$1.2 million awarded to Southern Cross for collaborative research

Black beef cowOne of the Linkage Projects aims to transform meat residue into agricultural soil improver.

Southern Cross University has emerged as the only member of the Regional Universities Network to be successful in the latest round of federal government research funding.

The University was awarded $1.2 million from the Australian Research Council for two new Linkage Projects in collaboration with industry and community.

“It’s great to see Southern Cross University performing well against other RUN universities, but it should be noted that we equalled or outperformed a number of Go8s (Group of Eight) and ATNs (Australian Technology Network). This is an amazing achievement for an up and coming regional university,” said Professor Mary Spongberg, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research).

Researchers based in the University’s new Faculty of Science and Engineering are the recipients.

Associate Professor Dirk Erler’s project aims to transform meat residue into agricultural soil improver in collaboration with Northern Cooperative Meat Company, QUT, Justus-Liebig University of Giessen, and Department of Regional NSW ($510,507).

The second project, led by Professor Bradley Eyre, Founding Director of the University’s Centre for Coastal Biogeochemistry in collaboration with University of Western Australia and Healthy Land & Water Ltd, will use new innovative measurements and modelling to investigate nitrogen removal pathways of the coastal zone ($704,711).

This latest round of funding is Professor Eyre’s 30th ARC grant and his 11th Linkage Project.

“The new Southern Cross Research Plan commits the University to producing regionally relevant, globally significant research. These Linkage-funded projects reflect this direction,” said Professor Spongberg.

“The new Faculty of Science and Engineering is committed to the circular economy whereby what was once considered waste is recycled and re-used, ensuring maximum benefit from our region’s valuable resources and providing long-term economic, social and environmental benefit.

“Congratulations to these researchers. It is great to see their work with local industry being recognised and will help us build the new direction of the Faculty.”

Professor Nick Ashbolt, Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, welcomed the successful outcomes for his colleagues.

“The Linkage Projects scheme aims to promote national and international research partnerships to find real-world solutions to a wide array of issues. Our Faculty’s focus, away from thinking of wastes for disposal to one of wastes as resources to be recovered, is doing just that,” Professor Ashbolt said.

“Dirk’s project is developing resource recovery for a major agricultural sector in the Northern Rivers region and for Australia. Brad’s work identifies the magnitude of natural processes for ammonium/nitrate-nitrogen removal to harmless nitrogen gas rather than the greenhouse gas N2O and will also provide insights to how we can best restore impacted wetland ecosystems.”

The ARC’s Linkage Projects scheme supports academics to work with industry, government and community organisation partners to tackle complex problems and fast-track solutions.

ARC Chief Executive Officer, Professor Sue Thomas said Linkage-funded projects: “initiate or develop long term research alliances that will apply advanced knowledge to problems as a basis for securing commercial or other benefits of research.”

Details of the successful Southern Cross University projects:

Bradley Eyre, Unravelling how aquatic coastal networks regulate nitrogen removal, awarded $704,711 (LP200200910)

Nitrogen is essential for the functioning of aquatic ecosystems, supporting growth of algae and plants that provide food and habitat for other species. Human activity in coastal regions can cause aquatic nitrogen concentrations to become unhealthy, promoting algal and plant overgrowth which in turn reduces the available oxygen, making it less habitable for species like fish and crustaceans. The aim of this project is to identify the pathways of nitrogen removal from the coastal zone. This will facilitate better management of coastal regions to reduce the concentrations of nitrogen and its impact downstream, and emissions of nitrous oxide (a potent greenhouse gas formed from nitrogen), both of which have economic consequences. It will support preservation of the natural beauty and rich biological diversity of Australia’s coast and the economic benefits associated with the multi-billion dollar tourism and fisheries industries.

“This project will provide environmental managers the knowledge and tools to maximise nitrogen removal in estuaries and associated adjacent tidal wetlands but minimise the production of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas,” said Professor Bradley Eyre.

“We are looking for nature-based climate solutions where we can manage our tidal wetlands to maximise environmental outcomes.”

Partners are University of Western Australia, and Healthy Land and Water Ltd.

The three-year project is expected to start late 2021. It will centre on south-east Queensland’s estuaries and wetlands.

Dirk Erler, Transforming residues from meat processing into engineered soil amendments, awarded $510,507 (LP200200790)

Red meat processing in Australia is a $17.3 billion industry that employs thousands of workers across rural and regional centres. However, the industry is facing significant challenges including growing volumes of organic residues (for example, gut contents) that are an economic and environmental liability. A typical medium-sized meat processing facility can generate over 4000 tonnes per annum of these organic residues which costs the sector some $75 million in annual disposal costs. The current industry standard is to compost organic residues and apply them to land, but compost does not retain soil nutrients and can promote greenhouse gas emissions. This research aims to develop a new technology that can transform the organic residues from red meat processing into engineered hydrochars. These hydrochars will be customised to store soil nutrients, improve plant growth, and actively mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. The outcomes of this project will reduce disposal costs, improve agricultural productivity, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, all of which will benefit the Australian economy.

“This project is a win-win for the meat processing sector as it will take wastes from the abattoir and convert it into ‘smart fertilisers’ that will improve pasture health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Associate Professor Dirk Erler.

“As well as the direct environmental benefits, this project will also help red meat processers become carbon neutral, giving Australian meat producers a competitive advantage in the global marketplace.”

Partners are the Northern Cooperative Meat Company, QUT, Justus-Liebig University of Giessen, and Department of Regional NSW.

The three-year project will be based in the NSW Northern Rivers and is expected to start in July 2021.

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