UNSW recycling and clean energy initiative secures Trailblazer funding

A combined SMaRT Centre-led recycling and UNSW/University of Newcastle-led clean energy initiative has been awarded $50 million under the Australian Trailblazer Universities Program.

Headed by UNSW in partnership with the University of Newcastle, the new $277 million Australian Trailblazer for Recycling and Clean Energy (ATRaCE) initiative will lead research commercialisation initiatives that will help Australia and the world transition to sustainable recycling and clean energy solutions and systems.

Federal Government funding of $50 million has been matched by $50 million cash and $47 million in-kind from UNSW and the University of Newcastle for the recycling and clean energy initiative. Over 20 industry partners have expressed support for the initiative and have committed more than $130 million in cash and in-kind contributions.

UNSW Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Attila Brungs, said that UNSW was proud and honoured to be leading Australia’s efforts in research commercialisation to support the nation’s manufacturing priorities.

“We are delighted to be able to work with the University of Newcastle and our innovative industry partners on transformative research projects that deliver real world outcomes. The Trailblazer program will undoubtedly strengthen university-industry collaboration to support the start-up and growth of Australian businesses. The Recycling and Clean Energy Trailblazer will create a step change in Australian environmental sustainability transition.

“UNSW has a proud track record of commercialising research such as solar panels, energy storage, Green Steel and various MICROfactorieTM technologies led by 2022 NSW Australian of the Year, ARC Laureate Professor, Veena Sahajwalla. We look forward to working with our partners on the Trailblazer program to deliver further change in the recycling and clean energy innovation landscape.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the UNSW – UoN partnership is the third Trailblazer to receive funding through the Trailblazer program which is designed to focus Australia’s considerable research power on Australia’s National Manufacturing Priorities.

Government Trailblazer website and announcement

UNSW announcement

UoN announcement

News story by InnovationAus

University of Newcastle Vice-Chancellor Professor Alex Zelinsky AO said: “This partnership between University of Newcastle and UNSW will combine the strengths of our two universities to give us the power to accelerate Australia’s clean energy and recycling industries and bring more, greener technologies to Australians.

“This program will transform the way technology readiness, commercialisation and industry-led research are prioritised, taught and rewarded in our universities with targeted opportunities for university staff and students to succeed.”

PM TB announcement

Image: Vice Chancellor, Professor Alex Zelinsky, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, UNSW Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Attila Brungs

Prof Veena said: "This recycling and clean energy consortium will be undertaking crucial, collaborative work to help create greater sustainability and transition to a more decarbonised society. I am thrilled some of our SMaRT Centre innovations and partners are at the very heart of this new initiative."

Professor Nicholas Fisk, UNSW Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research and Enterprise said the Australian Trailblazer for Recycling and Clean Energy is targeting the commercialisation of at least 63 new products which will contribute to the achievement of net zero emissions by 2050, delivering critical new skills for a high value manufacturing workforce, and enabling cultural change and workplace reform in our universities.

“Our projects, partnerships and investment under this initiative will accelerate a decade’s worth of change in just four years and create a legacy in industry-university collaboration. It is truly national, with projects in metropolitan and regional areas, and in all Australian states and territories, and beyond.”

The funding brings together the nation’s best recycling and clean energy researchers with businesses to create an entire innovation ecosystem for recycling and clean energy. Stretching from the Hunter to Sydney, it will unlock a full spectrum of existing facilities and infrastructure to support the sector.

Technologies developed in ATRaCE are projected to support more than 1,600 and up to 5,200 jobs in recycling and clean energy industries and their supply chains, in addition to greater workforce mobility between businesses and universities. ATRaCE will also see universities offering industry-endorsed courses in priority areas.

Key facts

  • Partners include 27 industry partners (80% SMEs) and CSIRO, who will develop specialised facilities to support work on electrification and solar.
  • Areas of focus will be:
    • Next Generation Solar and PV
    • Sustainable Fuels and Chemical Manufacturing
    • Recycling and MICROfactories™
    • Electrification, Energy Systems and Storage
    • Leveraging SMaRT's Green SteelTM technology for aluminium
  • Analysis (PwC Australia) found ATRaCE will support 380 direct jobs and 100 indirect jobs during each year of the program.
  • The program will contribute $212M to GDP after four years, not counting the more than $200M program budget.
  • Importantly, ATRaCE will seed long term potential, creating 52 new patents, moving 54 technologies up the value chain, and bringing 57 new products to market.
  • The technologies developed in ATRaCE are projected to support up to 5,200 jobs in recycling and clean energy industries and their supply chains.
  • Across a 20-year timeframe, ATRaCE will contribute up to $15B to GDP.

In partnership with industry, the universities have secured investment and commitments for the development and commercialisation of solutions helping Australia and the world transition to more sustainable energy and material systems in the following priority areas:

  • Electrification, Energy Systems and Storage
  • Sustainable Fuels and Chemicals Manufacturing (with a special focus on Power-to-X “P2X” based production methods for hydrogen and sustainable aviation fuels)
  • Next Generation Solar PV and Systems
  • Recycling and MICROfactories

UNSW was recently selected as academic lead – alongside University of Newcastle – and headquarters for the $15 million NSW Decarbonisation Innovation Hub, of which the SMaRT Centre is a partner. The Hub is a key part of the NSW government’s Net Zero Industry and Innovation Program and will bring together government, industry, and researchers to fast-track technologies to decarbonise NSW. 

UNSW SMaRT Centre Head of Strategy, stakeholders and Communication: Stuart Snell via s.snell@unsw.edu.au.