The following appeared as a special edition wrap in the Newcastle Herald on Saturday November 14, 2015.
Changes to the way we generate and use energy are some of the key drivers for the transformational research undertaken at the Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER) at the University of Newcastle.
NIER is a federal government initiative established to support innovation, provide increased access to world-class research infrastructure and model best-practice collaboration between industry and academia. Research is focused on delivering solutions to challenges that come hand-in-hand with industrial transformation and are critical to the aligned objectives of economic growth and environmental sustainability.
To effectively address these challenges in energy productivity and efficiency, large-scale, multidisciplinary collaboration is required, and through this, NIER is contributing to the Hunter’s industrial innovation story. The Hunter generates over sixty percent of the state’s electricity, is the largest regional economy in Australia, and is well positioned to lead innovation. Newcastle is already home to a knowledge corridor and synergies between groups such as NIER and CSIRO and industry-led initiatives such as the NSW Energy Innovation Knowledge Hub. It is the collective capacity of these networks that is important to the region’s success and achievements in delivering breakthrough outcomes.
Whilst the Hunter’s history is planted firmly in carbon-intensive or energy-reliant industries, these industries acknowledge the unprecedented challenge of transformation of the energy system. The partnerships forged through the NIER model of engagement demonstrate the success of these collaborative approaches in accelerating innovation and developing key technologies to support the energy sector.
The site of NIER at the Callaghan campus has a historical importance as the former BHP Billiton Newcastle Technology Centre – one of the first industrial research labs in Australia delivering innovations and excellence in areas such as chemistry, chemical engineering, coal and ore beneficiation and metallurgy, and cutting edge techniques in the manufacture of steel. The BHPB labs operated from 1957 through to 2010 when the University acquired the infrastructure as part of their plan to redevelop and extend the labs through an Education Investment Fund (EIF) project. NIER is proud to continue this legacy of research, and to facilitate the diversification of skills and competitiveness required in the sector through world-class researchers and the training of a cohort of well-supported, industry-ready postgraduate students.
The discoveries at NIER reflect a commitment towards transitional change, founded on our history, but focused on a determination to ensure that our energy future is underpinned by the principles of productivity, efficiency, sustainability and economic stability.
University of Newcastle Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Innovation), Professor Kevin Hall and Dr Alan Broadfoot, Director of NIER
Local expertise driving global impact
“Open and ready for business” is the message from NIER director, Dr Alan Broadfoot, following the completion of works at the University of Newcastle (UON) NIER precinct.
The completion of construction is a significant symbolic milestone for NIER, culminating five years of labour and $30 million Australian Government funding under the Educational Investment Fund (EIF), and $2.2 million NSW Government support, to deliver on its mission to establish a world-class energy and resources research hub.
Now complete, the precinct will house more than 350 staff working across multiple disciplines of research.
Proud Iron Ore Legacy Endures
Laureate Professor Kevin Galvin first roamed the halls of NIER back in 1979. At that time the building housed the BHP Central Research laboratories and Professor Galvin was a promising degree trainee, embarking on research in mineral processing.
Today, Professor Galvin can lay claim to creating the award-winning Reflux Classifier – an industrial machine that separates fine particles on the basis of either density or size, developed in collaboration with commercial partner Ludowici, now FLSmidth.
Continuing the proud legacy of iron ore innovation at the site, Professor Galvin will also be a chief investigator of the soon to launch ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hub for Advanced Technologies for Australian Iron Ore, supported through a $3.2 million grant from the Australian Research Council (ARC) and a further $3 million in industry funds. A first for Australia, the Hub is dedicated to future-proofing Australia’s iron ore production and exports.
Discovering the technologies of tomorrow
Supporting 170 PhD students and many early career researchers, NIER is developing the research leaders of the future through industry collaboration and access to industrial scale pilot plant workshops.
Aimed at solving some of the world’s most critical energy and sustainability challenges, these emerging researchers are pursuing careers in high impact, developing fields.
Turning Waste into Watts
Emerging researcher, Dr Kalpit Shah quite literally intends to turn one person’s waste into another’s treasure by converting agricultural waste and urine to electricity. The technology will not only solve the dual environmental challenge of waste management and clean energy production but deliver power to populations in the developing world for the first time.
“Using agricultural waste and byproducts to generate heat and electricity will benefit developing nations and guarantee Australia’s support of global economic advancement,” said Dr Shah.
Dr Shah aims to solve a missing link in the existing science, developing a pilot plant in India which could then be rolled out globally.
The Toxic Avenger
Dr Ayanka Wijayawardena believes that to better understand the threat contaminated sites pose to human and environmental health, we first need to understand the bioavailability of contaminants.
“Simply speaking, the bioavailability of a contaminant is the amount of contaminant – heavy metals in our case – that crosses the gastrointestinal lining and therefore becomes available to react with metabolic machinery in the body.”
Based at NIER’s Global Centre for Environmental Remediation, Dr Wijayawardena – whose work is supported by CRC CARE – hopes to develop more reliable and cost effective testing methods to aid remediation efforts at contaminated sites.
“The Environment Protection Authority lists close to 1400 contaminated sites in NSW, including long closed industrial areas, quarries and currently operating service stations. More than 10% of those sites are situated within the Hunter.”