National Science Priorities should focus on rapid decarbonisation and bolstering Australian innovation

17 April 2023

In a submission on Australia’s National Science and Research Priorities, the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) has called for a laser focus on decarbonising high-emitting sectors and building Australia into a nation of technology innovators, not just users.

The Academy has highlighted the need for a mission-focused approach, applying science to the most pressing challenges such as bringing carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, providing healthcare for an ageing population, and restoring sovereign capability and supply chain resilience.

There are critical opportunities to be harnessed in advanced manufacturing, minerals, agriculture, water, health, infrastructure, green energy and sustainable fuels. This will be underpinned by emerging digital technologies, a strong education system, and a wealth of Traditional Knowledge including within STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

ATSE President Dr Katherine Woodthorpe AO FTSE said an independent review of the research sector, with a view to boosting government investment in research and development to around 3% of GDP and a concerted uplift in STEM skills will be decisive if Australia is to realise the science and research priorities.

“We already have a heavy reliance on importing engineering skills and an estimated shortfall of at least 50,000 engineers by 2025. Fundamentally, interventions are needed from the school level to lift STEM participation, creating a pipeline for the engineers and scientists of the future”, said Dr Woodthorpe.

“The National Science and Research Priorities are a golden opportunity to transform Australian-made manufacturing including medical manufacturing, clean energy, electric transportation industries and additive manufacturing as part of a circular economy – to serve our national needs, global export opportunities and environmental sustainability. A win-win-win.

“The main challenges for science and research in energy in Australia are to develop lower-carbon, lower-emissions, safe and reliable electricity, and fuels. Key areas of focus should include improving efficiency and cost of photovoltaics and catalysts for green hydrogen, as well as in liquefaction of hydrogen, and battery chemistries.

“Australia is bestowed with globally enviable mineral resources and when combined with technical expertise, there is an opportunity to expand clean, safe, environmentally low impact refining of critical minerals and propel our national renewable technology superpower aspirations.

Looking at the needs of the Australian population into the coming decades, research strengths including in water, infrastructure, agriculture, and healthcare must be harnessed and further developed. For example, food and water security are becoming increasingly important as the impacts of climate change are felt. The challenge for agriculture is continuing to lift productivity while managing increased climate-related risks and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Emerging technologies will also be a key enabler for the science and research priorities to be impactful.

“The digitisation of the economy, including with recent fast-paced innovations in Artificial Intelligence, is needed to keep up with developments globally. There is also a need to build Australia’s digital literacy and the digitally skilled workforce to realise these benefits” said Dr Woodthorpe.

“Digital technologies will be the pathway to increasing productivity in sectors with high demand, such as energy, manufacturing, and health.

“Traditional Knowledge across STEM, including in land and water management, agriculture, the built environment, materials, and medical research, can be leveraged and translated to underpin innovation across all these areas.

“It is critical to weave Australian science and research into the fabric of government decision-making in order to deliver social, economic, and environmental benefits for every Australian,” said Dr Woodthorpe.


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