The CRC for Low Carbon Living breathed a sigh of relief last week when Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced its funding would be retained, according to CRCLCL director Professor Deo Prasad.

The news also means prospective students can confidently apply for the 42 PhD research scholarships currently on offer, which come with an annual $30,000 tax-free grant and all kinds of interesting consulting and work opportunities.

Professor Prasad said he hopes to have 25 applicants by 20 June, who can then commence their study in second semester 2015.

Undertaking one of the CRCLCL PhDs does not mean students have to surrender their current day jobs. In fact, he said, those currently working in a role related to the sustainability industries in the fields of design, science, engineering, economics and psychology have the advantage of being “industry ready”.

In addition to the vocational tracks, students can also undertake a PhD as post-professional study as part of a career change.

Professor Prasad said the CRC committed to graduating 88 PhDs as part of its mission to address a decline in numbers of qualified researchers and innovators relative to market demand for their skills. The aim is to ensure Australia is internationally competitive in sustainability, build capacity and to create a legacy of skill and innovation.

To this end, the scholarships are aimed predominantly at attracting domestic students.

The multidisciplinary nature of the CRC means there are a range of fields Professor Prasad is hoping to recruit candidates for. These include science, “heavy” science, technology, engineering, architecture, design, planning and psychology to contribute to research on aspects of the low-carbon transition, such as how we implement high performance architecture.

“Social change and behaviour change is also a key area,” he said. “So we can understand how communities change. We can’t always go from the top down.”

There is also the “living laboratory” of the built environment, and the kinds of “large development scale conversations” that can advance the sustainability agenda.

The scholarships can be taken up through a number of universities – UNSW in Sydney, Swinburne and University of Melbourne in Victoria, the University of South Australia and Curtin University in Perth. The CSIRO is the CRC’s research partner, and can support research in any state, and there are also links to leverage with universities in the USA, China and Europe.

Professor Prasad believes last week’s announcement by the Prime Minister that the CRC program was still to be federally supported was a sign of “a change of thinking in government”.

“Clearly there is a higher level of support and acknowledgement now [for research].

“There has been a bit of a lack of understanding of Australia’s research needs, beyond the medical and engineering fields.”

He said there was, however, a clear overlap between the CRCLCL research and the medical field, as designing for healthy cities had an immense impact of the medical needs of the community and also an impact on the prosperity of the nation.

“The built environment is 12 to 15 per cent of GDP, but it is not as well understood about what types of research need to be done around the built environment and what the important challenges are,” Professor Prasad said.

The most exciting CRC

According to CRCLCL education leader Denny McGeorge and project coordinator Tom Cole, the CRCLCL is possibly the most interesting and varied work you can do among CRC offerings.

“There’s a perception out there that it’s all about getting locked up in academia but it’s not like that; there’s a lot of contact with the industry and the potential to improve networks,” Mr Cole said.

Mr McGeorge pointed out that much of the work was very industry focused with a lot of collaboration. This meant big opportunities for networking that could boost careers post study.

“The bulk of CRCs have a very sharp focus, but with the CRC for Low Carbon Living we cast the net very widely,” Mr McGeorge said.

“We go from scientists who are experts in photovoltaic cells to psychology and post-occupancy evaluation in user satisfaction. We go through the spectrum of physical sciences to the social sciences.”

There are a number of industry collaboration projects that are currently actively seeking PhD researchers.

Quite a few are in the materials sciences, such as with Adelaide-based Ametalin, which has produced new membranes that repel moisture and a recycled wood particle board that uses a new type of glue. Another materials project is looking at how to recycle glass in a way that burns off impurities and creates a clearer glass.

A scholarship example

Malay Dave

Malay Dave is currently undertaking a PhD scholarship through the CRCLCL in prefabricated housing research, with sustainability and affordability the core of his focus.

An architect by qualification who joined the PhD program while practising with architecture firm Kennedy and Associates in Sydney, he also holds a master of sustainable development from UNSW.

Mr Dave said his research focus was on achieving good holistic designs for high-performance housing that can be mass produced via prefabrication in a way that results in affordable homes.

“Hopefully my research will show how people can achieve high performance in both affordability and sustainability,” he said.

Looking at materials is an important part of the research, and his initial findings are that many of the current manufacturers are applying standard on-site materiality and methods to the prefabrication approach, for example, using standard claddings over timber framing for prefabricated homes.

“Prefabrication requires a different example of architecture,” Mr Dave said.

“It is about mass scale, being able to produce at a massive scale and achieve economies and ecologies of scale.

“Because it is one design being done 100 or 1000 times, it requires a whole different approach.”

The PhD research has opened up a number of paid consulting opportunities on a variety of CRCLCL and UNSW research projects, as well as direct consulting for industry. This has included research and consulting for two prefabricated home manufacturers, advising on how to achieve more energy-efficient and sustainable products.

Mr Dave has also contributed to a number of publications, including co-authoring the United Nations Environment Programme’s Greening Universities Tool Kit. The first edition was launched in Morocco in 2013, and the revised second edition is being launched in Sweden next month.

Coming up in the next couple of months is a tour to Japan as part of a trade mission looking at the zero energy mass custom homes being constructed in Japan and meeting with prefabricated building manufacturers.

In addition, Mr Dave is teaching on the UNSW master of sustainable development course, and working both paid and pro bono on research for a number of federal and state government programs, and for a number of United Nations programs.

“My approach to life is to do as much as possible with every day, and to learn as much as possible,” Mr Dave said.

“The [PhD scholarship] has offered more possibilities to do more exciting work.”

Mr Dave is currently carrying out an international survey on prefabricated housing as part of his PhD research, and is looking for more Australian participants.

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