National research centre to support low-carbon future

A new $90 million national research centre is set to ease Australia’s transition to a low-carbon economy.

The Future Fuels Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) was announced this week by Federal Assistant Minister for Science, Jobs and Innovation Senator Zed Seselja.

The Commonwealth is committing $26.25 million funding to the CRC during its proposed seven-year research program.

The balance of the funding will come from Australia’s energy industry and the six participating universities – University of Wollongong, University of Adelaide, University of Queensland, University of Melbourne, Deakin University, RMIT University.

The universities are collaborating on the CRC together with the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), two state-based energy regulators, and more than 60 companies through industry associations.

The Future Fuels CRC will undertake research and development to adapt existing gas infrastructure and equipment for the production, transport, storage and use of more sustainable “future fuels”, including hydrogen, biogas, and liquid derivatives like ammonia and methanol.

This will enable the Australian gas industry to provide a competitive, low-carbon energy alternative for residential, commercial, industrial and transport sectors to complement and support intermittent renewable electricity generation.

Future Fuels CRC CEO David Norman thanked all those who had participated in the workshops, planning and project development to bring the organisation to this position.

“The CRC will enable industry to leverage Australia’s competitive advantages in renewable resources and its existing world-class gas industry and become a world innovator in low-carbon energy production, transportation and use,” he said.

Senior Professor Pascal Perez, director of the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Smart Infrastructure Facility and a world leader in infrastructure modelling, helped prepare the Future Fuels CRC bid and said the centre would be pivotal to the decarbonisation of Australia’s energy networks.

“The CRC will play a key role in adapting existing infrastructure to Australia’s future energy needs, and how we can best transition to a low-carbon economy,” Professor Perez said.

The Future Fuels CRC will conduct research across three integrated programs.

The first will look into future fuels technologies, systems and markets, addressing technical, policy and commercial barriers to the increased use of future fuels and accelerating development of production technologies and end-use applications.

The second will address issues around safety and social acceptance of new fuels, so industry can more effectively design, build and operate projects needed to deliver Australia’s energy needs now and in the future.

The third will focus on the infrastructure itself, including the effect future fuels introduction will have on existing and new infrastructure.

Deakin deputy vice-chancellor (research) Professor Peter Hodgson said the university would contribute significantly to the new centre, building on its existing involvement in the Energy Pipelines CRC.

“We will add new dimensions to this work, particularly in two of the new CRC’s priority areas: Network Lifecycle Management and Future Fuel Technologies, Systems and Markets,” Professor Hodgson said.

“Researchers at our Institute for Frontier Materials, and through Deakin Energy, are undertaking world-leading research in pipeline maintenance and durability, corrosion, metals and steels, as well as in energy storage and renewable energy system development.

“Our pipeline research has focused on coating, testing and understanding corrosion behaviour and has achieved fundamental understandings to support Australia’s oil and gas industries.”

Professor Hodgson said Deakin researchers were also accelerating the prototyping and commercialisation of energy storage technologies.

“In addition, we are working with some of the world’s leading companies, including AusNet Services, to establish platforms for developing renewable energy systems and enhancing the interface between critical energy generation, storage and delivery components,” he said.

“The announcement is great news for Geelong, which is a base for a significant part of Deakin’s research, as we expect there will be spin-offs for local industry development in the future.”

In addition to training up to 50 industry-ready PhDs, the CRC will deliver seminars, conferences and training for industry and the wider community.

The Future Fuels CRC aspires to be at the centre of training for a whole new industry.