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How can Australia tackle its emissions problem? Our universities have the know-how that we need
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How can Australia tackle its emissions problem? Our universities have the know-how that we need


Australia has been slow to joinThe global shift towards low emissions and decarbonisation. The world is at the edge of a climate action crescendo. Australia has the option of choosing to act with purpose and determination, or dither and be forced; at worst, it could face harsh measures such as tariffs.

Despite our humble beginnings, we are now in a fortunate place. We don’t need to start over to green our economy or take part in the decarbonisation revolution. While Australia debates “where to from here” as world leaders come together for COP26 in Glasgow, university researchers have long been heads down developing the very research, talent and technology we’ll need for this transformation.

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These university-developed resources can help us pivot to a decarbonised economy by combining the right mix between industry and government support. Australia can be a leader in green exports and research and development.

Across engineering and science, we’re witnessing a research and technology explosion. The impossible is becoming possible. There are many areas where we are seeing progress, including:

  • Renewable and low-emission technologies

  • Energy generation, utilisation, and storage

  • Electrification and network hybridisation

  • Power fuels, including hydrogen.

Australia’s abundant natural and mineral resources, and its agricultural industry are all areas that can lead to it becoming a research-and-development exporter. This would attract more investment and talent from overseas, as well as help us transition our economy.

Australia has the potential to become a major exporter and importer of green fuels. This can be achieved by converting solar and/or wind energy into stored energy such as hydrogen. There are many energy storage options available for domestic consumption, including batteries and Snowy 2.0.

Infographic showing renewables-powered production of hydrogen as an export fuel


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Australia’s clean hydrogen revolution is a path to prosperity – but it must be powered by renewable energy

The federal support for the development of a green fuel export sector is slowing growing. However, the industry and financial consortia are investing rapidly in green technologies.

Collaboration is essential for tackling large scale challenges

A collective approach is required to combat climate change. That’s because it affects every sector and part of society.

Universities were once thought to be somewhat isolated. Universities are now more connected with other institutions. It is now possible to connect previously disparate areas of expertise to develop technology and research to adapt to climate change.

There are many examples of collaboration, such as historians and engineers working in tandem to better understand how climate change has led to the death of. AngkorThrough to using data analyticsTo better understand the environmental impacts of the resource sector. Increased collaboration between disciplines and institutes makes universities an attractive resource and “one-stop shop” for companies looking to decarbonise or expand their offerings to compete in the green economy.

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High-impact, industrial research centers are also being developed on campuses. They are preparing for increased industry collaboration, testing, and rapid prototyping.

These facilities include state of the art infrastructure that includes everything from nanotechnology and foundries to advanced manufacturing, microanalysis, and advanced manufacturing. They assist in the development of scalable and transferable research for both established companies and start ups.

Research is already paying off

Universities are also increasing the commercialisation of their research and technologies. In the process, they are developing companies with the potential to rewrite Australia’s climate change fate.

Agri-robotics is one such company. Agerris. It’s commercialising technology developed over the past 15 years from the University of Sydney’s Australian Centre for Field Robotics, a source several successful start-ups. Agerris’s robotics solutions to optimise farming have the potential to control emissions in agriculture and related areas including forestation and oceanography.

Another example is the zinc-bromide battery developer Gelion. This spin-off was created by the University of Sydney Nano InstituteWith its safe and cost-effective products, it is disrupting solar energy.

Researchers at work in Gelion's laboratory where a zinc-bromine battery is being developed.
Gelion’s zinc-bromine battery is an example of how R&D can pave the way for manufacturing jobs to be created in the transition to a low-emissions economy.
Gelion/University of Sydney

Snowy Mountains Hydro, while one of the most ambitious feats of engineering ever achieved, should not remain our nation’s industrial magnum opus. It’s vital Australia embarks on an ambitious plan to lower emissions and decarbonise our economy. We can bet that universities are already developing the technology and thinking necessary to create the next great thing.

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Academics all know that the best students are those who work hard and continue to do so for a long time. Some may wait until the last moment, but some bright, creative minds somehow manage to pull through with distinction.

We are now in the eleventh hour. Let’s hope Australia is that precocious student who can pull it all off in the nick of time.

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