Rapid R&D scaling could put Australia at forefront of net zero

21 November 2022
Initiative accelerates research in high-priority areas
The conference will focus on areas of decarbonisation, such as carbon capture and conversion, creating circular economies, how communities can end the climate wars, and how waste can be transformed into energy and materials.

The University of Sydney today hosted the opening ceremony of the Net-Zero Initiative (NZI) Conference and the Australian Circular Economy Conference. The two events have been jointly hosted by the University and Circular Australia to showcase the latest in technology, research and development and thinking in decarbonisation and circular economies – areas vital to the global march toward net zero. 

The week-long conference will feature talks on topics including carbon capture and conversion, creating circular economies, how communities can end the climate wars, and how waste can be transformed into energy and materials.

Including researchers, industry, start-ups, government, and not-for-profit organisations working in renewable energy, climate change modelling, decarbonisation, low emissions technologies, and carbon capture and conversion, the conference aims to share insights on new technology, knowledge on net zero and circular economy, and discuss related trends in policy, research, education, business and industry.

Speaking at the conference opening, Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Annamarie Jagose said that the University’s Net-Zero-Initiative, launched earlier this year, had accelerated research in high priority areas of decarbonisation. 

“As part of a huge international push to reduce global warming, the University is partnering strategically with industry, government and community organisations to drive significant change. Through our Net Zero Initiative, we're accelerating game-changing research that several decades ago would have seemed fanciful. From capturing historical CO2 from the atmosphere through to harnessing materials that previously would have ended up in landfill, our researchers are at the forefront of this work,” said Professor Jagose.

Professor Ken-Tye Yong.

Net Zero Initiative lead from the Faculty of Engineering Professor Ken-Tye Yong said the Initiative had been conceived to facilitate cooperation across various levels of society and to help Australian industry gain first mover advantage globally by developing innovative and commercially viable emissions reduction technologies.

“Our vision is bold: to position Australia as a global destination point for net zero and decarbonisation technology through research collaboration, commercialisation, start-ups, education, training and investment. Australia has extraordinary assets – solar and wind resources, renewable technologies, mineral resources, land mass and infrastructure – that can take us to being a global superpower in net zero emissions,” said Professor Yong. 

“I can’t help but feel hopeful and optimistic that we will find solutions for a more positive future for generations to come by working together with government and industry partners to build a path towards net zero and a circular society,” he said.

Federal Minister for Industry and Science, the Hon. Ed Husic.

Federal Minister for Industry and Science, the Hon. Ed Husic delivered a virtual address in which he said that good climate, energy and circular economy policy coupled with investment in Australian know-how and manufacturing would help to deliver national economic prosperity and well-being. 

“That’s why the work being demonstrated at this week’s conference is so important. Putting our economy on a shared path to net zero will create new jobs, enable supply chain resilience, and help retain the value of materials in the economy.”

“It’s a great opportunity to create manufacturing systems that are optimised, to be less resource intensive, produce less waste, and have less impact on the environment. The Albanese Government will help this come to fruition through our future Made in Australia policy, and the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund.”

NSW Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer and for COVID Recovery, The Hon. Felicity Wilson spoke at the conference opening. 

NSW Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer and for COVID Recovery, The Hon. Felicity Wilson, said the NSW Government had committed grants and incentives, including $1 billion to the Net Zero Industry and Innovation program,  to support technology and innovation that both benefit the environment and also help our industries to prosper. 

"We do need all our best and brightest minds engaged as we take on this massive task of transforming our economy to a clean, prosperous future. We want to harness the power of collaboration between researchers, industry, capital, start-ups, not-for-profits and governments."

The skills needed for a decarbonised and circular economy have also been a large focus of the Net Zero Initiative. Worley, a leading global provider of professional project and asset services in the energy, chemicals and resources sectors, today announced it would be funding two PhD scholarships at the University, supporting students researching climate change risk in the John Grill Institute for Project Leadership.

“Worley’s purpose is delivering a more sustainable world and we are committed to supporting Australia and the world deliver decarbonisation at pace and scale and to create clean economies of the future,” said Chris Ashton, Chief Executive Officer of Worley. 

"We recognise solving the sustainability challenges facing the world requires new and different partnerships and coalitions to catalyse breakthrough thinking and approaches.  We are pleased to support two PhD students as they research the global challenge of climate change risk.” 

Initiative forwards key areas of decarbonisation 

The Net Zero Initiative will advance research and development in four key areas – climate change risk, zero emissions electricity, zero emissions fuels and products and carbon capture and removal – and brings together over 100 of the world’s foremost researchers in engineering, science, urban planning, policy, carbon accounting, behavioural science and renewables.

Professor Deanna D'Alessandro is researching carbon capture and utilisation. 

  • One such project is the work of Professor Jun Huang, whose team has built a pilot plant reactor that converts carbon and greenhouse materials to hydrogen fuel. The process works by capturing CO2 emissions directly from power plants, with another project focused on capturing CO2 emissions from large-scale air-conditioning systems in large buildings. 
  • Professor Deanna D’Alessandro from the Faculty of Engineering is leading the development of a novel carbon-removal process – otherwise known as direct air capture (DAC) – whereby historical carbon dioxide emissions are removed from the air.
  • Professor Ali Abbas is accelerating research in the circular economy, through materials science and chemical engineering.
  • Wide-scale change in the way we design our cities is needed to avoid emissions through transport demand reduction. Our researchers, including Dr Emily Moylan, use data science and optimisation to identify land use patterns, policies, infrastructure and technology that let us work, shop and socialise without travelling as far. 
  • Leading Chemical Engineering researcher, Professor Yuan Chen, is working with Hazer Group and Gelion Technologies to develop carbon nanotubes, nanofibers, and synthetic graphite, which are highly efficient conductors that can be used for a range of applications, such as the fast charging of batteries for electric vehicles and new generation batteries that can store renewable power.
  • Smart ‘net zero’ buildings will also be a central facet of the University’s decarbonisation efforts, with a team led by Professor Albert Zomaya from the School of Computer Science developing energy management systems to create sustainable buildings.
  • Other researchers are using complex mathematical and computational methods to better understand the impact of climate change on our world, environment and systems like agriculture. 
  • Advanced computational techniques and data-driven model optimisation are also being harnessed to improve the efficiency and reduce the cost of renewable energy contributing to energy security and reducing emissions. One such example is the work of Professor Ben Thornber, whose team is working with wind farm provider Iberdrola.

Break-out sessions of the conference will be held throughout the week, for more information see:

Low Luisa

Media and PR Adviser (Engineering & IT)

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