From the CEO
Former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie is credited for transforming Queensland into the ‘smart state’. He wrote about the challenges in turning Australia’s research outcomes into job creation in The Weekend Australian on June 23. He said: “We punch above our weight in terms of scientific output… we are good at coming up with ideas but bad at turning them into profits.” He went on to say that we Australians are ranked second in the world in terms of scientific publications per capita, but when it comes to innovation efficiency – the ratio of innovation output (new inventions, ideas and products) over input (the political, regulatory and business environment) – we slip down to 96th out of 125 countries assessed.
The NCEDA had its Research Showcase at Rockingham on 26 and 27 June where we presented to the public three examples of the 44 research projects currently under way. Professor Linda Zou from UniSA spoke about advances in capacitive deionisation (CDI); Dr Hokyong Shon of University of Technology Sydney explained how forward osmosis using saline groundwater could be developed as a novel method of diluting fertiliser for irrigation (fertigation); and Dr Trevor Pryor from Murdoch University outlined his project to provide solar powered desalination using membrane distillation for a remote community in outback WA.
Each of these projects involves innovative use of state of the art technology. NCEDA’s Commercialisation Manager, Tymen Brom, is working hard to identify and protect potential new ideas like these so we can start to turn our own research ultimately into job creation. It is an exciting time in the Centre’s program, and we congratulate all those who presented their work at the Project Review and the Showcase.
It was pleasing to have NCEDA Chair Graeme Rowley and the two Advisory Committee Chairs Rhett Butler (Research) and Larry Lopez (Commercialisation) together for this event – a rare occasion (pictured).
In announcing the five-year commitment, GHD Gobal Development Leader Nick Apostolidis said: “GHD is delighted to be associated with NCEDA. We are impressed with the progress that has been achieved in such a short time and with GHD’s growing portfolio of involvement in successful large desalination projects we feel that we have a lot to contribute to NCEDA.”
How Western Australia led the country in building the first major seawater desalination plant was the subject of a talk by Curtin University Chancellor and former Water Corporation CEO, Dr Jim Gill AO, at Rockingham’s Desal Discovery Centre this month.
Thirty-two visitors from universities, water and desalination organisations around the country listened to Dr Gill’s overview on how the Water Corp identified WA’s critical drying trend and predicted its fast-growing urban water needs could be met by desalination of seawater.
The Perth Seawater Desalination Plant located at Kwinana inspired a further four plants around Australia, and a fifth at Binningup.
In a World Environment Day 2012 presentation at Sultan Qaboos University, Muscat, Oman, CEO Neil Palmer spoke on how Australia has invested heavily in climate resilient water supply technology, including seawater reverse osmosis desalination and waste water recycling. Construction of the six major urban desalination plants has resulted in massive development of wind farms in Australia, ensuring a secure water supply is always available, but with a very low operating carbon footprint. NCEDA-led research is focussing on ways to reduce carbon footprint in a number of ways by developing renewable sources including solar, waste heat and geothermal energy to power desalination.
“Knee jerk” reactions, dams are cheaper, energy guzzling, expensive, destroying the marine environment, feeding the profits of the private water companies, and water sources of last resort – CEO Neil Palmer busts the myths of Australian seawater desalination plants.
Deakin University’s Research Professor in Public Policy, Professor Michael Porter, has received a prestigious grant from the National Centre of Excellence in Desalination at Murdoch University as part of a $1.1 million project to look at the long term and strategic role desalinated water could and should play across Australia.
The focus of the project will be on desalination within Australia’s future water networks, and will demonstrate how water grids including desalinated sources can enable us to secure a broader, more decentralised, sustainable and thus less vulnerable pattern of economic development.
Significantly the project will involve more than the economics; bringing in cross disciplinary expertise from the Smart Water Research Centre at Griffith University and Deakin University’s Centre for Memory, Imagination and Invention and School of Accounting, Economics and Finance.
“Technology is making great advances in extracting salt from water, in particular the sea,” Professor Porter said.
“The costs are minor relative to the gains from regional development across Australia in areas within viable pumping distance.
“An infinite resource can now be delivered from coastal areas at affordable prices and by doing so has expanded the limits on what was the great constraint on ‘dry’ continents such as Australia.”
Professor Porter said apart from in Western Australia desalinated or ‘insurance water’ had been seen to have limited value, and recent rain in the Eastern seaboard had created a view that desalination plants were no longer needed.
“Reliable scientists generally indicate El Nino remains on the radar after 2012,” he said. “The reality is the desalination option needs to be considered within the broader bulk water supply networks and that is what our project will be doing.”
Professor Porter said the project team would model what Australia’s economic development would look like both with and without a comprehensive desalination plant system.
“There are about 15,000 desalination plants worldwide; so in a way it is a surprise these issues are so new to economic and political debate in this the driest of continents,” he said.
“Imagine – rural areas will know that drought will not mean piping water to cities from the bush; cities will have affordable and effectively limitless long term access to near zero risk water.
“The damaged aquifers of Asia and demand for Australia’s safe food creates scope for a decentralized and expanded urban and rural Australia.”
Professor Porter said at the moment many people still see Australia as water constrained.
“This is despite the huge investment in desalination capacity to date and the scope this provides for supplying new towns, expanded cities and developments,” he said.
“Many people think the energy used to desalinate water is excessively large, whereas it is small in cost when compared with the economic benefits of new developments.
“People are also generally ignorant of the huge potential for economic development that accompanies a completely reliable water supply as it lowers the risks of investment and lowers the costs of capital required.”
Professor Porter said there were also huge economic and social amenity losses associated with water restrictions.
“If we are successful the debate will move beyond short term politics and instead create a climate of debate looking at long term development, decentralisation and the end of rationing and the creation of new towns based around new mineral exports with new access to potable water.”
Dr Misty-Lee Palmer has been promoted to Centre Research Program Manager. With the continued growth in NCEDA’s research portfolio, this position has been created to reflect the increased responsibility in managing and implementing all aspects of the national research and scholarship programs.
Dr Palmer joined the Centre in March 2011 as Project Officer following her role as Assistant Manager, Research Programmes at the Royal Academy of Engineering in the UK.
Discussion on desal and sustainable agriculture by CEO Neil Palmer on AgConnectSE.org.au
Mining minerals from desal plant brine using bacteria, a TED talk by Damian Palin from Singapore
Options for disposal of old RO membranes by NCEDA-funded UNSW researchers, in DWR Magazine
The NCEDA is grateful for the generous support of our Gold Industry Sponsors.