Introduction by Professor Paul Munroe, Deputy Dean, UNSW Science
I’d like to welcome everyone today to this month's, learning lunch, which are bite-sized lectures given by some of USWS's leading academics. My name is Paul Munroe. I'm the Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Science, and I'll be hosting today's talk.
Before we get started, I'd like to acknowledge the magical people of the Royal Nation, and the traditional custodians of the land and pay my respects to elders past and present. In the 70 years of UNSW's existence, we have continued to refine our commitment to lifelong learning opportunities to university alumni and to friends, and we're delighted that everyone can join us today.
I'd also like to thank those in attendance from our Scientia Circle. This is a programme that allows supporters to enable UNSW to advance knowledge through research and education by giving in their wills.
Before we start, and before I introduce, pen out a few housekeeping notes. Please be aware that the talk today is being recorded and will be available as a podcast through the university's alumni website. Please put your phone on silent, and if you need to use the bathrooms there through that door and around to the right. And if you're not quite sure, there'll be people who can direct you.
I'd like to introduce today, Prof. Veena Sahajwalla. Possibly embarrassingly, Veena and I have nine each other for about 25 years. Oddly, neither of us look over 35. We started together as very junior academics in material science and engineering about the same time at some point in the last century. So I've been able to see Veena's progression from that very junior academic level to one of Australia's most distinguished and influential academics. And she's influential and distinguished, particularly in the area of waste.
When Veena, started this work mostly around about 10 or 15 years ago, waste was something that we kind of didn't really think of a lot. We just put stuff in bins and then got emptied out from a curb, but now waste is something that's very much in the public consciousness. Scott Morrison was making speeches on this a couple of days ago. And Veena, has been able to be a leader in this field because she saw this problem 10 or 15 years ago, but also she's found fantastic solutions.\
I'm sure you'll hear about how you identify waste, not just the obvious things like aluminium cans and bottles, but car tyres and toner cartridges. I'm sure we'll hear a lot about that very important commodity coffee, and how you being able to turn what we used to put into bins into essentially valuable commodities. Without further ado, it's my honour to introduce to you Prof. Veena Sahajwalla.
3:10 Learn@Lunch presentation by Scientia Professor Veena Sahajwalla
Thank you, Paul, for that very kind introduction. And Paul is right, I think it's suffice to say that UNSW under the leadership of people like Paul, we've actually done incredibly well as a university in creating impact. And of course, some of the examples of the work that I will share with you, we have actually commercialised it globally.
I think, let no one tell you that Australia's not very good at commercialization. I know we get sometimes criticised for that, but there are lots and lots of good examples of how we've taken fundamental science, and taken it out to the world. I think that's something to bear in mind. The journey's always going to be complicated and it will never be easy, but you know what? If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.
The fact is that at UNSW, we love taking on challenges and we love of course, at the same time solving difficult scientific problems. But I think what makes it even more exciting is the fact that when you do start to see light at the end of the tunnel, you know very well that there are going to be a huge number of people across the world who are going to benefit from the science and the technology that we are developing.
I think that's really where the journey for us has happened, as Paul said, over the last decade or so, and I think of course it's very important that we acknowledge the fact that without the support from research bodies like the Australian Research Council, and now more recently from the New South Wales State Government, we really wouldn't be able to do what we are doing right now.
In fact, the Green Steel technology, which is what Paul mentioned about the tyres and use of tyres in the process of making steel, was something that I actually started out as a discovery project. You may all know that discovery projects are where you get funding for blue-sky research.
It was almost so odd to put something like that into a discovery grant because it was almost one of those things that you would probably say, which I'm sure the reviewers felt that way too, "I can't believe this is ever going to work, but you know what? Let's give it a go."
I guess this is I suppose what you call the high risk high reward category where, thank goodness, someone believed in us. The reviewers in fact, I remember I probably got five reviews back for their discovery grant. And I think it's needless to say, as we all know in this sort of writing research grants and all of that, it's very rare that you sort of do get that sense of, "Oh my gosh, this is actually better than what I expected."
That usually ever happens, right? And when you sort of go in there knowing fully well, you're going to be criticised. But I think, the fast forward in all of that is that a decade later when we have now indeed developed the science, we've commercialised it, it is very important to acknowledge the role that industries play in all of this.
And again, community sentiments have to come into all of this thinking. But in this particular instance, the steel industry in Australia, and of course, people would argue that steel industry is, "Oh, isn't it very old fashioned." And all the research has been done, what more is there to discover?" And I'd probably argue that when you look at the example of what we have done in the steel industry, and of course I'll tell you a little bit of that journey in a moment.
But I wanted to acknowledge our steel industry partners because without them, we would have never ever done that very first trial in a steel plant. Because of course we had done our discovery grant, we'd done all of that, we had all the runs on the board. In fact, I think we also received a Eureka Science Prize for that work.
It was only after that I sort of felt kind of bold enough to go knocking on industry partners doors and saying, "Well, actually the sign shows that this is going to work. But, yes, I do realise your furnace produces a hundred tonnes of steel, whereas we've got this tiny little furnace. The fact that when things kind of fall apart in my tiny little furnace, the damage is only contained in a few thousands of dollars. When it goes into your furnace, and if we did produce a whole lot of hydrogen and things started to blow out, the damage could be in many, many hundreds of thousands of dollars."
It was very important for all of us to talk about the risk and the rewards right on day one. But other than what I loved about the whole sort of can do attitude in Australia and in businesses, is the fact that this was almost one of those things where the red rag to the bull, where you sort of go, "Now, this is really risky. This is really dangerous."
But oh, it would be great if we could be the first in the world to do it. And that's all it took. It was like, okay, let's... we manage the risk. Like you do in any business, you manage the risks, you understand the science, you understand you have a strategy, you develop the plan. And of course it was interesting when we went back and we sort of planned out what we were going to do for the next five years after that.
We said, right, we'd be doing really good if we could actually sort of in that five year period and towards the end of that, show that it can be commercialised. Is again one of those things that took me by surprise that well, within the period of five years, not only had we done our industrial trials, we'd commercialised it. UNSW had indeed signed the commercial agreement.
I think to me it all goes to show that there is a lot of appetite in businesses, to actually do some pretty incredible things. And I think at that time, I remember one of my industry partners saying that this could be one of those things where we're not doing it because we're out there to make money out of this particular invention.
We're doing it because we can see that this is going to be a good outcome for the community. It's going to be a good outcome for the environment. And if us as steel producers can be part of that journey and make a contribution, then we would have actually done ourselves a huge favour. Because I think for a long, long time, a lot of manufacturing industries and of course the picture you sort of think about when you think about all the industries like steel industries that are, and they all just polluting and dirtying and all of that sort of stuff.
But the reality is actually they are not. And a lot of manufacturing businesses when you actually talk to them are really interested in innovation. Are really interested in new technologies, and interestingly want to be the first in the world to do something which I think is absolutely fantastic for us.
As a country it's an opportunity to be able to take a lot of the new science and to show that it can be done. And in fact, if anything, Australia and for its size, we are really well placed to be the test bed for the world. We can be the first ones in the world to deploy a technology to show that it can be commercialised for the benefit of both businesses, as well as for communities, and of course for our environment.
That's really where I guess our journey with Green Steel began more than a decade ago. We've since commercialised the technology, as I said, not just in Australia, but Green Steel has now been deployed in many parts of the world, in UK, South Korea and so on.
And these are all countries where they've got access to their own research and technology development, but the fact that it can be something where Australia leads the world, and we can show it to the rest of the world in terms of how we've achieved those outcomes is something to really be proud of, that the R & D started with fundamental science and it has taken us to this point.
I think the next phase or the next chapter, if I can put it this way, is what we are embarking on with circular economy. And this is where, of course, a partnership with government, and this particular case, the state government of New South Wales comes in.
And I do want to acknowledge a Suzanne Pears, who's here in the audience. Suzanne is the Director, at the New South Wales Office of the Chief Scientist, and engineer. It is through that office that we have now started on this journey and embarked on this journey for the Circular Economy Network.
And I guess what it just goes to show is, if we can make it happen on that sort of small scale where we were sort of one university working with one industry partner, imagine if we could all come together, all universities, a whole range of different businesses. Imagine if we could all come together, learn from that experience and scale up this type of thinking. We can certainly do it.
I think this is what is evident over the last few months as we have engaged with all kinds of stakeholders in our network. Whether they are businesses, they are communities, local, state governments, and of course research organisations. We found that everybody wants to be a part of it, because I think everyone feels that, of course, the time is right.
But of course we're recognising that we can actually show the rest of the world that there are probably some cool things we could be doing in this country. And of course, the leadership that we have means that we can indeed talk to businesses and local governments. I was at the City of Ryde, last night with our engineers who of course I'm going to embarrass, Keith and Annabeth. Again, wave your hand people.
We were there till pretty late last night doing a presentation to the City of Ryde Council. I was fantastic because we talked about all kinds of innovations. Do we have solutions for metals? Is there a producer who could be taking these metals from us?
Now, you've got a local council who understands the pain because they deal with the pain all the time, but on the other hand are also excited about the possibilities. And on the other hand, you've got a business who deals with metals and goes, "You know what? I could actually take a lot of that metal, and instead of that ending up in the red bin, because people sort of don't know where to put it, and as wasting those resources, I can actually take that across into my manufacturing.
You've suddenly got people at the two ends of that supply chain. You've got people who have resources, which is not a mining company, it's a local government and the end user who's a manufacturer who basically says, "Right, I'm happy to take that steel."
And what was exciting when we were having a few of these conversations where we started talking about the price of these materials, and suddenly it was like literally the penny dropped, right? Price... penny, sorry, lame joke. But it was one of those things where he said, "Oh, $1 a kilogramme for that steel, $2 a kilogramme from that aluminium, stainless steel worth five, $5-$6. And the list went on and on.
It was almost one of those things where when we start to actually have a conversation that is holistic, we can bring in the economics as part of the thinking. But I think more importantly it's about recognising the value that's there in our materials, because of course these are still quality materials.
Just because a coat hanger is broken and falls apart, doesn't mean the metal in there is of no use to anyone. The steel that's there in a lot of our everyday things in our homes, right? The spatulas too, all kinds of fabulous things that we all know. Sometimes you do break them when you're doing cooking and what have you.
It's all of those things that says, "Okay, well, so that's metal. Everyone knows this value in metal. What about textiles?" We've all heard stories about the enormous amount of waste clothes that end up in a landfill. And it's not, again, just an Australian problem, it's a global challenge, right?
We need to of course address the root cause of the problem as to why are we all sort of so caught up in that whole sort of fast fashion area. But on the other hand, if we could imagine a situation where end of life garments when they are not fit for being worn as clothes, are they still good enough? Of course they're.
Because imagine the synthetic polymers, the polyesters that are there in these materials, they haven't lost quality fundamentally that at the macro, the clothes have been ripped apart or fallen apart, not fit for wear, but the fibres in these products are still fit for reuse.
That's really where, I guess for us the journey has been over many years, is to be able to get down at that micro level detail, understand what these materials look like and is there an opportunity for us to actually do something about it.
Like we've said, well why do we need to bother? Paul, referred to the fact that the Prime Minister made an announcement on Friday, as you may have seen that we are going to in Australia, ban export of waste plastics. We should, absolutely.
If you look at the problems that have been caused in so many developing countries in the world, and of course there's absolutely no doubt with some of this story that was published in The Australian, that this was coming from Australia, right? Woollies, wool, so that I'm not sort of biassed against any one of them, putting up one of each.
But at the end of the day, behind all of this is all of us, right? I mean, we as consumers contribute to this. Again, it's not about pointing finger at anyone going, "Oh gosh, we need to blame this organisation or the other." We as consumers use these products, therefore we need to work with our business partners and our industries and say, "Right, is there something we can do about it?"
But we certainly cannot have that happen anywhere in the world. And of course, you'd be surprised that many communities in Australia where this could well be happening, where waste could be stockpiling. And of course, we've seen it happens everywhere. All the legacy systems, right? Of course, I'm sure you recognise what that is.
You can imagine that of course, our technologies are going to evolve, products are going evolve and it's not just about technology. Earlier, I showed you packaging materials, so there is a whole range of sectors. You can talk about food, you can talk about electronics. You can talk about automobiles, I mean, there's a whole range of different types of sectors that actually cause these types of problems.
Here is a stockpile of circuit boards and you might say, "Well, my goodness, why would you allow this to even happen?" Because this E-waste, this circuit board actually contains more copper, than imagine if this was all copper ore underneath the ground. This contains 10 times more copper, at least 10 times more copper compared to the ore that we mine out of the ground.
You would say, "Well, hang on. Hello, this is a much easier mine to tap into." You've got circuit boards sitting above the ground in a fantastic concentrated form. Why are we not seeing this as a fabulous resource? Why are we seeing this as a problem? That's kind of bit ironic, isn't it? We're seeing this as a problem, when this actually contains 10 times more copper. One of the technologies that we are developing on thermal micronizing in this one is to be able to understand how we could create alloys, metal alloys, where we might then find it fit for subsequent applications.
You can imagine if you could make good quality alloys out of these types of waste resources, we could produce enough alloys in many instances, to not only meet our own needs, of course in a country where there might be needs for, in this case, we're talking about copper-based alloys, but it could be copper, tin and so on. And of course not to mention lot's of good precious metals in here, as well.
If we could create this, if someone said are, "Oh yes," but we would then create too much of alloys. There's a lot of waste in Australia. That's fantastic because we could be exporting the value added alloys, and businesses could actually be making more money than simply just sending this away. In fact, when you start exporting waste, as you can imagine, that's not for free. You've got to actually pay your service provider.
What we are talking about here is the ability to turn the economics around. And if we can understand how we can make that happen, then of course all the things would flow from there. Whether we want to develop businesses for profit, whether we want to develop businesses for purpose.
In fact I talk about as we all have heard many, many times economies of scale. I mean, we hear businesses talk about economies of scale and you go, "Well, we are a small country." Again, we really cannot do anything that's large and big because we simply don't have the market size.
But if you actually can understand for one moment that what we are creating here is an extremely valuable metal alloy, and you are dealing with the waste, you're actually addressing a whole other issue. It's no longer thinking about economies of scale all the time, but rather thinking about economies of purpose.
What is the purpose here? The purpose is you want to be able to make sure you create new science and new technologies to deal with this, which has seemed to be a big problem. And that's really why, of course, when you think about how big this problem is, we're talking about millions and millions of tonnes of E-waste that's produced globally.
And of course, you can sort of go back and look at all kinds of stats and go, right, there's all kinds of waste that's going to be actually available in our global economy. But of course, the sad part is if it ends up in developing countries where you don't have access to technology, what will happen then is, as I'm sure you've seen horrific images of circuit boards and other materials being burnt.
Because of course in places where you don't have technologies where that becomes a form of livelihood, people are actually burning away waste materials, breathing in toxins just so they can generate that expensive copper metal.
But imagine if our solutions at the small localised level of micro factories could actually deliver a solution that would be viable on a small enough scale, that could be deployed anywhere in the world. You don't have to always have $1 billion or more, and think about big, large smelters for instance. You don't have to always think that I need a massive copper smelter.
If you can actually start to think about these agile micro factories, the benefit is not just from an economic point of view, but think about the social benefits and the impact that these technologies could have on our societies globally. And this is why, of course, for us it's important to recognise that these are the problems. In fact, UNEP talks about the fact that we have got $70 billion worth of embedded resources in our E-waste. And of course the journey will continue because we're not going to stop using electronics.
In fact, the whole sort of world recognises that we are becoming more and more digital. We've got embedded electronics in our buildings and we've got automobiles, and we've got devices, and fridges that talk to us and all kinds of things, right?
You can imagine that on one hand it's also about recognising that if Australia could create a lot of these valuable materials, we could be part of that supply chain, supplying to manufacturers in other parts of the world valuable materials.
Because remember manufacturing is not just about making the finished product. The finished product might be made in one place. But if you're making a finished product, you need valuable materials. You need metals and ceramics and plastics. You need valuable materials that become part of the supply chain. You could well be tapping into all of these electronics that does contain metals and organic materials and course ceramics. It's all about recognising the opportunity, and the opportunity certainly is thin.
As you look at per capita generation of E-waste, Australia actually produces about 25 kilogrammes per capita of waste. Now, yes, we might be a small country, but the opportunity is massive. And if we develop these technologies, just think about the impact that we could have on our own economy, but also equally importantly, think about the impact that we could have in so many countries across the world, taking this technology out to the global markets.
I just wanted to quickly see if this will actually play. But this one is in fact our industry partners site, Tez, where we were only not that long ago. Yes, things falling off the back of the trucks, but it's coming from our homes and offices. And in fact, you can see the warehouse.
It just sort of gives you that sense of... and of course, it's in Sydney. We also had the privilege of travelling through India. With Annabeth and the TV crew from UNSW, we actually travelled through Indian. It was quite fascinating to actually be right up front, and go to places where our waste actually ends up.
We need to understand from our perspective, if we're going to do research in this field, we need to understand the impact of our, I guess, work on the rest of the world. Does this mean that we'll be able to do something more meaningful with these types of resources? And in fact, I remember when we were travelling through, and in fact, that that footage that you see in India has been taken in New Delhi, not too far away from the main sort of capital area.
You can see it's not buried away somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. We actually have seen that when you walk through these places, you realise actually the impact. And in fact, I think I remember when we were walking through, we had one guy with a massive hook knife, the hook guy behind us. We were all sort of going, "Quick everyone don't look behind, but there's somebody with a big knife, just keep walking. Just be normal." Right?
I guess all of this is just an indication that for people who have had this livelihood, we're not taking away those livelihoods. We're recognising that this is something that is part of everyday life, but we need to develop technologies that then benefit humanity on a broader level. But of course this is not just out there somewhere, this is happening right here in Australia.
I'm sure you have actually seen horrific impact of stockpiles catching fire on recycling sites. And there was I think, organisation in Melbourne where this was reported in the media. You can start to see that it is a huge issue. And of course, industries, councils across the country need these types of solutions. And of course, ultimately somewhere in there is a responsibility that we owe to the future generations, right? We cannot, cannot leave behind a planet that does this.
For us, what does this all mean? Yes, we recognise our challenges. Yes, we know that Australia has been exporting waste to the rest of the world. But we know that using a lot of the clever signs that we have, we can actually develop circular economy solutions and we can actually close the loop off these materials right here.
What do we mean by circular economy? We've got a situation, if you have a look currently, we've got the current system. We make something, we use it, dispose off it. We're in this mess for that reason. But imagine if we could turn it around and go, you know what? Circular economy is all about recognising that we can bring these materials right back. In some instances, of course, it's about reducing, repairing, doing the obvious things that we should be doing anyway.
We should be reducing our consumption in many instances. We should be thinking about repair economies. We should be doing a lot of those types of things that are important. But then we should start to think about, as we've talked about recovery, recycling, and ultimately we get to the point where some of our systems are so complicated. Like our batteries, our electronics and so on and so forth, that we need to actually think about a whole new way of making, designing, reforming, and renewing our materials and design in the way we think about manufacturing as a whole.
It's actually asking for a complete game changer in the way we might think about what circular economy could take us. But the fact that we started this conversation means that we are going to get there. We are absolutely going to get there. We have the underpinning science to make it happen right here in Australia.
And what we want to be able to do is we want to show that by bringing these materials right back to life, we can put it back into our economy, and of course that means it's a win win outcome for our businesses, for our environment, for our local governments and for our communities.
It's very important that we recognise that we need to do some work in a proactive manner. And that's really what the UNSW circular is all about. Can we actually do this in a proactive manner? Where instead of looking at the old supply chains, can we actually work with our recyclers to bring this right back into our economy right here in Australia?
The circular economy solution is really saying we need to have everyone as part of this conversation. It's not just one organization's problem. Sure, the waste starts at local governments. But we know we want to do something positive, we want to work with our producers and designers. We want to create value added products, but we also want end users to be a part the solution. Whether they are manufacturers or in fact end users.
We're working with a company where we can actually take their waste plastics from our communities and put that into production of potentially spectacle frames. Now, if we can actually do that, it means consumers at the other end have to buy. But you know what? I think consumers are actually asking for those solutions. And everyone says if I can rather invest my money into purchasing a product that is made out of recycled content, then I'd rather do that.
And this is where, of course the whole idea behind circular economy network is to be able to make sure that we are understanding challenges. We're driving our innovation, and of course as I said, we are also closing the loop on our materials right here in local economy.
And that is important, because we can then generate as a result of that jobs and we can obviously foster that innovation, but important to understand that these will ultimately deliver social economic benefits. And those are part of our objectives, our purpose.
We of course, have already started on this journey. As I said to you before, we are hosting events. We are actually excited about the fact that so many different councils and businesses want to participate in collaborative solutions, which is important. And this is where we are creating, not just going after what you might see as a low hanging fruit in some instances, metals that are already recyclable. We should be putting that back into our economy, but in some instances it requires innovation. And we need to drive that innovation and make sure we can deploy those solutions, so that end users benefit.
But then who are the end users? There are us, right? We are all end users, whether it is in our homes or whether it's in our businesses, we can all play a part in the way we actually make a decision, we make our choices.
From our perspective, we know that all of this is going to deliver benefits to our communities. We are doing this because it's got to ultimately benefit people. It's got to create profit. Yes, it's got to create profit. If you do it really smart, you will actually enable that to happen.
Yes, in the early stages, it's going to take time and we're going to have to build that ability to get all the stakeholders together, and to recognise that there are whole range of different innovative supply chains. But ultimately we're doing it because we want to be able to deliver benefits to our planet. We want to be able to reduce our environmental footprint.
Then I'll give you an example of how we've gone about doing this in the SMaRT Centre. In our SMaRT Centre, we've been working with a whole range of different partners, but the focus has been very much first and foremost to recognise what these large circles are showing you and what are the pain points.
As I was saying before, whether it's plastics and glass and tyres, and indeed packaging materials and electronics. All right, we recognise these are the pain points. Can we actually then imagine a situation where someone who's got waste plastics for instance, there are some exciting new products that we are developing with our industry partners. If we were to develop that, someone might say, "Well, do we have a market for those products?"
But this is where we need to recognise it's not a market. There are many, many different types of markets that we need to develop right here in the country. It may well be that one market is like I was telling you, going to our industry partner who makes spectacle frames, but they may well be other markets and sometimes very unlikely markets.
There might be a steel producer who goes, "Well, actually, instead of using some of those coal-based resources, I can incorporate a lot of this waste plastics." Because in many instances these plastics and tyres contain high levels of hydrogen. Guess what? You've got a whole new supply of hydrogen coming to you in an affordable form in the form of waste, plastics and tyres. That's where, of course we've now created a whole new market.
It's not about saying, "Well, there's only one solution and if that doesn't make money then it's never going to work." But it's about saying, "Let's explore all these different supply chains," and of course creating unlikely partners. The fact that the waste plastics company would have never ever spoken to a steel company, is actually an indication that this is the power of science and technology and us working together in collaboration, and creating that new supply chain.
All of a sudden you've got a steel company that's actually telling an industry partner, "How much can you give me again? A thousand tonnes? Oh no, that's not enough. I need more." You've now suddenly got a demand that you've created for your waste resources. Before we were worried that there will be no demand, no markets, we're now saying no, if we open up these new opportunities, then we can create a whole new range of different types of products.
We're working also in the area of building products. Remember I was telling you about waste textiles. We've shown that we can actually use these waste textiles. One of my PhD students, she actually had shown that you can incorporate these into building products and create these beautiful tiles, hexagonal tiles. And we've created that in our own micro factory at UNSW where we can show that not only are these made out of waste materials, they actually perform beautifully.
And the nice thing in there is that the underpinning science is there. It's published, it's transparent. People can go in and read about it and understand how these materials are going to perform. Because that's the other thing we hear about recycled content and materials with all... it might be nice to recycle but really it may not perform as well. And that again is a slight sort of misunderstanding that we actually are not advocating for poor performing products.
That's not what we want. We still want high quality, high performance materials and products and that's really the message in this. I will, just in the interest of time, skip through some of these slides here. We've talked about it, but I've got a few exciting videos that I want to show you.
Micro factories in partnership with a whole range of industries in fact, can ultimately take materials to that whole new level of thinking where we say we're not just recycling for the sake of recycling. We have an end market in mind. We have an end application in mind and that's the reason why we are putting them down various pathways for in fact, transformation into high value.
The vision of course is we want to be able to ultimately promote distributed manufacturing. We want to make sure that regional communities, if they have their own ways, if it is possible to create a valuable building product out of waste textiles, it should be. We shouldn't have to transport that to a large sort of city somewhere else. We should be able to do that locally. All of this means that ultimately we're going to reduce that need to transport waste. We're going to of course create those local benefits at the local level.
I will just sort of skip through these a few slides, but really just to kind of talk about the whole notion that you can actually think about going beyond traditional recycling. The fact that you can feed in tyres and plastics and so on into a steel making furnace. What you're really saying here is that, well, that's kind of not recycling anymore, isn't it?
You're not converting plastics into more plastics, or ties into more tyres. What you're really doing is reforming it. You effectively have gone after those materials like tyres because they can train hydrogen, and it's the hydrogen that's actually really valuable in the way it reacts inside a steel making furnace.
You've actually delivered reform to that whole industry, to that whole science that's happening. And of course that's going beyond the three hours and the fourth hour, is what we like to call reform.
I'll skip to a few of these, and sorry for sort of skipping through. But I do want to make another one important point. That when we talk about micro factories, what has actually enabled us to get to this point now that we are at, is we can actually do a lot of that pilot scale work in universities.
And the fact that we at UNSW have at many, many other universities who run their own pilot programmes, the nice thing is imagining that universities can actually go through that entire journey of doing the fundamentals. Developing new solutions, doing pilots and working with our industry partners in commercialising these technologies.
If that doesn't work, it's back to the drawing board. And this is how that collaboration has grown and evolved, and I think that's nice to see that that kind of partnership has actually worked successfully in many, many different examples.
I think Paul mentioned toner powder. This is the fun material as we've all experienced it, you change your cartridges in your printers and of course, you know very well that you get the black powder on your hands and you might look a look at that as a problem. But what was exciting and our industry partner also did not realise, that in this instance we've actually got access to a material that is rich in iron.
You've suddenly got an opportunity to take what might be a problematic waste, and show that it can be converted through this toner technology that we've developed into a good quality metal. And that's just an example of how our industry partners' clearly excited about it.
I don't need to tell you, of course all the challenges with waste plastics. They are of course everywhere, they are part of our lives. And yes, we can eliminate some types of single use plastics. But in many, many cases, whether it's electronic, or cars, they are essential part of our lives and what we need to do is look at it in a more positive manner, not see it as a problem, but see it as a fantastic opportunity.
What are some of the products we've been generating? I'll show you a few examples as I finish up. These are examples of plastic filaments that we've created out of waste plastics, and of course we use them for 3D printing. We're also looking at, as I was saying before, waste textiles. Of course, the numbers are quite shocking and horrible.
When you actually start to register those numbers, that we are putting away huge amounts of waste textiles into landfills or incinerating and of course, not so comfortable, not so happy with the numbers that are going to being buried or being burned.
I think the fact that we're talking about more than half of our waste textiles ending up in that manner, we need to really look at some serious solutions. The fact that we can now produce building products, and so in this instance, examples of where you can see on the top left hand side are acoustic panels that contain waste textiles.
We've got some other products where we incorporated waste glass, and indeed a lot of alternative out of waste wood, waste furniture and so on. You can certainly create sustainable particle boards. And finally, of course, plastic products that give us a whole range of new opportunities.
Here's what our micro-factory looks like at UNSW, we launched this last year. We've got all kinds of cool toys. Anyone's ever interested then and you wonder why these guys never get out of the labs, because they have way too much fun.
The point is, of course, what we are doing here is we're not only developing the science, we're developing technologies, and technologies that can be ready for deployment. And I think that's the exciting bit.
What are we doing? Here's an example I was telling you earlier, waste plastics into plastic filaments, which then can be used for 3D printing. Some of the other things, as I was saying before that we've done, producing copper based alloys out of our waste circuit boards.
Finally, just in the context of where we're at, we are looking at that transformation where a recycler is not actually going to start to combine hopefully a functional production of design and production. And you never know, we might actually be creating some pretty cool products right here in Australia, perhaps even be exporting some of those to the rest of the world.
Before I finish off, I said I'd show you a little bit about tyres. Yes, I know it's horrible, but yet it's like, "Oh my gosh, this is real." It's real. Because look, there three people standing to it. Very brave, but perhaps not so brave people, because if that catches fire, they're never getting out of there alive.
Anyway, what it is that we've done are just an example of what we've commercialised. This is an example of Polymer Injection Technology. What you can see there, bubbling away is liquid slag that is present in a steel making furnace. Those bubbles are actually just reflecting the fact that there's really good quality hydrogen gas, for example, that's available to carry out these reactions. That of course has now been commercialised as I said, and millions of tyres have already been recycled and reformed globally, including right here in Australia.
Just to sort of leave a few of these finishing thoughts with you that what we hope we've started on this journey on micro factories, that this is a way to think about not just a solution for Australia but indeed for the world.
We know we can deliver these outcomes, we have lots of fantastic science, but I think to me more than science, it's about how we can deliver benefits to our environment, to our communities and of course make a real difference to our planet and to our people. Thank you very much. Thank you.
44:00 Q+A session
Prof Paul Munroe: Thank you, Veena. We have about 10 minutes for some questions. If we can...
Speaker 3: Hello. Thank you very much. That was very enthusiastic talk. I have a question about the role of government in all of this. You mentioned you're working with local council, you mentioned New South Wales Government, and many things that should be happening. What is your interaction? What's your experience working with government in setting the tone and the regulation to actually encourage that sort of behaviour?
Veena S: I refer to a circular economy network, and indeed, that's something that was kicked off by the state government. It was a brainchild of the New South Wales State Government. When this was announced early this year, we at UNSW put up our hands to basically host the network. We obviously were awarded the grant to do so.
But I think all of that is a reflection of the fact that yes, we have set ourselves a very high bar here. We know that something needs to happen as it's pretty obvious now the fact that the Prime Minister made this announcement last Friday.
I think it's also indicating, and that was at the COAG meeting as you know, and the leadership was in agreement. I think to me it's probably one of those rare examples where you see the entire leadership of the country, state level, federal level, where we're all in agreement that we need to do something about it.
But the fact that in new South Wales, we've already set up this network, we're already well and truly on our way. I think we are leading the other states in what we are doing. The fact that the Office of Chief Scientist, set this agenda up and we're willing to do on our way. Lots of universities, businesses, local governments already participating in it is an indication that people want to do something about it.
What we are driving of course is the agenda to deliver a lot of that innovation and fostering that collaboration between various stakeholders. And that's really what our role is in this whole network. But we're not doing it alone. We have universities of course in partnership with local governments and businesses.
I think the important thing I can suddenly see over the last sort of six months as I've been leading this initiative is that there's been enormous support, enormous interest. I think to the point where we are absolutely humbled by the feedback that we are getting.
Yes, the job is not easy, but at the same time, the level of commitment we have and the support from government, all the way at the local level. Because remember, it's the local government that ultimately has to deal with a lot of these issues. I think to me, local state, federal at all of the three levels, that we all committed to delivering outcomes, we'll make it happen.
Paul Munroe: Quick, gent with the glasses. Next one.
Speaker 4: Thank you for the work that you are doing. I after 25 years of university went out into the real world and I operate in two areas. One is trying to stop companies, in particular micro companies going bankrupt, and that's almost impossible. And secondly, trying to help major companies make a profit.
But they're... the fact is they're not making a profit because somewhere else in the balance sheet it comes out that way. My first question is, what a real micro company or some other company is doing some product at a profitable rate?
Now, the second one in another world, although upright as I certify. And what I'm finding in the wellness coming out in the paper, that no matter what, over the last 15 years something goes wrong in this case in the building industry in waterproofing and fireproofing. What's the chance of you producing perfect products rather than something that's going to be found 10 years after the cut-off date is faulty?
Veena S: Let me pick up the first question. There are a whole range of small businesses that we are working with, and I think that's important for a small business to find their niche. It's not about them competing with a mega corporation. In fact, it's very important for small businesses to find what their niche is because they can be really agile, and they can actually take up a lot of new technologies very quickly.
In fact, in this example of 3D printing, that's exactly what we are seeing. That these small businesses have an edge, because they can offer, for example, products that are lot more sustainable. They can make really quickly customised products for their customers. And that's something that they can do far faster and quicker than you would imagine a large corporate. I think it's like everything...
Speaker 5: That's right, but there might be a problem.
Veena S: Yes, and indeed that was my next point. If you're making something niche and really value added and you are able to deliver it quicker, better, higher value, absolutely you make profit. Indeed, there is no question that this is why as a small business, one thing you have to do is you have to have your finger on the pulse. You cannot slip back in the sense of not knowing what the world around you needs.
This instance, this particular company, very proactive and of course they are collaborating with us, but I think that's how it should be, isn't it? I mean, you should have smart researchers working with smart businesses so that it's a win win outcome for both.
I think that's absolutely a must have. I think these days with new technologies coming up all the time, you cannot afford to sit back and work in your own little silo and in your own bubble and go, "I can do it myself." It's very important to collaborate.
I think this is why to your next point, when we talk about what kind of products should we be making, have we tested the quality and performance? I mean, of course you need to be able to ask that that, if we were to have that collaboration across various stakeholders, builders, designers, product manufacturers, people who can test it, certify it, all of those things, you will hopefully avoid those types of problems, right?
Because at the end of the day, you don't want to get a product out in the market. But this goes for any products, not just about building industry. It's about a whole range of different industries, that people who are taking on new products have to make sure that they collaborate with people who can test and research.
Whether that's in universities or CSIRO, wherever the expertise lies, it's very important to make sure that you do collaborate and you do get an expert opinion, whether it's about testing it or in the development phase.
I think having that transparency in terms of products and its performances, the other important point, if you've actually done research by yourself, or through your research partners, I think it's important to be able to have that transparency and publish that information.
I think that to me is the other part of where we should all be open to close scrutiny of the products that we are making, and so it should be. I think to me that's going to happen more and more, because consumers are going to expect that. You only have to look at what's happened in, of course, this waste and recycling industry.
When consumers started to realise that a lot of these waste materials were being sent overseas to a place like China. And when China of course, put restrictions in terms of what they will take, I think that kind of shocked a lot of people because they didn't realise. But now that everyone's aware of it, people are going to ask these difficult questions. I think to me the fact that we have more engaged public and businesses, I think it's a good thing.
Paul Munroe: Maybe the gentleman over there.
Speaker 6: Thank you for wonderful a presentation.
Veena S: Thank you.
Speaker 6: And the work you're doing is really exciting. The one thing that strikes me as being missing, it's a long time since I was professionally employed. And part of that time was in the USA. The one thing that I don't see mentioned is venture capital. And none of these schemes, well, it's unlikely schemes will get up without somebody doing the business plan.
Somebody's making reasonably valid assumptions, but the financier is recognising this is a high risk model. Now, the thing that's with us right now is cheap money, and it just seems to me that, that would close your loop in the business sense. Thank you.
Yes. Now, look, a very important question and these two guys are sitting here and smiling away because the pain we're going through right now is exactly that. The university has invested in these micro factories. We do have a Chief Operating Officer, a Business Development Manager, and of course, our engineering and research teams.
We have a whole team that's producing that and preparing. In fact, we have a pitch coming up next week, I think, which is all about doing exactly what you're saying. You're absolutely right. I think we as researchers need to be part of it. Yes, there needs to be business input, but this is where UNSW has provided that support.
Veena S: But you're absolutely right. I mean, I think we've had venture capitalists knocking on our doors asking us. We've been in a good position where we've had that luxury of people asking to do a pitch for them, but we have to do the business case. Absolutely.
Paul Munroe: That lady at the front.
Speaker 7: Mine is a simple thought or question at the other end. I'm really conscientious about recycling everything in the Council of Randwick, and they have an excellent recycling centre. But it's extremely depressing to see how many people absolutely don't care about what goes in each of those rubbish bins, and so how much work is there needed.
My feeling is it possible for you to have some kind of simple marketing reproduction of this in language which can go into the local newspapers, so that everybody is really educated about how our garbage can be genuinely recycled.
The more and more capital we have and the more and more technology we have. And we shouldn't be wasting it all by just leaving it all in a bundle that's full of crap, and not in the correct bins.
I just feel some kind of reduced, I know that the copyright and so forth, but some kind of exercise in the local community, so that they really understand how important it is to put all that rubbish in a way it can be recycled and turned into new products for the benefit of Australia and all councils should get this kind of literacy.
Veena S: I have to thank you. That is brilliant. Absolutely brilliant, because I think the next thing Suzanne, we're going to do is talk about this, I'm sure when we catch up is to be able to figure out how... your idea of getting messages out in the local newspaper is brilliant because I think you're right.
We can have these conversations and yes, it might appear in the Australian paper and what have you. But I think ultimately the local paper, and which is what communities and households read, I think is a nice way to get that same message in a simplistic form, so that collaboration with local councils, the kinds of things I was referring to we did last night where yes, they might want to do a community campaign for instance.
But I think it's also equally important to bring community on that journey, and explain what this all means, how it will be recycled. But thank you for that contribution. That's great.
Paul Munroe: We need to just have maybe one last question. Perhaps...
Speaker 8: Could we actually look at the biggest waste producers and look at them creating a life cycle for their product. For instance, plastic bottles, you have a recycling station. Is it possible that you look at the biggest amount of waste producers you've got? Get back to those manufacturers so they can incorporate in their design of their product something where it makes their product easier to recycle, but also that they incorporate in their system that they get their product back to do that?
Veena S: Yes, yes. Look absolutely, and I think you're probably aware of the returning on scheme that has been initiated, again, in New South Wales, that's a good example where indeed consumers are incentivized to bring their bottles back. Materials are collected.
It actually helps us in that earlier question of keeping these nice clean streams, so that we can actually start to target and focus in terms of what it is that we will do with these materials. But the first step, of course, is to bring public on that journey with us. And the more we can do that in terms of bringing producers on that journey, so the extended producer responsibility is certainly part of that thinking. Where we need to be able to think about how manufacturers and designers and producers can actually create that solution where it is genuinely a circular solution.
It's not just about bringing it back, but then thinking about how it may well be incorporated in their future production and ideas. Absolutely having that conversation with producers and designers is something that we are also doing as part of the NSW circular. But I really, really appreciate. You guys have been, wow, fabulous in creating all kinds of brilliant ideas.
Paul Munroe: We're just going a little bit over time. Do we have a mechanism on... there's lots of other questions that we could be for another hour easily, by which people can communicate the comments or questions to Veena? Do we have a mechanism to do that?
Veena S: Well, certainly on our website if people want to do that.
Paul Munroe: I mean there's obviously the right time for that.
Veena S: Yes.
Paul Munroe: I'm sure you guys can communicate through email too.
Veena S: Please do. But also we do have nswcircular.org, as an example of our circular economy network website that is now up and running. Do have a look at that. Of course, it has gone live only recently, so we're just on the early stages of that. But certainly lots and lots of interesting ideas, case studies and so on, pilots as we start to run those. We will have that, but you'll be able to get on that website and send us an email as well.
Paul Munroe: Okay. We can, sorry?
Speaker 5: Can she find time for another one?
Paul Munroe: She's got another function to go to, we're going to have to spirit her away quickly. That's been fascinating. Can everyone please join me in thanking Veena, for such an amazing job?