Professor Deo Prasad.

New South Wales has taken another major step forward in its ambitious net zero targets for the state with a new innovation hub based at the University of NSW and co-led by the University of Newcastle that will focus on bringing low-emissions technologies to market.

The announcement of the Decarbonisation Innovation Hub is yet another climate and sustainability initiative driven by Treasurer Matt Kean and will form a centrepiece of his $750 million Net Zero Industry and Innovation Program that aims to achieve net zero for the state by 2050.

Initial funding is $15 million but the final amount could be significantly higher with additional industry and university funding.

The built environment and transport are likely to become key focus areas for the hub in the future.

The hub to be based at the University of NSW and co-led by the University of Newcastle. Its chief executive officer has been named as the highly-regarded UNSW Scientia Professor Deo Prasad, who previously led the Low Carbon Living CRC, with the Office of the NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer set to oversee work.

Among the stakeholders will be researchers, government and industry participants and academics from a range of disciplines including the arts, design and architecture, engineering, and science. 

Universities participating in the consortium include University of Wollongong, Western Sydney University, University of Technology Sydney and Charles Sturt University. The NSW Department of Primary Industries and Climate-KIC are also members of the initiative.??

A priority for the hub will be to fast-track technologies that will decarbonise the state and are already “past proof of concept”, Professor Prasad said. 

Three initial research networks will focus on:

  • electrification and energy systems (led by UNSW Engineering Professor John Fletcher)
  • land and primary industries (led by WSU Professor Benjamin Smith)
  • power fuels including hydrogen (led by UNSW Engineering Scientia Professor Rose Amal)

Once the centre is up and running, The Fifth Estate understands it will look to create additional research networks in the built environment, transport and water sectors.

Bringing new emissions reductions technologies to market

Professor Prasad told The Fifth Estate the hub will focus on bringing advanced technologies to market, rather than discovery grants for ideas that haven’t yet reached the proof of concept stage.

“What we are going to be looking at in this hub is known as technology readiness level three upwards. So in other words, it’s gone past proof of concept. Often, within the university system or industry system, [new concepts] don’t get picked up often and they get shelved,” Professor Prasad said.

“We will create a detailed map of where technology research is, so that we can identify which ones can go much further toward commercialisation.

“There will be a lot of technology developments we’ll be demonstrating, testing, validating, and presenting to investors, who will then try and take it all the way to manufacturing within NSW. That’s the aim of this hub, which was created by Minister Keen through his decarbonisation plan.”

New investments for low-carbon innovation

The state government is initially investing $15 million. However, Professor Prasad anticipates that amount could more than double, depending on how much is put in by industry and universities. 

“In the first instance, this is a nine-year plan, and then it should become self-sufficient and continue into the future. It will also try to leverage funding from governments and agencies to build on this. This is only the starting point,” he said.

“As we go into the future, it will become much more industry led, rather than government or university led, as industry starts investing.”

The hub also aims to build strong collaboration across NSW to deliver on the state’s emissions reduction goals, as opposed to focusing on just one or two universities. 

“This is an inclusive and collaborative centre for all research providers in NSW. So people, both from the industry and from the research innovation side, will work with us to identify which technologies can go further.”

Building on the state’s research strengths

The three initial research networks: electrification and energy systems; land and primary industries; and power fuels including hydrogen, build on the state’s traditional research strengths.

For example, around 75 to 80 per cent of the world’s intellectual property for solar photovoltaic cells comes from UNSW.

But once the hub is up and running, Professor Prasad is keen to explore where other opportunities are – and the built environment sector is a key target.  

“Very soon, we want to be able to develop other research networks and one of them is the built environment, another is transport and the third one is water. So that covers the spectrum of opportunity that we want to start looking at more seriously. 

“Within the built environment area, which is where I come from, there is a huge opportunity in materials and technologies that can go to manufacture and application within the built environment. We really want to explore that.”

Initial project funding comes from the NSW Environmental Trust, with industry and university partner co-contributions expected in the future.  

The hub will be set up by the end of June, start conducting research from 1 July and be fully operational later in the year.

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