October Director’s message

As October 2021 ends, it has been fascinating to watch Australia’s political landscape shift as pressure builds for the Prime Minister to take a ‘net zero carbon emissions by 2050’ commitment to the United Nations climate conference that will take place in Glasgow UK from 31 Oct-12 Nov. With Australia moving towards making a net zero commitment, it will be crucial that we develop policies and technologies that accelerate the decarbonisation of our economy. Reducing net carbon emissions from agriculture will be important, as this sector contributes about 13% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. Thankfully, there are many ways in which we can reduce net emissions of the agri-food sector while protecting, or even enhancing, industry profitability.

For example, Canberra-based company GoTerra are using black-fly larvae to convert industry food waste into protein-rich supplements for livestock and organic fertilisers – and in turn, are reducing net carbon emissions through making productive use of organic waste.

Another is a collaboration between Martin Amidy and Vivienne Wells from CEAT, John Pye from the Solar Thermal Group in the ANU School of Engineering and the Australian Processing Tomato Research Council (APRTC) on assessing the technical and economic feasibility of converting waste tomato vines into synthesis gas (syngas), a feedstock for combustion fuels. Typically, waste tomato vines are burned as a disease mitigation strategy, a process that releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. However, a much more useful strategy is to convert the waste to a fuel source, and in doing so, reduce net emissions associated with tomato production. The collaboration with the APTRC provides an exciting opportunity to determine the optimal conditions needed to maximise syngas yields from tomato vines. What is also nice is that way the project provides a real-world application of an excellent report written by Nuffield Scholar, Andre Henry in 2019 – no doubt Andre will be pleased to see his work being used to create a novel solution that helps reduce net carbon emissions in agriculture.

In October, CEAT also finalised details of our Strategic Investment Program (SIP). In launching the SIP, our goal is to increase the number of ANU researchers engaging in projects of relevance to the agriculture sector. We are particularly keen to support projects that use interdisciplinary and co-innovation approaches to solving agricultural challenges. Funds from the SIP can be used to support ANU researchers to prepare grant applications and tender responses that align with industry needs of the agri-sector. There are three categories of SIP support. The first is for scoping projects (up to $5K), where the aim is to support ANU researchers to undertake preliminary investigations into industry need/demand for an idea or solution they would like to develop, and in doing so, apply their research expertise to solving real industry challenges. In the second category, up to $20K can be used to help ANU researchers to undertake workshop, co-design and/or prototyping activities with industry partners to refine ideas and solutions they seek to develop to address agricultural needs. The final category provides more substantial support (up to $50K) to enable ANU researchers working in interdisciplinary teams to leverage external funds, with the combined funds being used for projects that develop solutions that address an industry identified challenge in the agricultural sector, and which enable the ANU to translate its research expertise into impact. Visit the SIP website for information on the application process.

Last week, I attended the Collaborate Innovate 2021 conference run by the Cooperative Research Australia (CRA), which many of you will know by its old name of CRC Association. The conference was excellent, with a truly impressive array of speakers from Australia and overseas, each of whom provided deep insights into the importance of research for addressing industry challenges. In the fireside chat between Julie Hare (Education Editor at the Financial Review) and Prof Mariana Mazzuccato (an economist who runs the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose at Imperial College, London), Prof Mazzucato highlighted the need to put public purpose at the heart of goal-oriented innovation strategies that target complex challenges facing society. She outlined how we can use the Apollo Mission approach as a template for creating transformational change, and how governments can be an agent for innovation, particularly through how they spend tax payer funds (e.g. using procurement strategies to stimulate the emergence of new technologies). Congratulations to Jane O’Dwyer and her team at CRA for putting on such a stimulating event.

During the week from 11-15 October, CEAT co-hosted our second H2O Hack event. The event attracted 14 teams, who were tasked with developing real-world proposals for how space technologies could be used to solve water challenges. You can view some of the team’s pitches online. The winner of the event was a team from Sydney (‘Waterwise’) who proposed an end-to-end water quality monitoring system specifically for use in mining areas. Their process included mass spectrometry onsite readings, extracting data using satellites for best connectivity, and a deep-learning algorithm to interpret the data, detect anomalies and predict future issues. Second prize went to a team of remote sensing scientists from ANU (‘Oz River’), who came up with a 3D Farm Water- online irrigation planning platform that uses water remote sensing technology. The crowd’s choice was another team from ANU (Aquatarpas) who proposed a hydrobot which could inspect water pipelines from inside to collect data and prevent water loss. I look forward to seeing how the ideas generated go on to have real world impact – perhaps as new start-ups based in the CEAT Innovation Hub? The event would not have happened without the support and investment by the Canberra Innovation Network, ANU Institute of Water Futures, ANU Institute of Space, CSIRO, and Charles Sturt University Southern NSW Drought Resilience Hub. My thanks also to the fantastic line up of speakers, mentors and judges who helped make the event such a great experience.

Finally, make sure you read our CEAT newsletter.

Thank you.

Owen Atkin, Director, CEAT.

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