Chemistry expertise led to CSIRO legacy of lowering emissions

September 05, 2019

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

CSIRO energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brendan Fitzpatrick

PATH

>> Bachelor of Science, UNSW

>> PhD (Industrial Chemistry), UNSW

>> Technical Officer, School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW

>> Program Manager, CRC for Black Coal Utilisation

>> Interim CEO, Centre for Low Emissions Technology

>> Research Director, Low Emissions Technologies, CSIRO

This article appears in Australian University Science Issue 1.



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