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Soil in a dish


Researching technologies to support the decarbonisation of society
We’re researching technologies and systems that addresses climate change risk, carbon removal, emissions avoidance both through zero emissions energy and demand reduction.

Our Net Zero Initiative brings togethers researchers from across the university who are committed to solving the difficult challenges on the transition to a net zero future.

Collaboration is central to the Net Zero Initiative’s mission, and our research teams work closely with our business partners and domestic and international research partners to deliver solutions.

It has the critical mass, research expertise and multi-disciplinary focus required to attract large-scale competitive and industry funding.

Our research explores new science, emerging technologies and new processes and systems. They are defined by four pillars that maximise opportunities for collaboration and to best support our business partners. 

Emissions avoidance through demand reduction

The transition to net zero emissions begins with new products and processes that consume less energy or result in lower emissions while still meeting the needs of society.

Microbial assisted accelerated mine tailings carbonation

Our experts: Professor Mike Bell, Professor Stephen Greaves, Professor David Levinson, Professor John Nelson, Dr Geoffrey Clifton, Dr Jennifer Kent, Dr Emily Moylan, Dr Mohsen Ramezani

Our partner: Transport for NSW

We're developing better policies, infrastructure and  technologies to reduce our use of internal combustion engines.

It's building on the opportunities stemming from the disruption from new technologies such as electric vehicles and from changes in work patterns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Favourable land use patterns, infrastructure investment and policymaking are needed for wide-scale change. Such changes include working, learning, shopping, and socialising without needing to drive as far.

Our work also looks to maximise the benefit of the next generation of shared and automated transport services and modelling how electric vehicles will change how we travel.

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Our experts: Professor Yonghui Li, Professor Marjorie Valix, Associate Professor Matthew Cleary, Dr Zihuai Lin

Our partner: CSIRO (Industrial Biotechnology)

Carbon sequestration is one of the many strategies necessary to stabilise CO2 concentrations  to mitigate the burden of climate change.

Carbonation of mine tailings have the capacity to sequester millions of tonnes of CO2 annually with the potential to more than offset mine emissions.

Although passive carbonation of the minerals is already occurring, the process is too slow and ineffective to support the required rate of CO2 removal.

While industrial processes are currently limited by high cost and high energy usage.

Our research is working on a promising approach that involves the use of microbiome assisted accelerated carbon dioxide sequestration of mine tailings.

The process operates at ambient temperatures and pressures and therefore have a huge opportunity to provide a cost-effective technology.

Carbonisation of mineral tailings can offer carbon sinks through stable mineral carbonates that could provide storage capacity on a geological time scale and production scale that could support the required sequestration rate and scale to mitigate climate change.

Our experts: Professor Wije Ariyaratne, Professor Yonghui Li, Professor Liyong Tong, Professor Brian Uy, Professor Marjorie Valix, Dr Zihuai Lin

Our partners: BHP, Hunter Water, Water Corporation, Southeast Water, Mint Innovation, WSAA, CCAA, Adelaide Brighton Cement, Humes, Canasia Enviro, Transport for NSW, UTS, University of Newcastle, Macquarie University

The accumulation of mine tailings is one of the world's largest volumes of waste. 

The vast ramp in metal production necessary to support the energy transition to electrification is likely to exacerbate the growth of mine tailings and the corresponding environmental liability and cost in their management. 

This project is a coordinated effort between the mining industry, concrete manufacturers, industry peak bodies and concrete end-user to find sustainable solutions for tailings storage and tailings repurposing in the construction industry.

These initiatives will support in de-risking the energy transition, in addition to promoting the sustainability of the concrete industry through replacement of scarce and depleted construction commodity and supporting net zero initiatives of service industries through the use of concrete with lower embodied carbon impact.

Our experts: Professor Yonghui Li, Professor Marjorie Valix, Associate Professor Matthew Cleary, Dr Zihuai Lin

Our partners: ANSTO, CSIRO, Mint Innovation

The growth of mining industries will be largely decided by how they adapt to the pressures of sustainability.

Sustainability addresses the environmental, social, and financial requirements within which the mining industry must operate to sustain its operations and leaving the system capable of continued existence or ‘…without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs’ ( Brundtland Report, UN 1987).  

To support the mining industries in meeting these sustainability challenges, our studies have focussed on two goals, improving resource utilisation efficiency; that is enhanced metal recovery, reduction in water and energy consumption and valorisation of mining wastes (refer to repurposed mining wastes project).

Hydrometallurgical, bio-hydrometallurgical, solvo-metallurgical, and electrochemical methods are being studied in the recovery of metals from ores and secondary materials.

Data centric engineering assisted metal recovery is being used to unravel complex leaching processes enable more efficient and target-oriented research. 

Electric Vehicles

Emissions avoidance through zero emissions energy

Renewable energy is central to the transition to zero emissions, and our researchers are actively looking for ways to expand society’s choices for low cost, renewable energy.

Powerfuels for net-zero-carbon

Our experts: Professor Philip Leong, Professor Ian Manchester, Professor Ben Thornber, Associate Professor Gregor Verbic, Dr Shuaiwen Song

Our partner: Iberdrola

We're boosting the productivity and profitability of wind farms through advanced real time digital twins.

A digital twin enables a reduction in power losses due to aerodynamics interactions, fast identification of faulty wind turbines, and mitigation of excessive unscheduled maintenance and operation costs.

Our work will allow the operators of wind farms to better forecast short and long-term power outputs and so enable them to participate more effectively in the electricity markets.

The potential annual benefits to Australian wind farms range from $250 million to $1bn.

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Our expert: Professor Yuan Chen

Our partners: Gelion Technologies, Hazer Group

The transition to net zero emissions requires novel batteries to enable efficient energy utilisation. The market is currently dominated by lithium-ion batteries, but this is not sustainable.

The global supply of battery materials is highly consolidated and battery material production is financially and environmentally costly. Australia has abundant resources for creating the new generations of batteries.

We're developing innovative technologies to convert Australia’s extensive natural gas reserves into green hydrogen and the high-quality graphite required for novel batteries such as novel carbon/carbon batteries and zinc-based batteries.

This innovative process uses natural gas or biomethane and iron ores as catalysts to produce high-purity hydrogen for the clean energy and other industries, at a significantly lower cost and with substantially lower carbon dioxide emissions than existing technology.

Carbon removal

Some greenhouse gas emissions such as emissions are due to high temperature heating, emissions from industrial process such as cement production and emissions such as those from the breakdown of manure may prove to be very difficult or costly to abate.

Development of low-cost and effective processes to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and securely store that carbon dioxide may offer lower cost alternatives than seeking to eliminate the hard to abate emissions. Our researchers are therefore exploring novel ways to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Direct Air Capture of C02

Our experts: Professor PJ Cullen, Dr Fengwang Li, Dr Gustavo Fimbres-Weihs

Sustainable CO2 production via capture from the air rather than from fossil fuels enables the development of a ‘circular economy’ from which valuable commodity chemicals can be produced.

These processes will use renewable electricity and will open opportunities to use low-cost energy to generate the CO2, displace the use of fossil fuels and by designing the processes to operate intermittently in an efficient manner.

We're developing advanced nanomaterials for electrochemical reduction of CO2 to high value-added products using renewable electricity.

The challenge is then to integrate these advanced nanomaterials into units for industrial-scale conversion. This includes plasma driven synthesis of hydrocarbons from CO2.

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Our expert: Professor Deanna D'Alessandro

Our partner: Southern Green Gas

We're developing engineered approaches to carbon removal using direct air capture of carbon dioxide which will provide a sustainable source of CO2, a key commodity for agriculture and horticulture, and as a valuable feedstock for renewable fuels.

The removal of CO2 from the ambient air using renewable energy can be achieved using specially designed nanomaterials called Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs) which can be produced economically and at scale.

We're looking at new techniques to develop advanced MOFs with highly sought-after physicochemical properties such as ultrahigh selectivity for CO2 combined with air and water stability.

We're also researching nanomaterials with outstanding efficiency for conversion CO2 to commodity chemicals.

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Climate change risk

The transition to a net zero world will require the active participation of the private capital markets, and that investors in new assets on the road to net zero will need a firm understanding of the risks to businesses posed by climate change.

We're therefore developing new approaches to the assessment of the risk posed by climate change to the built environment.

Our expert: Dr Nandini Ramesh

External partner: ARC ITTC for Data Analytics for Resources and the Environment

Our research seeks to model the new landscape of risks from natural disasters in ways that are specific to net zero infrastructure projects (like wind energy sites or public transport projects).

While projections of climate change are made at large scales and in the long term, we need local, highly specific data in order to be able to plan for the future, especially for changing risks of high-impact, low-probability events such as tropical cyclones or bushfires.

This requires new statistical methods to allow for statistically-sound, impactful inferences from the complex spatiotemporal data in the publicly available data and model simulation output for climate change science.

The new insights will be tailored to the Australian setting.

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