Launched in early 2022, the Initiative harnesses the University's research expertise to develop new technologies and systems to support the world's decarbonisation, particularly in renewable energy, climate change modelling, low emissions technologies, and carbon capture and conversion.
Professor D’Alessandro, a chemist in the Faculties of Engineering and Science, is leading the development of materials for a novel carbon-removal process – otherwise known as direct air capture (DAC) – whereby historical carbon dioxide emissions are removed from the air.
In her new position, she will work in close partnership with over 100 researchers and the Initiative’s industry and scientific advisory boards – comprised of sector-leading experts from Worley, Origin Energy, HSBC, Hyundai, Rio Tinto, Woolworths, Veolia and the NSW Government’s Department of Planning and Environment, to accelerate the development and responsible deployment of net zero technologies and solutions.
Professor D’Alessandro will also lead efforts to build and enhance interdisciplinary academic, inter-institution and inter-sector partnerships to solve the complex issue of global warming, including creating an R&D hub that would accelerate the translation of technologies from the lab to pilot scale.
“There's no silver bullet to address climate change and it cannot be solved by one researcher, institution or company alone. It requires all of us. There is too much at stake for our efforts to be siloed,” Professor D’Alessandro said.
"It’s not just about technology either – but how we deploy it – that will make the difference. Often, proper scaling is the missing ingredient when taking technology from the lab to the world. I hope that by partnering deeply with industry, government and the community we can overcome this, reimagine our systems and change our fate.”
According to Professor D’Alessandro, the University’s core assets in tactical, strategic research and education uniquely position it to play a leading role in domestic and international efforts to achieve net zero.
“The huge public and policy shift towards renewables and net zero has been astonishing, but in the midst of this bullrush, we need to keep our eye on the prize: we need to ensure our combined efforts are making a positive difference,” she said.
“We need to ensure that technology is being appropriately and ethically designed. That it is actually solving an issue without unintended consequences, and good ideas are accelerated on merit, value and societal benefit – not just because they are low-hanging fruit.
“Our work will include co-designing solutions with regional and rural communities and First Nations peoples, potentially creating meaningful workforce transition and the development of a robust regional manufacturing ecosystem."
Dean of the Faculty of Engineering Professor Willy Zwaenepoel said Professor D’Alessandro had been appointed for her exemplary record as a researcher and for fostering strong networks with academia, industry and government.
“Professor D’Alessandro has led game-changing research in carbon removals, but she is also a remarkable facilitator – helping to forge strategic connections and develop a consensus with our stakeholders and community,” said Professor Zwaenepoel.
“During COVID-19, our experts were at the fore, leading the community through one of its most vulnerable periods. So too are our Net Zero Initiative’s researchers – they are building upon their decades of experience to lead our community through its most critical challenge.”
With almost two decades of experience in academia and as a chemist, Professor D’Alessandro has researched and worked across a range of institutions, including as a research fellow at the University of California at Berkeley, where she was a Dow Chemical Company Fellow of the American Australian Association. Professor D’Alessandro was also a L'Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science Fellow, received the Australian Academy of Science LeFevre Medal, and mentored the student team who won the Musk Foundation XPRIZE Carbon Removals award.
She partners with Southern Green Gas who are leading the development of technology for direct air capture.
The Net Zero Initiative brings together advances in research and development in 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, law, behavioural science and renewables.