Strategies for a cleaner future

Our strategies for a cleaner future 

Historical contamination of the Australian environment presents unique challenges for industry, federal and state governments and the communities directly affected by contamination. Australia also produces a large volume of solid and liquid wastes. Waste recycling generates business turnover of more than AU$11.5 billion per year, with another AU$44 billion per year of downstream benefits in manufacturing. GCERAR scientists are involved in many aspects of research related to these environmental issues.

Assessment

Contaminated site assessment is fundamental in understanding the potential risk posed by environmental contaminants to ecological and human health. Research at GCERAR focuses on the development of assessment and monitoring tools for reducing the uncertainty associated with contaminant bioavailability and toxicity for ecological and human health exposure assessment. To undertake this research, state of the art laboratories were developed at GCERAR for the analysis of priority contaminants and emerging contaminants.

Remediation – risk based approach

The management of any contaminated site should be underpinned by the principles of Risk Based Land Management (RBLM). Therefore the corrective action taken at any specific site would be proportional to the risk posed by contamination and the final end use for the site. The aim of RBLM is to remediate or manage land so that it is fit for purpose. With this in mind, fundamental and applied research is used at GCERAR to develop, evaluate and demonstrate innovative in situ and ex situ remediation and management techniques. The research targets cost effective technologies and risk-reducing management options for contaminated environments that are protective of human health and the environment.

Prevention

Through innovative research GCERAR scientists are investigating how some contaminated soils, treated soils, municipal and industrial wastes may be safely reused on land to return maximum value without creating further contamination issues. GCERAR researchers are focused on answering some of the broad questions related to the reuse of solid and liquid wastes, in particular, investigating the innovative use of organic wastes in agriculture for their nutrient content (nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur), reuse of mineral solid wastes as soil replacements (either as an artificial soil in urban settings, or as a soil replacement in industrial and mining situations), and the use of metallic manufacturing wastes for their micronutrient value (e.g. copper, zinc, manganese).

Climate change and carbon sequestration

Enhancing soil carbon storage not only helps to mitigate climate change but also improves soil quality contributing to food security and environmental remediation. GCERAR researchers have initiated a number of projects examining the value of soil carbon storage in enhancing environmental remediation. Some of these projects include:

  • Biochars and black carbon for remediation of contaminated soils which is aimed at utilizing advanced carbon sources to manage organic and inorganic contaminants in soils;
  • (Organic amendments for soil carbon storage which is aimed at adding value to organic wastes thereby reducing the need for land filling these resources;
  • Carbon stabilisation in organic amendments which is aimed at exploring alternative technologies for carbon stabilisation in organic wastes;
  • Mine site revegetation to enhance biodiversity and carbon sequestration which is aimed at providing guidelines for revegetation as an economically viable land use for sustainable management of mine sites to enhance biodiversity and carbon sequestration; and
  • Wastewater irrigation for carbon storage and biomass production which provides benefit to wastewater industries through trading carbon credits.