Ambitious energy agenda
The timing could not have been better for Dr Alan Broadfoot. After 14 years as general manager and then chief executive of leading resource sector company Ampcontrol, the University of Newcastle graduate decided to step down in June 2010 and head in a new direction.
Soon after, the Australian Government announced that it would contribute $30 million to the establishment of the Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER), a world-class energy research institute on the site of the former BHP-Billiton Newcastle Technology Centre. The infrastructure is on a scale unmatched by any university in the country.
By mid-July, the University announced that Broadfoot had been appointed director of NIER.
"I wasn't sure what the future held, but I couldn't be happier with my new role", says Broadfoot, an engineer who spent 16 years at the University as a part-time undergraduate and postgraduate student. NIER is being established at a critical time as both locally and globally we focus on the management of energy and natural resources.
The 3.8 hectare NIER site adjoins the Callaghan campus to the north, adjacent to the University's science and engineering facilities and comprises extensive mineral, chemical and related technical laboratories, workshops, offices and five industrial-scale pilot plant workshops. The infrastructure will allow translation of research projects from bench-top through to industrial-scale pilot plant demonstrations.
University researchers will collaborate with several partners including BHP-Billiton, CSIRO, EnergyAustralia, Doyles Creek Mining, Laing O'Rourke, Industry and Investment NSW, TUNRA Bulk Solids and the Universities of NSW and Wollongong. When fully operational, it is expected NIER will attract an additional 60 to 70 research students and post-doctoral fellows and support 300 research staff.
NIER will advance research in clean energy production, energy efficiency and the minimisation of carbon emissions by studying:
- energy and water consumption reductions in coal and minerals processing
- carbon capture and storage technologies
- alternative energy sources, including geothermal and polymer solar cells
- improved efficiency in power generation
- smarter, more efficient grids for distributed electricity generation.
NIER encompasses the University's Priority Research Centres and research groups that conduct research into energy production, distribution and efficiency, as well as mining, minerals processing and minerals transport.
NIER will also play a key role in the $100 million Australian Government Smart Grid, Smart City project in Newcastle, which was announced in June 2010.
"NIER provides a significant boost to research and development in the Hunter region," says Broadfoot. "And while it will be a focal point for research, it is important that it also engages in community debate. We want to be relevant."
Broadfoot, who is recognised for innovations in underground mining that have delivered safety improvements and large increases in production, sees his role as a conduit between industry and cutting-edge research.
"I want to have simplified lines of communication and maximise the outcomes for the benefit of the community. People are more aware of the challenges we face in terms of effective resource management. No-one wants to reach crisis point where we are experiencing power black-outs, and drastic fuel and water shortages."
Broadfoot's key focus areas have included setting up the new facility and the relocation of University research groups, strategic planning and establishing the external reputation of NIER.
"We have to make sure we secure the right to be heard within the national and global debate," he says. "We can't take our role for granted."
The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nick Saunders, says NIER will result in a quantum leap in the University's energy and resources research.
"The University is a leader in energy and resources research and NIER will further advance our work in clean energy production, energy efficiency and the minimisation of carbon emissions.
"By housing science and engineering researchers together, opportunity and productivity will multiply," Saunders adds.
Find out more about the Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources