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Trustee's report

SIEF Trustee, Dr Larry Marshall

I’m delighted to present the 2019–20 report that highlights the important role the Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF) plays in addressing national challenges and encouraging collaboration and capacity building. Funded through several gifts and endowments, SIEF’s strategic investments have enabled Australia to respond to its greatest challenges and develop greater resilience and self‑sufficiency.

The gifts and endowments:

  • the CSIRO Gift (2009)
  • the New South Wales (NSW) Government
  • Endowment (2017)
  • the National ICT Australia Ltd (NICTA) Gift (2018)
  • the Metcalf Gift (2019).

Supporting our emerging scientists and engineers

Supporting our emerging scientists and engineers Since its beginnings in 1926, SIEF has encouraged Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) capability, development and the education of our future scientists and engineers, for the benefit of the nation.

During its 11 years, the CSIRO Gift’s Promotion of Science Program has provided learning and career opportunities for over 400 students and early career researchers.

I am very proud of two unique programs that SIEF supports through the CSIRO Gift: the SIEF (Ross Metcalf) STEM+Business Fellowships and the SIEF‑Australian Academy of Science (AAS) Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings Fellowships program.

The STEM+Business Fellowships program commenced in 2015 and is facilitated by CSIRO’s SME Connect. I was delighted to announce in last year’s SIEF report that the Metcalf gift would fund an additional eight to ten fellowships for this highly successful program. To recognise Mr Metcalf’s gift, the fellowships are now known as the SIEF Ross Metcalf STEM+Business Fellowships. The new fellowships were launched in November, and the first fellowship funded by the Metcalf Gift commenced in April.

In September, I attended a SIEF-AAS Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting fellowships alumni event to announce an additional 10 years’ funding for the SIEF-AAS Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting fellowships program. The program provides funding for 10 to 15 postgraduate students or postdoctoral fellows to attend annual meetings of the Nobel Laureates in Lindau, Germany. This program, managed by the Australian Academy of Science, has strengthened the scientific diplomacy between Australia and Germany. The Academy’s exemplary planning and coordination of activities has positioned our Australian representatives as highly professional and sought-after delegates. This once in a lifetime opportunity allows them to learn from some of the most distinguished scientists, and network with the brightest young minds from all over the world. SIEF also provides funding to support a tour of German universities and research institutions for the Australian delegation after the Lindau meeting, furthering the scientific connections between the two countries. The additional funding ensures that our future scientists and engineers will continue to benefit by attending this unique event until 2031.

Larry Marshall pictured in the centre with a large group of alumni standing smiling at the camera. The group is pictured in front of wooden walls with lights behind them.
Attending the SIEF-AAS Nobel Laureate Fellowships alumni event. Credit: Dr Tom Carruthers, Australian Academy of Science.

The NSW Government Endowment funds Generation STEM, a program building the capability of our future scientists and engineers, managed by CSIRO’s Education and Outreach team. It increases the supply of students trained in STEM to meet the needs of employers in NSW and the nation. Read the performance analysis of the NSW Generation STEM initiative at Function 1.3: Manage funding directed to industrial scientific research activities, commercialisation of technologies and assistance to industry through research collaboration and capacity building.

Investing in research infrastructure and precincts

The CSIRO Gift Research Infrastructure Program supports the creation or enhancement of nationally significant research infrastructure facilities or equipment with a strong emphasis on collaboration. It comprises the Major Research Infrastructure Program and the Medium Equipment Program.

SIEF has invested $31.6 million for the Major Research Infrastructure Program for precincts in Western Australia, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).

The ACT precinct – the National Agricultural and Environmental Science Precinct – is a collaborative project between CSIRO and the Australian National University. SIEF provided funding to establish the Centre for Genomics, Metabolomics and Bioinformatics (CGMB) and construct a new life sciences building at the Black Mountain Innovation and Science Precinct. The precinct fosters research and innovation essential to food security and environmental stewardship in the face of climate change, population growth and land degradation. It will enable new crop development with improvements in yields and nutrient profiles, provide innovative solutions to environmental management and opportunities to connect with partners locally, nationally and globally. The CGMB was awarded a grant from the Australian Research Council for a mass spectrometer to complement the existing instrumentation within the precinct and two joint initiatives have commenced: the Centre for Entrepreneurial Agri-Technology and the Biological Data Science Institute.

The Medium Equipment Program (MEP) facilitates leading-edge innovation in Australia, enhances collaboration across the innovation system, and grows the capability and capacity of the equipment stock available to researchers. SIEF’s investment of $9.8 million in a range of scientific equipment is being realised through instruments and facilities for use by the research community.

Australia prides itself in its ability to feed the nation using efficient farming practices. To assist Australia to meet the growing demand for food, reduce food wastage and develop high-value food products, the SIEF MEP is supporting two state-of-the-art facilities: the Boorowa Agricultural Research Station in Boorowa, NSW, and the Food Ingredient Process Innovation Platform in Werribee, Victoria.

Boorowa is conducting cutting-edge agricultural and environmental research using digital agriculture technologies, such as precision agriculture, and remote and non-destructive crop monitoring. It is a showcase for agricultural technologies and a catalyst for industry and funding agencies to explore new ideas and opportunities. Universities, state departments of agriculture and agribusiness use the farm, its facilities and underlying digital infrastructure for collaborative research. Industry will benefit from increased efficiencies in farming practices, a greater understanding of the nutrient and water requirements of crops, and using a test bed to assess growing conditions and new breeds of crops, which will provide greater returns on investment for primary producers.

Aerial view of the Boorowa Agricutlural Research station. It is a large brown field with a few white rectangular buildings pictured on the left hand side. There are a few rows of trees surrounding the property and in the distance.
The Boorowa Agricultural Research Station.

The Werribee food processing facility provides Australia with a unique ingredient platform that adds value to commodity agricultural produce by transforming it into nutritious food, beverages, and nutraceutical, supplement and cosmeceutical ingredients. This facility is fully commissioned and has been actively engaging with industry and the research sector to showcase its capabilities and uses. I’m particularly pleased that these outreach activities have attracted several of Australia’s large food companies to collaborate on projects at the facility.

SIEF supporting Australia's preparedness for natural disasters and diseases

As part of the MEP, SIEF is funding a small multispectral shortwave infrared imaging satellite. This CubeSat, named CSIROsat-1, is being in Australia and specifically designed for Australian needs, which has provided substantial opportunities to Australian industry and increased capabilities for the national innovation system. After it is launched, the CubeSat will provide data on Australia’s environment, which may be used to detect land cover changes such as flooding or deforestation, bushfires through smoke, and tropical cyclones through cloud formation.

To solve the greatest challenges, it is essential we that collaborate with others and have access to the best scientific equipment. The SIEF Special Research Program funded a new transmission electron microscope for the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness. Electron microscopy capability is a critical contributor to our understanding of viruses, host interaction and viral mechanisms for diseases such as COVID-19. The instrument will enhance Australia’s pathogen research capability, and as it will be made available to the research community, it will foster collaborations with university partners, state animal health laboratories, international collaborators and Microscopy Australia partners.

SIEF also invested in pandemic preparedness through the Vaximiser Experimental Development Program project. Knowing that many vaccines are manufactured using eggs, CSIRO developed a premium high-yield egg specifically to maximise vaccine production cost effectively, and with less waste than current production processes. SIEF’s funding will enable the validation of CSIRO’s technology under commercial conditions and support large-scale pilot trials with leading vaccine companies. The industrial application of this invention will enhance our capacity to respond to disease outbreaks to help protect the world from the next pandemic.

Assisting Australian industry

The Experimental Development Program (EDP) funded by the CSIRO Gift provides Australian companies with a competitive advantage by assisting with collaborative research and the commercialisation of new technologies.

The use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel source to fossil fuels for transport has taken a great leap forward since SIEF invested in an EDP project that converts liquid ammonia to hydrogen. This technology will pave the way for bulk hydrogen to be transported in the form of ammonia, using existing infrastructure, and then reconverted back to fuel cell vehicle‑quality hydrogen.

SIEF commissioned an impact case study to evaluate this EDP on hydrogen technology. Read more about the performance analysis of this EDP at Analysis of performance.

Supporting food security and supply chains

SIEF supports food security, food sustainability and supply chain integrity through the NICTA Gift’s Future National ICT Industry Platform Program’s digital initiatives. The pilot digital initiative Food Provenance developed testing tools and platforms for Australia’s seafood industries to trace their products, reduce supply chain inefficiencies, adopt more sustainable food production practises, and increase international consumer confidence in the origin, quality, and handling of Australian food. SIEF commissioned an impact case study on the Boat to Plate project that is developing solutions for automated video analysis of fish catches using computer vision, machine learning, catch species identification, system integration and connections with the Australian fishing industry and fisheries management authorities.

The performance analysis of the digital initiatives under Function 1.3 is at Analysis of performance.

SIEF has supported two additional digital initiatives in supply chain integrity, which is now an issue of national importance as we’ve witnessed the vulnerability of international supply chains as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. I am proud that SIEF’s support for such timely research will provide great benefit to Australia.

In my role as SIEF Trustee, I am assisted by the advisory bodies and expert reviewers who generously contribute their time and expertise to SIEF to provide advice on funding decisions across the portfolio. I sincerely thank them for the advice they have provided me this year.

SIEF plays a critical role in assisting Australian industry, furthering the interests of the Australian community and contributing to solving national challenges. Through collaboration, developing capability and investing in new scientific research and infrastructure, SIEF is preparing Australia for an innovative and prosperous future.

SIEF advisory bodies

CSIRO Gift Advisory Council Members

Emeritus Prof Alan Robson (Chair)
Dr Peter Riddles AM (Chair, EDP Review Panels)
Mr Nigel Poole
Dr Ezio Rizzardo
Professor Margaret Sheil
Professor Tom Spurling

Generation STEM Consultative Council

Professor Brian Boyle (Chair)*
Ms Maile Carnegie
Mr Simon Rowell*
Ms Gail Fulton
Mr Graeme Plato*
Dr Dave Williams
Mr David Wright (Chair)

NICTA Program Advisory Council

Ms Michelle Price
Ms Petra Andren*
Mr John Paitaridis
Mr Adrian Turner*
Dr Simon Barry

*Indicates retirement from the Councils.

From Boat to Plate

The seafood industry faces inefficiency from lack of traceability in the supply chain – from capture to the consumer.

With the increasing demand for seafood, around food safety, quality, food fraud, sustainability and regulatory breaches make seafood provenance a concern for consumers, producers, and regulatory bodies across the globe.

Imagery from point of capture is seen as the basis for the supply chain management for industry, yet automated species identification and tracking remains a challenge.

The Boat to Plate team developed an innovative solution in the form of an automated species identification system, embedded within a tagging and data management system. The product offers a convenient, cost- and time-effective solution for seafood providers to monitor and manage their product throughout the supply chain. The implementation of the technology has the potential to reduce losses due to market and supply chain inefficiencies in the seafood industry.

The team collaborated with external organisations for testing and validating, including the Mures Tasmania fishing and strategic operations team, to get insights about their supply chain challenges for development and testing of a mock-up system. The mock-up system is being used as a prototype to build similar systems for other fish species, and commercial partnerships.

The on-board automated visual identification of fish catch will help markets gain greater clarity of products and provide regulators assurances of sustainability, and faster, more cost effective practices. This will lead to enhanced seafood supply chain management, traceability and food security for industry, wholesalers and retailers that purchase Australian seafood products. Boat to Plate has potential to boost confidence between buyers and sellers of Australian seafood and create a substantially improved product-market fit.

It presents an opportunity to generate cost-savings in the order of billions of dollars associated with current market inefficiencies and seafood wastage.

The work has significant application in the Australian domestic industry to maintain good regulatory compliance. The work also offers significant potential for global application. New Zealand and Chile are installing electronic monitoring systems on thousands of fishing vessels over the next two years, offering potential for uptake and adoption. Southeast Asian fisheries alone consist of 3.5 million fishing vessels and represent a significant global market for this innovation.

SIEF funding support has played an instrumental role to advance this work, from research project to its uptake and commercialisation.

A fish recently caught pictured on the identification equipment which is silver.
Automated species identification and counting of freshly caught fish on a boat. Credit: Austral Fisheries.

Hydrogen generator for refuelling fuel-cell electric vehicles

Growing global demand for clean hydrogen fuel represents a significant opportunity to establish an Australian renewable hydrogen export industry. Using ammonia as a carrier, renewable hydrogen produced in Australia can be readily distributed, at large scale, to emerging markets in Japan, Korea and Europe while using existing infrastructure for ammonia transport. The gap in this supply chain is a technology that can efficiently and inexpensively convert ammonia into high-purity hydrogen at or near the point of use for fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).

Transportation and storage are the critical challenges faced by the hydrogen fuel industry; the current available technologies are complex and expensive.

A hydrogen generating system was developed that allows hydrogen in the form of liquid ammonia to be transported economically and efficiently. Liquid ammonia stores 35 per cent more energy than liquid hydrogen, is easier to ship and distribute, and can use the existing logistics chains for this purpose. Our solution addresses the conversion of ammonia back to high-purity hydrogen at, or near, the point of use. This opens up the possibility for a renewable energy export market.

SIEF’s support enabled the demonstration of this concept on a 5–15 kilogram per day hydrogen pilot‑production scale, operating over 1,000 hours with more than 80 per cent ammonia ‘cracking’ efficiency and more than 80 per cent hydrogen extraction rate. The world’s first demonstration of fuel-cell vehicles refuelled with hydrogen derived directly from ammonia was held in August 2018 with two commercial FCEVs (Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo).

The final step to commercialise this technology requires the hydrogen and FCEV industries to facilitate incorporating the commercial-scale hydrogen generating system and validating the first step for refuelling to day-to-day FCEV for real-life customers.

SIEF funding for this project facilitated the translation of knowledge to a commercial solution. The support enabled the successful scaling up of the technology and demonstrated its potential as the critical last step in ammonia-based hydrogen distribution.

The SIEF funding was instrumental to realise the value-proposition of this work and aided in the fast-tracking of this technology from research to its future uptake and commercialisation.

Larry Marshall holding a pump and leaning on a fuel cell electric vehicle which is blue. Behind Larry is Keith Pitt. Both men are in black suits and ties.
Refuelling a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle by the Hon Keith Pitt MP, former Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister, with Dr Larry Marshall.