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Aerial view of waste water treatment plant

Waste Transformation Research Hub

Help us solve Australia's growing waste problem

More waste is being produced than ever before. Through nationwide research and industry partnerships, we can transform this waste into reusable materials and move towards a circular economy.

We have a whole-systems thinking approach towards a circular economy, in which resource extraction, materials production and end-of-life processing form a closed loop with minimal waste.

With our expertise in process intensification, we have developed new technologies that are now utilised in small, modular plants that process waste at its source, producing valuable niche products.

With the help of industry and government, we want to apply these advanced manufacturing methods to transform the waste industry in urban and regional areas.

Our research

Waste water

We're designing technology to recover useful chemicals from waste water streams such as sewage or mine-tailings dams.

We're pursuing basic and applied research in membrane science and technology for waste water applications. Specific research interests include:

  • osmotically-driven membrane processes [for example, forward osmosis (FO) and pressure-retarded osmosis (PRO)]; pressure driven membrane processes such as reverse osmosis (RO), nanofiltration (NF), ultrafiltration (UF), and microfiltration (MF); electrically driven membrane processes; and thermally driven membrane processes
  • membrane fouling mechanisms and mitigation strategies
  • membrane synthesis, modification and characterisation
  • membrane module and system design and optimisation
  • membrane reactors
  • trace contaminant removal.

We're focusing on developing novel processes to extract value from waste water through biological conversions into high-value products. We're using various microorganisms (algae, fungi, bacteria, yeast) to produce biopharmaceutical, health care and nutritional products (for example, PUFAs, carotenoid pigments, cholesterol-lowering drugs, vitamins, and nutraceticals). To do this we are using a suite of technologies:

  • various bioreactors (large pilot scale bubble column, 1 x 50L photo-bioreactor, 8 x 5L flat-plate bioreactors, 1 x 5L fully automated photobioreactor)
  • small-scale separation and processing plant
  • a new compact spray dryer pilot plant designed for low wall deposition, high product quality, and high solids recovery. This unique facility offers simultaneous in-chamber crystallisation and agglomeration.
  • high-pressure CO2 extraction and pasteurisation facility
  • 75L pilot crystallisation facility
  • Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) for mixing and mass transfer
  • detailed population balance models for optimising bioreactor operation
  • a certified physical containment 2 (PC2) laboratory.

Organics and MSW

We're using technologies to re-process biological waste products from landfill, such as organics and other municipal solid waste, to create high energy density fuels.

This project utilises the hydrothermal liquefaction pilot plant at the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. This is a continuous-flow kilo-scale research facility and the first of its kind in Australia.

It converts organic and other solid matter including waste plastics into fuels and chemicals under hydrothermal conditions, submerging them in water up to 300 degrees Celsius and subjecting them to pressure equivalent to up to 250 atmospheres.

We intend to address the challenges associated with feedstock handling, preparation and standardisation using our feedstock preparation facilities.

The plant has converted various biomass feeds (including algae starch crops, aquatic plants, woods and grass) into bio-crudes. It is now in this project being used for testing MSW feedstock blends.

The resulting products will be further refined through catalytic processes using our novel catalysts in reactions such as reforming, hydrotreating, gasification, pyrolysis and transesterification. We will produce various high value fuels and chemicals with targeted and precise properties. 

There is a well-known problem with the accuracy and completeness of waste data in Australia, which is why we aim to apply analytic techniques to waste management at a national level, starting with Organics and MSW data.

The development of mobile applications to track household or business waste and map waste at council level could provide more information and facilitate the exchange of knowledge to consumers for better decision making.

The use of data visualisation techniques could also be used to provide insight and share information about the current state of waste in Australia, inform policy makers and waste service providers, and assisting households manage their individual waste. 

Industrial waste

Being able to reprocess waste products from one or more industies into useful items such as building materials is an important area of waste minimisation.

Our research is aiming to find more novel and large-scale waste recovery options.

We aim to reprocess waste products from one or more industries (power generation, mining, steel, glass, aluminum, agricultural) into various useful materials such as construction industry products.

Our goal is to identify novel and large-scale routes for converting carbonated blends of industrial waste, and novel product formulations of X construction materials with targeted specially properties.

For example, we have developed processes to transform fly-ash into a new cement blend, utilising fly ash and carbon dioxide wastes from power plants to produce future sustainable construction materials.

We're also using advanced 3D printing manufacturing techniques to integrate product design (ink) with application requirements.

To minimise wastes and emissions from industrial manufacturing, we're using our enterprise-wide models to design future industrial ecology eco-parks.

This requires systems approaches where energy and materials are recovered and recycled in a highly-integrated manner, achieved through the use of optimisation methods, accurate techno-economic estimation and life cycle analysis.

The result is a blue print for a future bio-manufacturing hub that maximises efficiencies and minimises wastes and emissions. 

Emerging waste

We're recovering valuable resources from electronic waste products and from emerging industries such as renewable energy and energy storage.

We're investigating the mechanisms of e-waste bioleaching and hydropyrolysis in order to develop new low energy processes that maximise recovery of materials including metals and polymers from e-waste. 

We're focusing on addressing the waste problem emerging from the roll out of renewable energy technologies, including waste materials generated from solar energy and energy storage technologies.

The first targets in this project are solar PV panels and battery material wastes. A key activity in this project will be life cycle analysis to track the flow of materials in this sector and to estimate the environmental and other impacts these emerging wastes will have.