Director's Report December 2023

14 Dec 2023

2023 has been an extremely eventful year for our centre, including multiple conferences, commissioning new laboratory facilities, major funding initiatives, and significant executive personnel changes. 

ACWEB had a strong year for research outcomes, and collaboration, publishing 120 indexed journal papers, in collaboration with researchers from 20 countries. The majority of our publications are in Water Research, Environmental Science and Technology and Chemical Engineering Journal, all premium Q1 journals in our core area. We also published two articles in Nature Communications, Zhetai Hu’s paper on the use of iron salts in integrated water management (senior CI Zhiguo Yuan), and Xueqin Zhang’s paper on exocellular electron transfer in methanotrophs (senior CI Shihu Hu). We also congratulate Zhetai on achieving the 2023 AWA Qld Young Water Professional of the Year Award. 

Our activity and collaboration is also showcased by organisation of the IWA Microbial Ecology in Water Engineering (MEWE) conference in Brisbane, in September 2023, chaired by Prof Jianhua Guo, and A. Prof Adrian Oehmen (School of Chemical Engineering), which sold out at 260 attendees, and attracted broad international and national interest. We also organised the Transforming Biosolids Training Centre symposium at UQ in September, attracting strong attendance by training centre and external national partners, including partner Universities RMIT, UNSW, and UWA. We thank the sponsors and attendees at both of these conferences. We are now organising the IWA Nutrient Removal and Recovery Conference, which will be held in the region in 2024. This event will also recognise the contributions to this field by our founding Director Professor Jurg Keller, who chaired BNR3 in Brisbane way back in 1997, an event which put ACWEB on the world stage.

We have had significant staff events in 2023. I am pleased to announce my appointment as director for the next 5 years (to end 2028), and I thank those who supported me through the competitive recruitment process. Our long-serving general manager, Dr. Sandra Hall, departed for the CEO role at Water Stewardship Asia Pacific in October. Ms. Krishna Gashi has been appointed interim general manager, having previously been the OH&S manager for ACWEB, and having operations and laboratory facility management experience in the Faculty of Science, UQ, and operations experience at QUT.

We have had extensive funding success in 2023, including 6 fellowships across four major funding calls, including ARC Early Career, ARC industry (early and mid-career), and Advance Queensland Industry fellowships. We thank our industry partners for their support in these applications, and the fellows for their achievements. Particularly A. Prof. Shihu Hu (recipient of an ARC Industry MCR) has been instrumental in developing industry engagement and supporting junior researchers. I also note a major new initiative by Prof Jianhua Guo, the ARC Training Centre for a Sustainable Carbon Bioeconomy, submitted in November 2023, and involving 5 Australian Universities, and 10 industry partners. This is an essential initiative for application of environmental biotechnology to ensure a sustainable chemicals processing industry, and links to ACWEB’s existing involvement in Bioplastics and Biosolids training centres.

This has been a significant year, with climate observations noting 2023 has been the hottest year on record, with major impacts across the globe, and COP28 identifying the urgent need for industrial transformation. Water and carbon play an integral role in this transformation, and our drive to contribute to this motivates our research and strategic directions. We look forward to further defining this through 2024.