe-of-grid towns in regional Australia to do the same for their communities.

Want to know more?

Energy Next is a free-to-attend B2B exhibition showcasing the latest clean energy innovation and technologies, which will be held alongside Clean Energy Council’s Australian Clean Energy Summit. The event will be held at the International Convention Centre (ICC) in Sydney on the 19th-20th July. Interested parties should go here to register for the event.  

UQ secures trailblazing commercial research funding

The University of Queensland will lead Australia’s effort to supercharge commercialisation in the food and beverage industry, with a share of $362 million in federal government funding.

The UQ-led Food and Beverage Accelerator (FaBA) project will receive $50 million Trailblazer funding over four years to boost growth and innovation in the sector, potentially creating thousands of new jobs.

The Director of UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, Professor Matthew Morell said the project is backed by industry and innovation partners, along with Queensland University of Technology (QUT), the University of Southern Queensland (USQ), CSIRO and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

“This is about working together to create new technologies, products and businesses in the food and beverage sector which will ultimately create jobs and boost the Australian economy,” Professor Morell said.

“By 2030, this project aims to contribute to doubling the value of Australia’s food and beverage manufacturing sector through a focus on smart production and new ingredients, creating innovative foods and beverages.

“FaBA is expected to help attract $1 billion in investment into food and beverage manufacturing and create 1700 skilled positions, along with a further 15000 jobs across the sector.”

UQ, industry partners and UQ’s university collaborators will also invest a further $110 million funding in the project.

“This will be a catalyst for commercialisation and a game-changer for this sector,” Professor Morell said.

“This investment will allow innovative smaller businesses to accelerate their capacity for developing and manufacturing products that meet changing consumer needs, such as the desire for premium products.”

Food and beverage manufacturers will have access to affordable pilot facilities and state of the art equipment to test new products and FaBA will also work with CSIRO to use existing national facilities in food research.

Congratulating the bid team, UQ Vice-Chancellor Professor Deborah Terry said the project will allow UQ, with the support and funding from government and industry, to build successful, enduring and innovative partnerships for the benefit of the economy.

“This is an exciting opportunity to be at the forefront of research that has a critical role in creating new products, companies, technology and jobs, not just for Queensland, but the entire country,” Professor Terry said.

“I’m particularly pleased that this project will also result in direct investment in regional Queensland, with infrastructure and enterprises to be developed in Toowoomba, Mackay and Cairns.

“I’d also like to acknowledge the expertise of UQ’s commercialisation company UniQuest in supporting the development of this project from an exciting idea to reality.”  

Professor Mike Gidley, the Director of the UQ Centre for Nutrition and Food Science has been appointed Interim Director of FaBA.

The project is supported by Industry partners: Kalfresh, Simplot Australia, Gelita, v2food, GrainCorp, Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), Nourish Ingredients, All G Foods, Eden Brew, Change Foods, Phyllome, and BioSouth. Research partners: Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and University of Southern Queensland. Commercialisation partner: UniQuest. Innovations partners: AgriFood Connect, and FKG Group.

For more information about the Federal Government’s Trailblazer Universities Program, visit here.

Meteorites from the red desert of Australia support search for life on the red planet Mars

L-R Dr Jessica Hamilton, Dr Andrew Langendam and Prof Gordon Southam (UQLD) with a meteorite sample at the Australian Synchrotron

Monash UniversityUniversity of Queensland and Australian National University researchers have used ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron in their study of meteorites found on Earth that could be used in future to find evidence of life on the planet Mars.

The examination of meteorites recovered from the Nullarbor Plain in western South Australia by a joint team that included Dr Andrew Langendam from the Australian Synchrotron contained organic residues in the form of microfossils preserved in mineral veins within the dense rock.

“It has been an established site for finding meteorites since the 1980s. The dark iron-rich meteorites stand out against the white limestone and red soil of the plain, “ said Dr Langendam. Link to video

The research revealed that a variety of fossil microorganisms, diatoms, bacteria and fungi, were entombed and preserved within veins of calcite and gypsum.

X-ray fluorescence microscopy at the Australian Synchrotron supervised by instrument scientists Dr Jessica Hamilton  (then a PhD student at Monash)  and Dr David Paterson, both co-authors, confirmed that redox-active metals, such as manganese and iron, were mobilised in vein-filled cracks within the meteorite by environmental or microbial activity.

“The location and quantity of calcium, iron and manganese can be delineated in the sample by the ultra-sensitive technique. It revealed that the manganese enrichment occurred at the rim of calcite-gypsum veins,” said Dr Hamilton.

The research team noted that meteorites could preserve a suite of microfossils, organic biosignatures and records of nutrient cycling under the arid conditions on the Nullarbor.

Co-lead author on the paper published in Geochemica et Cosmochemica Acta and Frontiers in Microbiology, Dr Alastair Tait from Monash University’s School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment, said in a news report on the Monash website, “This is an original finding and it is important because it shows us that microorganisms can interact with astro-materials in a way that is vital to their metabolism.” Read more

Co-lead author Prof Gordon Southam of the University of Queensland’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences said in a news report on the UQ website, “This adds a new dimension to the search for life on Mars, targeting comparable meteorites on the red planet.”

“Essentially, they provide a time capsule of past biological activity, or, in the case of samples from the Nullarbor Plain, meteorites can serve as a refuge for life,”  said Prof Southam. Read more

“They act as lifeboats for life on a hostile surface, where there are not many bioavailable minerals,“ said Dr Langendam.

Mars has an extreme environment compared with Earth. The temperature on the desert-like surface of the Red Planet is approximately -62 degrees Celsius. Its atmosphere is very thin and made up of 96 per cent carbon dioxide. The atmosphere of Mars is far less dense than the atmosphere of Earth, with inhospitable low atmospheric pressure.

“By studying how meteorites on Earth are altered by weathering and microbial activity, it may help to know what chemical signatures to look for when we study the same meteorite material that fell on Mars, which could have been weathered and potentially altered by any life there. Looking at meteorite chemistry as an environmental record, and as a potential way to compare processes on Earth and other planets, is a new idea and really exciting,” said Dr Hamilton.

Although the Martian landscape has been studied by a series of exploratory vehicles, including the most recent Perseverance Rover, no actual samples from the planet’s surface have been returned to Earth as yet.  The samples are analysed by instruments on the surface.

The research team suggested that samples returned from Mars will be used to build an overall picture of the volcanic and sedimentary history of Mars, in which past life might be preserved.

A more recent report on the project was reported in Astrobiology, where it was featured on the cover.

ANSTO supports a number of research activities relating to planetary science. Learn more

Polymer batteries a step closer

Dr Zhongfan Jia developing better battery storage capability for electroactive polymer ‘organic radical batteries’ at his Flinders University laboratory.

An international research team including Flinders University has moved closer to developing a more sustainable, rechargeable ‘organic’ battery model by doubling its energy storage capability.

With the aim to one day power small electronic devices and divert toxic waste from landfill, researchers at Flinders University with Chinese collaborators have used a catalysis strategy to produce two-electron storage in organic radical batteries, or ‘ORBs’ – a big advance in improving their storage capability.

The emerging rechargeable battery technology uses more environmentally friendly materials than current metal-based batteries. ORBs can be made from sustainable organic compounds to reduce reliance on lithium and cobalt mining. These rare materials are usually not recycled in modern batteries and end up in rubbish.

However, the takeover of ORBs in electronics and other small device markets has so far been limited because of their lower capacity than commercialised lithium-ion batteries.

Previous research has found only one electron can be reversibly stored in the materials, which only provides the battery with a maximum capacity of 110 mAh/g.

“Catalysis has been widely used in lithium-based batteries such as lithium-oxygen batteries and lithium-sulphur batteries to improve their energy and power performance,” says senior lecturer in chemistry Dr Zhongfan Jia, a research leader at Flinders University’s Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology.

The research team firstly apply this strategy to ORBs and successfully achieve reversible two-electron storage in a polymer-based ORB.

Dr Jia’s research team has recently reported all-organic polymer battery with a cell voltage of 2.8 V, which is one of the highest voltages in organic batteries. Now, this work further doubles the energy storage capability.

“This battery can deliver a capacity of 175 mAh/g, which is comparable to the commercialised lithium-ion battery, making a step closer to the practical use of ORBs.

“Our next goal is to combine these advances to develop organic batteries that can be implemented in consumer electronics,” Dr Jia says.

The article, ‘Anthraquinone-Catalyzed TEMPO Reduction to Realize Two-Electron Energy Storage of Poly(TEMPO-methacrylate)’ 2022 by Wenbiao Li, Shangxu Jiang, Yuan Xie, Xiaoqing Yan, Fugang Zhao, Xinchang Pang, Kai Zhang and Zhongfan Jia has been published in ACS Energy Letters DOI: 10.1021/acsenergylett.2c00063.

Also see the previous article, An All-Organic battery with 2.8 V output voltage (2022) by Shangxu Jiang, Wenbiao Li, Yuan Xie, Xiaoqing Yan, Kai Zhang and Zhongfan Jia was published in Chemical Engineering Journal DOI: 10.1016/j.cej.2022.134651.

CaptionDr Zhongfan Jia developing better battery storage capability for electroactive polymer ‘organic radical batteries’ at his Flinders University laboratory.

Meet Clive, UniSA’s first off-the-shelf quadruped 

Image: Supplied, UniSA

Weighing in at just 13 kilograms, with a price tag of $25,000, and equipped with 13 motors and multiple on-body cameras, Clive is the newest addition to the Australian Research Centre for Interactive and Virtual Environments (IVE), based at Mawson Lakes.

His mentor, Dr James Walsh, an Enterprise Fellow at UniSA STEM, says the autonomous robot is the first university-owned quadruped in South Australia and will help advance research in multiple areas. The robot is a Unitree Go 1.

“Quadrupeds like Clive are now commonly used for remote inspections by defence, space, mining and utility companies, and for search and rescue, but we are interested in taking his capabilities much further,” Dr Walsh says.

“He’s going to prove invaluable in our augmented and virtual reality research at IVE, helping us to see how Clive perceives the world and how we can leverage that for everyday scenarios.

“People have different reactions to quadrupeds like Clive. Some people find him confronting as they don’t know how he sees or perceives them, given that he can act autonomously,” Dr Walsh says.

“We want to find a way for Clive to be able to communicate with those around him, so he becomes less of a black box and more of a two-way communication between human and robot.”

Dr Walsh says it’s possible that quadrupeds could become commonplace at airports, where strict licensing and regulations restrict the use of aerial drones.

“We can install the same cameras and sensing equipment in quadrupeds that we do in aerial drones. Clive could do inspections at Adelaide Airport, for example, without the risk of being sucked into a jet engine.”

The multiple cameras fixed around his body ensure that Clive has an almost 360-degree view of his environment, allowing him to recognise objects and people, and eventually understand human gestures.

“Technology like this is the ultimate demonstration of STEM in action. It brings together electrical and mechanical engineering, maths and computer science and shows us what is possible when we merge all these different skills,” Dr Walsh says.

Footage of Clive is available at https://youtu.be/vlqerxq5TyM

New data shows health not registering as a major election issue

Health was a dominant issue in the 2016 and 2019 elections, yet according to
media monitoring data powered by Meltwater and analysed by London Agency, it is failing to
cut through in the media coverage and on social platforms despite the country being in the
midst of a pandemic.

This defies popular consensus earlier this year that the election would be a referendum on
the government’s handling of COVID-19. That health hasn’t been a priority makes the task of
getting a message out in the media that much harder for medical technology, IVD and
pharmaceutical companies.

Samples taken from two recent weeks of the campaign (April 20-26 and April 27 – 3 May)
found Labor has consistently maintained the higher share of voice over the Coalition in
traditional and social media, with other parties struggling to land at all. Share of voice is
defined as the of total number of media stories and social media conversations about an
organisation, compared to those of its competitor.

While plenty of policies have been announced by both major parties, this data suggests only  a couple have been driving the bulk of the media discussions on health.

In the week leading up to April 26, trending themes skewed towards the Coalition, which  would explain why words such as “economy”, “political marketing opportunity” and “truth”  appeared frequently; all terms associated with discussions on the Prime Minister. 

The past week has the seen the focus switch to the cost-of-living crisis, with related terms  such as “inflation”, “interest rates” and “mortgage” featuring prominently. 

In both weeks, health took a back seat to more salient as war in the east and economic  issues in the west raged on. 

When you dissect health as an election issue*, the Coalition leads in terms of volume of  coverage, owning 52% of the discussion. However, it also trends more negatively on  sentiment at 36% and only 13% positivity, compared to Labor’s even split for negative and  positive coverage at 22%.

The disparity in sentiment correlates closely to the key themes dominating health  discussions on both parties. 

Labor is running on a traditional platform of aged care, Medicare and funding for hospitals,  which pulls through in media coverage. 

Conversely, the word “cuts” appears frequently in Coalition-focused health stories, while the  Prime Minister’s misplaced “blessed” comment on not having children with disability drew  fierce criticism. Actual policy announcements appear to have been lost in the noise, which  will be a concern for the government. 

Interestingly, the Coalition’s attack lines aimed at Labor for re-running the 2016 ‘Mediscare’  campaign have not carried into social media conversations. Conservative-supporting News  Corp titles running quotes from key Coalition spokespeople have done most of the heavy  lifting on this topic.

Some key events driving the election discussions around health in the media: 

April 1: Labor goes big on aged care in the Budget 

April 13: Labor pledges to establish Medicare bulk billed urgent care clinics. Greens call for gender surgery to go on Medicare. 

April 17: Senator Anne Ruston announced as the candidate to take over from Greg Hunt as  health minister if the coalition is re-elected. Reporting of the appointment focussed on  Ruston’s historic comments on the sustainability of Medicare, which in turn produced a drag  on sentiment in the coverage. 

April 21: PM criticized for saying he is “blessed” to not have children with disability. Dylan  Alcott and Labor respond which further amplified the negative coverage. 

John Emmerson, Manager Director of specialist healthcare communications agency London  Agency, says it is surprising that COVID-19 has been a tepid issue so far this campaign. 

“So far in this election health has been the dog that hasn’t barked. The pandemic has  dominated our lives for the last two years, so it is surprising that reporting of the federal  election hasn’t followed trends seen in state elections where the handling of the pandemic  has been decisive in the final outcome. 

“It’s far for from over, but what we’re seeing are more traditional issues dictating the health  discussion. This is probably welcome news for a COVID-weary electorate, but the health  industry should note the pandemic dividend is only temporary and now might be the time to  start preparing for what comes next.” 

Scientists discover new phage therapy combination to combat antibiotic-resistance

A preclinical study led by Monash University scientists has found that using a combination of phages and antibiotics may be far more effective against bacterial infections than using the agents individually.

The study, published today in EBioMedicine, has wide ranging implications for antibiotic resistant bacterial infections – described by the World Health Organization (WHO), as one of the greatest threats to global health.

Phage therapy is the use of bacterial viruses to clear a bacterial infection. In recent years there has been growing interest in the use of phage therapy as a potential treatment to combat antibiotic-resistant infections.

“However, questions remain around the efficacy of phage therapy as a treatment option,” said study author Dr Jeremy Barr, from the Monash University’s School of Biological Sciences, and the Centre to Impact AMR.

“This has been obfuscated by the fact that clinical phage therapy is almost always administered alongside antibiotics, making it difficult to determine the efficacy of phage therapy.”

In this study the researchers used a phage-antibiotic combinationagainst the world’s leading antibiotic-resistant superbug – Acinetobacter baumannii.

In previous work, the researchers showed that phages can kill antibiotic resistant A. baumannii, but in doing so they found that phage-resistant mutants emerged; similar to how antibiotic-resistance emerges with prolonged antibiotic use, phage-resistance also occurs.

“We found that while A. baumannii rapidly became phage-resistant, in doing so they were also resensitised to the same antibiotics they use to resist,” said lead study author Fernando L. Gordillo Altamirano, from the Monash School of Biological Sciences.

“Applying this knowledge, we conducted a pre-clinical trial using animal models and found that the combined use of phages and antibiotics led to significantly improved treatment outcomes than either antibiotics or phage therapy alone.”

Dr Barr said of particular note the findings explained the mechanism through which the combination of these two agents had resulted in a superior treatment effect.

“We have been able to confirm that, even in complex living systems, treatment with our characterised phages can reliably steer bacteria towards a phage-resistant variant that is re-sensitised to antibiotics.”

The researchers had hypothesised that the success of the combination therapy in vivo was due to the emergence of phage-resistant mutants exhibiting antimicrobial resensitisation, followed by targeted treatment with the resensitised antibiotic.

“We believe further research in the field is likely to lead to the discovery of innovative uses of combination therapies using phages and antibiotics in combination, rather than proposing phages as a substitute to antibiotics,” said Dr Barr.

Industry-backed plan to navigate Australian biotech into the future

For the first time in 20 years, Australia’s biotechnology sector has united to launch the Biotechnology Blueprint: A Decadal Strategy for the Australian Biotechnology Industry – a shared industry vision and ‘blueprint’ navigating the biotech ecosystem as it aspires to build solid companies, create more jobs, commercialise more biotechnologies, build sovereign capabilities, and deliver greater benefits and returns to Australia and all Australians.

With COVID-19 serving as an important reminder that Australia will need our biotech industry to help it face uncertain future threats, including the ongoing and increasingly common chronic health challenges, there has never been a more important time to proactively plan and shape the coming decade as a community and as an industry.

This valuable opportunity has been realised through the development of a clear decadal plan for the Australian biotechnology industry, as it strives to maximise on Australia’s vibrant and valuable sector, and identify the steps that should be taken in the near term to ensure that positive future is realised.
As the voice of Australia’s biotechnology industry, AusBiotech has led the development of the Biotechnology Blueprint (Blueprint) over the past two years, and it comprises of the contribution of almost 350 individuals and organisations, all working to realise the potential of biotechnology in our society.
AusBiotech CEO Lorraine Chiroiu said, “Australia has a wealth of innovative medicines, vaccines, and medical technologies being developed; to support them reaching Australian patients and improve and extend the quality of human life, we need to focus on creating the right environment for companies to innovate and grow, build dedicated research infrastructure, and enlist the Australian healthcare system as an active partner.”

“The Biotechnology Blueprint is, at its core, a ‘blueprint’ for societal good, and through its implementation, we can herald an era of Australian discovery, translation and innovation. It’s a chance to achieve great things for Australian biotech, Australia, and Australians.”

The Australian biotech industry’s vision is that over the coming decade it will: become a more mature, vibrant ecosystem; with a more established global and domestic standing; and be a stronger, more positive contributor to the Australian economy and its population.

Presenting a solutions-based approach, the Blueprint responds to well-articulated, stubborn issues that the industry has grappled with for years, including: access to capital to feed the need for commercialisation, clinical development and growth; growing companies through the commercialisation pathway and reaching market; gaps in technology transfer and commercialisation support; and incentives and structural supports along the pipeline.
The Blueprint aligns with the Federal Department of Health’s new ‘Biotechnology in Australia – Strategic Plan for Health and Medicine’, released as part of the 2022-23 Budget, and was first announced at AusBiotech’s CEO Forum in Canberra in 2019. These long-term commitments traversing election cycles are critical to structurally support Australia’s biotechnology sector and to deliver on the vision and the strategic investments that will solidify and strengthen Australia’s sovereignty and global standing in biotechnology.

Download it here.

UNSW receives major crypto gift to fund open-source AI tool to prevent pandemics

UNSW Sydney has received the largest known cryptocurrency donation to an Australian higher education institution, which will support an open-source tool providing pandemic early warning signals.

Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin has gifted USDC$4M to establish the Shiba Inu OSINT Initiative, funded by his Balvi Filantropic Fund and led by UNSW’s Kirby Institute, to prevent future global pandemics.

Buterin’s crypto gift – which has converted to $AU5.3 million – will support the further development of EPIWATCH, an open-source intelligence (OSINT) tool developed by UNSW Kirby Institute’s Professor Raina MacIntyre to provide pandemic early warning signals.

EPIWATCH development began in 2016 and is underpinned by extensive research and testing. It harnesses open-source data and uses artificial intelligence to create early warnings. The tool works by scanning millions of items of publicly available online data, such as social media and news reports, for early signals of epidemics. It uses vast amounts of data in real time, detecting changes to what is considered ‘normal’ reports about health concerns. This is much quicker than waiting for formal reporting through doctors and laboratories. EPIWATCH does not replace formal reporting, but allows earlier warnings of epidemics that can be formally investigated by health authorities.

The gift will allow the team at UNSW’s Kirby Institute, spear-headed by Prof. MacIntyre, head of the Biosecurity Research Program, to make EPIWATCH accessible to low-and middle income countries.

“Imagine if someone had detected COVID-19 before it spread around the world – that is our vision,” said Prof. MacIntyre.

“Using AI and real-time open-source data, EPIWATCH does not depend on people making reports. It is a great equaliser and can overcome weak health systems and censorship.”

The OSINT tool has been developed so far thanks to grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF). The Shiba Inu OSINT Initiative will enable EPIWATCH to be used in low and middle-income countries where Prof. Macintyre says it is needed most.

“To be most effective, it needs to be accessible in local languages and used widely at the grass roots level down to villages and small towns around the world. This will give us the best prospect of preventing pandemics,” said Prof. MacIntyre.

Buterin said, “The earlier we can detect new epidemics as they come, the more quickly we can start developing treatments or even stop them before they become large. Open analysis of public data is an excellent alternative to more intrusive forms of monitoring, which are also often only available to governments and other high bidders but closed to the public. By contrast, an open source and open access approach that allows researchers, including members of the public, to work collaboratively across the world can be more easily improved and scaled to detect new pandemics wherever they begin.”

The gift from the Balvi Filantropic Fund is UNSW’s first crypto gift and is believed to be the largest crypto gift accepted by an Australian higher education institution. Buterin has already made significant philanthropic contributions for social impact, including to improve the COVID response in India (India Crypto Relief Fund) and to support Ukrainian relief.

Professor Attila Brungs, Vice-Chancellor and President of UNSW Sydney said:

“We are delighted to receive such generous support from the Balvi fund to establish the Shiba Inu OSINT initiative.

“We have seen the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic around the world in the past two years. By making EPIWATCH accessible in lower income countries, the Shiba Inu OSINT Initiative has the potential to avert future world crises like pandemics. It’s a powerful opportunity to drive meaningful social change and far better health outcomes, not just for the people in those countries but for everyone globally.

Universities blaze a trail to commercialise defence research

Today, Wednesday 20 April, the Defence Trailblazer: Concept to Sovereign Capability (CSC) bid, led by the University of Adelaide in partnership with the University of New South Wales, has been endorsed to assist the country’s economic recovery under the Trailblazer Universities Program.

A government commitment of $50 million in cash over four years will be matched by $50 million of funding from the two universities and $10 million from the CSIRO. More than $140 million will be invested in the project by over 50 industry partners located around the country bringing the total value of the program to approximately $250 million.

It is estimated that CSC will have a net economic benefit to the Australian economy of $1.5 billion over ten years and will deliver more than 2500 FTE jobs over four years directly linked to the activities of the program.

CSC aims to create a new trust-based cross-sector culture founded on shared risk, shared problem solving, shared success, and a shared sense of strategic urgency.

Industry and academia will support Defence’s pull-through of leading-edge capabilities, including dual-use technologies, to sustain the ability of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to defend national security interests in a highly volatile geo-strategic environment.

The project will create a step change in the Australian defence innovation culture to enable research and industry innovators to quickly fix on the Department of Defence’s priority research translation challenges, rapidly secure capital for collaborative ideation, proto-type potential solutions, commercialise the winners in defence and civilian markets, and accelerate the transition of competitive advantage capabilities into the hands of ADF operators.

Both universities have deep partnering arrangements with some of Australia’s largest defence companies and SMEs and new companies spun out of them. Researchers will pivot to solve complex defence problems alongside industry in both Defence and civilian market sectors. Government, industry and universities will drive together in new ways to push concept demonstrators across the “valley of death” and into manufacturing. The universities will drive outwards towards entrepreneurial and commercial outcomes-driven collaboration.

In partnership with industry, the universities have secured investment and commitments to integrate emerging technologies, and scale manufacturing, support the Australian Defence Force (ADF) capability and to capitalise on dual-use technologies in the following priority areas:

  • Quantum Materials, Technologies & Computing
  • Defensive Hypersonics & Countermeasures
  • Information Warfare & Advanced Cyber Technologies
  • Robotics, Autonomous Systems & AI (RAS-AI)
  • Defence Space Technologies

Over 80 per cent of industry commitments to the program are from Australia-based SMEs: an unprecedented level of commitment.This involvement of SMEs underlines the potential to upscale Australia’s sovereign defence capability, support national security and drive economic growth through commercialisation in dual-use technology areas.

Significant support for CSC, that has been forthcoming from the broad range of industry partners, will be leveraged to produce high-quality research, design and development outcomes. This will form the basis of CSC’s commercialisation output, which will be of significant benefit to the Australian economy and assist in its post-pandemic recovery.

CSC will allocate substantial seed funding ($34 million) to enable innovators in industry and universities to create deployable prototypes of disruptive technologies to meet Defence’s priority future requirements. Successful commercialisation of these technologies in defence and dual-use market opportunities will be enabled through a $126 million Advanced Innovation Fund. These two funding streams underscore the focus of CSC to commercialise technology and grow the Australian economy.

Australia’s defence innovation community will be strengthened by enabling more people across all sectors to see their career goals reflected in a deeper commitment to national defence including initiatives to drive diversity in the workforce

Benefits from CSC will be felt in the longer term through plans for a centre of expertise in research commercialisation that will assist other universities and industry partners to leverage potential in other sectors of the economy.     

Comments about the successful Defence Trailblazer: Concept to Sovereign Capability bid:

Ms Christine Zeitz, General Manager Asia Pacific, Northrup Grumman & CSC Chair Designate

“The Defence Trailblazer will transform the nature of the relationship between the academic sector, defence industry and the Department of Defence, compelling universities to pivot outwards towards entrepreneurial and commercial outcomes-driven collaboration. Our policies, processes, services, workforce incentives and rewards will be realigned to this new approach.

”CSC will address the pressing requirement for a strategic response from industry and academia to the strategic threat environment. It is imperative that we adopt new approaches, to drive research translation and sovereign manufacturing as key industry inputs to defence capability.”

Major General Susan Coyle, Head of Information Warfare, Australian Defence Force

“The Defence Trailblazer: Concept to Sovereign Capability program signals the start of a closer relationship between Defence, research organisations and defence industry that will see Australia’s sovereign defence capability significantly strengthened.

“Mutually reinforcing this relationship is the key to accelerating the translation of research into commercialised and deployable Australian Defence Force capabilities.

“New technology developed under CSC will sustain the Australian Defence Force’s ability to defend national security interests in a highly volatile geo-strategic environment.”

Professor Peter Høj, Vice-Chancellor and President, University of Adelaide:

“The University of Adelaide is proud to be named alongside our partner, the University of New South Wales, to assist the country’s economic recovery with the Defence Trailblazer: Concept to Sovereign Capability project.

“CSC will result in a profound and transformative change to our defence innovation landscape, and will meet a long-held ambition to build more sovereign capability for the Australian defence sector.

“The University of Adelaide will apply its research expertise in defence-relevant areas, notably quantum materials, hypersonic countermeasures, information warfare, space and artificial intelligence, to help improve Australia’s sovereign capaibility.

“CSC will grow Australian prosperity by creating new sovereign defence capabilities and strengthening supply chain resilience, all nested in the national interest.”

Professor Attila Brungs, Vice-Chancellor and President, University of New South Wales:

“We are delighted to be able to work with the University of Adelaide and industry partners on research projects that develop into real word outcomes. The program will drive a step change for Australia in the defence related industries. 

“University-industry collaboration is imperative to ensure that research gets translated into outcomes that benefit all of Australia. We have a proud track record at UNSW of quantum, cyber, hypersonics, robotics and space technology research which are supporting Australia’s national capability.”

Dr Stephen Rodda, Chief Innovation & Commercialisation Officer, University of Adelaide and bid-lead for the project

“CSC will expand Australia’s defence industry capabilities to develop and service international export markets with strategic partners through measures including assistance to develop supply chains, transfer of IP protection expertise, transfer of cybersecurity expertise, and promotion of government and private support programs to deliver new technologies for the defence sector and, importantly, civilian markets, where possible.

“With more than $140 million committed by industry in our to Defence Trailblazer CSC in less than two months and a total program value of $250 million, a clear signal has been sent by industry about the appetite for strategic risk in the defence industry and the desire to leverage the skills and capabilities within our university sector.

“More than 80% of companies already committed to participate in CSC are Australian owned, and all are Australian based, which underpins the value of our proposal for sovereign capability and national security.”

Non-invasive skin cancer treatment manufactured by ANSTO in Southern Sydney

ANSTO has been licensed as the Australian manufacturing partner of an innovative, non-invasive treatment for non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC).

OncoBeta’s epidermal radioisotope therapy, Rhenium-SCT® (Skin Cancer Therapy) has already been used to successfully treat 1,900 NMSC lesions from patients around the world. And now OncoBeta is increasing activities in Australia alongside the International Registry and the EPIC-Skin study (Efficacy of Personalised Irradiation with Rhenium-SCT – for the treatment of non-melanoma skin cancer) – researching the efficacy, safety, quality of life, treatment comfort and cosmetic outcomes.

The innovative, non-invasive therapy utilises the radioisotope Rhenium-188 and is applied only to the area requiring treatment, sparing healthy tissue.

“We’re very proud to team up with OncoBeta to establish local manufacturing of Rhenium-SCT® on our campus and to see Australian patients gain access to this innovative new therapy. Our core mission is to improve the health of Australians and to support industry – this partnership enables us to do both,” Mr Jenkinson said.

“ANSTO is the leader in nuclear science in Australia and has extensive experience in the advanced manufacturing of nuclear medicines for the diagnosis and treatment of a range of diseases including cancer.”

ANSTO’s General Manager of Business Development and Commercialisation Rosanne Robinson added, “we’re excited that OncoBeta has joined our growing innovation community on our Lucas Heights Campus in Sydney,. It is focused on attracting entrepreneurs and innovative companies who want to leverage the opportunity to be co-located with ANSTO and to access our unique expertise in the nuclear industry.”

OncoBeta recently announced the commencement of the EPIC-Skin study with the world’s very first patients being treated at Gold Coast. ANSTO will be manufacturing and supplying the Rhenium-188 to all study centres in Australia.

The global incidence of non-melanoma skin cancers has been increasing over recent decades. It is estimated there are over 7 million non-melanoma skin cancer cases reported globally each year.[1] [2]

Non-melanoma skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in Australia with 374,000 people treated each year.[3]


[1] Global Burden of Disease Cancer Collaboration, et al. JAMA Oncol. 2019;5(12):1749-1768.

[2] Ciążyńska M, et al. Sci Rep. 2021;11(1):4337.

[3] Staples et al 2006

ANSTO Live Event: Accelerating deep tech businesses

In-person and online event: Friday 20 May 2022 

Accelerating Deep Tech Businesses is the fourth instalment in the ANSTO x Science Meets Business Innovation Series. Bringing together science leaders, deep tech entrepreneurs, industry, academic partners and national organisations, this in-person and online event will be an opportunity to hear from, and connect with, those who embrace challenge-based innovation and collaboration. 

Join a dynamic live panel discussion examining the opportunities and challenges facing deep tech businesses across fields such as health, space, energy, the environment and advanced manufacturing. 

Panelists include: 

  • Shan Shan Wang, Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Roam Technologies. She formed Roam Technologies in 2014 to enhance people’s quality of life through novel health technologies.
  • Dr Tim Boyle, Director, Innovation and Commercialisation at ANSTO. He is the responsible officer and founder of the nandin Innovation Centre, a deep technology centre for commercialisation, experimentation, and entrepreneurial learning.
  • Annie Parker, Executive Director Tech Central at Greater Sydney, who has a proven track record of building ecosystems, launching & running startup accelerator programmes & in delivering business results in high profile commercial roles.
  • Murray Hurps,  Director of Entrepreneurship for UTS, leading the work of the University to inspire and support technology-enabled entrepreneurs.

Attend the event in person at ANSTO and network with people who are also exploring how government, industry and science research can work together to make the most of Australia’s deep tech strengths. 

ANSTO’s innovation centre, nandin, is a place where science and technology entrepreneurs, startups and graduates come together, to challenge, design, innovate and commercialise, creating new jobs in the high-growth industries of tomorrow.

Located within the ANSTO Innovation Precinct in Southern Sydney and set amongst Australia’s most significant research infrastructure, nandin is home to a vibrant community of startups, graduates and industries developing ingenious solutions to solve unmet challenges in our world.

Plant-based patties, lab-grown meat and insects: how the protein industry is innovating

Image: Shutterstock

As demand for alternative protein sources grows, Australians are increasingly looking for options that are healthy, sustainable and ethically made.

At CSIRO, we have produced a “protein roadmap” to guide investments in a diverse range of new products and ingredients. We believe plant-based patties, lab-made meat and insects are just some of the foods set to fill Australian fridges by 2030.

The roadmap sketches out the foundations for a future with greater choice for consumers, and better outcomes for Australian producers across all types of protein.

Changing protein preferences

Australia is one of the world’s largest per-capita beef consumers, but there has been a steady decline in consumption over the past two decades.

The most common reason for eating less red meat is cost, followed by concerns related to health, the environment, and animal welfare.

At the same time, meat consumption among the middle class in countries such as China and Vietnam has been rising.

This shift in demand is creating an opportunity for protein producers to expand and diversify.

Producing plant-based protein locally

The plant protein industry is still small in Australia. However, it is ramping up rapidly.

The total number of plant-based protein products on grocery shelves has doubled over the past year to more than 200. Recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows demand for these products has increased by about 30% in the past two years.

Plant-based food products are made by processing various plant ingredients (such as wholegrains, legumes, beans, nuts and oilseeds) into food products, including breads, pasta, and alternatives to meat and dairy.

A bird's eye view of a plant-based patty in one hand and a cup of legumes in the other hand.
Legumes are often used to create plant-based patties. Shutterstock

Lupins, chickpeas and lentils can be turned into plant-based burgers, while protein powders can be made from faba or mung beans.

Most plant-based products available now are either imported or made in Australia using imported ingredients, so there is plenty of room for Australian producers to enter the industry.

The story behind the steak

Meat will continue to be a staple in many people’s diets for years to come.

When we do eat meat, Australian consumers are increasingly asking questions about where their meat came from. On this front, “digital integrity” systems can be a useful solution.

These systems track everything from the origin of ingredients, to nutrition, sustainable packaging, fair trade and organic certifications. They also keep a record of associated labour conditions, carbon footprint, water use, chemical use, animal welfare consideration, and impacts to biodiversity and air quality.

One example is made by Sydney-based firm NanoTag Technology: a unique micro-dot matrix pattern printed on the packaging of meat products which, when scanned with a pocket reader, verifies the authenticity of the product. Buyers can see the product’s pack date, batch number and factory of origin.

Seafood is also an important source of healthy and low-fat protein. Demand is growing for local, inexpensive white-flesh fish such as barramundi and Murray cod.

While Australia produces 11,000 tonnes of white-flesh fish annually, it also imports almost ten times this amount to help meet annual demand.

Responding to this demand, the Australian aquaculture industry has ambitions to reach 50,000 tonnes of homegrown produce by 2030.

Fermented foods

Precision fermentation is another technology for creating protein-rich products and ingredients – potentially worth A$2.2 billion by 2030.

Traditional fermentation involves using microorganisms (such as bacteria and yeast) to create food including yoghurt, bread or tempeh.

In precision fermentation, you customise the microorganisms to create new products. The US-based Every Company, uses customised microorganism strains to create a chicken-free substitute for egg white. Similarly, Perfect Day has created a cow-free milk.

Man made meats

Still want to eat meat, but are concerned about animal welfare or environmental impacts? Cultivated or cell-based meat is biologically similar to the regular variety, but the animal cells are grown in a lab, not a farm.

Meat sample in open disposable plastic cell culture dish in modern laboratory or production facility. Concept of clean meat cultured in vitro from animal somatic cells.

Australian company Vow is making pork and chicken, as well as kangaroo, alpaca and water buffalo meat using cells from animals. These products are not yet commercially available, though chef Neil Perry did use some of them to create a menu in 2020.

Edible insects

Edible insects, such as crickets and mealworms, have been part of cuisines around the world for millennia, including Australian First Nations Peoples.

Insects have a high nutritional value, are rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, folic acid and vitamins B12, C and E.

Insect farming is also considered to have a low environmental footprint, and requires less land, water and energy.

Australian company Circle Harvest sells a range of edible insect products including pastas and chocolate brownie mixes enriched with cricket powder.

Protein is vital to our health. However, until now its production has placed strain on the health of most other ecosystems. CSIRO’s protein roadmap offers not only sustainability, but also more choice for consumers and opportunities for Australian producers.

Katherine Wynn, Lead Economist, CSIRO Futures, CSIRO and Michelle Colgrave, Professor of Food and Agricultural Proteomics, CSIRO

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Engineers Australia CEO receives prestigious Women in Industry award

Engineers Australia CEO Dr Bronwyn Evans AM has been honoured with the Women in Industry Excellence in Engineering Award at a gala dinner in Melbourne.

Dr Evans was acknowledged as an outstanding engineer and trailblazer in her field – she was the first woman to graduate from electrical engineering at Wollongong University and her career has taken her from industry and academia to the boardroom.  

The first woman to occupy the role of CEO at Engineers Australia, Dr Evans was previously the first female CEO of Standards Australia, where she was instrumental in improving the standards development process and was elected to a global role on the ISO’s governing President’s Committee.

She has held a plethora of non-executive positions, many on a volunteer basis, in areas including Industry4.0, STEM, industry-academia connections, construction and innovation.

Dr Evans is a Chartered engineer and Honorary Fellow of Engineers Australia. In 2021, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by Swinburne University and appointed as a Member (AM) of the Order of Australia for significant service to engineering, to standards and to medical technology.

In accepting the award, Dr Evans said there was still much work to do to increase the number of women in industry.

“Nights like tonight are important so we can celebrate our successes. However, we still need to have difficult conversations about education, bias, assumptions and missed opportunities for women in industry,” she said.

We know we will have succeeded when women are represented 50 per cent top to bottom.  I urge all of us here tonight to use our profiles and our influence to be role models and to be champions for the amazing women who are joining our industries and professions.”

Category sponsor BAE Systems said they were particularly proud to sponsor the Engineering Excellence category in 2021.

“We have female engineers to thank for many of the world’s greatest innovations, yet they make up only 12% of engineers employed in Australia. Awards such as these are important to not only celebrate achievement but to also provide inspiration to others to break down barriers and excel in the engineering industry”, they said.

The Women in Industry Awards recognise outstanding women from the industrials sector – those who work in mining, road transport, manufacturing, engineering, logistics, bulk handling, waste management, rail and infrastructure.

Engineering diamonds to unlock computing potential

Image: Supplied

La Trobe University has formed a partnership to pioneer new diamond fabrication techniques, aiming to accelerate the development of a low-cost, portable alternative to supercomputers.

As part of the Research Hub for Diamond Quantum Materials, researchers at La Trobe, RMIT University and Australian-German quantum computing hardware company, Quantum Brilliance, will engineer the diamond computer chip that sits at the heart of diamond quantum computers.

La Trobe Pro Vice-Chancellor (Graduate & Global Research) Professor Chris Pakes, said diamond-based quantum computing is already disrupting digital platforms that underpin a wide range of industries, including science, health and agriculture.

“Unlike other quantum-based supercomputers sitting in large server-based formats, diamond-based quantum computers are low-cost, portable technologies able to operate at room temperature,” Professor Pakes said.

“This enables them to be used in a broad range of edge applications, which may not be possible with supercomputers, such as satellites, health environments and manufacturing.”

Professor Pakes said the partnership will leverage both universities’ expertise in diamond growth, surface imaging and engineering, and combine it with Quantum Brilliance’s industry experience and manufacturing capabilities.

“All three organisations have world-leading expertise and resources in diamond material sciences – making the hub well placed to develop innovative new approaches to advanced manufacturing in this important future industry,” Professor Pakes said.

Co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Quantum Brilliance, Marcus Doherty, said the hub is another example of collaborative research efforts advancing diamond-based quantum technology and delivering economic benefit to Australia in the years to come.

“Through our partnership with La Trobe University and RMIT University, we will develop the fabrication techniques necessary to enhance the performance of diamond-based quantum computers, to deliver real-world solutions to a broad spectrum of industries,” Mr Doherty said.

The hub is already pursuing several multi-million dollar research projects that are pioneering new diamond fabrication techniques. These Australian-based projects are partially funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) and Quantum Brilliance. 

The research hub is designed to not only make great strides in developing synthetic diamond accelerators, but to create a network of experts in diamond material science for future industry advancements in both countries.

space industry

Australia’s first national space mission central to budget 2022-23

The Australian Government is establishing Australia’s first ever national space  mission as part of a plan for a stronger future. This is an historic investment that will strengthen Australia’s sovereign capability as well as grow the sector and create hundreds of new jobs. 

The 2022-23 Budget includes $1.16 billion to 2038-39 and $38.5 million per annum  ongoing for the first phase of a National Space Mission for Earth Observation, which  will see Australia design, build, and operate four new satellites. 

Led by the Australian Space Agency, this Mission will make Australia more  self-sufficient when it comes to critical Earth Observation data, while also growing  capability and job opportunities that will set the industry up for future success. 

Minister for Science and Technology Melissa Price said this was the most significant  investment ever made in Australia’s civil space sector. 

“The information we get from Earth observation satellites is central to our everyday  life – from forecasting the weather and responding to natural disasters through to  managing the environment and supporting our farmers,” Minister Price said.  

“This investment reinforces the Government’s commitment to growing  space capability here at home so we can remain safe and secure, and create  important economic opportunities. 

“This in an investment both for the now and the future of the Australian space sector.  

“Developing and launching these first four Australian satellites will create the  foundation of industry know-how for more complex space missions next decade. That means more expertise and more jobs right here in Australia in this critical  industry.

“It will also solidify our relationships with like-minded countries so we can continue to  draw on the data from their satellites for the benefit of all Australians.” 

It is estimated the project will create more than 500 jobs over the first four years of  the build phase, with an anticipated supplier network of more than 100 companies  from across Australia.  

The National Space Mission will be led by the Australian Space Agency in  partnership with Geoscience Australia, CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and  Defence

The Budget also includes: 

∙ $65.7 million over five years from 2021-22 to set the conditions for rocket  launch from Australia and fast track the launch of space assets and research  projects by Australian businesses and researchers; 

∙ $12.1 million over five years from 2021-22 (and $0.3 million per year ongoing)  to remove cost recovery requirements under the Space (Launches and  Returns) Act 2018 and undertake a regulatory reform program to streamline  interactions with industry; 

∙ $9.5 million over two years from 2021-22 to develop a Space Strategic  Update to provide direction on future funding opportunities and align  Australia’s space efforts; 

∙ $3.0 million in 2022-23 to extend the International Space Investment initiative  and continue building relationships with international space agencies; and 

∙ $25.2 million to expand the International Space Investment initiative and  provide funding for Australian businesses and research organisations to work  on projects with the Indian Space Research Organisation and the broader  Indian space sector. 

This funding takes the total amount committed by the Government to the civil space  sector to well over $2 billion since the Coalition Government established the Australian Space Agency in 2018. 

That is in addition to the $85.9 million the Morrison Government has committed to  space industry skills and jobs right here in Australia as part of the $1.3 billion Modern  Manufacturing Initiative.  

It’s part of the Government’s commitment to triple the size of the space sector by  2030 to $12 billion and create an extra 20,000 new jobs. 

The Budget also includes $37.4 million to 2025-26 to establish a new CSIRO Research Translation Start program to build further cooperation between our  researchers and industry and supercharge their commercialisation journeys. 

The Government is investing $63.6 million to 2025-26 and $1.5 million per annum ongoing to further support the important work of the Australian Institute of Marine  Science (AIMS), including funding to remediate AIMS’ wharf at Cape Cleveland,  south of Townsville, Queensland. 

Minister Price said the Government recognised the incredible role science and  technology played in changing lives and creating new industries, and this investment  was further proof of their importance. 

“We are harnessing science and technology to help our businesses commercialise  their great ideas and create the high-value jobs for Australians which we need for the  future.” 

Minister for Science and Technology Melissa Price

“This Budget demonstrates that we are not only shooting for the stars, but also  securing our future prosperity here at home through the Morrison Government’s  economic recovery plan.” 

The Budget also includes:  

∙ $33.4 million over two years from 2021-22 (including $14.4 million in capital  funding) to the National Measurement Institute to deliver essential  measurement standards and services that underpin business continuity and  international trade; 

∙ $5.3 million over two years from 2021-22 to improve the National Science and Technology Council’s provision of science and technology advice to the  Government and to continue support of the Prime Minister’s Prizes for  Science event; 

∙ $4.7 million over four years from 2022-23 to continue support for the Women in STEM Ambassador initiative and the Future You national digital  awareness-raising initiative; and 

∙ $2.0 million over four years from 2021-22 to extend the Superstars of STEM  Program, to continue raising the profile of Australian women in STEM and  inspire the next generation. 

This year’s Budget builds on the Government’s investments of $12 billion for  science, research and innovation related programs and activities in 2020-21 and  $11.8 billion in last year’s Budget – the two largest ever single annual investments  for the sector.  

Alongside this investment, there are a number of specific initiatives the Government  has committed to across the sector, including:  

∙ $42.4 million to grow the pool of women in STEM by providing up to 500  university scholarships, co-funded with industry. 

∙ More than $450 million in funding for CSIRO to ensure the continuation of  critical scientific research in a range of priority areas. 

∙ More than $530 million from 2019-20 to 2024-25 for a wide range of ANSTO  activities, including research, nuclear medicine production, asset  maintenance and waste management. 

∙ $124 million to make Australia a world leader in artificial intelligence through the AI Action Plan.  

∙ More than $387 million in funding to meet Australia’s commitments as co-host  of the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope.

The 2022-23 Budget is securing Australia’s future prosperity and helping our industries to grow by harnessing science and technology to deliver a strong  economy with more jobs.