MATERIALise - a sustainable future forum - Annual Report 2018

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MATERIALise - a sustainable future forum - Annual Report 2018

8 April, 2019

Nicola Gaston speaking at MATERIALise

We held a one-day forum - "MATERIALise: a sustainable future" - at Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand, in October.

We heard from four international keynote speakers, each doing pioneering, discovery-driven, work in their fields of fundamental chemistry, physics, and materials science more generally.

It is worth emphasising the fundamental nature of their research; they are seeking to understand chemical bonding, how atoms and ions move, and how electrons flow.

Discovering how these things work would be an important enough goal in itself, and was undoubtedly the goal from which these research programs were born. And deep problems like this are now absolutely critical, and central, for our sustainability.

Our keynote speakers confronted us with uncomfortable truths - looming problems that we were not yet aware of. But we were equally heartened to learn about our growing collective knowledge, and about potential solutions being put on the table.

We are faced with unprecedented challenges. Climate change. Fresh water. Plastics in the environment. Waste. Depletion of finite resources.

Here in New Zealand, we are at a significant juncture. The Zero Carbon Bill is expected to pass in 2019, putting us on a path to a carbon neutral economy by 2050.

But we cannot get close to reaching this goal with today's technology; we must innovate, building on the best of what we know, and we must create new knowledge.

When it comes to carbon and sustainability, one of the things that matters most is the stuff that we make things from; materials.

Solar photovoltaics, wind turbines, batteries, electric vehicles, passive cooling, renewable fuels, fertilisers, waste, even computers and data centres - these are areas where substantial innovation may get us a long way to a sustainable future.

For this to happen, we need to create new materials:

  • Materials that convert light into electricity with higher efficiency and lower cost
  • Materials that conduct electricity without producing heat
  • Materials that can store or transform different forms of energy with little loss
  • Materials that can make themselves colder than their surroundings without requiring energy
  • Materials to build powerful computers in which information flows freely
  • Materials to catalyse the efficient production and recycling of fertilisers
  • Materials that filter, separate, and transform waste at the molecular or atomic level
  • Materials that purify and desalinate water
  • Materials that filter CO2 out of exhaust
  • And materials that are themselves made from abundant and clean sources, and recycled at the end of their life.

The call for materials science has never been louder.

Associate Professor Nicola Gaston MacDiarmid Institute Principal Investigator Co-director of the MacDiarmid Institute University of Auckland

As well as helping to reduce emissions for countries with a much larger carbon footprint than ours, New Zealand could benefit from the growing value of zero carbon technologies in a world where carbon costs.

The world is already coming to New Zealand for our deep expertise in some low-carbon technologies. Kiwi researchers at our partners at the Victoria University of Wellington Robinson Research Institute are collaborating on a number of international projects to deliver efficient electric transportation systems incorporating superconducting components. The seeds of these ambitious projects were sown some time ago through discovery-driven research here in New Zealand. Like many tech successes, our opportunities will be in the niches.

For sustainable technology to be an economic opportunity for New Zealand, it will be advanced by tech companies with an export focus. We heard in the afternoon from some of those companies, and about the future workforce that we need to make them thrive.

Solar PVs, wind turbines, batteries, electric vehicles, passive cooling, renewable fuels, fertilisers, waste, even computers and data centres - these are areas where substantial innovation may get us a long way to a sustainable future.

Professor Justin Hodgkiss MacDiarmid Institute Principal Investigator Co-director of the MacDiarmid Institute Victoria University of Wellington

The breadth and depth of the program was terrific and I was impressed to see a scientific institute so attuned to the communities and cultures of its country.

Professor Michael S. Fuhrer Director ARC Centre of Excellence in Future Low-Energy Electronics Technologies (FLEET)

Gaming a way to a sustainable future

We took the opportunity of the day to launch a new computer game - 'Materialise: a science quest'. Players of the computer game go on a quest to help the four keynote speakers from MATERIALise (Amy Prieto, Michael Fuhrer, Anita Hill and Kit Cummins) solve science challenges related to the creation and storage of clean energy and creating computers that use less energy.

During the quest, players discover how one atom thin materials like graphene can be used to make next generation, low- energy computing materials; the role of phosphorus in solar photovoltaics; and the role of lithium in making more efficient and safer batteries; as well as the need for cleaner ways of extracting lithium and recycling phosphorus.

Plans are afoot to work with schools to develop the game further in 2019, for broader engagement with players aged 11-14 years.

Doors to a sustainable future

'Materialise' was not just about science and technology. It was about people. Joining people up; inspiring kids to become scientists and engineers and crack the science problems that will pay off 20 years later, celebrating Māori knowledge forged throughout centuries of sustainability, building the business case for sustainability, and empowering the public.

Over 230 people attended, including iwi, school students, teachers, industry, professionals, investors, and many from government.

Videos of all of the day's talks are available on our website.

If a zero carbon economy is within our grasp, New Zealand must seize the opportunity to become low-carbon technology exporters and sustainability pioneers.

Professor Justin Hodgkiss MacDiarmid Institute Principal Investigator Co-director of the MacDiarmid Institute Victoria University of Wellington