Building research capacity to transform Australia’s waste industry and deliver better outcomes for society

About the Waste Transformation Research Hub

The Waste Transformation Research Hub will develop new technologies to transform materials that are currently considered waste into energy and other high-value products.

The Process

A conceptual representation of the proposed waste-processing platform.

Led by the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies, the multidisciplinary research team will apply its existing expertise in process intensification (PI) – an approach that blends the economies of large-scale plants with the flexibility and effectiveness of micro-scale processes – to deliver higher manufacturing productivities and enhanced value for industry. New and emerging PI technologies are already being used to build small, modular, energy-efficient, sustainable and safe plants that process waste at its source to produce high-value niche products. This can be done equally well in urban and regional areas.

Australia’s waste challenge

In Australia, as around the globe, more waste is being produced than ever before, due to increasing populations, increasing resource consumption per person and prevalance of single-use products.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics:

  • the total annual volume of waste generated in Australia nearly doubled between 1997 and 2007, from 22.7 million to 43.8 million tonnes
  • the annual volume of waste generated per person similarly increased over the same period, from 1.2 to 2.1 tonnes
  • the total annual volume of waste sent to landfill also increased between 2001 and 2007, from 19 million to 21.3 million tonnes.

The need for waste technology innovations

These statistics clearly show that Australia cannot continue to rely on landfill as its primary means of dealing with waste. We need new waste technology innovations. In particular, we need new technologies for the sustainable processing of waste.

This doesn’t simply mean disposing of waste in a less environmentally damaging manner. It means unlocking the value of this underused resource by converting it into safe, high-value chemicals and products for use in industry and homes. What we need to aim for is a circular economy, where materials production and end-of-life processing form a closed loop, with minimal ultimate waste. Sorting and processing waste at its source will maximise the efficiency of this value chain and reduce transport-related impacts.

One of the difficulties here is that Australia’s waste is very diverse in types and characteristics, and is generated from a variety of sources and in a range of quantities. These variables represent significant challenges to the development of any single technology to process all of Australia’s waste.

Looking ahead towards a circular economy

The proposed Waste Transformation Research Hub represents an opportunity for Australia to move to the forefront of waste technologies internationally. Its integration of advanced waste-management and waste-processing technologies – jointly driven by current industry leaders and world-class University of Sydney researchers – will generate economic, social and environmental benefits for our nation and for the international community.
Australia’s future waste industry needs deep transformation built on the concept of a circular economy. Social and regulatory factors will encourage maximum reduction, reuse and recycling of waste, and innovative business models will incentivise product and packaging designers to maximise material
recovery through whole-systems thinking.

The Circular Economy

The Concept of a Circular Economy