Innovation fit for the Queen – Aerogard born in Canberra and WW II

The innovation that kept flies off Queen Elizabeth on a golf day in Canberra in 1963 became Australia’s iconic insect repellent – Aerogard – just one of the amazing results born out of 91 years of CSIRO in the national capital.

At a garden party at Canberra’s Government House in 1963, Queen Elizabeth was left madly swatting away flies after one of her aides lost the nerve to spray Her Majesty with a repellent developed by CSIRO’s famous entomologist Doug Waterhouse.

Above: Fighting mosquito threats.

Learning from experience, the next day was a different story – as documented in CSIROpedia:

“… Government House staff made sure the Queen was liberally sprayed before heading off for a game of golf.  Journalists following the Queen noted the absence of flies around the official party and word about CSIRO’s new fly-repellent spread.”

Above: Doug Waterhouse.

“A few days later the good people at Mortein called Doug Waterhouse for his formula, which he passed on freely, as was CSIRO’s policy at the time. The rest, as they say, is history with Mortein’s Aerogard going on to become an Australian icon, ensuring that we all ‘avagoodweekend’.”

After being recruited to the then CSIR Division of Economic Entomology, in Canberra in 1938, Doug carried out pioneering research to tackle Australia’s sheep blowfly problem. This research was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.

Above: Aerogard.

Commissioned with the rank of Captain in the Army Medical Corps, Doug was located in the Officer Reserves in Canberra and could be transferred to active service as needed. This arrangement gave flexibility for his wartime research focussed on finding ways to prevent malarial transmission by mosquitos. Speaking in 1993 about his work, Doug said:

“To begin with, I was testing oils for spraying onto mosquito breeding grounds …  I also had to test materials which might be used for mosquito sprays and housefly sprays to stop transmission of diseases.”

“For my tests, I would sit in a large muslin cage in a room, along with a thousand or so mosquitoes, and have a substance on each leg, another one on an arm and so on. This work got into the press, and as a result, we got many letters suggesting all sorts of materials and mixtures to be tested. As a matter of course, I tested all of these and all of their ingredients.”

Above: No flies on Queen Elizabeth at barbecue at Government House (1970). Source: National Archive of Australia.

Following some feedback from an oil company, Doug started testing a range of phthalates.
“I found that the diluted dimethyl phthalate was a good repellent but the pure dimethyl phthalate was quite outstanding.”

The formula was found to be equally as effective in field conditions in Newcastle and Cairns and with malarial mosquitoes in Papua New Guinea. Rather than experimenting on troops, Doug tested the product on himself and results were confirmed by entomological colleagues and given the go-ahead for use in the war.

Above: The Australian Bush Fly Musca vetustissima.

By 1943 the repellent, known as ‘Mary’, was protecting Allied troops throughout the Pacific from malarial mosquitoes.  Doug and CSIRO were unsung war heroes and this all gave rise to saving the Queen from the annoyance of Australia’s bush flies and to the ultimate development of Aerogard some 20 years later.

Above: 90 years of innovation in Canberra since the opening (here) of our Black Mountain site in 1927.

The Aerogard formula was just one of a long list of achievements credited to Doug Waterhouse during his 60 years as a renowned entomologist, scientist and administrator with CSIRO in Canberra. His contribution was pivotal to CSIRO’s successful blowfly research, to the development of integrated pest management and to CSIRO’s international recognition as a major centre for entomological research.

CSIRO has been solving some of the nation’s greatest challenges in the national capital since we opened our foundation building on Black Mountain in 1927. We like to share some of those stories on this site. And, by the way, we’re still finding ways to stop the mozzie disease threat.

CSIRO accelerates hydrogen-powered future

Australia is a step closer to a new hydrogen production and export industry following the national science agency’s successful refuelling of two fuel cell vehicles. 

CSIRO Chief Executive Larry Marshall was one of the first to ride in the Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo vehicles powered by ultra-high purity hydrogen, produced in Queensland using CSIRO’s membrane technology. This technology will pave the way for bulk hydrogen to be transported in the form of ammonia, using existing infrastructure, and then reconverted back to hydrogen at the point of use.

It has the potential to fill the gap in the technology chain to supply fuel cell vehicles around the world with low-emissions hydrogen, sourced from Australia. The membrane separates ultra-high purity hydrogen from ammonia, while blocking all other gases.

Above: CSIRO Chief Executive Larry Marshall takes the hydrogen-powered Toyota Mirai fuel cell vehicle for a test drive.

It links hydrogen production, distribution and delivery in the form of a modular unit that can be used at, or near, a refuelling station. This means that the transportation and storage of hydrogen – currently a complex and relatively expensive process – is simplified, allowing bulk hydrogen to be transported economically and efficiently in the form of liquid ammonia.

Recent advances in solar and electrochemical technologies mean renewable hydrogen production is expected to become competitive with fossil fuel-based production, providing an opportunity to decarbonise both the energy and transport sectors while creating new export opportunities.

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall is excited by the prospect of a growing global market for clean hydrogen, and the potential for a national renewable hydrogen export industry, to benefit Australia.

Above: Refuelling with H₂ gas.

“This is a watershed moment for energy, and we look forward to applying CSIRO innovation to enable this exciting renewably-sourced fuel and energy storage medium a smoother path to market,” Dr Marshall said. “I’m delighted to see strong collaboration and the application of CSIRO know-how to what is a key part of the overall energy mix.”

BOC Sales and Marketing Director Bruce Currie congratulated CSIRO on the successful refuelling of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, which proves the effectiveness of CSIRO’s membrane technology from generation, right through to point of use.

“BOC’s innovative engineering team are proud to be collaborating with CSIRO researchers on this technology breakthrough, as we focus on advancing the hydrogen economy and global transition towards clean hydrogen for mobility and energy,” Mr Currie said.

Above: Energy researchers in the hydrogen lab.

Following this successful demonstration, the technology will be increased in scale and deployed in several larger-scale demonstrations, in Australia and abroad. The project received $1.7 million from the Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF), which was matched by CSIRO.

In addition to its membrane technology, CSIRO is applying its expertise to all stages of the hydrogen technology chain (including solar photovoltaics, solar thermal, grid management, water electrolysis, ammonia synthesis, direct ammonia utilisation via combustion and/or fuel cells, as well as hydrogen production).

CSIRO anticipates fresh approach to market through RFP

Over the past seven years, CSIRO has been investigating how we can better utilise the Ginninderra site for the benefit of science and Australia. Following ‘Urban’ reclassification under the National Capital Plan Amendment in 2016, CSIRO formally called for Expressions of Interest (EOI) for a development partner for Ginninderra.  This first stage led to the official release of a Request for Proposal (RFP) in July 2017.

In 2018, CSIRO considered market feedback from the July 2017 RFP, particularly with regard to the staging of payment arrangements and also the mandated aspects of the science collaboration.  CSIRO recognises the need to ensure the best possible outcomes from the project as well as reduce complexity for bidders.

The anticipated refinements to any RFP requirements are such that only a fresh testing of the market will satisfy Australian Government probity standards and accordingly we hope to release a new and simplified RFP to the market in the coming months.

Organisations that have been involved in the previous procurement process (EOI and RFP) will be welcome to submit new proposals in response to any new RFP and to utilise work they have submitted previously.

CSIRO is actively engaging with the National Capital Authority as well as ACT Government to provide as much clarity as possible regarding external works and planning, key agreed design principles for the site and related economic development opportunities. This additional clarity will assist potential proponents in preparing comprehensive proposals for the expected RFP.

This website and future project updates will keep potential bidders and interested parties up to date with further news on the expected approach to market through an RFP. Any RFP will be formally notified and posted on AusTender as per Australian Government procurement processes.

As per usual we will be engaging with various community and interest groups over the coming months to provide the latest updates on the Ginninderra project.