THE Story Bridge is 78 years old. Sydney Harbour Bridge is hitting 95. Australian bridges are designed for a life span of 100 years. Thankfully a clever group of structural engineers are on the case.

“The designers of these bridges allowed for the growth of traffic and load consideration, so safety factors for material strength were built into bridges like the Story and Sydney Harbour bridges,” QUT civil engineering professor Tommy Chan said.

“The Sydney Harbour Bridge is being fitted with 2400 sensors to monitor its structural health. 

“While this bridge has had regular maintenance, strengthening and tests to ensure it is safe, the use of sensors to detect damage caused by traffic, wind, temperature, vibration and extreme events add an extra level of safety by alerting asset owners to timely maintenance.

“Some defects or damage may not be detected using visual inspection only and a sensor system can let us know whether the structure is performing as expected,” he said.

Prof. Chan said the latest Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) technologies provided 24/7 monitoring of large structures and alerted asset owners when some part of the structure needed attention.

“SHM technologies add extra safety measures beyond the traditional method of routine scheduled, visual checks,” he said.

“Using SHM we can determine when structures need a retrofit, rehabilitation and strengthening.

“This is why the Australian Network of Structural Health Monitoring (ANSHM) is promoting SHM systems to be implemented to existing structures and built into new structures.”

“SHM uses various sensing devices and ancillary systems to monitor the in-situ behaviour of a structure to assess and evaluate its condition,” Prof. Chan said.

“We have developed extra SHM technologies to detect, locate, and assess the severity of damage and deterioration in not only bridges and but also buildings, dams and towers. 

“Spending 1-5 per cent of the construction cost of a structure on installing SHM during the build, can provide minimum to comprehensive levels to monitor structures for timely maintenance.

“It is an effective way to detect structural problems and also predict the remaining life of structures.

“Vibration-based damage detection uses accelerometers to identify the dynamic characteristics of bridges, such as frequencies and mode shapes,” Prof. Chan said.

“On suspension bridges we use anemometers to monitor wind speed and direction because there is a lot of aerodynamic interaction between wind, structure and traffic.

“We measure the traffic load and the bridge’s responses to know whether it is performing according to the design assumptions – the system gives an alert if it is not performing properly.

“With a concrete bridge, for example, we need to know the temperature inside the concrete as well as the outside in order to estimate any developing thermal stresses because if a structure needs to expand and it is stopped from expanding it adds stresses to the structure.”

Prof. Chan said bridges deteriorated at different rates depending upon bridge design and materials used.

“This means different SHM systems for different levels of monitoring need to be considered and implemented,” he said.

“The latest SHM technologies could help to determine what needs to be replaced, retrofitted, or rehabilitated.”

Prof. Chan said his ARC-funded research project on the development of prestressed concrete bridges using moving force identification would have been applicable in testing the Morandi Bridge in Genoa that recently collapsed.

“This bridge was the first modern prestressed, concrete cable-stayed bridge. The project developed three different methods to identify prestress force of existing bridges which will be useful to evaluate the loading capacity of existing prestressed concrete bridges.”

Prof. Chan and professor David Thambiratnam, together with other SHM experts in Australia established the Australian Network of Structural Health Monitoring (ANSHM) in 2009 at QUT to promote SHM technologies and raise general community awareness on its need and its value. Prof. Chan remains ANSHM founding president.

www.qut.edu.au

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THE Australian Academy of Science is proposing the development of a new ‘downward-looking telescope’ that could look at least 300km beneath the Earth’s surface to unlock Australia’s hidden mineral wealth.

The proposal is one of several in a 10-year plan for Australian Geoscience (2018-27) launched by the Academy’s National Committee for Earth Sciences.

The 10-year plan highlights how the world’s shift towards mobile device technology, renewable energy sources and electric cars will involve massive increases in demand for copper, cobalt, gold, rare-earth elements and other specialty metals.

The committee’s chair, Professor Sue O’Reilly, said one of the challenges for Australian geoscience in the coming decade is to ensure the right infrastructure was in place to know how and where to explore for the critical resources needed for Australia’s future.

“This is where the downward-looking telescope comes in,” Prof. O’Reilly said. 

“A piece of infrastructure like this would transform our minerals sector by making deep Australia visible. It would give us a new understanding of the vertical makeup of the continent and allow us to direct our mineral exploration efforts in the two-thirds of Australia that aren’t currently cost-effective to explore.

“By 2030 global demand for cobalt will be 47 times what it was in 2016 so, unless we can become self-sufficient in this strategic metal, Australia may be held to ransom with massive price increases and chronic shortages,” Prof. O’Reilly said.

“This exemplifies the need to generate new geoscience knowledge that will allow us to explore successfully in the covered areas of Australia.”

The plan also draws attention to the weakness in geoscience in Australia’s education system.

“Geoscience is largely absent in Australia’s school system because of a lack of teachers with qualifications in geoscience. Geoscience should be embedded as a core subject within every level of Australian STEM education and earth science graduates should be incentivised to obtain education qualifications,” Professor O’Reilly said.

The Australian Geoscience plan also calls for an expansion of Australia’s national computational capability to ensure that Australia retains and extends its lead in geoscience simulation and modelling capability.  

The National Committee for Earth Sciences has been supported in the development of this plan by the Australian Research Council, Geoscience Australia, the University of Melbourne, the University of Queensland, Macquarie University and the Australian Geoscience Council.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) estimates that within two decades 16 percent of cars – about 282 million – will be electric, which equates to about 2.8 million tonnes of cobalt.

Set against a current global annual production of cobalt of only about 100,000 tonnes – and Australia’s annual production is around 6,400 tonnes – the world will not be able to move en masse to electric cars without an enormous increase in finding and producing cobalt. Currently, 63 percent of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its market share is currently set to rise to 73 percent by 2025.

BNEF has estimated that by 2030 global demand for cobalt will be 47 times the demand in 2016. Unless Australia can become self-sufficient in this strategic metal, the country will be held to ransom with massive price increases and chronic shortages.

www.science.org.au 

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CLEAN and connected businesses are paving the way for Australia’s future economic growth – revealed in a new report from Westpac – and as a result the bank has launched a new division to help fund leading ‘scale-up’ companies.

Westpac’s Smart Industry Report on Emerging Industries identifies significant changes required to support a new breed of Australian businesses that are transforming traditional industries.

According to the report, one major challenge hindering innovation and Australia’s growth is the maturity of its capital market.

Westpac’s national head of emerging industries, Reeta Dhar said Westpac recognised these pioneering start-up and scale-up businesses struggle to scale without financial backing. She said Westpac has committed to filling a gap in the market “through a holistic banking service that can help set businesses up for success”. 

“Westpac wants to back the businesses that are backing Australia, which is why we are the first bank in Australia to set up a network of specialist bankers dedicated to emerging industries, and a risk appetite to provide debt funding to scale-up businesses,” Ms Dhar said.

Westpac’s report has identified it is the current wave of technology innovators who are ‘driving the transition to a digital and low carbon economy that provide the transformative potential Australia requires to prosper over the next decade’.

“We are committed to understanding the strategies, technologies and business models of these transformative companies and are unlocking a range of services that allow them to extend their operating runway, including access to debt,” Ms Dhar said.

Unlike the US, which offers a broad range of financial lending instruments to start-ups, access to debt funding for entrepreneurs in Australia has traditionally been challenging. Regulation and government are also impacting the digital and low-carbon sectors capabilities to accelerate growth, the report found.

In addition, Ms Dhar said, the report showed Australia needed to lift its game when it came to equipping people with skills relevant to the job market in 2030.

BANKING ON SCALE-UPS

Ms Dhar said Westpac had spent the last two years innovating core banking services so the bank could continue to aid the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Automotive technology start-up SEA Electric has been working with Westpac’s new Emerging Industries division to support the expansion of its Australian and international operations.

SEA Electric founder Tony Fairweather said access to trade finance had been the biggest challenge until now, but the next hurdle is incentivising customers to create demand for the business to be able to scale in the future.

“Australia is lagging behind in terms of supporting the electronic vehicle revolution,” Mr Fairweather said.

“We can learn from countries like the UK, US and New Zealand, which offer support and incentives such as rebates, registration eliminations, free tolls and special parking in cities, to transition people across the electric vehicle threshold early on,” he said.

The report concluded that while the transformation to a clean and connected economy in Australia is still in its early days, there is a multitude of positive indicators for the future.

Ms Dhar said, “Change and transformation can be confronting, but it is an exciting development which we are dedicated to supporting.

“Although it is a while away, and hurdles remain, there is still time for every part of the economy to not only adapt but participate in the opportunities that this will open up.

“All of us have a role to play in nurturing those businesses and industries that will fuel Australia’s future prosperity and Westpac is committed to playing its role to help emerging businesses meet their full potential.”

www.westpac.com.au/business-banking/industries/emerging-industries

The Smart Industry Report: Emerging Industries download: www.westpac.com.au/content/dam/public/wbc/documents/pdf/bb/Emerging-Industries-Smart-Industry-Report.pdf

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AUSTRALIA’s national science agency, CSIRO has produced the country’s first gold using a non-toxic chemical process that looks set to offer a global alternative to using cyanide and mercury to extract the yellow metal.

Cyanide and mercury pollution of local watercourses, often as a result of extreme weather events, has been known to endanger local populations and has caused the downfall of several major mining corporations.

CSIRO’s first gold is the result of early industry trials of its ‘going for gold’ technology and was produced in partnership with small gold miner Eco Minerals Research at a demonstration plant in the Western Australian goldfields town of Menzies.

Cyanide is used in more than 90 percent of global gold production, but producers are facing increasingly tough regulations that prevent or restrict its use due to environmental and health concerns. 

For example, in response to recent spills of toxic cyanide, several regional agencies in the United States, South America and Europe have banned the use of cyanide for gold extraction.

The technology replaces cyanide with thiosulphate, a non-toxic alternative, and a simple process flowsheet.

It could be a game-changer for Eco Minerals Research which has its sights set on becoming the first Australian producer to go cyanide-free.

“The first gold is a major milestone in our progress towards becoming one of the world’s first green gold producers,” Eco Minerals Research managing director Paul Hanna said.

“In close collaboration with CSIRO we’ve gone through the design, engineering and fabrication stages and set up a processing facility in Menzies, delivering the first gold pour in just 10 months, which is a fantastic achievement.”

The CSIRO research team behind the innovation has already had commercial success with another tailored cyanide-free gold solution developed with Barrick Gold specifically for the company’s Goldstrike Mine in Nevada, where it has been used for nearly four years to maintain production rates.

The $2.1 million demonstration project was made possible through $860,000 in funding from the Science and Industry Endowment fund (SIEF) and an Australian Government Innovation Connections grant.

“Science enabling industry and environment to be partners not competitors, exactly as envisioned in our market vision – turning commodities into higher value, uniquely Australian products,” CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall said.

“It has been accelerated through CSIRO’s ON program, and could be a game-changer for small gold producers or those looking to get ahead of increasing market demand for greener commodities.

“Early industry trials like this are critical to innovation and go to the heart of CSIRO’s mission to tackle big, real-world challenges and unlock a better future for everyone,” Dr Marshall said.

He said to reduce economic barriers to entry for small producers and help turn stranded gold deposits into production, CSIRO’s vision was to deliver the alternative process technology direct to mine sites via a mobile service.

A typical cyanide-based processing plant costs around $30 million, whereas the new technology has a lower capital investment costing as little as $2-2.5 million to build.

Find out more about CSIRO’s going for gold technology here.

www.csiro.au

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AUSTRALIA’s national science agency, CSIRO, is encouraging the rapidly developing domestic space industry to join international partners in a bold project to establish a permanent human base on the Moon.

Australian Space Agency chief – and former CSIRO chief executive – Megan Clark and current CSIRO CEO Larry Marshall are leading the call. They say a sector-wide ‘lunar challenge’ would be “an exciting opportunity for Australian industry to contribute to a common goal aimed at growing the size of our domestic space industry to $12 billion by 2030”.

Dr Marshall said it would also be used to inspire future generations with a new grand challenge, just as the US Apollo program did in the 1960s and 1970s. 

According to Dr Clark and Dr Marshall, meeting the lunar base challenge would involve Australian researchers and industry building capabilities in autonomous robotic systems; developing ‘in-situ resource utilisation’ on the Moon; new ways of managing habitat and life support systems; and finding new solutions in power and propulsion systems (see panel story below).

An international coordination group already exists. It has an aim to expand human exploration and presence in low Earth orbit, and on the Moon and Mars, over the next two decades.

Dr Marshall said Australian space sector support for the lunar challenge would be an opportunity to grow our existing relationships with global partners, including international space agencies.

The industry-wide appeal was launched in September by the Industry, Science and Technology Minister, Karen Andrews at the 18th Australian Space Research Conference on the Gold Coast.

The report Ms Andrews released – Space: A Roadmap for unlocking future growth opportunities for Australia – highlights Australia’s unique strengths and geographic advantages and ways to increase Australia’s share of the international space sector.

“Our space roadmap charts a course for economic growth using space, and champions a new era of space exploration to inspire our children with the power of science to make the ‘impossible’ possible,” CSIRO’s Dr Marshall said.
“Our existing space industry is built on a foundation of trust earned 50 years ago when we enabled the world to see mankind touch the Moon – that kind of inspiration is a key ingredient in supercharging growth in new industries, new jobs, new STEM talent and developing a dynamic nation where the sky is no longer the limit.”  

REPORTED PATHWAYS

Developed in consultation with industry, the Space report presents three key opportunity areas for potential development, which can support the growth of Australia’s ‘space economy’. 

By building capabilities in observing Earth from space, satellite communications, and positioning, navigation and timing data, Australia can grow new service-based businesses that address issues such as disaster and water management, according to the CSIRO.

By taking advantage of Australia’s geographic position in the southern hemisphere, the space sector can further its work with international programs that track objects in space, manage space debris, and enable deep space communication.

By harnessing Australia’s diverse industrial and research strengths across astronomy, mining, manufacturing, medicine, agriculture and robotics for Earth-based industry, the country can support space exploration and deep space gateway habitats to safely conduct robotic and human missions.

“CSIRO’s unique position creates a bridge between research and industry to deliver breakthrough innovation to Australian SMEs and start-ups across the space value chain,” Dr Marshall said.
Australian Space Agency’s Dr Clark endorsed the roadmap.

“This roadmap introduces some key scientific opportunities which Australia can utilise to drive engagement and growth across the space value chain,” Dr Clark said.

“Together, the Australian Space Agency, CSIRO and other key partners will drive the full potential of our nation’s capabilities and competitive advantages, optimising our R&D opportunities and targeting growth across the space value chain to build a space sector of which all Australians can be proud.”

Dr Marshall said CSIRO has deep expertise and a strong track record of engagement across the space sector – developed over 75 years – that included working with small-to-medium enterprises as well as with international space agencies and multinational corporations.

The new roadmap was developed by CSIRO Futures, the strategic advisory arm of CSIRO, following extensive industry consultation with nearly 150 business, government and technology representatives.

www.csiro.au

NEW AREAS OF RESEARCH

Autonomous robotic systems: Deep space exploration missions are hostile environments for humans, so developments in machine learning, AI and robotics are essential to gather data and supporting analytics.

In-situ resource utilisation: Using local resources at the exploration destination could require mapping and prospecting, processing of new minerals and materials and additive manufacturing capabilities.

Habitat and life support: Deep space exploration missions require innovative systems for all aspects of habitat and life support including food, medicine and shelter and waste management.

Power and propulsion: Technology solutions suitable for in-situ power generation, energy harvesting and storage, engine and fuel options for rockets and in-space propulsion.

Read Space: A Roadmap for unlocking future growth opportunities for Australia.


Watch the CSIRO Space Road Map video:

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THE University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sydney will release a new smart policy to address climate change – which the university argues is "the greatest challenge of our time".

The Australian Climate Dividend Plan (ACDP) involves a tax on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions with the revenue generated returned to all voting-age Australian citizens.

Developed by UNSW economics professor Richard Holden and law professor Rosalind Dixon, co-leads for the UNSW Grand Challenge on Inequality, the plan will be officially presented on November 20 at an event with the Federal Member for Wentworth, Kerryn Phelps. 

The plan outlines a comprehensive market-based approach to making energy in Australia more affordable and reliable, by an introduction of a universal carbon tax of $20-$50 per ton for all carbon emissions in Australia. The revenue generated would be returned to all adult Australian citizens, who would potentially see a tax-free payment of about $1,300 each per annum.

Professor Holden said the ACDP is modelled on similar proposals developed in the US by the Climate Leadership Council. 

“It’s a method we know works – albeit sometimes a hard sell," Professor Holden said. "The key to our proposal is that it not only provides strong market-based incentives to reduce our carbon emissions, it addresses the economic well-being of low-income Australians – previously a barrier to developing a meaningful policy response to climate change.”

The report serves to address legitimate concerns about what effective action on climate change would mean for the economic well-being of low-income Australians, their access to affordable transport and energy, and the competitiveness of Australian industry.

“Our carbon dividend approach bridges the left-right divide on climate policy,” Prof. Holden said. “It is at once conservative and progressive and provides a workable solution that will appeal to all sides of the political spectrum.”

One option canvassed in the ACDP is to phase in the carbon dividend, beginning at $20 per ton and increasing by $5 each year to $50. This would leave more than three-quarters of Australians better off financially, even if they did not change their consumption or energy use.

Under the plan Australian industry would remain competitive. Australian exporters to countries without a carbon tax would get a rebate for taxes paid. In addition, a fee would be charged based on the carbon component of exported goods to Australia from other countries that do not have a carbon tax – creating an incentive to produce less carbon or adopt a tax themselves.   

The plan would also see the rollback of subsidies for renewables and similar measures, which are unnecessary with the tax on carbon. This could save the government more than $2.5 billion annually.

UNSW engaged new independent MP for Wentworth,  Kerryn Phelps on the policy. Professor Phelps is regarded as being focused and passionate about addressing climate change.

"The people of Wentworth – and I think Australia generally – want decisive action on cutting greenhouse emissions and a carefully considered plan to transition the economy from fossil fuels to renewables,” Prof. Phelps said.

"At this stage, I’m not being overly prescriptive on the best pathway to achieve better climate change policy, but listening to the views of experts such as Professor Holden and Professor Dixon helps to inform me on developing the best policy settings to lead us to a clean energy future."

The UNSW Grand Challenges program aims to discuss and address the biggest issues facing humanity. The Grand Challenge on Inequality has previously developed policy reports on inequality and financial distress, including an innovative method for measuring the value of government expenditures.

For more information: UNSW’s Grand Challenges

Read the full report, A Climate Dividend for Australians.

www.unsw.edu.au

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A NEW $2 billion investment is heading in the direction of supercomputing facilities, microscopy and imaging capabilities, complex biology – including next generation sequencing – and support for clinical trials infrastructure.

Those are the leverage points for major new investment by the Federal Government in Australia’s medical research sector, continuing along the road to a goal of $20 billion in total funding for the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) by 2020-21.

The Federal Government’s latest $2 billion Research Infrastructure Investment Plan gives the sector a welcome long-term – about 10 years – commitment to seeing Australian researchers have the tools they need to make new discoveries in medical research. 

According to Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI) president Tony Cunningham, the funding will give the sector confidence to make co-investments. It will also give researchers the confidence to undertake long-term projects that will deliver health and economic benefits to the nation.

“The Investment Plan recognises an important fact – that we can only do world class research when we have access to world class research infrastructure,” Professor Cunningham said.

Prof. Cunningham applauded the government’s commitment of nearly $2 billion of funding announced in the Federal Budget for this Plan.

“This investment will make Australia a more attractive research destination, providing new opportunities for our best and brightest to stay here in Australia for their research career, and allow us to attract the very best global talent,” he said.

He said AAMRI was particularly pleased to see the new investment in medical research infrastructure.

“Our world-class research sector supports in excess of 150,000 jobs, and to keep supporting these jobs we need to keep supporting the infrastructure that underpins them,” Prof. Cunningham said.

He said the investment would help find ways to speed up identification of diseases such as cancer, develop new medical devices to deliver needle free vaccines and help develop new medical treatments to reduce future medical costs.

AAMRI, the peak body representing 49 medical research institutes across Australia, encompassing 15,000 staff and students, acknowledged that the Investment Plan provided a strategic, whole-of-government view to investing in Australia’s national research infrastructure system.

The Plan was developed following the Federal Government’s detailed consideration of the 2016 Roadmap, including nearly 500 written submissions and consultations with over 580 stakeholders.

The Medical Research Future Fund is regarded as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to significantly reshape the landscape of Australian medical research and innovation.

According to the AAMRI, Australia has world leading health and medical research and a world-class health system, but too often they operate in isolation from each other rather than as one system with the aim of a healthier community.

The MRFF was set up to provide the opportunity to bridge the gap between the two, seeing  Australian medical research and innovation in partnership with health practitioners.

Established by legislation in August 2015, the MRFF operates as an investment fund. With an account balance of around $7 billion and further capital injections to be made by the Australian Government over the next few years, the MRFF is scheduled to reach its target of $20 billion in 2020-21.

The MRFF’s capital is invested and the earnings are available to fund health and medical research and innovation.

www.aamri.org

www.researchaustralia.org

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