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Emerging technologies

Emerging technologies have transformative potential, but require continual monitoring of global learning rates, and research and investment trends (Figure 6). This category includes technologies at an early stage or where developments are driven primarily overseas.

Figure 6: Emerging technologies

Technology group

Description

Livestock feed supplements

Feed supplements that reduce methane from cows and sheep

Low emissions cement

Cement that uses alternatives to limestone, or carbon capture and storage, or use, to reduce emissions from the cement process

Energy efficiency

Providing the same service with less energy

Waste-to-energy

Reducing landfill volume and emissions by using waste to generate electricity

Low emissions ammonia

Made from clean hydrogen and renewable electricity powered processing plants, for use as a vector for hydrogen exports, and as a fuel

Negative emissions

Early-stage technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere such as Direct Air Capture and Removal (DACR), or Bio Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS)

Low emissions heat

Methods of producing heat with low emissions, such as solar thermal and heat pumps, in domestic, commercial, industrial and manufacturing applications

Demand flexibility

Moving the demand for electricity to times when low cost and low emissions supply is plentiful, without impacting on the service the energy provides

Raw materials processing efficiency

More efficient methods to process the raw materials mined in Australia

Hydrogen enabled appliances

Commercial and home appliances that can operate with up to 100% hydrogen in the gas network

Electricity sector technologies

Ultra low cost transmission, microgrids for off-grid and fringe-of-grid uses in agriculture or mining, solar thermal for use in manufacturing and mining

Transport

More efficient and zero emissions drivetrains, public transport, and low emissions aircraft

Abatement of fugitive methane

Capturing the emissions ventilated from underground coal mines, and LNG production

Innovative generation

Small modular reactors and zero emission gas turbines such as Allam Cycle or hydrogen turbines

Buildings

Low emissions building materials, building integrated PV
(such as, solar PV tiles), and new refrigerants

The Australian Government monitors emerging technologies to see if they can help address Australia’s big technology challenges. These challenges include:

  • reducing emissions
  • expanding Australia’s primary and manufacturing industries
  • supporting jobs
  • capturing export opportunities for low emission commodities.

In the Low Emissions Technology Statement 2021, we highlight two emerging technologies that show promise for future prioritisation and could help address Australia’s emissions challenges.

The government will undertake further analysis on the potential of these technologies and promote early investments to support their development. They are:

  • livestock feed supplements
  • low emissions cement.

We also look briefly at three other emerging technologies from the list in Figure 6.

Livestock feed supplements

Australia is one of the world’s top five exporters of red meat and in the top ten for milk. In the 12 months ended 30 June 2019, the red meat and livestock industry supported 189,000 direct jobs and 245,000 indirect jobs.[18]

Emissions from enteric methane – produced by microbial fermentation in ruminant animals – were 46 million tonnes CO2-e in 2020, around 10% of Australia’s total emissions.[19] The Australian red meat industry has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030.[20] This will require new technologies that reduce enteric methane emissions from livestock.

New livestock feed supplements such as Asparagopsis seaweed and the organic compound 3-nitrooxypropanol (3-NOP) could reduce emissions and improve meat yields.[21] Bioactive compounds in these feed supplements interrupt methane-forming bacterial processes in the animal’s digestive system, thereby substantially reducing the formation of methane. In addition, food energy that would otherwise be lost to fuelling bacterial methane production is made available to be absorbed by the animal, leading to faster growth rates and consequent cost savings for the farmer.

Asparagopsis supplements have demonstrated potential emissions reductions of over 80%.[22] Australian company FutureFeed owns the global intellectual property for the Asparagopsis feed supplement, which was developed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Meat and Livestock Australia, and James Cook University.

Australia’s livestock emissions could decline by over seven million tonnes CO₂-e a year if livestock feed technologies that reduce emissions by an average of 75% were delivered to:

  • about half of Australia’s cattle in feedlots and dairy farms
  • 15% of grazing cattle and sheep.

Further development and validation of these supplements at a commercial scale could lead to voluntary adoption across the industry. This would see Australia prosper in markets for low emissions meat and dairy products, supporting industry growth, international competitiveness and jobs. It could also help create a domestic seaweed industry with additional economic and carbon sequestration benefits.[23],[24]

Initially, livestock feed supplements will be more effective in places where delivery can be controlled, like feedlots and dairy farms. Emissions reductions will be significantly higher if supplements can be reliably delivered to the dispersed grazing herds that make up 95% of Australia’s livestock.

The government is investing $30.7 million over six years towards promising feed technologies:

  • $6 million for the Methane Emissions Reduction in Livestock program to support research into the abatement potential and productivity benefits of livestock feed technologies
  • $23 million for the Low Emissions Supplements to Grazing Animals at Scale program to help develop technologies to deliver low emissions feed supplements to grazing animals
  • $1.7 million to scale-up production of Asparagopsis.[25]

This investment will help us understand how feed technologies improve productivity and reduce emissions, and fast-track solutions to deliver feed supplements to grazing animals.

It may also inform frameworks under Climate Active and the Emissions Reduction Fund to recognise reduced emissions from feed technologies. This will help livestock farmers diversify their revenues by participating in voluntary carbon markets.

Low emissions cement

Concrete, of which the key ingredient is cement, is the most widely used construction material in the world. The Australian cement and concrete industry supports 18,000 direct and 80,000 indirect jobs.[26]

The concrete value chain involves:

  • mining limestone, clay and sand to make clinker, which gives cement its binding properties
  • producing clinker in high temperature kilns
  • producing cement from ground clinker and other materials
  • mixing cement, water and aggregates to make concrete.

Carbon dioxide is released as a by-product when converting limestone into clinker. The clinker production step accounts for 60% of the emissions from cement production. Fuels to heat the kilns account for 30% and electricity use makes up the remaining 10%.[27] Emissions from Australia’s cement production were five million tonnes CO₂‑e in the twelve months ended 30 June 2019, being just over 1% of Australia’s total emissions in that period.[28]

The Australian cement industry has already reduced annual emissions by over 20% since 2010.[29] A number of solutions could help further reduce emissions associated with cement production. These include the use of renewable electricity, improving energy efficiency and clinker substitution. 

In addition, carbon capture and storage (CCS) – a priority low emissions technology – will play a particularly important role because the release of CO₂ is an inherent output of the chemical reaction that converts limestone into clinker. Capturing the CO₂ and storing or using it is currently the only viable elimination pathway. 

Australia is well placed to develop a low emissions cement industry thanks to our:

  • strong research and development capabilities
  • potential for clean, cheap energy, and CCS.

The government is already investing in low emissions cement. This includes over $75 million for cooperative research centres (CRCs) like the SmartCrete CRC, Building 4.0 CRC and Low Carbon Living CRC.[30] The Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) finances commercial and industrial building projects that reduce embodied carbon by using lower emissions cement. For example, in 2021 the CEFC provided $95 million for the Roe Highway Logistics Park in Perth, which will use low emissions concrete that can reduce emissions by up to 42% compared to traditional concrete. The government’s investment in priority technologies like electrical energy storage and CCS also supports emissions reductions at various points along the value chain.

Other emerging technologies

Heat pumps

Emissions from the burning of fuels for heat, steam or pressure made up 20% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2020.[31]

More commonly known as reverse-cycle air conditioning, heat pumps can be used to provide heating and cooling in residential, commercial and industrial applications. For heating, they use electricity to concentrate and move heat from a cold ‘source’ to a hot ‘sink’, to produce hot air, hot water or steam.

The principal advantage of heat pumps over incumbent technologies is their efficiency. This is measured by the co-efficient of performance (COP), the ratio between electrical energy used and heat produced. For every unit of energy input, heat pumps can deliver multiple units of thermal energy. For example, heat pumps for residential space heating can have a COP from 3 to 6, while incumbent technologies such as gas-fired boilers are less than 1.[32]

Direct air capture

Direct air capture (DAC) is an early-stage technology that uses either chemical solutions or solid adsorption filters to capture carbon dioxide directly from the air. The captured CO₂ could then be used, or compressed and stored in geological formations.

DAC is technically feasible. However, it is expensive because carbon dioxide is much less concentrated in the air compared with the concentration in industrial flue gases. Estimates of capture costs currently range from US$100 to US$1,000 per tonne of CO₂-e.[33]

A few small DAC plants are operating commercially in Europe and North America, and two large‑scale facilities are being developed in the US and Iceland. Interest in DAC has been growing, but the technology needs more support to demonstrate its viability at larger scales.

Australian company Southern Green Gas is developing Australia’s first solar-powered DAC units. The technology is based on small modular units that can capture about a tonne of CO₂ per year. For significant capture, these small, modular units will be needed in the millions. They can be manufactured in Australia, creating jobs for Australians.[34]

Small modular reactors

Small modular reactors (SMR) are modern nuclear reactors that are small (less than 300 MW) compared with conventional nuclear reactors (greater than 1000 MW). Their small size means SMRs can be manufactured efficiently in factories and deployed to meet local needs. They have potential to be aggregated to scale up generation capacity to meet large-scale electricity demand.

The technology and economics of SMRs are still evolving. Further innovation and demand could reduce the cost of building and operating SMRs, which could provide zero-emissions electricity and support grid reliability.

SMRs could become an option for Australia if there is bipartisan support to lift Australia’s ban on nuclear energy. In the meantime, there are opportunities for Australia to support the continued development of this technology and contribute the expertise of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) to these efforts.

The Australia-UK Partnership on Low Emissions Solutions includes a commitment to cooperate on research and development for SMRs, including advanced nuclear designs and enabling technologies such as advanced materials and waste processing.[35]

Footnotes

  1. Meat and Livestock Australia 2020, State of the Industry Report 2020, accessed 4 August 2021
  2. Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources 2020, Australia’s emissions projections 2020, accessed 5 August 2021
  3. Meat and Livestock Australia 2020, The Australian Red Meat Industry’s Carbon Neutral by 2030 Roadmap, accessed 4 August 2021
  4. Black J L, Davison T M, Box I 2021, Methane Emissions from Ruminants in Australia: Mitigation Potential and Applicability of Mitigation Strategies, Animals, 11, 951, accessed 5 August 2021
  5. Roque B M, Venegas M, Kinley R D, de Nys R, Duarte T L, Yang X, et al. 2021, Red seaweed (Asparagopsis taxiformis) supplementation reduces enteric methane by over 80 percent in beef steers, PLoS ONE 16(3): e0247820, accessed 5 August 2021
  6. AgriFutures Australia 2020, Australian Seaweed Industry Blueprint – A Blueprint for Growth, accessed 5 August
  7. Duarte C M, Wu J, Xiao X, Bruhn A, Krause-Jensen D 2017, Can Seaweed Farming Play a Role in Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation?, Front. Mar. Sci. 4:100. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2017.00100, accessed 5 August 2021
  8. This includes a $1 million Accelerating Commercialisation grant under the Entrepreneurs’ Program to scale up production and support the commercialisation of Asparagopsis, and a $675,000 grant from the $30 million Commercialisation Fund to establish a processing and manufacturing facility for this seaweed product.
  9. Cement, Concrete & Aggregates Australia, Concrete, Quarry & Cement Industries in Australia, accessed 5 August 2021
  10. Cement Industry Federation 2020, Australian Cement Report 2020 (external download), accessed 5 August 2021 at cement.org.au
  11. This includes scope 1 (process and thermal) and 2 (electricity) emissions.
  12. Cement Industry Federation 2020, Australian Cement Report 2020 (external download), accessed 5 August 2021 at cement.org.au
  13. $21 million for SmartCrete, $28 million for Building 4.0, $28 million for Low Carbon Living
  14. Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources 2020, Australia’s emissions projections 2020, accessed 5 August 2021
  15. Energy Efficiency Council, Back to basics: heat pumps, accessed 5 August 2021
  16. International Energy Agency, Direct Air Capture, accessed 5 August 2021
  17. Southern Green Gas, Negative Emissions : Australia’s Jobs Creating, Renewable Energy Export Industry, accessed 5 August 2021
  18. Minister Taylor 2021, Australia-UK partnership to drive low emissions solutions, Media Release 29 July 2021, accessed 1 September 2021