Australian agriculture was worth $71 billion to the economy in 2020-21, as a major exporter of red meat and wheat. The country is also rich in mineral resources, and exports minerals such as iron ore, coal, and bauxite. It has a completely different industrial structure from Japan, and is a major country in terms of science and technology research. The huge laboratory called CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization) covers a very wide range of themes, from medical care and healthcare to AI, green technologies such as renewable energy and batteries, the natural environment, mineral resources, space, and quantum physics. CSIRO has been a participant in RD20 (Research and Development 20 for Clean Energy Technologies) since it started in 2019. We asked Dr. Larry Marshall, Chief Executive of CSIRO, about his approach to RD20.
The Australian CSIRO has participated since the very first RD20. Dr. Marshall says it was fantastic that then-Prime Minister Abe, as the host, shared his vision of Society 5.0 and proposed that countries work together through science to solve climate change and energy problems. He also says he was passionate about participating in RD20, and also participated in working groups and advisory boards where many national research leaders were involved.
CSIRO has pursued Australia’s mission and strategy within RD20. For example, CSIRO has begun to use hydrogen to reduce CO2 emissions together with Japan, and has studied ways to improve productivity and transport technologies. In addition, CSIRO has reported on progress on this theme every year. Australia has been exposed to large-scale climate change events such as droughts, bushfires and floods in recent years. Japan is also exposed to similar floods, and Dr. Syukuro Manabe, winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics, predicted by computer simulation that warming and climate change will intensify due to CO2 emissions.
In Australia, CSIRO has commercialized the results of science and delivered both social and economic benefits. Examples include smart grids and solar systems, storage and charging for EVs, renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, and storage for these sources. CSIRO has also partnered with Japanese companies to implement environmental measures. Japan and Australia will work together to add value and innovate together, says Dr. Marshall.
Until now, it has been a time when responses to climate change and new energy sources, and the global pandemic have mixed, both from a political and an administrative point of view. RD20 is meaningful because it allows everyone from all over the world to come together to realize a joint program. Moreover, it is a place where everyone from young researchers to political leaders comes together, and Dr. Marshall says he experienced its diversity. Australia has partnered with India for many years, and RD20 has extended this further to work on decarbonization, energy metals, green steelmaking, and the circular economy. Japan was the intermediary for these initiatives.
CSIRO is also working on markets such as digital data science, robotics, manufacturing, agriculture, food, healthcare, energy, and water. It is working with Japan, for example by partnering with major companies to develop foods that can prevent cancer and diabetes. In industry, CSIRO is also working with major Japanese companies on research on metals and materials, and system control technologies for renewable energy, hydrogen, and zero-carbon.
Another challenge is reducing methane emissions from ruminant livestock, which account for close to 10 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions in Australia. To solve this problem, a seaweed-based food additive was developed to reduce methane released from cows via belching.
In addition, CCU (Carbon Capture and Utilization) is also challenging, which looks at how to capture and use generated gas. One solution is to capture CO2 and bury it in the ground. Another method is to convert CO2 to another substance and use it. For example, CO2 can be used directly in the food and beverage industries, and indirectly in the production of urea, which is a raw material for fertilizers.
In addition, up to now the steel industry has burned coal to carry out the chemical reaction of reducing iron oxide, but the reaction temperature can be lowered to about 150°C by using hydrogen to carry out the reduction process. The fossil fuel industry including coal is the third largest industry in Australia, so it is not easy, but CSIRO is promoting “green steelmaking” as a national project.
This year’s RD20 includes topics such as the introduction of energy management in transmission grids, the hydrogen value chain, decarbonization in industry using CCU, renewable energy such as social wind power and solar energy, and technologies for the conversion of hydrogen to ammonia (NH3). Although hydrogen can be stored and transported at high pressure, it is dangerous to do so. If hydrogen can be converted to ammonia first, it can be transported safely with less risk.
Electricity itself can be stored in batteries, but batteries take a long time to store energy (charge up). On the other hand, hydrogen can be stored and quickly converted to electricity. In Australia, two-thirds of the manufacturing industry uses gas and chemical energy. Hydrogen is an easy-to-use form of chemical energy.
This year’s RD20 will ask for support for energy transformation from both a scientific and a technological perspective. CSIRO has various organizations spread across Australia. According to Dr. Marshall, “We will create new science and technology and use digital technology to reduce emissions. To this end, we would like to collaborate with Japanese companies on commercialization. And we want to find big business areas for clean energy together.”
“In the past, we have developed EVs and charging systems together with Nissan Motor. Here, we actually developed a product and built a system that stores the power generated by solar panels in batteries. Later, we linked up with RD20 and collaborated with large Japanese companies to develop systems and supply chains that use all-hydrogen energy. In addition, we also collaborated Mitsubishi in material science to develop energy conversion materials.”
In battery development, we were also involved in the development of lithium-ion batteries with a major Japanese company. Australia has abundant resources of lithium, and the co-development greatly increased their value. In addition to the lithium that is used in the battery anode, there are also gold mines in Australia. While other countries use toxic cyanide compounds in processes to extract gold, we have developed a process to refine gold without the use of harmful chemicals. In other words, we can say that CSIRO is an organization that builds a sustainable environment and creates value.” Dr. Marshall hopes that collaboration between mineral-rich Australia and Japan, with its strong manufacturing industry, will lead to many more innovations in the future.
Kenji Tsuda, Editor in Chief, Semiconductor portal