Collaboration is a key strategy industries need to harness in order to meet their emissions targets. CSIRO’s Warren Flentje is working with collaborators from across industry, research and government to co-design technology pathways for a low emissions resource industry and agriculture. As told to RUTH DAWKINS
Since the Paris Climate Accords were signed in 2015 – when 195 countries pledged to limit global warming to below 2 degrees – every Australian state and territory has set an ambitious target of net zero emissions by 2050 or sooner.
Many national and international businesses, across mining, agriculture and manufacturing, have set the same goal.
These publicly stated pledges have often been backed by a commitment to major financial investment; something which has been especially encouraging in light of the economic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Clearly companies don't need to be persuaded that net zero emissions is a worthwhile goal.
How do we transition to a low-carbon economy and preserve economic goals?
The question we now face is how we make that transition to a low-carbon economy while increasing productivity, competitiveness and economic growth.
We don't have a lot of time, and we don't have a lot of tools.
That's where CSIRO can help.
Through the new missions program announced by CSIRO Chief Executive Larry Marshall, CSIRO is exploring how we can best support Australian industry to achieve their emissions reduction goals.
Currently in development, this particular mission is not all about research.
Rather, it is about accelerating the pace and scale at which we can tackle this challenge – increasing not just access to the relevant technology, but the widespread adoption of those tools.
Industry specific challenges
Our conversations with stakeholders have revealed complex challenges specific to resource industry and agriculture.
Take mining operations as an example. We know that one of the key emissions areas in mining operations is the use of diesel.
This means there are questions to be explored around remote stationary energy, the electrification of fleets, and the potential use of biofuels and hybrid fuels.
We know that a second area responsible for high emissions is electricity consumption, so we need to be working on efficiency measures and renewables.
In coal mining, one of the main challenges is fugitive emissions, which currently account for around 5 per cent of Australia's total annual greenhouse gas emissions.
CSIRO is conducting research into fugitive emissions abatement in order to make our mining industry safer, more efficient and cleaner.
But increased emissions abatement potential lies in new processes.
Pre-processing of iron ore can reduce overall value chain emissions significantly.
More efficient use of waste heat and solar thermal resources can reduce energy consumption.
In the future, making green steel using hydrogen and our abundant renewable resources has significant potential to make Australia a competitive manufacturing centre in a global low-carbon economy.
Decarbonisation is critical
Exploring every opportunity for decarbonisation is critical.
But no matter how much we decarbonise there will be remaining emissions from hard-to-abate sectors and addressing these will require negative emissions processes – locking up carbon through biological processes in forests, soils and new agricultural practices.
CSIRO is working to establish new methods for carbon storage in the compliance and voluntary carbon market.
We are also working on novel, high-abatement potential technologies such as Direct Air Capture, carbon mineralisation and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (CCS).
Australia has much to gain from domestic and international carbon markets.
Our vast land area, high-quality renewable energy resources and geological sequestration opportunities present opportunities to build new revenue streams for farmers, land managers and new industries.
To capitalise on Australia's natural advantages, we must close the technology gap.
There is a significant gap in the availability of cost-effective, scalable technologies.
Not only do we need to develop the tools that will help us to reach net zero, we need them to be demonstrable, cost-effective and adopted at an unprecedented scale.
The challenge of Scope 3 emissions
A further significant challenge is the need to reduce Scope 3 emissions - indirect emissions that occur across the entire value chain.
These are much harder to track and manage, and they require large companies to change not only their own practices, but to influence the behaviour of their customers and consumers.
An integrated approach is required to reach net zero.
It is not enough to consider just one company or one industry.
Instead, a coordinated effort must be made by a wide range of related but independent stakeholders.
CSIRO can help to address the many complexities, develop new technology and lead the conversation about putting these skills to use.
If Australia gets this right, decarbonisation can present opportunities for businesses and economic growth.
Scope 3 emissions goals for international supply chains mean that Australian producers who reduce their emissions will find it easier to access international markets and supply chains.
Those business innovators will also benefit from access to low cost global capital as investors move to sustainable options.
For the mining industry in particular, there are enormous opportunities.
The shifting demand for minerals that accompanies the growth of low carbon technologies like wind turbines, solar photovoltaics and hydrogen fuel cells means that Australia's mining industry can become part of the decarbonisation solution by providing raw materials.
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There is significant pressure on the mineral resources industry to reduce emissions - from governments, from investors, and from society.
Meeting this challenge and ensuring that the mineral resources and agriculture industries remain internationally competitive will require the development and deployment of technology solutions at scale.
As Australia's pre-eminent scientific organisation, CSIRO has experience working in this space.
We have long-standing collaborative relationships with all the relevant stakeholders: universities, where primary research is taking place; local, state and federal governments, who determine the policy and legislative frameworks we need to work within; and businesses themselves, who need to see tangible outcomes.
Additionally, our relationships across all sectors of the economy mean that we are uniquely placed to identify any barriers to adoption that aren't related to technology. We know it’s not just about developing the tools – it's about making those tools cost-effective, scalable, and easy-to-adopt.
Preparing for the future
Action on climate change is growing at a rapid pace across Australian industry, and CSIRO is here to help you prepare for the future.
We cannot be doing the same things in 2050 as we are at the moment.
We cannot even be doing things the same way in ten years.
To hit those critical emissions targets, we need a large-scale coordinated effort. CSIRO has an important role to play in that effort, and we are putting our research to work.
We are actively engaging with partners to identify opportunities to develop and demonstrate pathways to net zero.
We invite you to join us on the journey.