Passion for a cleaner future
Energy expert Professor Behdad Moghtaderi is leading the way towards a cleaner future.
“I am driven by a desire to develop technologies that will help reduce greenhouse emissions,” Professor Behdad Moghtaderi says. “It is a moral imperative. The future of our planet relies on it.”
It is this passion that has equipped the chemical engineer to take a leading role in the University of Newcastle’s Priority Centre for Energy (PRC), a national leader in the research field of new-generation clean and renewable energy production.
The PRC is a key component of the Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER), a world-class interdisciplinary research facility on the University campus.
Moghtaderi’s core research projects span low-emission coal technologies, renewable energy systems, energy efficiency in buildings, and the development of hydrogen-fuelled units to replace lithium batteries in laptops and mobile phones.
Arriving in Newcastle in 1999 after studying in Iran and the University of Sydney, he was attracted by the strong research culture and the opportunity to work with engineering luminaries such as Emeritus Professor Terry Wall and Laureate Professor Graeme Jameson. With a strong work ethic and sharp intellect, the prolific academic was quick to make an impression, moving up the ranks from junior lecturer to professor within eight years.
A consultant to government and industry, Moghtaderi has his finger on the pulse when it comes to anticipating priorities for change and development in the field of energy. As a result, he has attracted more than $17 million in research funding in the past 12 years.
“We have recognised the research opportunities, and we are delivering results that are shaping government and industry agendas.”
Moghtaderi’s work in biomass and coal utilisation is a good example of the influence of his team’s work. One of his first projects at Newcastle proved that biomass, such as woodchips, could be mixed with coal fuel to reduce emissions. A decade later, the research is being applied in coal-fired power stations across Australia.
Similarly, his ongoing collaborative research with Emeritus Professor Adrian Page and the Masonry Research Group into energy efficiency in buildings has prompted revisions to the Building Code of Australia.
Using data collected from sensors attached to four small, purpose-built cottages on University grounds, the research team has collected a vast amount of information on how factors such as different roofing and walling systems influence a building’s thermal performance.
“About 40 per cent of electricity used in Australia, and 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions are due to space heating and cooling in buildings,” Moghtaderi says.
“Therefore anything we can do to lower the energy footprint of residential houses in particular will improve the environment and reduce electricity use.”
Moghtaderi’s research into chemical looping combustion, a carbon capture and storage technology, is also pioneering and has gathered momentum as industry recognises its potential applications. He has attracted approximately $5 million in grants for six related projects since 2004.
“The exciting aspect of chemical looping is that it is enabling technology that will allow other low-emission coal technologies to become economically and technically more attractive,” he says. “So it has huge potential for further research and development.”
Moghtaderi gained popular attention last year when his GRANEX power platform featured on the ABC TV’s The New Inventors. GRANEX, developed in conjunction with Granite Power Pty Ltd, is an emission-free engine that turns heat from low-grade sources into electricity.
It is revolutionary because it is capable of using heat sources that might not otherwise be viably recycled – such as the flue gas from a coal-fired power station, exhaust from a diesel engine or heat from a geothermal source.
With GRANEX on the cusp of being launched commercially, Moghtaderi has entered into another interesting collaboration with Granite Power Pty Ltd, researching a low-energy, small-scale desalination plant suitable for use on remote farms.
“Like GRANEX, the desalination plant is designed to be run on waste heat, such as diesel fuel exhaust. However, it will also address water-use issues by allowing farmers to turn brackish water on their properties into drinking water,” he says.
Moghtaderi firmly believes the University is at the international forefront of research into clean and sustainable energy sources.
“The University’s engineering area has always been a leader and now, with our PRC and the Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources on campus, Newcastle really is Australia’s hub in energy research.”
Visit the PRC for Energy website