Using science to transform greenfields and cities
Over the past few years one question that has come up is: ‘why would a national science and innovation agency like CSIRO be involved in what appears to be a greenfield development at Ginninderra on the outskirts of Canberra?’
It’s not a difficult question to answer when you consider what CSIRO is, what it has done in the past and what it is planning to do in the future.
CSIRO and its forerunner Commonwealth science organisations has been harnessing science to solve some of the nation’s greatest challenges for 100 years. Whether it was helping eradicate Prickly Pear or other agricultural pests and weeds, inventing Aerogard, Hendra vaccine, the CSIRO Total Wellbeing diet and fast WIFI, our innovation has improved the lives of people in Australia and throughout the world.
We have been an important part of the Canberra community as we have developed our world-leading plant, animal, insect, agricultural and environmental expertise since 1927. From our foundation site at Black Mountain we spread to multiple locations (some since closed) from Dickson, Yarralumla, Crace, Campbell, and Ginninderra, through to our involvement with NASA and even the coverage of the moon landing from the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex at Tidbinbilla.
A common thread through CSIRO’s history is our ability to work with others to solve problems and find new solutions. This is capital ‘C’ Collaboration! Importantly, the ‘I’ in our name stands for ‘industrial’ – so it’s no surprise that we work closely with a wide range of industries and industry collaborators.
All this begs the questions for Ginninderra: ‘What is the national innovation challenge that can be tackled through science here?’ and ‘which are the industries we can work with on solutions?’
What is the great national challenge at Ginninderra?
The science challenge is one of the most formidable ever – to make our cities and urban areas more sustainable for our people, the environment and the resources and future of the planet.
The role of cities and their citizens in our global dilemma can be seen in this infographic below (based on figures quoted in the United Nations Environment Programme report: Cities and Buildings).
According to that report, cities are where most of the growing world population lives (two thirds of the world by 2030), they consume 75% of global resources, use 80% of energy, and they produce about 75% of greenhouse gas emissions and 50% of world waste.
These same challenges present great opportunities for us to transform city performance along with all the flow-on benefits, through better design and innovation.
CSIRO has a wealth of science knowledge, data, technology and innovation that it can contribute to the ‘whole-of-system’ solutions that are needed. That knowledge and innovation covers fields from mining, materials and manufacturing, energy and renewables, city, land, water, oceans, atmosphere and space; to digital and data solutions, agriculture and food production and heath and biosecurity.
CSIRO also owns and manages a large portfolio of properties, facilities and science platforms that underpin the delivery of our science and innovation. One of our priorities is to make sure we have high quality infrastructure that is used cost-effectively for the benefit of science and the nation.
As an underutilised Commonwealth research asset, CSIRO’s Ginninderra Field Station provides us with an incredible opportunity to bring our science and innovation into real world applications onsite. It’s an opportunity to employ science to push design and delivery to new limits and realise improved social, economic and environmental benchmarks and outcomes.
Ginninderra is a key site among a portfolio of greenfield, urban and inner city locations where CSIRO intends to work with a wide range of partners to push the horizons of urban sustainability.
Collaboration and partnerships are going to be vitally important to the success of this work. We are already involved with a wide range of government, non-government, community and interest groups and industries with a stake and interest in urban sustainability.
For Ginninderra, one of our key collaborators will be an eventual joint development partner. Rather than a ‘property developer’ per se, we are seeking a partner that will be able to help us realise this sustainability vision through practical planning, design and on-ground application of the science.
We are excited by the prospect of new and emerging opportunities to work with collaborators in the property and construction industry. This is now Australia’s largest industry contributing more than a million jobs and $182 billion a year (11% of GDP) to the Australian economy.
We are equally excited about working with the ACT community, government, research and environmental stakeholders in developing something unique and remarkable at Ginninderra.
Citizen-led science is already underway at Ginninderra with the community-led grassland restoration project and this is something we would like to nurture and expand. Community inspired innovation could also help drive the prospect of a greater range of affordable housing options.
The Ginninderra site is a perfect example of an opportunity for science to make a difference for people and it helps us progress our mission to innovate for tomorrow while helping improve today.
So the question really should be: “why wouldn’t we be involved?’
Exploring Ginninderra’s past, present and future
After more than half a century of dedicated scientific research, CSIRO’s Ginninderra Field Station is entering a new phase. Planning and engagement has commenced to deliver a new benchmark in liveable, sustainable and resilient urban development.
The Ginninderra Field Station was established in 1958 as a site for plant and agricultural research. This was in anticipation of the closure of the Dickson Experiment Station to make way for urban development in that area, which eventually occurred in 1962.
As with the Dickson site, the Ginninderra Field Station has now been surrounded by urban development and is no longer optimal for CSIRO’s agricultural research. In 2011 CSIRO started considering options for Ginninderra’s future use.
Rather than simply sell the property, CSIRO saw Ginninderra as a great opportunity to bring its research together to make a difference, not only for local residents and the ACT, but for other Australian cities, people, industry and the environment.
The sustainable urban development of Ginninderra presents an opportunity for positive social, environmental and economic impact for the ACT and Australia, while generating revenue for the reinvestment into CSIRO innovation and research infrastructure.
In December 2012, CSIRO sought advice from the National Capital Authority about the correct process for seeking an amendment to the National Capital Plan. Through this, a long-term vision to deliver a new benchmark in sustainable urban development has arisen.
It’s a vision that has emerged through engagement with CSIRO’s science capability, undertaking environmental and heritage investigations, and initial conversations with the community, and one that will continue to evolve and bring lasting benefits.
CSIRO staff first met with ACT Government officials in July 2014 and have met regularly since then to discuss the possibilities for the potential development of the Ginninderra Field Station for urban use.
These meetings confirmed that the site presented an opportunity for greenfield development, which has been supported by the NCA’s response to the key issues considered as part of Amendment 86: ‘The CSIRO Ginninderra site presents an opportunity for greenfield development that can make use of existing infrastructure and services, and provides a more suitable alternative to cater for the growth of the city than other greenfield sites.’
CSIRO’s engagement with community groups, nearby residents and industry associations began in August 2015, coinciding with the land’s inclusion as part of Amendment 86.
This first round of engagement with the local community in September 2015 included three drop-in sessions at Gold Creek, Evatt and Charnwood and involved more than 220 people. This is only the beginning, as CSIRO aims to involve more of these people and groups in the conversation about how we can design and work together for a liveable, sustainable and resilient urban area.
On 5 May 2016, classification of the Ginninderra Field Station to ‘Urban’ as part of the National Capital Plan was approved. This decision paved the way for CSIRO to seek Expressions of Interest (EOI) for a suitable development partner.
Following the closing of the EOI on May 23, CSIRO is evaluating and shortlisting suitably qualified developers, ahead of a Request for Proposal process later in the year.
CSIRO is excited about the opportunity to continue to work with the community, government, research partners, and other stakeholders, to create something unique at Ginninderra.
CSIRO is also committed to continuing the discussions with ACT Government agencies to harmonise with future planning goals and aspirations.
Future steps for the Ginninderra project include a site visit with conservation groups and workshop in June, community forum in July, additional community meetings in early 2017, as well as planning, approvals and detailed design in 2018. The earliest that any development could commence on the site is in 2019.
The future of stormwater at Ginninderra
The population of the ACT is projected to grow to half a million people by 2033.
With this urban growth and the changing climate we can expect an increased demand for water and the generation of more stormwater and sewage.
CSIRO is committed to sustainable urban water management and undertaking research that will help reduce the demand for potable water supply in our cities. This includes research on various aspects of reducing water use and making better use of available rainfall, stored and potable water and waste water streams.
“Urban stormwater is a relatively untapped resource that could help Canberra meet its future water supply requirements,” said CSIRO Researcher Dr Declan Page
CSIRO examined the feasibility of a range of stormwater harvesting and irrigation options in Canberra during 2007 to 2009, working with the ACT and Commonwealth Government’s on Phase 1 of the Canberra Integrated Urban Waterways Project.
In addition to reducing demand for potable water, stormwater harvesting has the potential to provide stormwater quality improvements, flood mitigation, urban habitat outcomes, and has the potential to improve the aesthetics and the recreation value of urban parks.
The stormwater harvesting options that were considered included; use of existing lakes and ponds, the construction of new ponds, through to options that involved combining stormwater with water stored in aquifers or with reclaimed water.
This CSIRO research was used by the ACT Government to support the feasibility through to detailed design and construction of three pilot stormwater harvesting and reticulation projects, namely Inner North Canberra, Weston Creek and Tuggeranong.
The Inner North Stormwater Reticulation Network in the Sullivan’s Creek Catchment is Canberra’s first neighbourhood-scale stormwater harvesting and managed aquifer recharge system. Urban stormwater is captured and treated in constructed wetlands and then pumped though a reticulation network for irrigation of urban green spaces.
The ACT Government is currently trialling managed aquifer recharge as part of this Inner North scheme, which involves the injection of stormwater into a bore, where it is stored in underground aquifers and retrieved when required during peak irrigation.
CSIRO has considerable expertise in this innovative urban water technology, having recently completed a large study on Managed Aquifer Recharge and Stormwater Use Options (MARSUO) commissioned by the Goyder Institute for Water Research.
The aim of the study was to provide water managers and the community with the data needed to make informed decisions on stormwater harvesting and storage.
“Stormwater could be treated to a drinking water quality and not just used for open space, third pipe or industrial uses. The costs of doing this, however, are similar to the costs of conventional potable water supply,” said co-author of the study Dr Page
“Nonetheless, the MARSUO study shows that water quality/safety issues can be effectively managed in line with the National Water Quality Management Strategy”.
It is early days to consider stormwater options in the Ginninderra project, as we await the outcome of the land reclassification decision under Draft Amendment 86 of the National Capital Plan, which is required to consider the potential future urban development of the site.
Having said that, Ginninderra Creek and Halls Creek and their associated riparian areas are significant features of the Ginninderra site and the broader landscape.
“Ensuring the retention of adequate space for stormwater capture and treatment, providing green corridors along water courses, and implementing water sensitive urban design throughout the site, is all of paramount importance”, said Dr Page.
CSIRO researchers are currently investigating the water resource potential at the Ginninderra site and the types of stormwater use options. As noted in a previous update, one of these future uses will likely include the provision of water to support the cooling benefits of healthy vegetation to combat the Urban Heat Island effect.
As the project progresses, CSIRO looks forward to interacting with key stakeholders such as the ACT Government, Icon Water, and Ginninderra Catchment Group, as well as neighbouring communities and businesses, to discuss stormwater options.
Aspiring for best practice at Ginninderra
As we welcome in 2016, some of the Ginninderra project team have been enjoying a holiday break while others are working hard to scope the vision and potential for a liveable, sustainable and resilient urban development at Ginninderra.
A team of CSIRO researchers, and experts in their fields, gathered in Canberra late in 2015 to discuss the areas of research, technology and innovation that could be included in the Ginninderra venture.
“The workshop produced a lot of ideas and energy about specific science and innovation that we could integrate if the project gets the go ahead,” said science leader Mr Guy Barnett.
“We have some exciting research knowledge and technologies that can contribute to a best practice urban development and we are now working those ideas into a consolidated vision.”
We look forward to revealing these ideas and seeking your input as the project progresses. Stay tuned.
As the vision continues to emerge, the process of seeking reclassification of the Ginninderra Field Station to ‘Urban Area’ also continues.
As mentioned in our last newsletter, we are still following through the processes that govern land reclassification in the ACT.
In the meantime, we’re continuing environmental, heritage and other studies to ensure we have a thorough understanding of the site and needs of a future residential community.
Zeroing in on sustainable energy and emissions
In previous posts, we have talked about the idea of ‘sustainable urban development’. To understand what that could mean at street level we are going to zero-in on some of the research that CSIRO and partners are doing in this area.
This week, we focus on CSIRO research in recent years for ‘houses or dwellings’, specifically the Zero Emission House project (AusZEH). This project was set up as a demonstration of how we could achieve a more sustainable and climate-friendly future.
Through this project, CSIRO and partners successfully overcame the challenge of designing and building the first affordable, net-zero emission house. This was tailored for Australia’s climate, lifestyle and the volume housing market.
The CSIRO team also developed new AusZEH Design software for designing new Australian houses or retrofitting existing houses for zero-emission outcomes. The software allows for different local climates and context, house features and household size and occupancy pattern.
The AusZEH arose out of an understanding that homes and buildings were producing about a quarter of Australia’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These emissions are due to a heavy reliance on mostly high emission electricity generation (such as coal-fired power) for heating, cooling, lighting and appliances.
“The essential aim of the project was to produce enough renewable ‘zero emission’ energy on site to supply all of the operating energy needs of a typical Australian household,” according to CSIRO’s AusZEH leader, Dr Greg Foliente.
Over the course of a year, a net-zero emission performance is achieved when the total onsite renewable energy production is the same as the total energy consumed by the residents.
The energy and emissions embodied in all the construction materials and technology used in the AusZEH house were also offset. This means that on completion in 2011, it was also the first house with net-zero lifecycle carbon emissions.
The demonstration house in Laurimar, 30 kilometres north of Melbourne CBD, achieved an eight-star energy efficiency rating and the net zero emission standard by using ‘off-the-shelf’ building and renewable energy generation technology and future-ready energy management systems, specifically:
- 6 kW roof -mounted solar panel array for electricity generation
- optimised building envelope design for the Victorian climate
- high-efficiency appliances
- smart meters and an integrated energy management and monitoring system
- high efficiency reverse cycle heating and cooling system
- high efficiency solar hot water system
- rainwater tanks for toilet flushing
- grey water recycling system
- a power charging system for an electric vehicle, the first Australian house to have this.
“We estimated that Australia would be able to avoid 63 million tons of GHG by adopting zero emission houses in all new housing developments over the decade up to 2020,” Dr Foliente said.
This emissions saving is equivalent to taking 13 million cars off the road for a year or closing 16 coal-fired power plants for a year. (US Dept of Energy greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator).
The team also developed a way of modelling the broader impacts of energy-efficient and zero-emissions technologies on building stock at a precinct, city, region or state scale.
Given data on population and housing stock growth and trends in consumption (appliances, lighting, hot water and heating/cooling), CSIRO can analyse the impacts of different actions and technologies on energy and carbon footprint scenarios for decades into the future.
With these modelling capabilities and new developments in renewable technologies and energy, there’s no reason why houses, and even an urban development like Ginninderra, could be a net energy producer while meeting the zero emission standard.
In the AusZEH house, CSIRO worked closely with industry partners Delfin-Lend Lease and Henley Property Group and a consortium of AusZEH partners.
Advancing crop research and sustainability
CSIRO research has led to advancements that impact many aspects of our lives, from the way we conduct our finances to the way we communicate.
Some of CSIRO’s most well-known innovations include WiFi, Australia’s plastic banknotes, extended wear contact lenses and the insect repellent Aerogard.
Our scientists work on solving the nation’s and the world’s biggest challenges across a vast array of research fields.
In agriculture and plant science, CSIRO scientists work on projects ranging from improving grain and crop yields to sustainable farming.
The Ginninderra Field Station has been a key site for some of this research. Our innovations in barley and wheat crops, conducted at this site, have led to improvements in yields, quality and disease resistance, and are making an impact on a national and global scale.
This work includes the development of BARLEYmax, a whole grain with four times the resistant starch and twice the dietary fibre of regular barley grains.
Now used in a wide range of commercially available food products, BARLEYmax offers superior health benefits and can help combat cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer. Read more about BARLEYmax here.
Ginninderra has also played host to CSIRO’s rotation and dual-purpose cropping work. This work, supported by the Grains Research and Development Corporation, has seen CSIRO breed and release more than 10 dual-purpose feed wheat varieties in the last 15 years.
In addition to plant breeding, the Ginninderra site has played an important role in the work of CSIRO and partners in crop and pasture improvement, soil biology and crop productivity, sustainable farming, and the effects of climate change on crop production and soil carbon.
The recent purchase of 290 hectares of land in the heart of farming country at Boorowa, NSW, will ensure that CSIRO can not only continue this breakthrough research, but do so more effectively at a green field site set up to maximise the use of new technologies. You can find out more about the Boorowa farm here.
Sustainable urban development at Ginninderra
Earlier this year, CSIRO hosted a workshop bringing together scientists from around Australia to discuss best practices in sustainability and their visions for future development at Ginninderra.
In this video, researcher Guy Barnett talks about how CSIRO scientists have been involved in the project so far, and how we could create a model of sustainable urban development at Ginninderra.
Read more about how CSIRO scientists can help shape future development here.
How CSIRO science could shape Ginninderra’s future
During the community consultations CSIRO has conducted so far, we’ve been asked a number of questions about how CSIRO might continue to be involved in the Ginninderra site moving forward.
We are still early in the process of requesting the land be reclassified to urban, but we have already identified approximately 150 hectares of land that is to be kept aside for ecological values and open space.
Preserving green space and integrating this into the eventual design of the space is not the only way CSIRO will be involved in the project. We aim to continue our involvement in providing scientific, evidence-based recommendations for the site’s future development.
This could include a variety of recommendations – from shared spaces to help enhance the development of communities, to environmentally sustainable energy, water and building design. We hope that implementing cutting edge research at Ginninderra can provide a model and better understanding of urban environments that can be applied across Australia.
In order to understand whether these measures are effective, of course some monitoring would be required. This could take the form of sensors installed in energy or water systems, or surveys conducted with residents of the area. We view this as an opportunity to work collaboratively with the community, as we have done in our science for many years.
If they wished, households in the area could have the opportunity to contribute to a long-term science program with CSIRO to help collect data on energy use, water use, and liveability of the area. For example, contributing knowledge and information on energy and water use could help us use these resources more sustainably Australia-wide and even globally.
All CSIRO research involving people is bound by extensive ethical guidelines to ensure the welfare of participants, and is always voluntary. Read more about CSIRO’s Ethical Human Research Guidelines.
Trialling new urban design is not unique in Australia. The Gen Y Demonstration Housing Project in Western Australia is working closely with researchers on a four year project with Curtin University’s Cooperative Research Centre to test sustainable, affordable living options for the next generation of Australians. It incorporates aspects of sustainability and design through shared spaces to reduce both the environmental impact and cost of these houses.
Eco-living features will be incorporated into all aspects of the design, including: a climate responsive layout, lightweight and sustainable building design, solar power, water and energy monitoring to identify opportunities to improve efficiency, underground rainwater tanks and low water use landscaping. Read more about this project.
Any development at Ginninderra is still years away. When it comes time to start building, we’ll have more in-depth research to inform CSIRO’s own science.