TRACTILE solar roof tile designer and manufacturer, Gold Coast-based Trac Group Holdings, has welcomed billionaire Tesla owner Elon Musk’s planned expansion into the global solar roof tile market.

Trac Group managing director Jason Perkins said the high-profile entrepreneur’s foray into the solar roof tile business would enhance the industry and raise awareness among consumers. 

“During the past eight years we have developed, product tested and refined our Tractile Solar Roof tiles and we are now preparing to start a global roll-out of our products,’’ Mr Perkins said.

“Tractile was one of the first companies to offer solar roof tiles, and the only one in the world that offers both electricity and heated water from a solar roof tile. We are technology leaders with a strong focus on design.

 “Mr Musk has done the industry and our company a huge favour by highlighting the opportunity for the solar roof tile sector.

“It is forecast that the Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) market will grow from about $3 billion in 2015 to over $9 billion in 2019, and surge to $26 billion by 2022.

“Like electric cars, and battery storage, when Musk moves into an industry it is because he sees opportunity.” 

Mr Musk has unveiled prototypes of a new roof combining roof shingles and solar cells and announced his Tesla and SolarCity businesses were expanding into the industry.

Trac Group, which is the designer and manufacturer of award-winning roofing products, attempted an Australian Stock Exchange listing earlier this year to raise funds for the international expansion but it was withdrawn.

“One the issues we encountered during the listing process was that large investors were wary of the technology and unaware of the potential of the market,’’ Mr Perkins said.

“Elon Musk’s announcement has lifted global awareness of the opportunity almost overnight and we are pleased that a visionary business leader such as Mr Musk realises the potential for these products around the world. It validates the opportunity for Tractile to be a key player in this growing market, as well as a potential takeover target.

“At present we have requests for quotes from literally hundreds of potential customers and we are excited about the prospects for the future. 

“Mr Musk’s announcement will help us to attract additional capital, which we need to fund our planned global roll-out, and attract large developers who are looking for innovative products to integrate into their projects.”

Mr Perkins said the US market required five million new roofs every year while the Australian market builds about 100,000 roofs every year. Mr Musk’s company plans to enter the US market next year.

Trac Group Holdings director Bertio Terpstra said he believed Mr Musk’s company would help Trac Group’s efforts. “Our focus at this stage is on niche markets rather than the mass consumer market,’’ Mr Terpstra said.

“We are marketing our products to eco-villages, 50-plus developments, high-end architect-designed homes and off-grid projects.

“Developments that involve bodies corporate are attracted to our products because they should pay for themselves within six years of construction and can be fully financed for retrofit projects.

“I recently attended the Solar Power International exhibition in Las Vegas and there were no building integrated roofing systems on show,’’ Mr Terpstra said.

“The products on display were 10 years behind where we are now and as a result we have appointed an agent in California to sign up distributors in the USA.”

Mr Terpstra said the exclusive distribution licences would be initially priced at $200,000 for every million people in the distributor’s target area.

“The research shows that for every one million people, there are approximately 4000 new roofs required every year, so our distribution licences have been priced to take that into account,’’ Mr Perkins said.

“In exchange our distributors will have exclusive territory access to a variety of Trac Group’s product lines, trademarks and intellectual property.”

“For each territory of one million people or more, the distributor will receive $35,000 worth of stock to establish demonstration homes.”

Mr Perkins said the company had received more than 2200 business leads since its attempted stock exchange listing.

“Trac Group Holdings has been approached by 64 potential distributors interested in arrangements in 12 different countries,’’ Mr Perkins said.

“We also have had requests for product information from 200 retail customers in five different countries for new construction projects and renovations.



A NEW hybrid energy centre to transform low-emission technologies has been launched by Australia’s science agency, CSIRO, supported by Delta Energy Systems Australia and Toyota Australia.

The Centre for Hybrid Energy Systems is a collaborative facility to research cutting edge renewable and hybrid energy technologies. 

CSIRO fellow, Sukhvinder Badwal said the centre would be a hub for researchers and industry to identify, improve and then tailor energy technologies to meet specific requirements.

Combining two or more forms of energy generation, storage or end-use technologies, hybrid systems deliver overall cost and efficiency benefits, compared with single source energy systems, Dr Badwal said. Configurations include renewable or non-renewable energy sources, electrical and chemical energy storage and fuel cells, often connected via a smart grid.

Dr Badwal said there was a rapidly growing global demand for hybrid energy systems based on increased availability of renewable and modular power generation and storage technologies such as batteries, fuel cells, and household solar.

“These technologies are becoming cost competitive, but the key to greater use is to combine them in connected hybrid systems,” Dr Badwal said.

“By doing this, we can offer substantial improvements in performance, reliability of power, flexibility and cost.”

The collaborative space will be used to share the benefits of emerging hybrid energy systems with industry and government to maximise the value of local energy sources.

Centre for Hybrid Energy Systems partner, Delta Energy Systems Australia, is a developer and manufacturer of environmentally-friendly electric vehicle, solar-supported, fast-charging technologies.

Delta Energy Systems Australia director Allen Chao said his company was set to embark on a range of collaborative research projects with CSIRO in this field.

“The opening of the Centre for Hybrid Energy Systems will expand research in this area and marks a significant milestone to ensure the success of any industry cooperation,” Mr Chao said.

Senior executive advisor to the board of Toyota Australia, Bernie O’Connor congratulated CSIRO on the opening of a research hub for these important technologies.

“Toyota Australia recognises the importance of research into alternate green energy sources, as well as its role in the development of future infrastructure for fuel cell vehicles, which are powered exclusively by hydrogen,” Mr O’Connor said.

The Centre for Hybrid Energy Systems will also provide education, testing and certification services for emerging storage batteries, hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.

Dr Badwal said it was underpinned by CSIRO’s research across low-emission energy technologies that create value for industry and households and provide the knowledge which will help guide Australia towards a smart, secure energy future.

INNOVATION and Science Australia chair, Bill Ferris, called for a “greater focus on the role of innovation in driving future economic growth and prosperity” at the recent NZVCA 2016 Private Equity and Venture Capital Conference in Wellington, New Zealand.

Mr Ferris told the conference that strengthening our national innovation systems was essential in preparing for a future characterised by increasing global economic competition. 

“Heading deeper into this 21st century, innovation will play an increasingly vital role in securing and maintaining the economic growth and individual prosperity to which countries like New Zealand and Australia have become accustomed,” Mr Ferris said.

Mr Ferris said he was an admirer of the successes enjoyed by New Zealand start-ups.

“There are some great stories about innovative companies coming out of New Zealand,” he said. “These types of successes are important, and not merely for the founders, investors and end-users of innovative new products or services, but for the trajectory of the national economy as a whole.”

Realising the benefits that innovative and start-up companies can bring to a national economy depends in part on creating a culture that “celebrates success while seeing the value in learning from ventures that don’t work”.

Facilitating the development of a national culture that fully embraces innovation is a key objective of Innovation and Science Australia. The upcoming audit of Australia’s innovation system and the following 2030 Strategic Plan will provide whole-of-government advice on fully harnessing Australia’s innovation potential.

Mr Ferris strongly urged conference attendees to be active in seeking-out opportunities to support up and coming innovative businesses in a rapidly developing and constantly transitioning global economy.

“Encouraging the development and growth of start-ups, supporting the commercialisation of publicly-funded research and attracting R&D investment, are all important priorities and ones that our countries share in common.” Mr Ferris said.



REDBACK Technologies is one of Queensland’s outstanding companies in a field that is very much ahead of the innovation curve itself – future power management, especially integrating solar energy. 

A measure of how far Redback Technologies is ahead of the field is its attraction of a $9.3 million investment in the company by leading energy retailer EnergyAustralia, establishing a partnership aimed at developing new technology to help Australians take control of their energy consumption. 

Under the partnership, EnergyAustralia will promote the Redback Generation 2 Smart Hybrid Solar Inverter System to its 1.7 million customers in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory and South Australia.

Redback’s solar inverter system is scalable, easy to install and offers a faster return on investment than other competitors in the market. It can be run from a smart phone and is also battery and solar panel agnostic, which means it works with existing systems.

“Our partnership with EnergyAustralia significantly accelerates Redback’s technology roadmap and strategic plan for leading the disruptive change required for mass adoption of renewables,” Redback Technologies founder and managing director Philip Livingston said.

The inverter includes Redback’s cloud enabled intelligent system for analytics and remote control, the Ouija Board. Making use of the Internet of Things and technology gives homeowners and commercial users options through a smart device.

The technology uses machine learning to gather intelligence over time, learning from user preferences as well as drawing data from external factors like the weather.

“It is Redback’s mission to build infrastructure for the future grid, infrastructure that enables grid stability without reliance on centralised fossil generators,” Mr Livingston said. “Democratising access to clean energy by shifting reliance to decentralised renewable generation, whereby allowing consumers to monitor, store and control their own solar energy assets as a means of ensuring power is there when they need it.” 

Redback Technologies is based at the University of Queensland’s start-up incubator, iLab, and recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the university to commercialise its research and development in the solar space. This investment will see the startup expand its business and fuel the Queensland economy by creating about 60 new jobs – software and hardware developers along with client service specialists – the before the end of 2016.


SYDNEY manufacturer Romar Engineering and CSIRO have co-invested in a new $1.25 million 3D printer to produce new advanced manufacturing products for the medical and aerospace sectors.

The Lastertec three-dimensional additive manufacturing machine was launched in September by Assistant Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Craig Laundy at Romar’s workshops in Sefton, NSW. 

The German-made device will enable Romar and CSIRO to work together to conduct industry leading research in the manufacture of medical devices, titanium body implants and components for engines and machines.

Mr Laundy congratulated Romar Engineering and CSIRO on establishing a relationship that benefits both organisations in developing advanced manufacturing techniques that work in a global environment.

“Romar Engineering has a strong track record in working with government and researchers since the business was established in 1968 as a toolmaking and engineering business, servicing the automotive and industrial trade,” Mr Laundy said.

“By showing initiative and working with organisations like CSIRO and the government’s growth centres, Romar has adapted to market changes and now provides precision manufactured components to the medical, aerospace, aeronautical and other industries.

“CSIRO are committed to collaboration with business as part of their Australia’s Innovation Catalyst Strategy 2020, and to delivering scientific and engineering innovation to transition Australian manufacturing,” he said.

“Australia’s manufacturing base remains essential to our future economic growth and prosperity and must continue to transform to deliver advanced manufacturing products and processes.”

The sector employs about 900,000 people and accounts for more than a quarter of Australian business expenditure on research and development. However, Mr Laundy said, its long-term success lies in providing value-added products and services, both locally and globally.

The government is supporting the transition by encouraging collaboration and the commercialisation of research through initiatives such as the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre and the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre.



A START-UP incubation space to nurture the next generation of business leaders at QUT has been officially opened by Australia’s first State Chief Entrepreneur, Mark Sowerby.

The QUT Foundry, a co-working and mentoring space at QUT’s Gardens Point campus, was officially launched by Queensland Chief Entrepreneur Mark Sowerby on October 21. 

Mr Sowerby is one of the state’s most successful entrepreneurs and best known as the founder and former managing director of Blue Sky Alternative Investments Ltd, an ASX-listed diversified funds manager focussed on alternative assets. 

Through Blue Sky, Mr Sowerby has helped grow a portfolio of innovative companies – including Toowoomba organic producer Kialla Pure Foods, fashion groups Shoes of Prey, Aquila and Eloquii and wine ‘game changer’ Vinimofo – along with a range of cutting edge sustainable property developments, including many in the student accommodation sector.

As the inaugural Queensland Government-appointed Chief Entrepreneur, Mr Sowerby helps set Queensland’s strategy to identify, attract and nurture opportunities to best position Queensland as the Start-up State.

The QUT Foundry, powered by QUT’s innovation, venture and investment company qutbluebox, is a space for QUT student entrepreneurs, staff and alumni to devise and develop ideas. As well as mentoring opportunities, QUT Foundry start-ups will have access to regular events and advice from industry experts.

Mr Sowerby said QUT was “a force to be reckoned with” and praised the opening of QUT Foundry as the latest step in the university’s evolving entrepreneurial focus.

“You can’t have enough of these spaces,” Mr Sowerby said.

“What you’re really playing for is that random interaction, that sliding door moment that changes the world.

“QUT is an incredible place. There is so much momentum here and everybody’s behind it.”

QUT has been selected to host the MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp at Gardens Point campus in March, 2017.

QUT deputy vice-chancellor for research and commercialisation, Arun Sharma said QUT Foundry was part of a wider commitment to making QUT a hub for emerging entrepreneurs.

“Queensland has a strong track record in fostering globally successful entrepreneurs like Mark Sowerby and QUT will be at the forefront of encouraging the next generation,” Professor Sharma said.

“The QUT Foundry is an exciting, creative space where young entrepreneurs will have support to transform innovative ideas into real world business solutions.”




THE AUSTRALIAN Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) has developed nuclear interrogation techniques to help understand and sustain groundwater resources across Australia.

Groundwater research at ANSTO has provided crucial information to answer questions about groundwater recharge, groundwater age and dynamics, the interaction between surface water and groundwater and salinisation.

ANSTO groundwater researcher, Karina Meredith said in undertaking groundwater investigations, environmental isotopes were important tools in tracing and understanding the hydrological cycle, a continuous process in which water is circulated between ocean, atmosphere and land.  

Ms Meredith uses stable and radioactive isotopic techniques in projects across Australia to determine the suitability and sustainability of groundwater resources. This water begins as rainfall or surface water that travelled from the surface to below the ground to become stored in porous soils and rock known as aquifers. 

In research that commenced in 2007, Ms Meredith and co-investigators have measured the isotopic signatures of groundwater and its source waters in projects in the Great Artesian Basin, Darling River Basin, Canning Basin, Perth Basin, Ti Tree Basin and other locations. 

“There is nothing simple or predictable about the flow and evolution of groundwater — as many factors such as, rainfall, temperature, vegetation, land use, soil type, geology, seawater intrusion, and human usage, impact on the available groundwater resource,” Ms Meredith said.

“But we can measure the groundwater chemistry of these resources in our laboratories to provide direct information about how the groundwater has interacted in the water cycle.”

Determining the source of groundwater replenishment or recharge, to the aquifer, is the subject of many of Ms Meredith’s collaborative investigations. 

“It is important to understand the origin of water, where the water has been sourced from, whether it has come from a rainfall event, from surface water, such as a lake, whether it has mixed with other groundwater in a confined or unconfined system and how it is being replenished,” Ms Meredith said..

The ratio of isotopes for oxygen (18O/16O) and deuterium (2H/1H), an isotope of hydrogen, can be used to determine the source of the recharge, especially if the isotopic composition of the source of the water has been studied.

Meredith and co-investigators have established multi-year hydrochemical databases for rainfall and riverwaters sampled from drought and flood conditions for many catchment areas in Australia. Groundwater data can be plotted against these baselines to confirm the source of recharge.  

Research on a semi-arid zone region of the Darling River catchment was published in a paper in the Journal of Hydrology in 2015.

The groundwater recharge process in semi-arid and arid areas, which characterises 70 percent of the Australian continent, is complicated by cyclic wetting and drying periods that occur throughout climatic history.

 Just looking at information over a decade, groundwater recharge may not be significant, which is why long-term studies are needed to capture 10-100 year recharge events. 

“Without this recharge information we cannot determine how quickly groundwater is being replenished which then allows us to calculate the sustainable volume of usable water within an aquifer,” Ms Meredith said..

“Determining the residence time of groundwater, how long it has been isolated form the atmosphere, is also important for estimating groundwater volume and we can do this by measuring radioactive isotopes.

“Typically groundwater studies commence with the development of a physical flow model to establish how much water there is, the flow path and flow rate and where it is likely to end up in a catchment.

Flow equations can be used to produce a model but they are only as good as the input data that goes into constructing them. 

“Groundwater flow models cannot always explain all the variation observed in a groundwater system. This is where isotopic analysis can provide validation of the physical models,” said Meredith. 

The radioactive decay of a suite of naturally occurring isotopes can be used to determine the groundwater residence time.

Specific isotopes are measured because they are indicative of defined periods in time based on their half-life. For the modern age, krypton, tritium and radon can be used. 

Tritium (3H), an isotope of hydrogen that is naturally produced in the atmosphere by cosmic rays, is valuable in understanding modern groundwater recharge within the past 50 years. 

“If we want to look at waters older than 1,000 years up to 30,000 years, we use radiocarbon,14C. Most of our deeper productive groundwater systems were recharged over that timescale,” Ms Meredith said.

How this works is that carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is recharged into the groundwater system, once the water containing the CO2 hits the watertable radioactive decay is considered to begin. 

“Put simply, if you compare the groundwater data with atmospheric data, then you can create groundwater age maps of underground systems,” Ms Meredith said.

Meredith and collaborators used this approach successfully on a project in the West Canning Basin within the Pilbara region of Australia, where they found groundwater estimated at 6,000 years but they also discovered groundwater that was much older than what the physical models could predict.

The groundwater was closer to 30,000 years old.

Ms Meredith pointed out that although radiocarbon dating works well in the West Canning Basin, its use can be complicated at other sites especially by the presence of ‘dead’ carbon that contains no 14C within the soil profile. 

“You can end up with an increase in dissolved inorganic carbon, which means you need to make a correction to the radiocarbon value,” she said.

There is an increasing level of complexity and parameters in correction models that can be applied especially in arid zone environments. 

In order to test their age calculation within an arid zone system to see if all hypothetical dissolution pathways existed, they chose the Darling River Basin.

“We wanted to see how dissolved inorganic carbon evolved in the resultant groundwater, so we measured groundwater before and after a large flood event to see how the groundwater changed after recharge” Ms Meredith said.

To their surprise they found geochemical processes not previously accounted for had released inorganic carbon into the groundwater. The results are being published in Geochemica and Cosmochimica Acta.

“Water sediment interaction was leading to an increase in salinity, which then increased the dissolution of carbonate, which goes against what we normally see,” Ms Meredith said.

For groundwaters that are much older, such as those in Australia’s Great Artesian Basin up to millions of years old, isotopes of chlorine and krypton provide an indication of groundwater age.

In addition to extensive groundwater sampling, researchers also sample the surface water, rainfall, soil chemistry, soil gas and vegetation throughout a catchment.

“We do this because it gives us an understanding of the entire water cycle within a groundwater catchment providing clues on groundwater recharge, evaporation rates, and groundwater discharge points,” she said.

“Trace element isotopes, such as lithium, strontium and boron, help illuminate more complex hydrochemical processes, such as water sediment reactions, the source of water recharge, mixing of paleowaters and weathering processes.”

But even with expertise in the application of isotopes, it requires a considerable knowledge of geological, hydrological processes which lead to the distribution of these isotopes, biospheric interaction, and atmospheric processes that fractionate these isotopes before you can apply them to a system with confidence.

Groundwater researchers at ANSTO have acquired this expertise over many years in the field and in the lab.

“There are many challenges. Groundwater is a finite resource, but we are making good progress in understanding aquifer replenishment and providing water managers with useful information to guide their decision-making for the future.”



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