There are some key enablers for realising the manufacturing potential of recycling and clean energy.
Developing world-leading greentech products
Investors are keenly aware that in rapidly changing and growing markets such as recycling and clean energy, the companies who ‘win’ are those who turn an innovation edge into world-leading products that offer compelling value to forward-looking customers. This supports them to remain competitive in a market that is being continually reshaped by increasingly stringent expectations of consumers and policymakers for cleaner, greener products.
The road map taskforce sees a number of innovative products and processes for clean energy and recycling that could be brought out of the lab and onto the production line. While the calibre of Australia’s research in clean energy and recycling is unquestioned, as in other sectors, we have been less successful at development, demonstration and commercialisation. This calls for more focus on honing Australian industry’s skills in late-stage commercialisation (i.e. TRLs 7-9 and CRI 2+), and advancing technologies such as solar thermal, thermal energy storage, chemical recycling, and recycling for composite materials like carbon fibre.
Specialised or incremental innovation in more established products or processes is an equally high priority for realising our vision. This includes innovations in product design (e.g. to improve user experience, adapt for Australian conditions or to support re-use), or to embed automation, artificial intelligence or other Industry 4.0 capabilities, which can lower manufacturing and supply chain costs, and make new processes possible. These innovations may not be as transformative to the workings of energy and material systems, but they will be essential elements for Australian manufacturing businesses to compete globally.
The Modern Manufacturing Initiative can assist with this by supporting manufacturers to commercialise products and collaborate across the supply chain. It will complement initiatives such as the Future Battery Industries CRC to help bring world-leading products to market.
Technology Readiness Level and Commercial Readiness Index
The Technology Readiness Level (TRL) index is a globally accepted benchmarking tool for tracking progress and supporting development of a specific technology through the technology development chain, from blue sky research (TRL1) to actual system demonstration over the full range of expected conditions (TRL9). It is used across a wide range of sectors.
By contrast, the CRI moves beyond the proof-of-function measured by the TRL towards an evaluation of the commercial readiness. It assesses overall market maturity of a technology, by reviewing the level of commercial uncertainty and risk remaining in the demonstration and deployment phases, after the technology has been proven.
This diagram illustrates the relationship between the TRL and CRI and what each level on these indices refer to.
On the left-hand side, a vertical bar with equal markers numbered 1-9 (from bottom to top) is a visual representation of the TRL. Levels 1-2 are labelled as ‘basic applied research funding’. Levels 3-5 are labelled as ‘lab-proven R&D to demonstration’. Levels 5-9 are labelled as ‘demonstration to commercialization’.
On the right side-hand side, another vertical bar represents the CRI. This bar is parallel to the TRL. The bottom of this bar is labelled as ‘1: Hypothetical commercial proposition’. There is a dotted line that connects CRI 1 across to TRL 2, indicating they refer to the same level of product development.
Further up the CRI bar, CRI 2 ‘Commercial trial, small scale’ is equivalent to TRL 9. From this point upwards, the CRI bar extends further up beyond where the TRL bar ends. The rest of the CRI bar is labelled as follows:
- 3: Commercial scale up
- 4: Multiple commercial applications
- 5: Market competition; Driving widespread development
- 6: Bankable asset class
Source: ARENA (2014) Commercial Readiness Index for Renewable Energy Sectors
Support domestic manufacturers to benefit from industry growth
For emerging sectors like recycling and clean energy, the challenges of commercialising innovation and scaling up the industry are closely entwined. Initial demand is commonly a missing piece. Policy actions which create and catalyse demand are important, as is tapping and unlocking what is already available.
Parts of clean energy and recycling are already scaling quickly, supported by complementary government co-investments. The National Waste Policy Action Plan is driving the private sector to set packaging targets, develop product stewardship schemes, and take advantage of improved waste infrastructure, improving feedstock quality, and new standards for recycled materials. Clean energy megaprojects and renewable energy zones could signify new sources of demand. Government’s task, through the Modern Manufacturing Strategy (MMS), is to work with competitive enterprises to help convert this growth into domestic manufacturing opportunities.
The road map taskforce considers that some Australian market demand currently serviced by manufacturers overseas could also be met by more Australian companies. Competitive enterprises are already doing this by offering better quality products based on higher sustainability criteria, fewer supply chain risks, and more opportunities for customised design and post-sales services.
The MMS could help more manufacturers build and market these capabilities to customers. This will encourage large commercial and industrial customers to seek opportunities to ‘re-shore’ production by testing, or re-testing Australian manufacturers’ competitiveness.
Mobilise large-scale investment in new ways of using energy and materials
Large-scale investment can be mobilised through collaborations which ‘bring it all together’ across translation, integration, and collaboration activities. Consortiums with partners that bring complementary strengths from across the innovation chain, value chain, and supply chain can cooperatively shape a pathway to scale for domestic manufacturers. In the recycling sector, these partners could include all of the business actors from the consumer back to the manufacturers who would support a move from a linear ‘supply chain’ to a ‘supply circle’ that avoids waste and produces more economic value. This could require increased collaboration between manufacturers and feedstock suppliers to get suitable material at competitive cost; collaboration between designers, manufacturers and retailers (or brand owners) to design recycled packages or products which meets the retailer’s requirements; and collaboration on processes to allow the customer to return products for maintenance, re-use or recycling.
Moving from supply chain to supply circle
This diagram shows how a large-scale hub or precinct involving business-to-business and business-to-research collaborations can help realise the economic value potential of recycling opportunities. Collaborative innovations help the sector move towards circular economy.
Businesses in the hub could include a recycling facility, a design firm, a university, and multiple product retailers. An advanced manufacturer (a facility or complex) would sit at the centre of the hub.
- The recycling facility, design firm, university, and manufacturer would be engaged in collaborations to ‘develop products to use recycled materials’ and ‘develop processes to use recycled materials’.
- The manufacturer would be growing and scaling up (for example, adding a new production line)
- The manufacturer would be engaged in a collaboration with the retailer(s) to ‘develop product stewardship and end-of-life services’
The exchange of ideas and collaborations is represented by two-directional arrows between all the different entities. The movement of physical material and products is demonstrated by arrows from the recycler to the facility, to the retailer and then back to the retailer and into the manufacturing process.
In the clean energy sector (Figure 6), large-scale investment could be drawn to manufacturing through consortiums that include hardware manufacturers, large clean energy project proponents (especially export-scale), energy-intensive manufacturers and the resources sector. Collaborations could result in Australian-based component manufacturing and maintenance of clean energy infrastructure, and greater access to clean energy for energy-intensive manufacturing.
Leveraging a clean energy industrial hub
This diagram shows a large-scale hub or precinct involving business-to-business collaborations to leverage the scale-up opportunity of an export oriented renewable megaproject. It demonstrates scale is enabled by export, and energy intensive manufacturing is enabled as a spin-off of that growth.
Businesses in the hub include advanced manufacturers and designers of equipment and components, an export port, a mine, and energy intensive manufacturers. Using arrows the diagram shows:
- the megaproject collaborating with designers and manufacturers to develop equipment, components, and after-sales servicing and maintenance
- the megaproject sending electricity at scale to the export port
- the megaproject collaborating with the energy-intensive manufacturers to offer abundant clean energy and integrate this as a process improvement, underpinned by export offtakers
- the megaproject collaborating with the mine to offer abundant clean energy and integrate this as a process improvement
- the energy intensive manufacturers sending green materials to the equipment makers
- the energy intensive manufacturers sending green (a form of value-adding) materials to the export port
- the energy intensive manufacturers receiving material for recycling or remanufacture
- the equipment maker sending expertise to the world.
The exchange of ideas and collaborations is represented by two-directional arrows between all the different entities. The movement of energy through the consortium partners is demonstrated by arrows from the megaproject pointing to each of the businesses. The movement of material is also show by arrows from the mine, to the facilities, to the component makers and then back for recycling.
Collaborations like these can support emerging companies to crowd-in additional private finance or prepare them to attract additional private capital injections in future through venture capital or public stock exchange listings. The MMS can help facilitate these.
62 In 2020, Australia ranked 13th in the world for innovation inputs such as research, but 31st in the world for innovation outputs such as commercialised products. Source: The Global Innovation Index 2020: Who Will Finance Innovation ↵
63 For example, the Future Battery Industries CRC is enabling the growth of battery industries through improving competitiveness, pursuing new opportunities in global value chains, and taking advantage of Australian minerals and expertise. ↵