Professor Paul Dastoor from the University of Newcastle and his printed solar.

It’s exciting that on nearly every front where we can see problems there is almost equal energy expended in finding solutions. Call it the optimism gene but it’s working for us!


Electric wastewater treatment

On the other side of the climate emergency driven by pollutants in the air is our increasingly polluted soil and water.

Even if we rapidly de-escalate the accumulation of carbon from the atmosphere, we need to deal with the incessant build up of chemicals in the rest of our environment.

Now there’s a glimmer of hope with researchers from the University of Sydney discovering a new way to clean chemical pollutants out of contaminated industrial waste streams.

A team of engineers at the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering pioneered an electrochemical oxidation process that can clear out “a toxic cocktail” of harmful chemicals from complex wastewater.

The water treatment process uses electricity from special electrodes and oxidation reactions to transform a mixture of harmful pollutants into harmless gases, ions and minerals.

According to researcher Julia Ciarlini Jungers Soares, this treatment can eliminate even the most persistent contaminants from pesticides to industrial effluent without any additional chemicals or waste streams.

The process was tested in a study using wastewater from biofuel production using microalgae, but can be used for a variety of industries including paper processing, pharmaceutical manufacturing and even wine making.

Wastewater treatment is going to be a big field for future developments, especially when it comes to developing an affordable, sustainable source of water.

We’ll be watching development of this technology closely and hope it can make its way to the broadscale commercially viable use because it’s clearly needed.

Printed Solar

One area that is reaching exciting commercial application, in other words, low cost production possibilities is in solar.

An ultra flexible, lightweight solar panel made made its public debut in the Sydney suburb Lane Cove recently and the exciting news is it’s not expensive to produce.

Printed solar, developed by Professor Paul Dastoor at the University of Newcastle, is made of a thin material that can be manufactured with conventional printers for less than $10 a square metre.

The panels are also durable, so they can curve and fit around a whole range of surfaces.

Another benefit that will appease those increasingly concerned about how we recycle PV is that this printed solar can use PET instead of traditional silicon technology.

Dastoor has high hopes for his technology – from retractable charging panels for electric vehicles to solar powered shades in high rise buildings.

“Imagine a world where everyone has access to electricity, and where every surface can generate clean, low cost, sustainable energy from the sun. That’s a world I want to live in,” he says.

The printed solar is now on display in Lane Cove’s new urban centre “The Canopy,” powering a motion sensor interactive light installation.

Australian tech giant’s sustainable HQ

The Sydney skyline is about to get a sustainable new addition.

Aussie tech company Atlassian unveiled plans for the world’s tallest hybrid timber hi-rise as its new Sydney headquarters.

The 40 storey, 180 metre tall timber structure with a metal and glass facade will tower atop the existing Railway Square YHA building in Sydney’s CBD.

Upon its opening in 2025, the building will be entirely renewable and achieve net zero emissions with solar panels built into its facade and natural ventilation throughout.

Even construction costs are geared towards sustainability with targets set at 50 per cent less embodied carbon and a 50 per cent reduction in energy consumption.

Atlassian was the first anchor tenant to sign on as part of the new Sydney Tech Central district, which Sydney Premier Gladys Berejiklian said will rival Silicon Valley.

We’ve got more coming on this so keep an eye out.

Deakin University heading up energy storage research

On the perennial topic of how we get more renewable energy storage, the Australian federal government has tapped Deakin University to head up the Australian Research Council’s Industrial Transformation Hub.

First up, Deakin researchers will start investigating new types of energy storage and conversion technology that promise to lessen or hopefully eliminate fire risks. Then there’s the general environmental impacts of battery storage to worry about.

And these are not insignificant. When it comes to energy technology, lithium ion batteries pose serious issues end of life recycling and disposal issues. They are also becoming quickly less idea to handle growing energy needs.

This is a huge collaboration. There are 19 of Australia’s leading researchers from six universities involved: niversity of Queensland, University of Wollongong, University of Sydney, University of Adelaide, and University of Southern Queensland

“This will deliver global benefits in a critical field from right here in Victoria and demonstrate that what we do as a university, and what we do as a collection of universities and industry partners, really matters,” Deakin professor Julie Owens said.

Liverpool lab’s robotic scientist

Jumping to the UK now here’s something for the futurists: At University of Liverpool there’s a robotic chemist that could change labwork as we know it.

Researchers have managed to create a new, free moving robot that can handle standard lab equipment, conduct experiments and make independent decisions based on previous work.

This robot stands to revolutionise lab research (surprise, surprise) working beyond its human counterparts with its ability to think in a full 10 dimensions and work for 21.5 hours straight until it runs out of battery. (Maybe there are plenty of people who can identify with that).

In a study for Nature, the robot was able to complete 688 experiments within eight days, working for 172 out of 192 total hours.

It was able to discover photocatalyst mixtures six times more active than the original samples as part of an investigation into using photocatalysts for hydrogen production from water.

“This creates a level of flexibility that will change both the way we work and the problems we can tackle,” project leader Professor Andrew Cooper said in a media statement.

“This is not just another machine in the lab: it’s a new superpowered team member, and it frees up time for the human researchers to think creatively.”

A worry? Only in the wrong hands. It’s always wise to remember what someone told the audience at one of our recent events: technology always starts off as something with good intentions.

Personally, we’d want to keep a close eye on this robot with chemicals. (Wonder if his nickname is Frankenstein)

  • With Tina Perinotto