Director's Report: March 2021

25 Mar 2021
(Left) Qld AWA Branch President Nicole Davis and (right) Professor Zhiguo Yuan

This week we celebrated World Water Day! According to the UN, the value of water is much more than just its price, acknowledging the multiplicity of cultural, economic, social and environmental values. This intersection of values is critical to informing water management particularly with the growing population, changing climate and shrinking resources. I would like to sincerely acknowledge the people and livelihoods affected by the wide-spread flooding occurring across south east Australia. The record-breaking rainfall is in stark contrast to 2 years ago where we saw another extreme, the hottest March on record. I believe that more than ever, our roles in integrated water management are important in tackling these complex challenges. 

On this note, we are excited about our contribution to the CRC-P recently awarded to Urban Utilities: Revolutionising sludge management turning costly waste into a safe product. This project focuses on biosolids, a low quality and high-volume by-product of sewage treatment. This CRC-P will accelerate the UQ-owned Lodomat technology to TRL 8, through demonstration and validation by a consortium of 6 partners, including wastewater service providers Urban Utilities and Water Corporation, resource-recycling technology provider Aquatec Maxcon, organic waste service providers Arkwood and REMONDIS, and biosolids regulatory agency Department of Environment and Science. The CRC-P aims to substantially increase capacity of existing sewage treatment infrastructure, produce high quality biosolids for unrestricted use as soil fertilizer, and increase bioenergy recovery from wastewater and organic waste. With ~$4.3M funding over three years, the program will feature a full-scale demonstration at an Urban Utilities’ wastewater treatment plant. 

The Centre is busy co-creating new collaborative initiatives, with our bid for the ARC Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Carbon Bioeconomy taking shape and gaining momentum. The CoE SCB will bridge the agricultural and manufacturing sectors, enabling the production of liquid fuels/chemicals, bioplastics, and protein feed using renewable/recycled carbon recovered from waste products such as biomass and manufacturing flue gases. Our research partners span 5 states: UQ, Curtin University, Macquarie University, Monash University, The University of Sydney, and University of Tasmania. We are currently seeking key stakeholders from industry and government, and I invite you to contact AWMC if you are interested in contributing to this innovative platform. I am also pleased to report AWMC recently submitted 4 Discovery, 2 Linkage, and 3 DECRA (Discovery Early Career Researcher Award) applications to the Australian Research Council. Congratulations to Dr Bernardino Virdis, Dr Shihu Hu and the wider team for securing Linkage Project, Production of valuable chemicals from gaseous waste, with partners Urban Utilities and Nippon Steel Corporation. We are also leading a UQ bid for the Rotary International Centre of Excellence for Water, which has been shortlisted from 6 invited universities. Combined, this intensive effort shows we have strong capacity across the Centre, and I thank the researchers and industry partners for their significant contribution and support. 

I would also like to highlight recent achievements in AWMC research excellence and impact. Assoc Prof Jianhua Guo’s team recently discovered that artificial sweeteners are linked to antibiotic resistance. Over past weeks, these findings have been featured in more than 20 media outlets, with television (9 News) and radio interviews. On this topic, Dr Yue Wang, a recent AMWC graduate, published 3 first-author articles in the top-quality ISME Journal, an impressive feat during her studies. PhD student, Mr Hesamoddin Rabiee has published a review article in Energy and Environmental Science which has an incredible Impact Factor of ~30 (<2% of journals have an Impact Factor >10). And congratulations to Dr Chen Cai, Dr Shihu Hu and team for winning the ISME Journal 2020 Best Paper Award with article, Anaerobic methane oxidation coupled to manganese reduction by members of the Methanoperedenaceae

With the Covid situation in Australia improving, we are looking forward to more in-person interaction with partners. Following the successful launch of online IWES last year, stay tuned for more announcements about face-to-face IWES training at the Gold Coast, scheduled for 12th-16th July. In the meantime, we hope to catch up with industry colleagues at OzWater’21 in May, where our collaborative AQIP Zero Energy Sewage Treatment project is a finalist in the AWA R&D Excellence Awards. 

Prof Zhiguo Yuan, AM