Australia funds A$14m cleantech support centre

Article by Adam Duckett

AUSTRALIA is funding a A$14m (US$9.2m) centre that will help companies manufacture and adopt renewable energy technologies. Following a slump in nickel prices that is rocking the country’s mining companies, the centre is seeking industry partners interested in sharing the risk of demonstrating cleantech.

The federal government has awarded the funding to an organisation called Powering Australia, which is part of the Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre hosted by Curtin University. The new Powering Australia Industry Growth Centre will be headquartered in Perth, Western Australia, with offices across the country, and is set to be fully operational in March.

Ed Husic, the federal government’s minister for industry and science, said: “Batteries, renewables and other low-emissions technologies offer huge opportunities for Australian industry to create jobs and the sovereign capabilities critical to our economic success.”

Nickel woes

The announcement comes as the country’s nickel mining firms close facilities and cancel projects following a drop in the price of the metal, which is a crucial element in the production of clean technologies including batteries for electric cars.

Earlier this month, the federal government placed nickel on its critical minerals list which provides troubled miners with access to low-interest government loans to support their operations. It follows six nickel facilities reducing output or shuttering their operations since December. Mining giant BHP has warned that the market is so poor that it is considering closing its entire Western Australia nickel business, putting around 3,000 jobs at risk.

The price of nickel has fallen more than 40% in the past year following a surge in supplies from Indonesian producers. Difficult operating conditions are expected to endure for years to come, BHP warned, noting that high labour costs, ageing processing facilities and skills shortages put Australian producers at a disadvantage.

Federal resources minister Madeleine King said that Australia produces nickel to higher environmental and ethical standards than many competitors in what appeared to be a thinly veiled reference to Indonesia’s industry which has come under pressure following a spate of fatal incidents at processing plants. She has said she wants buyers to support Australian industry by paying higher prices for cleaner sources of nickel.

Field testing new tech

The Powering Australia Industry Growth Centre has been given A$14m to fund its operations for four years.  Shannon O’Rourke, CEO of the Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre, said the organisation’s existing networks will help the new centre take advantage of the country’s wealth of resources and skills.

It is now calling on industry and cleantech business to join the centre to create shared facilities to demonstrate new technologies, accelerate their commercialisation, build workforces, and provide industrial policy advice to government.

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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