CSIRO targets ‘Team Australia’ missions for a brighter future

CSIRO is drawing on its 100-year history to develop a missions program and a ‘Team Australia’ approach with partners across science and industry, to support Australia through tough times.

On the centenary of CSIRO’s first mission, to eliminate Prickly Pear, the national science agency this week announced plans to work with the government, universities, industry and the community, on a new missions program to bolster Australia’s COVID-19 recovery and build long term resilience.

CSIRO will direct $100 million annually to the co-creation of missions, working with the brightest minds across the research sector and industry.

The program of large scale, major scientific and collaborative research initiatives, will be aimed at solving some of Australia’s greatest challenges, focused on outcomes that lead to positive impact, new jobs and economic growth.

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said the collaboration and goodwill stimulated by the response to COVID-19 can be harnessed and used to accelerate our recovery, create new jobs and stimulate the economy.

“While COVID-19 will undoubtedly continue to disrupt, Australia will come together through this crisis and build a strong future in the process. We are calling for partners to join this Team Australia approach to solving what seem like unsolvable problems,” Dr Marshall said.

Through this missions program CSIRO and partners will help Australia achieve outcomes such as to:

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews welcomed CSIRO’s continued commitment to solving real-world problems.

“Science and technology are our greatest tools when it comes to maximising opportunities and addressing the challenges that face Australia at this time of great upheaval,” Minister Andrews said.

“We need to make sure that our scientists and researchers are working collaboratively with industry to solve real world challenges for the benefit of everyday Australians.”

Organisations and institutions interested in learning more about the missions program, or partnering with CSIRO can visit or contact 1300 363 400.

 A woman in purple looking down in a lab with two men behind her having a conversation. Working together at the Lindfield Collaboration Hub
A silver disk being held by two hands. Scientists working on equipment for hydrogen membrane technology
A man wearing a cap standing outside on a farm, leaning on a post using an ipad. New technologies and innovation to help farmers deliver food security

A crisis that could shape our future cities

COVID-19 is a health and economic crisis that’s taken the world by surprise, but could also be an opportunity for Australia to shape a smarter, greener, safer, and healthier future for our cities

Will COVID-19 change the shape of our cities, and how we live in them?

Experts and community leaders have been calling for a rethink of everything, from urban density, public housing and greenspace, to public transport, remote working, and decentralisation.

Yet COVID-19 joins a long list of threats and challenges already facing Australia’s big cities – population growth, climate change, rising temperatures, water security, waste management, congestion, and an ageing population, to name a few.

Reshaping cities in the light of the pandemic and these pre-existing challenges may seem like a complicated task.

But, by taking a systems-based approach and a long-term perspective, researchers can help those responsible to lay the foundations of more adaptive, resilient cities – cities that will better support our response, as a nation, to pandemics and other future shocks.

Urban Living Labs

CSIRO has been working with government, business, industry and community groups to find innovative ways of integrating science with urban planning and design through its Future Cities initiative. The initiative has established two Urban Living Labs – one in Western Sydney and the other in Darwin – with a third proposed for Ginninderra in Canberra.

CSIRO researcher Guy Barnett says the labs are places where scientists can push boundaries and trial new ways of doing things in a real-world setting.

He feels that the COVID-19 ‘pause’ presents another opportunity for urban planners to ‘reset’ and take a fresh look at what does and doesn’t work in modern cities – for example, the ageing public housing high-rises in Melbourne, where factors such as high residential densities, shared community facilities including laundries, and tight corridor and lift spaces accelerated the spread of COVID-19.

“We really live in yesterday’s cities, in that they reflect planning decisions made 50 to 100 years ago, like those public-housing high-rises built back in the 1960s.

“The thinking to date has been that compact cities are the best way to deliver the most sustainable outcomes, in terms of energy, water use, land conservation, and so on. But COVID raises the question, ‘Is high-density the right way to go’?

“The Future Cities initiative brings a systems perspective to these questions, allowing us to integrate the different dimensions and consider the long-term implications.

“So, as we recover from COVID, we can also be thinking about opportunities to transition our energy systems. Should we be thinking about a hydrogen economy, for example?

“Where do we want Australia to be in 2050? What are the stepping stones and building blocks we need to put in place to realise that vision?

“Health has always had a strong influence on the way cities are planned and designed. We seem to have lost that over the last century.

“COVID is a reminder that the way that we build our cities can shape the health outcomes of the people who live in them.”

* This week’s blog is an extract of the CSIRO Ecos article by Mary-Lou Considine.

A lake with a footpath on the righthand side with someone walking a dog.

A street with buildings with a particularly large building at the end of the street.

COVD-19 is a chance to rethink the ageing public housing high-rises (Image: Nick Carson)

Project update – July 2020

The challenging year that is 2020 has continued since our last Ginninderra Project update. Amid the backdrop of bushfires, storms and global pandemic in the first half of the year, we’re pleased to report that our project and research teams haven’t stopped working on breakthroughs and solutions to the real world challenges we’re facing.

We’ve covered some of the work our scientists are doing in bushfire resilience leadership and the fight for a COVID-19 vaccine. However there are a host of other examples where we’re working side by side with industry to deliver innovative science and technology to create new value, jobs and growth for Australian businesses and for Australia.

Some of those technologies including solar cell windows, temperature resistant cladding, and 3D-printed stents are covered in this month’s newsletter.

On the Ginninderra front, our Project Team has been working through all the preliminary planning, environmental and technical studies that will help to inform the proposed future sustainable development.

Restrictions under COVID-19 have limited the opportunity for face-to-face gatherings in recent months, however primarily through videoconferencing, we’ve continued to meet with the relevant Commonwealth and ACT agencies to work through matters of traffic, infrastructure, environment and heritage.

As we are sharing through this website, CSIRO has a wealth of innovative science and technology that it brings to the built and natural environment. We’ve been looking further into how such technology and new approaches creates value in our cities and urban settings and how the sustainable urban development at Ginninderra could benefit from this.

Over coming months we aim to share more about progress in these areas and the opportunities that will arise at Ginninderra. Stay tuned.

Close up of a machine with cogs and handles.

New technologies to tackle real world challenges. CSIRO has improved the process for making perovskite solar cells.

A window into future city energy

Windows that incorporate next-gen solar cells provide a glimpse into the future of renewable power generation in our cities.

The dream of having windows that can generate solar energy to help power our buildings, is a step closer, thanks to a research and industry collaboration.

The Australian collaboration, led by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science and Monash University, together with CSIRO, has succeeded in producing next-gen perovskite solar cells that generate electricity while allowing light to pass through.

Semi-transparent ‘perovskite’ solar cell technology could be a ‘gamechanger’ by transforming windows into active power generators and revolutionising building design, urban planning and electricity generation, the Australian scientists report in a  paper in Nano Energy .

Two square metres of solar window will generate about as much electricity as a standard rooftop solar panel, according to the team.’

Previous designs for semi-transparent solar cells have failed because they were very expensive, unstable or inefficient. The team led by Professor Jacek Jasieniak and colleagues from Exciton Science, Monash’s Materials Science and Engineering Department and CSIRO, instead used an organic semiconductor that can be made into a polymer to replace an unstable component commonly used in solar cells. The substitute produced astonishing results.

“Rooftop solar has a conversion efficiency of between 15 and 20 per cent,” Professor  Jaseniak said.  “The semi-transparent cells have a conversion efficiency of 17 per cent, while still transmitting more than 10 per cent of the incoming light, so they are right in the zone. It’s long been a dream to have windows that generate electricity, and now that looks possible.”

Co-author and CSIRO Manufacturing Team Leader, Dr Anthony Chesman, said the team is now working on scaling up the manufacturing process.  “We’ll be looking to develop a large-scale glass manufacturing process that can be easily transferred to industry so manufacturers can readily uptake the technology,” he said. CSIRO has patented an improved process for making perovskite solar cells.

Australia’s largest glass manufacturer Viridian Glass, is part of the collaboration and investigating how the new technology could be built into commercial products. The research is also supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

The first application is likely to be in multistorey buildings where the additional cost of incorporating semi-transparent solar cells will be marginal.

“These solar cells mean a big change to the way we think about buildings and the way they function. Up until now every building has been designed on the assumption that windows are fundamentally passive. Now they will actively produce electricity,” Professor Jasieniak said.

You can read more about this exciting research in the full partner release or in Semi-transparent perovskite solar cells with a cross-linked hole transport layer in the May edition of Nano Energy.

Someone holding up a solar cell in front of a large building.

A semi-transparent perovskite solar cell with contrasting levels of light transparency.  ©Dr Jae Choul Yu.

A close up of a machine with cogs and buttons.

CSIRO has improved the process for making perovskite solar cells.

Project update – April 2020

So much in the world has changed since our last Ginninderra Project Update in late 2019. The word ‘unprecedented’ has appeared numerous times in 2020 as we have seen one crisis or natural disaster after another.

Following hot and dry conditions in spring and summer, the ACT region, like many parts of the country, experienced large-scale bushfires and hazardous air quality from bushfire smoke.

A destructive hailstorm swept through Canberra in late January and was followed by heavy rains and then COVID-19. As we have reported in recent articles on this site, CSIRO has been in the midst of research efforts to respond to and address such challenges.

CSIRO’s Ginninderra property has emerged from the summer in good condition and the vegetation and community shrub plantings are benefitting from more than 250mm of rain in the two months since early February.

With the opening of the Boorowa Agricultural Research Station in November 2019, most of our Agriculture and Food research has now moved from Ginninderra and work is continuing to prepare for future sustainable urban development alongside ongoing ecological conservation and restoration.

Towards these goals, our Project Team has been progressing preliminary urban and statutory planning, as well as environmental, geotechnical, infrastructure demand, traffic and heritage studies, and liaising with the relevant Commonwealth and ACT agencies.  CSIRO is committed to carrying out the due diligence and technical studies ahead of the next steps to procure future development arrangements.

Ecological research and management is also continuing including a range of projects in the Box Gum Grassy Woodlands and Derived Native Grasslands. The next round of biennial autumn burns in the grassland restoration trials are due to go ahead in May as long as the conditions are suitable and all approvals are in place. This project is a partnership with the Ginninderra Catchment Group and includes five trial sites at CSIRO Ginninderra.

We look forward to reporting further on these activities over the coming months.

Shaping a resilient Australia

With drought, bushfires, storms, and COVID-19, the start to 2020 has underlined some of the many challenges facing Australia and the world.

As the national science agency, CSIRO is addressing such challenges through innovative science and technology. At a time when Australia and the world needs solutions, our scientists are taking up these challenges, on many fronts.

Dubbed by some as the ‘Black Summer’, the widespread bushfires of 2019-2020 ravaged more than 18 million hectares across Australia (double the area of countries like Austria and Hungary), destroying close to 3000 homes, killing at least 34 people, and an untold number of domestic and native animals.

Smoke generated by the fires covered large tracts of Australia, reaching New Zealand, and globally as far as Chile and Argentina. On some days, the amassed smoke saw Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney record air quality on some days the most hazardous among major cities of the world, ahead of New Delhi, Mumbai and Beijing. CSIRO scientist and Executive Director of the Global Carbon Project, Dr. Pep Canadell, estimated that the Australian bushfires essentially doubled Australia’s total carbon emissions for 2019, including those from man-made sources, with a similar effect on carbon emissions expected from the bushfires in early 2020.

In late January, CSIRO welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement of our role, together with collaborators, to deliver recommendations for practical measures to manage and protect homes, our environment, industries and infrastructure, in the face of bushfires and climate change.  In carrying out this role, CSIRO is drawing on its 70-year history of bushfire research across multiple fields of science including land management, building and materials design, fire protection and testing, bushfire behaviour and biodiversity management.

While many fires were still burning in January, a severe hailstorm impacted cars, houses and major city infrastructure in Canberra with moe than 30,000 insurance claims lodged. Sixty-five glasshouses at CSIRO’s Black Mountain headquarters were destroyed, the research being conducted in these facilities was also lost. Similar hailstorms and floods affected many locations across the country.

As part of the Canberra hail recovery effort, CSIRO is looking at more resilient glasshouses and building materials as well as the opportunities to share facilities with like-minded organisations and potentially utilise the vacated polytunnels at CSIRO Ginninderra, so our plant research can continue.

As the smoke, hail and fires cleared, the COVID-19 spread to the level of a global pandemic and has dominated news, government and community focus since then. CSIRO is working on several fronts as part of the global research effort to address this pandemic and to find a vaccine as covered in our article: CSIRO on the frontline for a COVID-19 vaccine.

The year to date has underscored the 21st century challenges confronting nations, cities and communities.  Science and innovation across many different fields is needed to help us navigate towards a more liveable, sustainable and resilient future. CSIRO teams are working closely with a wide range of industry partners and collaborators to rise to the challenge to develop more resilient cities and infrastructure and to help ‘future proof’ our communities.

CSIRO’s Future Cities initiative is a key example of how CSIRO can drive integrated solutions by bringing together science and innovation from fields such as Land and Water, Agriculture and Food, Data Science, Energy, Health and Biosecurity, Manufacturing, Mineral Resources and Oceans and Atmosphere.

In future articles we’ll look more closely at CSIRO’s Future Cities.

Image of smoke from bushfires coming off landscape Fire burning trees across Australian landscape at night
Scientist standing in front of shattered research glasshouses Large hailstones piled up against the wall
Scientist working in laboratory COVID-19 virus cell close up

Smoke, bushfires, hailstorms, and the Coronavirus – CSIRO researchers are in the midst of efforts to build resilience and shape the future.

‘Digital twin’ empowers smart urban planning

CSIRO’s Data61 showcased a cutting edge urban planning technology at the launch of the 3D ‘Digital Twin’ model for Western Sydney on 24 February.

With the myriad of connected sensors being introduced to urban environments, we’ve never had so much data available to plan, design and create smart cities of the future. Data-driven urban management is predicted to be a $5-10 billion export opportunity in the Asia-Pacific region by 2028 and Australia and CSIRO are taking steps to be world leaders in this space.

CSIRO’s Data61 is leading the charge in data-driven solutions for our cities for example through the development of a 3D visualisation technology known as ‘Digital Twin’.

Digital twin is an open platform that can create virtual 3D (4D when you view data over time) replicas of physical objects such as buildings, strata plans, terrain, property boundaries, utilities including power, water and sewer pipes.

The NSW Government released its Digital Twin of the Western Sydney City Deal on 24 February through a partnership with CSIRO’s Data61. Launched by Minister for Customer Service, Victor Dominello, the NSW Spatial Digital Twin is a virtual 4D (3D + time) model of the Western Sydney area’s built and natural environment.

The NSW Digital Twin can be used by planners, infrastructure owners, builders, policymakers and residents alike to better understand and respond to the built and natural environment.

Mats Henrikson, Geospatial Web Systems Group Leader at CSIRO’s Data61, said the technology will allow planners, developers and policymakers to make more informed decisions, saving costs and creating efficiencies.

“The digital twin represents a step change in how we visualise environments and processes taking place in them. Till now decision makers have referred to property boundaries in 2D. Having them available in 3D together with how they have changed over time, and being able to easily share this with other related data, makes it much easier to fully understand the context of the boundaries,” Mr Henrikson said.

“An infrastructure developer can now use the digital twin to identify the location of underground utilities before building works commence, or see the potential impact of planned future infrastructure.”

The digital twin also enables government to better communicate plans for infrastructure development to citizens.

The NSW Spatial Digital Twin is built on Data61’s TerriaJS platform which also powers National Map and the National Drought Map, an online tool that brings together information on Australian drought conditions and support measures.

Simon Barry, acting Director CSIRO’s Data61, said the new visualisation brought together world-leading expertise in spatial visualisation, analytics and privacy preserving technologies from across the national science agency.

“By partnering with government and industry across the country, we can harness these technologies into a federal collaboration platform enhancing Australia’s smart cities and delivering significant benefit to Australia’s economy,” Dr Barry said.