Demand reduction

Finding the lowest cost options to abate emissions
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.

Transportation is currently a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. Renewable energy technologies can reduce demand for fossil fuel powered transportation, but a number of challenges will need to be resolved in order to achieve efficient, cost-effective low-emissions transport at a global scale, especially in the case of long distance shipping.  Another key challenge relates to ‘embodied’ emissions – emissions associated with the production of many of the products that we use. Modern society is built on steel, cement, ammonia, and plastic, which have high embodied emissions and are used in the construction industry at large-scale.

We’re developing new production methods that will increase energy efficiency and reduce emissions associated with low and net-zero emissions transport, construction and product manufacture. We are also exploring ways to utilise materials that would otherwise be thrown away.

Featured research: Microbial assisted accelerated mine tailings carbonation

Research projects

The shift from fossil fuel-based energy generation to the global uptake of renewable electricity will be essential to achieving net zero emissions. The production of low-carbon renewable energy technologies such as batteries, wind turbines, electric vehicles, nuclear energy, and solar voltaic cells will require enormous amounts of ‘energy-critical’ metals and minerals, including lithium, copper, cobalt, and rare earth metals. For example, it has been estimated that the production of graphite, lithium and cobalt must be increased by over 400% by 2050 (World Bank, 2020).

The mining industry already faces a number of existing challenges with regard to metal and mineral extraction including:

  • processing ore reserves that are deeper and more difficult to mine and with lower target metal content
  • cost and supply of water and energy
  • ESG (environmental, social and governance) risks and implications and skilled workforce shortages.

These challenges will be exacerbated by the vast intensification in mining necessary for the transition to low-carbon energy technologies and must be considered holistically by evaluating various outcomes while balancing technical, economic, environmental, social and governance opportunities and risks.

Our aim is to develop processing technologies and a decision support system that will facilitate the sustainable, large-scale production of energy-critical metals.

Research themes:

  • Developing adaptable processing technologies that could sustainably and efficiently recover metallic fractions from minerals and wastes. For example, biomining has a huge opportunity to offer cost effective and ecologically Sensitive technology for mineral extraction.
  • Understanding and development of technologies to mitigate the new climate and environment-related risks in mineral Intensification, from extraction to the end use of minerals and metals in low carbon technologies. For example, development of carbon-neutral mines by using mining waste as a carbon sink, as well as technologies for re-utilisation and management of mining wastes.
  • Developing a framework for industry requirements and new product specification to help build sovereign manufacturing and recycling technologies for the energy sector in Australia.

Lead: Professor Marjorie Valix

The built environment is a foundation of modern society but comes high cost in terms of the emissions associated with its construction and use. Although cement, steel and plastic are integral materials in this space, they have high levels of embodied emissions due to the use of fossil fuels in their production. If the world is to achieve net zero emissions it will be essential to find new ways to produce these materials.

We are developing pathways to sustainable Net-Zero Energy Buildings (nSEB) and construction via the application of circular economy principles. For example, we are exploring strategies that keep resources in use for as long as possible, which could cut associated emissions by up to 70%. This multi-disciplinary approach is helping Australia’s building and construction industry transition to the Net Zero future.

Research themes:

  • Exploring people-centric, circular eco-design by looking at principles and standards to support design objectives and transformative solutions for architecture and construction.
  • Fast-tracking the use of advanced manufacturing technologies in design and construction of buildings and other built environment elements. This research focuses on incorporation of recycled and waste materials in additive manufacturing (3D printing) technologies at scale for buildings and construction.
  • Maximising reuse in the construction industry, with a focus on finding the lowest energy processing pathways to resource and circulate materials for beneficial reuse in buildings and construction.

Lead: Professor Ali Abbas

Green AI models prioritise energy efficiency by employing techniques such as network pruning and knowledge distillation, ensuring powerful yet lean models. This is complemented by a lightweight machine learning protocol, that slashes energy consumption across the training, deployment and inference phases, embodying efficiency in every step of AI model lifecycle.

A holistic co-design approach integrates energy-efficient AI models with hardware specifically engineered to support these models, enhancing their performance while minimising power requirements. By embedding optimised AI models into devices like drones and autonomous vehicles, we enable them to perform precise, intelligent tasks with judicious energy use. Green computing ensures that as our devices become more integrated into our lives, they do so with the lightest possible impact on our planet.

Research themes:

  • Green Algorithms: Our focus is on creating smarter, energy-efficient AI algorithms.
  • Green Hardware: We aim to design advanced, low-energy AI computation architectures that redefine the current energy use. Our goal is to make hardware that’s not only powered by clean energy sources but also more energy-efficient for AI computations, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in sustainable technology.
  • Green Applications: Our aim is to apply our green algorithms and hardware to adapt AI for use in energy-sensitive settings and use it to improve the energy efficiency of systems across various sectors, making everyday technologies greener.

Lead: Associate Professor Chang Xu

The building sector is the largest energy consumer in most countries and is responsible for almost half of greenhouse gas emissions. Smart Net-Zero Energy Buildings that maximise renewable energy use will play an important role in emissions reduction. The optimal design of such buildings requires a sound understanding the complex interplay between multiple variables, such as energy demand and consumption, energy efficiency, internal and external conditions, and environmental impact.

We are developing a holistic energy management framework for the design of Smart Net-Zero Energy Buildings (nSEB) using advanced computational techniques that can integrate and reconcile an array of variables affecting sustainable design and then generate accurate energy profiles for each building. This strategy will allow a leap towards realising nSEB by facilitating the design and renovation of buildings that maximise renewable energy use and contribute positively to human health and well-being.

Research themes:

  • Building a three-tier edge computing system (sensors-edge-cloud) to reduce delay in turnaround times, achieve confidential data sharing, and overcome other issues that commonly occur in large-scale distributed systems.
  • Developing a building energy management system that helps maximise the renewable energy use in the buildings and optimises the overall building energy profiles. This system will incorporate renewable energy generation prediction, energy storage management, data-driven analyses of residents’ behaviour and energy consumption, energy efficiency studies, and electricity trading components.
  • Proposing cutting-edge sustainable building technology to i) enable the use of continuous monitoring of data and ii) optimise necessary repairs and enhancement of building materials throughout the lifetime of the building.

Team: Professor Albert Zomaya

This project brings together expertise to find a solution for the complete decarbonisation of the economy through electrification. It also covers the system-level aspects of a fully decarbonised electric power system.

Electrification is the core mechanism of a full decarbonisation of most sectors:

  • Residential and commercial (gas to electricity)
  • Transportation (electric cars)

Research themes:

  • Fossil fuel generation replaced by renewables and the uptake of distributed energy resources
  • New fuels: Hydrogen super power
  • Resource scarcity and recycling

Lead: Professor Gregor Verbic

Team: Dr Jeremy Qiu, Associate Professor Jin Ma, Dr Sinan Li, Professor Philip Leong,  Professor Ali Abbas, Professor Matthew Cleary, Professor David Levinson, Dr Emily Moylan, Dr Mahshid Tootoonchy, Professor Penelope Crossley, Professor Michael Bell

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.

Leads: Professor David Levinson, Dr Emily Moylan

Team: Dr Andres Fielbaum Schnitzler, Dr Geoffrey Clifton, Dr Jennifer Kent, Professor John Nelson, Professor John Rose, Dr Melanie Crane, Professor Michael Bell, Professor Michiel Bliemer, Associate Professor Mohsen Ramezani, Professor Rico Merkert, Associate Professor Somwrita Sarkar, Professor Stephen Greaves

Aviation accounts for 3.5% of (CO2 +non-CO2) emissions related to global warming and may account for 4-5% by 2030. Despite net-zero industry commitments by 2050 aviation is still at risk of growing emissions in the short-term rather than reducing them to the required levels. At high altitude those emissions cause more harm than ground transport emissions and that aviation is a hard to abate industry complicates matters.

Is reaching net-zero carbon emissions from aviation by 2050 achievable in the Australian context? Given the long lead times in aircraft development and scalability issues regarding SAF/hydrogen, is it even possible globally? If not, what can we do to help, such as through behavioural change and innovations? Our aim is to establish deeply embedded Industry-Government-Academic partnerships to develop impactful research, practical solutions and policies.

Research themes:

  • Fleet renewal, AI, SAF, electrification and hydrogen
  • Behavioural change and consumer preferences
  • Logistics and sustainable supply chains behind alternative fuels
  • Drones/eVTOL strategy/Policy/pricing vs. legislation + incentives vs. subsidies

Lead: Professor Rico Merkert

Team: David Li, Niklas Kimo BrunsMuhammad Fawad Afraz, Associate Professor Dries Verstraete, Associate Professor Nicholas Lawson, Professor Salah Sukkarieh, Professor Kondo-Francois Aguey-Zinsou

The building industry is among the most carbon and resource-intensive industries globally. Future-proofing the existing building stock is critical in responding to climate change and mitigating resource depletion. Circular Economy is an emerging approach to sustainable development, which attempts to decouple economic growth from the consumption of finite resources. However, the adoption of circular practices in existing buildings presents significant challenges due to a lack of systemic data and accessible information.

This multi-disciplinary research project is leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) algorithms to address this data gap at scale and support the transition to zero-energy, zero-carbon and zero-waste built environments. 

Research themes: How can AI support transitioning to Circular Built Environments (CBE)?

  • How to identify building-specific characteristics and quantify building materials and assemblies from available image data?
  • How to assess building envelope performance and infer appropriate strategies for renovation or end-of-life scenarios?

Lead: Dr Eugenia Gasparri

Team: Associate Professor Arianna Brambilla, Dr Kazjon Grace, Dr Anastasia Globa, Professor Ali Abbas