The Fund invests in science that addresses issues of national economic, industrial, environmental and cultural priority, and contributes to Australia’s sustainable future.

The Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF) is a separately constituted trust under the Science and Industry Endowment Act 1926. The Fund invests in science that addresses issues of national economic, industrial, environmental and cultural priority, and contributes to Australia’s sustainable future by providing assistance:

  • to persons engaged in scientific research
  • in the training of students in scientific research.

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall is Trustee of SIEF, and awards funding to parties across the national innovation system. The Trustee seeks independent advice and recommendations on funding of proposals. CSIRO manages the Fund on behalf of the Trustee.

SIEF was rejuvenated by a gift from CSIRO of $150 million, resulting from the patented Fast WLAN technology in 2009 (CSIRO Gift). In June 2018, CSIRO supplemented this with an additional $10 million, specifically to extend the Experimental Development Program. The CSIRO Board has approved to extend disbursal of the CSIRO Gifts until June 2026. Under the CSIRO Gift, some of the programs operate on a competitive basis, others by invitation on the basis of identified needs – all applications are considered against rigorous merit criteria.

In 2018–19, two CSIRO Gift programs ended – The Research Projects Program and the Joint CSIRO Macquarie University Chair in Wireless Communications. Over the life of the Research Projects Program, 17 projects were funded, and for every SIEF dollar invested, more than one and a half dollars was provided in co-investment from research organisations and industry partners. In the case of the Joint CSIRO Macquarie University Chair, SIEF’s $2 million investment was supplemented by Macquarie University and external contracts, grants and awards, totalling more than $3 million in additional support.

Programs funded by the CSIRO Gift that remain active are the:

  • Experimental Development Program (EDP)
  • Promotion of Science Fellowships and Scholarships Program (competitive)
  • SIEF-AAS Fellowships to the Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting and the Heidelberg Laureate Forum, facilitated by the Australian Academy of Science (competitive)
  • SIEF STEM+ Business Fellowships, facilitated by CSIRO

Of these, the EDP and the SIEF-AAS Fellowships are the only programs currently open for applications.

In 2017, the New South Wales Department of Industry endowed $25 million over 10 years to SIEF to attract, support, retain and train students from this state in the areas of STEM, thus increasing the supply of STEM-engaged students for the future workforce. CSIRO Education and Outreach helps to develop and implement programs for school students and those engaged in higher and vocational education.

The NSW Generation STEM program has established its strategic and operational plans, which lay the foundations for the program’s direction and focus for the next three years. The program will take a place-based approach to delivery of STEM programs with the initial focus on Western Sydney.

In 2018 the Trustee of SIEF entered into a Deed of Gift with the National ICT Australia Pty Ltd (NICTA) for $30 million over six years to establish the Future National ICT Industry Platform program. The program will support a series of grants to fund substantial scale research activities and projects on a collaborative basis in the field of data and digital technologies. Four programs of research have been funded to date; the pilot activity addressing food provenance was completed in February.

Research’s contribution to solving issues of national importance can only be measured long term, but SIEF has developed several key performance indicators for its programs. As the funds available for allocation under the CSIRO Gift diminish and fewer new projects are started, some performance results will not change from previous years. New performance measures for Generation STEM and the NICTA programs will be added once they are established and operational.

This year, the CSIRO Gift programs continued to perform well. Table 6.1 provides an overview of the evidence against each performance criterion as published in the Portfolio Budget Statements, followed by more detailed analysis and evidence.

Table 6.1: Summary of performance
Performance criterion Target Result
Evidence of outcomes and impacts of funded projects as demonstrated by case study impact assessment, independent reviews and evaluations Minimum two case studies G

The impacts of the Going for Gold project include the disruption of the gold industry by providing environmental benefits through alternatives to the use of toxic cyanide, economic benefit to gold miners through using a low-cost technology, and unlocking stranded Australian gold deposits.

The Hovermap EDP has enabled commercialisation of the technology through a company spun-out of CSIRO’s Data61. Applications of Hovermap include mapping of mines, towers, power lines and construction sites. The impacts of the project include improving data collection service quality, increasing safety, reducing costs and driving growth in Australia’s R&D, thus creating jobs and increased business opportunities.

Proportion of research projects involving more than one organisation >94% projects involve more than one organisation G Since 2009, 116 different organisations have formally collaborated in CSIRO Gift-funded projects, with many more associated but not formally under a SIEF Funding Agreement; more than 94% of projects involve more than one organisation. Activities under the new programs associated with the NSW Government Endowment and the NICTA Gift also include formal and informal involvement from multiple organisations.
Use of the research infrastructure as measured through time allocations >60% operational time used, 20% usage in collaborative projects G Commissioning of Research Infrastructure equipment is progressively occurring, with use of scheduled operating time reaching 80% for those on line. Use of Research Infrastructure equipment in collaborative projects is also increasing accounting for 36% of available time for commissioned equipment.
Technologies receiving ongoing commercialisation support from venture capital or industry sources after one year of completing the Experimental Development Program Minimum of one case study G

The Going for Gold EDP identified both commercialisation opportunities and industry support as a result of the success of the project. The industry partner Eco Minerals Research Ltd has negotiated to commercialise the Going for Gold technology through its subsidiary company, Clean Mining Ltd. In addition, several companies have been assessing the technology’s efficacy in extracting gold from their ores.

The Hovermap EDP enabled the CSIRO Data61 project team to create a spin-out company called Emesent. It has successfully raised $4.5 million in venture capital to commercialise Hovermap and is working with companies in a variety of applications.

Number of projects where additional STEM+ Business Fellowship funds are spent on research between the company and the STEM+ Fellow’s host research team or with others 12 P

Eleven projects in the STEM+ Business Fellowship program have attracted additional funds to support further research between the company and the STEM+ Fellow’s host research team or with others, highlighting the catalytic role the program has had in encouraging SMEs to invest in research and development.

Seven of these projects involve additional STEM+ Business Fellowship funds through new STEM+ Business projects or extensions of existing fellowships.

Green shading indicates positive progress for the year and the target has been achieved.
Purple shading indicates progress through the year was less than anticipated and continues to be closely monitored.

Evidence of outcomes and impacts of funded projects

A gold ingot sitting on red dirt

A gold ingot produced from the first gold extracted by the SIEF-funded demonstration plant.

We collaborated with Eco Minerals Research Ltd on the Going for Gold project 28 to construct a mobile gold processing demonstration plant in Menzies, Western Australia, to test CSIRO’s non-toxic, environmentally friendly gold recovery products. The project demonstrated the effectiveness and application of CSIRO’s thiosulphate-based recovery process to mine gold. The technology and vat leach process can be applied to a range of ore types for wider commercial uptake and adoption.

The technology and process will be of great benefit to smaller mining operators as it will enable uptake with a relatively low capital expenditure requirement; the costs of establishing a plant using a vat leach start from around $3 million (capital expenditure required for a typical processing plant is about $30 million). Being free of the regulatory hurdles involved when using cyanide is an added benefit. The flexibility gained by using a mobile processing facility allows miners to unlock gold deposits stranded by factors such as resource sizing and transportation costs.

A gold ingot produced from the first gold extracted by the SIEF-funded demonstration plant.

Additionally, use of the demonstration plant as a gold processing research hub will provide opportunities to demonstrate the method on a greater range of ore types from other gold miners; enable equipment suppliers to trial and develop customer-driven solutions in collaboration with industry and researchers; and provide opportunities for research and training. These outcomes will underpin and drive the uptake of technology for commercialisation.

Hovermap 29 is a self-contained software and hardware system (payload) developed by CSIRO’s Data61 that attaches to existing drones to provide omni-directional 3-D sensing and accurate LiDAR (light imaging, detection and ranging) mapping. The tool has capability to safely and efficiently inspect hard-to-reach assets and collect extremely high-fidelity data in previously unreachable places such as powerlines, warehouses and communications towers. The SIEF Experimental Development Program supported the Hovermap team to flight-test the technology in real-life situations and translate current prototypes into commercial products. This has resulted in the establishment of a CSIRO Data61 spin-out company called Emesent that is commercialising the technology.

The technology is being used for a range of applications including asset management in the construction and telecommunications industry for inspection and mapping of assets and buildings, forensic crime scene mapping, and underground mine mapping. The impact of this technology includes a reduction of costs and risks for governments and companies maintaining facilities and infrastructure as Hovermap can be used to monitor the condition of critical facilities and infrastructure, provide high-quality and accurate information and be used in areas where access is difficult or dangerous. This has the potential to make communities safer as barriers to asset assessment are removed, and damaged or aging infrastructure is detected and repaired or replaced. Hovermap will also benefit Australia as it will drive commercial growth in the international drone market and generate investment in Australian research and development, thus creating job growth and increased business opportunities.

Proportion of projects involving more than one organisation

One of SIEF’s primary objectives is to improve collaboration across the Australian Innovation System. Collaboration is critical for not just research (fostering communication, interaction and sharing of ideas), but also for improving the effectiveness of translating research outputs into innovation that delivers economic, environmental and social benefits. Since 2009, 116 different organisations have been formally involved in one or more CSIRO Gift-funded projects, representing Australian universities, governments, industry, SMEs and overseas organisations, meaning that 95 per cent of CSIRO Gift-supported activities involve more than one organisation. This collaboration helps Australian industry gain marketplace advantage by fostering creativity, developing new skills, transferring knowledge, managing risk and attracting aspiring investors and partners.

Over the life of SIEF-funded programs, the number of publications emerging directly from SIEF-funded activity has increased. From 2017–18 to 2018–19, publications output increased by 27 per cent, reflecting the maturity of the research projects. Co-authorship of publications reinforces collaboration and shows the strength of the collaborative relationships, as well as demonstrating that all contributing parties recognise the value of the research activity and its outputs.

Use of the infrastructure as measured through time allocations

The sophisticated and complex sets of equipment funded under the SIEF Major Research Infrastructure Program represent significant infrastructure investments ($31.6 million SIEF). As the equipment is progressively installed, tested and commissioned, use of scheduled operating time has met or exceeded the targets set. Notable highlights include greater than 100 per cent use of scheduled operating time in the Advanced Resource Characterisation Facility (ARCF) in Perth (a measure of greater than 100 per cent is due to after hours and weekend runs). Mass spectrometry equipment in the Centre for Genomics, Metabolomics and Bioinformatics (CGMB) in Canberra has also been in constant use, with more than 90 per cent utilisation. The Monash MedTech facility is now fully functional, and use of the assets is increasing as projects begin, with operational time for the MR-PET, Hot Lab and tissue bioprinters approximately 50 per cent in 2018.

Collaboration has also been a key feature of the three Major Research Infrastructure projects. The three key acquisitions of the Perth ARCF have been in high demand for collaborative projects, with 40 per cent of projects collaborative and many including international research partners. Thirty-five research articles have been published thus far. Since launching in August, the Clayton MedTech facility has hosted 24 collaborative projects using the full suite of equipment available, and a successful ARC Linkage grant will use the facility’s MR-PET equipment. The CGMB in Canberra is showing 20 per cent of equipment usage for collaborative projects with a partner, and an additional five per cent by non-partner collaborators. The CGMB is delivering on expectations that this activity will result in new areas of collaboration between the Australian National University (ANU) and CSIRO and the broader Canberra precinct. For example, a new Centre of Entrepreneurial AgriTech (CEAT) has been established (attracting ACT Government funding) and through this initiative, CSIRO, ANU and the Canberra Innovation Network will work towards a market face for small businesses and start-ups.

The SIEF Medium Equipment Program (MEP) was launched in 2017 and is designed to address a gap in funding for equipment priced in the approximate range of $500,000 to $4 million. Projects funded under this program ($9.9 million) are progressing well and commissioning of assets is ongoing. For example, the Noble Gas Facility at the Waite Campus in Adelaide was a recipient of $550,000 SIEF funding to acquire a high-resolution noble gas mass spectrometer that will be a valuable asset for researchers studying the continent’s groundwater systems and contribute to the sophisticated science being applied to understand the effects to groundwater of further development in regional Australia. The new mass spectrometer is integrated within the Environmental Tracer Laboratory, making this a unique noble gas capability for water research in the Southern Hemisphere. It began operations in 2019.

The Marine National Facility received MEP funding from SIEF to purchase a Triaxus, a towed undulating CTD instrument used to collect vertical and horizontal profile measurements of the water column from the sea surface to a depth of 300 metres. Identified as a mission critical asset, this state-of-the-art carbon fibre instrument uses the latest fibre optic technologies and is towed up to two kilometres behind the research vessel Investigator (thus avoiding its wake), collecting data not possible with other instrumentation.

The Triaxus deployed at sea.

The Triaxus is fitted with a standard suite of sensors used to measure temperature, conductivity and depth, and supports an array of auxiliary sensors to measure dissolved oxygen and fluorescences, and to identify and count plankton, providing a highly flexible data collection instrument. The Triaxus is available to all Australian researchers and their international collaborators, who successfully apply for a voyage on Investigator.

Technology receiving ongoing commercialisation support from venture capital or industry sources after one year of completing the Experimental Development Program

An impact assessment of the Going for Gold EDP has provided evidence of several outcomes achieved including: demonstrating the effectiveness of CSIRO’s thiosulphate-based recovery process; demonstrating the application of technology to a range of ore types; and enabling take-up with a relatively low capital expenditure. An assessment of the Going for Gold EDP identified both commercialisation opportunities and industry support as a result of the success of the project. In June, the industry partner Eco Minerals Research Ltd, negotiated a commercial arrangement to take the Going for Gold technology to market. In addition, several companies have been assessing the technology’s efficacy in extracting gold from their ores.

As a result of the Hovermap EDP project, drone autonomy and data analytics company Emesent spun-out of CSIRO’s Data61, was successfully established in November. It has raised $4.5 million in venture capital to commercialise its first product – Hovermap. The company has engaged with companies in Australia, the United States, Canada, China and Japan in a variety of applications.

Number of projects where additional STEM+ Business Fellowship funds are spent on research between the company and the STEM+ Fellow's host research team or with others

The STEM+ Business Fellowship program continues to act as a catalyst for collaborative partnerships and investment by SMEs in both research and development, and early-career researchers. This year, 11 projects attracted additional business funds to support further research between the company and the STEM+ Fellow’s host research team, or with others.

Participating SMEs have indicated a high level of satisfaction with the program, with many seeking additional projects through the program, and others seeking and engaging in partnerships further afield. Four STEM+ Business Fellowship companies and their partner universities have successfully applied for funding for two Australian Research Council (ARC) Industrial Transformation Research Hubs – an excellent indicator of deepening connections and collaborations between businesses and research organisations. Each of these consortia has been awarded funding of $5 million for the ‘ARC Research Hub for Driving Farming Productivity and Disease Prevention’, to be administered by Griffith University, and the ‘ARC Research Hub for Medicinal Agriculture’, to be administered by La Trobe University.

Of the 11 projects which have resulted in additional funding, seven have successfully secured additional STEM+ Business Fellowship funds as SMEs have sought to capitalise on the original SIEF investment by extending fellowships from two to three years, or to create additional STEM+ Business Fellowship projects.

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