Affordable batteries for green energy are closer than we think

Electrical and Electronic Engineering PhD candidate Valentin Muenzel has collaborated on research with Dean of Engineering Professor Iven Mareels, Dr Julian de Hoog, from the Department of Mechanical Engineering and colleagues from IBM Research Australia Arun Vishwanath (research scientist) and Shivkumar Kalyanaraman (chief scientist) about trends in battery cost and the impact these costs have on renewable energy and electric vehicle uptake.

While batteries represent a substantial proportion of the cost of electric vehicles, a  meta-analysis of current battery costs and future cost predictions, reveals that battery pack costs per kilowatt hour have been decreasing rapidly in recent years and the decrease is expected to continue.

Read “Affordable batteries for green energy are closer than we think”, The Conversation, 23 July 2014.


Innovations set to improve dairy products

 (L-R) Dr Lesley McLeod, CEO of Dairy Innovation Australia; Professor Bhesh Bhandari, University of Queensland; Associate Professor Sally Gras; Professor Ian Gentle, University of Queensland; Professor Aidan Byrne, CEO of the Australian Research Council; and Professor Margaret Sheil, University Provost.
(L-R) Dr Lesley McLeod, CEO of Dairy Innovation Australia; Professor Bhesh Bhandari, University of Queensland; Associate Professor Sally Gras, Hub Director, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, the University of Melbourne; Professor Ian Gentle, University of Queensland; Professor Aidan Byrne, CEO of the Australian Research Council; and Professor Margaret Sheil, University Provost.

Longer-lasting Australian dairy products with high nutritional value will soon be available to consumers in Australia and overseas thanks to a major industrial research initiative.

The new ARC Dairy Innovation Hub will assist Australian dairy manufacturers to develop new products to meet the increasing local and international demand for high quality dairy products particularly in Asia.

Potential new products could include butter and dairy blends with improved taste and spreadability, lactose-free and reduced fat, long-life milks that really do “taste like real milk”, yoghurt that will retain its texture for longer without “watering off” in the fridge, and a wider range of more consistent, natural cheese flavours and textures.

Hub Director Associate Professor Sally Gras, from the University of Melbourne’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, said that the initiative brings together three of Australia’s leading dairy research groups in a five-year, $13 million Industrial Transformation Research Program, co- funded by the Australian Research Council, Dairy Innovation Australia Ltd, The University of Melbourne and The University of Queensland.

“Dairy manufacturing is currently worth more than two billion dollars to the Australian economy and will continue to increase as the demand for food required in Asia doubles in coming years”.

“We will work to find solutions and opportunities for the Australian dairy industry to make the most of our geographic location and to grow our exports into the lucrative Asian market,” said Associate Professor Gras.

Australian dairy manufacturers will also benefit from processing innovations that reduce environmental impact, provide new opportunities for water recycling and reduce operating costs and time lost to equipment cleaning.

Dairy Innovation Australia Ltd CEO Dr Lesley MacLeod said the new centre will focus on translating research excellence into industry value.

“This approach will use innovation to help our manufacturers both grow and add value in domestic and export markets,” she said.

The University of Queensland Chief Investigator Professor Bhesh Bhandari said food materials, scientists and technologists will work together within the ARC Dairy Innovation Hub.

“This will foster collaboration between two universities in dairy research that can benefit industry”, Professor Bhandari said.

Over the five years of funding, the Hub expects to achieve research outcomes to understand the structures of dairy products better and how these contribute to their properties and feel in the mouth.

Researchers working across the three sites will also evaluate new processes to improve dairy manufacturing in Australia.

“These insights will help manufacturers make new products and design processes that can reduce waste and lead to water and energy savings.” Associate Professor Gras said.

The Rise of Robotics and the Future of Employment

Dr Denny Oetomo, Senior Lecturer from our Department of Mechanical Engineering, discusses the future role of robots and their importance to the Australian economy with the Business Spectator.

Dr Oetomo advises that robotics has the potential to create new jobs, and in contrast to our relatively small population, Australian robotics is making an impact in the worldwide industry.

Despite our achievements so far, an increase to funding is critical if Australia is to remain competitive in an ambitious industry.

Read more about the future of robotics in “Time to stop droning on about robots stealing our jobs”.

Alumna making a positive impact through disaster management research

Dr Katie Potts
PhD – Department of Infrastructure Engineering (2014)
Research Fellow – Centre for Disaster Management and Public Safety

Geomatics PhD alumna Katie Potts knew she wanted to pursue a career devising better ways of managing disaster response while she was working on her final year engineering project. Victoria had just experienced the devastating Black Saturday bushfires of 2009, Australia’s worst bushfire disaster in recorded history, and Dr Potts decided to use her final year thesis to investigate the use of spatial information in bushfire recovery.

“I used these fires as a case study and was able to go and interview a range of people involved in the initial (non-immediate) recovery as it was still taking place.”

“Talking to people, reading articles and learning more and more about disaster management – and living in Melbourne where so many people had been impacted by the fires in one way or another –  inspired me to use my background in geomatic engineering to continue research into disaster management for all phases and for all disasters.”

Dr Potts said that the geomatic engineering background offered her a new perspective in the field of disaster management, and the experience that she gained during her final year project focusing on the Black Saturday fires, opened up other areas of inquiry that she was keen to pursue with further research.

Dr Potts is now a Research Fellow with the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Disaster Management and Public Safety (CDMPS), a new multi-disciplinary centre conducting research and training on disaster management and public safety both nationally and internationally. Dr Potts has been involved in the centre since its development and launch.

“The best part of my job is working to solve problems, and by finding a solution being able to impact society for the better.”

“Disasters do not discriminate, and everyone is vulnerable to them in one way or another. Empowering people to make choices and take actions that can improve their livelihood and could potentially save their lives one day makes the job feel very worthwhile.”

“Interacting with a range of industry also is a great aspect of the job, because at the local and national level we can identify real issues that are affecting the community and can work with the community and other stakeholders to try and improve the situation.”

“Additionally, where I work we have a terrific team, and getting to work with those people every day – who all have their own specialities and unique skills is really a privilege. I learn every day from the people around me and it really is a great aspect of my job.”

The youngest PhD graduate at her graduation ceremony this year, Dr Potts said that her decision to move into research so early in her career was a difficult one, because all her friends were entering the workforce, while she was committing to at least three or more years of study.

“However I knew it was something that I really enjoyed, and opportunities like I was given don’t come around twice, so I bit the bullet, started a PhD and haven’t looked back.”

“I think starting so early in research has given me the opportunity to fully explore my interests and find out what I really want to be doing in my career and it has essentially given me a head start since I now know I want to continue in research.”

Dr Potts said that completing a PhD enhanced her communication, presentation and writing skills significantly. It also gave her invaluable opportunities to attend leading national and international conferences in her field.

“The graduation ceremony was amazing and really made me feel like I had achieved something very special.”

Dr Potts is currently taking the opportunity to further her disaster management research internationally, working in the Philippines and China.

“The Philippines are particularly vulnerable to a range of natural disasters, heightened by low living standards and a largely poor population. Spending time in this country has drawn my attention to disaster related issues in developing countries, and as a result I will most likely carry out some research related to disasters in the Philippines. At the moment a lot of resources are focused on the areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan, however across the country there are a range of other natural disaster events that require attention.”

For further information about PhD opportunities at the Melbourne School of Engineering, visit our Graduate Research website.

Scholarships in Engineering and IT: Creating future industry leaders

The Melbourne School of Engineering is encouraging the future leaders in engineering and IT through a range of scholarships for local and international students. Scholarships are given to academically excellent students, presenting them with a unique opportunity to pursue their studies in Engineering and IT.

A number of $20,000 MSE Foundation Scholarships are awarded to high achieving international students in our professional Masters degrees, the Master of Engineering, the Master of Information Technology and the Master of Information Systems. The foundation also offers $10,000 bursaries to high achieving local students.

The Len Stevens Scholarship
The Len Stevens Scholarship, gives high achieving students the opportunity to undertake extra curricular learning either within Australia or overseas. Valued at $15,000, this scholarships supports recipients in undertaking a program or experience of their choice, either locally or internationally. This could be a community project, a research program or a visit to other research laboratories or universities.

First established in 2011 during the 150th anniversary of engineering education at the University of Melbourne, the scholarship has already made a huge difference to the lives of talented students over the past few years.

Eric Lambers
2013 recipient Eric Lambers (above, right) took the opportunity to expand his research in direct geothermal installations by visiting facilities across the world, including Switzerland, Germany, Italy, England, the United States and Japan. This became an exceptional opportunity for Eric, as he was able to observe unique facilities, which are difficult to find within Australia.

“Although the technology is a long way from catching on in Australia, I strongly believe the energy source will greatly benefit our energy industry. Overseas, it has been established as a genuine market competitor for heating and cooling buildings,” says Eric.

The Scholarship enabled Eric to explore the advantages of the valuable technology and observe it in action while interacting with industry professionals.

“I am now able to bounce off ideas back and forth with the people I met overseas,” says Eric, reflecting on the outcomes of his experience.

“Overall this experience has helped me define my research project topic, where I will investigate the sizing of hybrid shallow geothermal systems. I am excited to expand my knowledge and potentially even get involved with installation of systems.”

Jing Ming Ren
Jing Ming Ren
Jing Ming Ren, the first recipient of the Len Stevens Scholarship, was able to pursue his polymer research in one of the world’s foremost research facilities, the IBM Almaden Research Centre in San Jose, California.

“This scholarship has granted me a valuable opportunity to collaborate with world-class polymer scientists in a state-oft-the-art research facility and establish professional links with research peers overseas. This kind of experience can be life-changing,” says Jing Ming.

Current Engineering or IT graduate coursework or graduate research students can apply now for this year’s Len Stevens Scholarship. Applications close on 1 August 2014.

Emeritus Professor Len Stevens AM
The scholarship is named in honour of Emeritus Professor Len Stevens AM. The former Dean of Engineering was instrumental in establishing the Melbourne School of Engineering Foundation, which develops and nurtures relationships within the business community, alumni and other groups interested in the School’s growth and development.

“I am passionate about supporting exceptional engineering students who willingly extend their learning beyond their Melbourne experience,” says Professor Stevens.

Engineering and IT scholarships have been made possible thanks to the generosity of our donors and the MSE foundation, which have enabled many students to enrich their opportunities through the Melbourne School of Engineering.

Are smart meters changing consumer habits?

A team of researchers from the University of Melbourne is leading large-scale field experiments to evaluate how consumers respond to smart meter technologies.

Energy economists Dr David Byrne and Dr Leslie Martin will analyse how consumers use electricity, opt for new pricing plans and switch retailers.

The joint research project with energy software and services company Billcap, was recently awarded funding of $177,000 over four years, under the Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Projects scheme.

“The results will have important implications for environmental policies designed to conserve energy, for consumer choice and welfare, and for retail market competitiveness,” Dr Martin explained.

Yann Burden
Yann Burden

Billcap Chief Executive Officer and University of Melbourne Information Systems alumnus, Mr Yann Burden said the project will have a profound impact on the electricity sector.

“We are pleased that Billcap’s research programs have been recognised, and will continue to drive innovation in the energy and software industry here in Australia,” he said.

“The energy industry has long theorised on the impact of smart meters and related technologies. This research aims to deliver concrete insights to benefit both consumers and the energy industry.”

The Linkage Projects scheme provides funding to eligible organisations to support research and development projects which are collaborative between higher education researchers and other parts of the national innovation system.

Billcap was founded in 2010 in Melbourne, Victoria in the heart of the contestable energy market to provide smart-meter enabled customer engagement and retention services for energy retailers.

Public Lecture: Computational Fluid Dynamics: From Aerodynamic Vehicles to Heart Stent Design

Airplane_istock17 July, 6pm – 7pm
A1 Theatre, Old Engineering Building
University of Melbourne
Register Here

What is the link between the aerodynamics of ships and buildings and the blood flow of human arteries?

Dean of Engineering, Professor Iven Mareels invites you to attend the public lecture, From Aerodynamic Vehicles to Heart Stent Design.  Professor Andrew Ooi, from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, will explain how large structures and the human body are guided by a similar set of mathematical equations. Although solving these equations is not an easy task, we can combine our understanding of supercomputers and computational fluid dynamics to unravel the mysteries behind the complex motions of air and liquid.

Professor Ooi’s lighthearted talk will discuss how mathematical equations can make a significant contribution to society. From designing more efficient vehicles and buildings to modeling and designing effective stents to prevent heart attacks, maths has the power to shape the world around us.

Professor Ooi obtained his Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical and Manufacturing) and PhD in Engineering from the University of Melbourne. His research has focused on a range of areas within Mechanical Engineering. Including thermofluids, heat transfer and computational fluid dynamics.

Receiving numerous awards for his research and teaching and writing articles for respected journals, Professor Ooi is a highly valued member of the mechanical engineering community.

25 Years of the Internet: Justin Zobel for The Conversation

It used to belong to a privileged community, but now the Internet has become a worldwide phenomenon – an irreplaceable part of our daily lives.

The Internet has grown exponentially since its conception. Google has grown from small startup in Silicon Valley to gargantuan online service provider. Tweets are no longer the sound of birds, but 140-character messages. Streaming the latest episode of your favourite TV show is quicker than ever. But all of this was not built in a day.

Writing for the Conversation, Professor Justin Zobel takes readers on a journey into Internet history. Providing detailed perspectives from the 1980s and 90s, Professor Zobel describes the origins of a virtual world that is very different from that of today.

There were no images and there was no music. There was no YouTube and Skype was yet to be developed. To be a ‘hacker’ was considered a good thing, and passwords were thought to be unnecessary. If we were to inject yesterday’s Internet culture into today’s world – our lives would be turned upside down.

Click here to read Professor Zobel’s full article, How Australia Connected to the Internet 25 Years Ago, and find out more about the evolution of the Internet, and what it was like to be close to the technology at its birth.

Dr Yongping Wei: pioneering water research between China and Australia

Dr Yongping Wei completed her PhD at the University of Melbourne and she is now developing new approaches to water resource management in Australia and China, with funding support from an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship.

Dr Wei’s current research aims to improve current water management strategies by integrating economics, engineering, ecology and sociology.

While completing her PhD in Natural Resource Management, Dr Wei investigated farmers’ perceptions of sustainability and how this influenced agricultural practices. She became deeply interested in human attitudes and their role in water resources management, setting the tone for her future research projects.

“Sometimes an engineering solution doesn’t always work. There is a need to think on a broader level and examine culture and people’s thinking,” said Dr Wei.

“People are much more important than traditional engineering solutions. To improve water management, we must first address people’s thinking,” she said.

Established in 2008, the Future Fellowship strengthens areas of critical national importance, attracting the best and brightest mid-career researchers and opening many doors for its members.

“With the Fellowship I have plentiful time, money and support to do my research. I can use this opportunity to produce more and give back to the University.”

International collaboration, particularly with China, is also an intrinsic part of Dr Wei’s work. She is Senior Research Fellow in the Australia-China Joint Research Centre on River Basin Management, co-funded by both the Australian and Chinese governments as part of the Australia-China Science and Research Fund. Dr Wei aims to examine the differences in public opinion on water issues across nations, by looking at historical print media records. Dr Wei is working with organisations and researchers across China, Australia, Europe and the USA.

Dr Wei is ideally positioned to link researchers from China and Australia. She completed her undergraduate studies in China before undertaking her PhD at the University of Melbourne.

“Both the Murray Darling Basin and the Yellow River face issues of water scarcity, climate change and ecosystem degradation. It is important to compare both, a connection between these two countries is essential to designing different policy options to choose from,” she said.

ARC Future Fellow pioneering a new approach to water resources management In the coming years, Dr Wei aspires to establish a new discipline of water resources management – Social Hydrology. Building on her current research, Dr Wei hopes to incorporate sociological factors with engineering solutions, highlighting the importance of people in public policy.

“I hope to write a book about it in the coming years, understanding the relationship between humans and water.”

Increasing ties between Australian and Chinese researchers and broadening approaches to water resources also factor into Dr Wei’s future plans.

“We have a good start,” she said, “but there is a long way to go.”

Course Spotlight – Master of Energy Systems

A unique graduate course at the University of Melbourne is preparing students for exciting new careers as future leaders in the international sustainable energy industry.

The Master of Energy Systems brings together engineers, scientists and specialists in economics, finance and energy policy to deliver a tailored program on energy systems that will train students for careers in energy business and technology.

Today’s energy sector is undergoing rapid change, which is being driven by factors such as climate change, carbon emissions pricing and regulation and increasing global demand for all energy types. The change is also seeing the rise of new energy technologies such as renewables, smart grids and carbon capture and storage. In order to keep up with these changes, business and government must respond quickly.

Graduates with new skills are urgently required to work in the new careers that are being created by these changes. The Master of Energy Systems offers graduates the skills to make informed decisions about energy issues that incorporate technical, economic, environmental and social considerations.

The Master of Energy Systems is a 1.5 year full time course, offering students valuable skills in areas such as:

  • Analysing energy systems from technical and business standpoints
  • Energy finance, economics and energy markets
  • The operation of renewable and non- renewable energy sources and systems
  • Auditing different types of energy systems for their energy consumption and greenhouse emissions
  • Combining technical and business knowledge to guide business decision making on energy needs

Elective subjects are available in areas including solar energy, sustainable buildings, climate change policy, energy regulation, carbon capture and storage and more.

The Master of Energy Systems has strong ties with leading figures in the Australian energy industry. The curriculum has been developed in consultation with an industry advisory panel, including senior representatives from GE Energy, Pacific Hydro, Deloitte, SKM and more, along with former Federal Government Climate Change Advisor, Professor Ross Garnaut and former Chief Scientist of Australia, Professor Robin Batterham. Students benefit from an industry-relevant program, internship opportunities and contact with future employers.

Chris Mock
Chris Mock

Prior to studying the Master of Energy Systems, graduate Chris Mock was an electrical engineer with an interest in renewable energy.

“I chose the Master of Energy Systems because I have been a strong advocate of renewable energy for many years, and wanted to learn more about the technology behind it and how these technologies could be applied to our existing energy system.”

In his final semester of study, Chris worked with the Clinton Foundation to investigate the viability of using biofuels in the Pacific Islands region.

“I developed a financial model that the Foundation could use to assess various deployment scenarios, allowing them to determine whether biofuels would be a suitable option for reducing diesel consumption in particular small island states.”

Completing the course in 2013, Chris now works in water and energy management for the agricultural sector as an Industry Solutions Analyst with Australian-owned company Observant.

“Working with a wide variety of people in both the water and energy industries gives me the opportunity to gain a broad knowledge base, as well as taking me to many interesting places both within Australia and overseas.”

Chris said that the Master of Energy Systems has allowed him to understand energy systems from a technical perspective, and how these technologies function as part of financial markets.

“This has been useful for my work in the electricity demand response sector, as well as helping me understand the water distribution industry which exhibits many similarities to the energy industry.”

For further information about the Master of Energy Systems, visit our Graduate Study website.

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