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Heavy Ambition – Industry giants and researchers unite to slash carbon emissions

Posted January 8, 2024

If Australia is to meet ambitious COP21 targets of net zero by 2050, heavy industries, which generate nearly a seventh of the country’s CO₂, must be targeted.

In just two years since its launch, an ambitious program run out of Lot Fourteen has assembled 100 researchers and more than 50 partners on a global mission to decarbonise the sector.

The $200 million Heavy Industry Low-carbon Transition Cooperative Research Centre (HILT CRC), located in the Core Innovation Hub, is spearheading research and collaboration to fast-track new technologies that will reduce emissions and create thousands of jobs across the critically important steel, iron, alumina and cement industries.

The federally funded CRC is backed by more than 50 partners including industry giants such as Fortescue Metals Group, Roy Hill, Liberty-GFG, Grange Resources, Adbri, South32 and Alcoa and core research partners including the University of Adelaide, Australian National University, Curtin University and CSIRO.

HILT CRC’s goal is to deliver a suite of technical solutions by 2030 that will facilitate the decarbonisation of heavy industries globally by 2050. These industries currently account for 14 per cent of Australia’s carbon emissions and are significant drivers of the Australian economy, with the resources sector contributing 68% of Australia’s export earnings in 2022.

It’s an ambitious target but one which HILT CRC chief executive Jenny Selway says is achievable.

Jenny Selway, CEO, HILT CRC.

“There’s a clear imperative that we must decarbonise globally whilst also ensuring Australia’s heavy industry sectors remain competitive during the transition,” she says.

“Combining the commitment and capability of our industry and research partners is really powerful; everyone has a shared vision… that’s why I know (reaching our emission target) is achievable.”

“Our groundbreaking research programs are aimed at demonstrating new technologies, developing viable low-carbon alternatives, and facilitating transformation to address these decarbonisation challenges. This includes producing green iron and steel, green alumina and low-carbon cement and lime, finding ways to use clean energy like hydrogen, solar thermal and biomass, and enabling better policies.”

HILT is forecasting there is the opportunity to unlock billions of dollars of annual revenue and investments, safeguard over 300,000 existing jobs and create thousands more – all while mitigating carbon emissions.

“If we can’t decarbonise these industries, we won’t remain competitive globally,” Selway says. “We have to abate emissions, but technically how we achieve that is not always obvious.”

The Federal Government launched HILT CRC in 2021 with its board appointed in 2022.

Selway says HILT was based in Adelaide due to the support and advocacy of The University of Adelaide, the South Australian Government and the tireless efforts of The University of Adelaide’s Centre for Energy Technology Director, Professor Gus Nathan, now also HILT’s Research Director, during the CRC bid process.

“South Australia has a very strong heavy industry presence with Whyalla and several of our industry partners here. Adelaide is also a central location for the rest of our partners in other states,” she says.

HILT CRC project kick-off meeting, Hydrogen Supply within HILT Regional Hubs.
From left: Simon Campbell-Hardwick- FMG, Shuang Wang- ANU, Ahmad Mojiri- ANU, Joe Coventry- ANU, Tara Hosseini- CSIRO and Peter Ashman, University of Adelaide.

“South Australia’s high penetration of renewable energy is a fantastic baseline for the decarbonisation of heavy industry, if you’ve got that you’re one step down the pathway to net zero.”

Selway says over the cours of CRC’s lifetime until 2031, the type and complexity of projects will increase; the technical readiness level of the projects will grow, and there will be more in-depth and larger-scale projects.

“The challenge for us presently is to make sure we maintain our momentum to keep pace with industry needs and prioritise areas of research that will continue to add value to our partners,” she says.

“We’re trying to move quickly, but also very purposefully…and we’re focused on stakeholder engagement with our partners to test the ideas to make sure we are on the right track.

“We’re building in ‘off-ramps’ and early tests of concepts, so within a project there are many opportunities to reassess, pivot and switch funding to projects that look more promising if required.”

HILT CRC is among about 40 researchers, innovators and technologists and industry professionals who are part of the Core Innovation Hub, which has had a presence in Lot Fourteen since 2020 but launched its expanded Adelaide hub in the Space Lab in March this year.

The venue aims to foster new ideas, research and partnerships and turbocharge South Australia’s energy and mining sector by linking the mining and resources sector with the innovation community.

Core Innovation Hub national lead Renee Hakendorf says the commitment of mining and resources companies to net zero targets has accelerated their pursuit of new technologies and solutions.

“That’s put them on the front foot about engaging with innovators,” she says. “We bring all the ingredients together and provide the platform so that industry and innovators can come together.

“The State Government has been a great supporter and continue to be a champion for us.”

HILT CRC projects completed and underway include:

  • Examining the use of hydrogen as an energy source and a reduction agent in direct reduction ironmaking;
  • Improving the quality of Australian iron ores to make them more suitable for green steel processes
  • Evaluating methods to reduce energy consumption and utilise renewable energy sources in alumina processing
  • Carbon capture and storage opportunities and;
  • A Facilitating Transformation program delivering research into enabling factors such as carbon mapping, global trade policy implications, and market factors for green iron ore and steel


Read more stories like this on Issue_02 of Lot Fourteen’s Boundless Magazine

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