Launceston will be the home to the largest research centre in the country with the fledgling Blue Economy research centre taking its first steps from its head office at the Newnham campus.
The Blue Economy Cooperative Research Centre was funded to the tune of $329 million during the federal election campaign and is poised to position the national offshore economy into a world leader.
Associate Professor bid director Irene Penesis said the research centre would support a research community of 50 PhD students and 50 postdoctoral research fellows throughout Tasmania and partner with organisations nationally and internationally.
She took us through the process of what the CRC would look like and how it will position Tasmania to become a world leader in renewables and the next frontier of our economy.
What is the "Blue Economy"?
A: If you think about the "green economy" being our land-based enterprises, the "blue economy" is the next big space to work in. Basically, it's any industry that operates in the offshore space.
We could be talking about maritime shipping, we could be talking about energy, or seafood production, or we could be talking about ports and harbours.
The Blue Economy CRC will research ways we can help the current industries who are doing well and who have a big footprint in the marketplace be more sustainable.
We have big companies like aquaculture, which are using lots of energy producing salmon, but they are running their feeding systems using diesel generators.
Transitioning them to renewable sources will make a huge difference and if they are sitting adjacent to the best wave, tidal or wind resources, then why don't we exploit that?
What does the CRC look like? How will it function?
A: The Blue Economy CRC will be the largest in Australia through the CRC Program, which is there to support industry to focus on research and development towards use and commercialisation. We approached the federal government for funding, through a CRC application process.
It's great for Tasmania to be a leader in renewables but also because we produce all of Australia's salmon here. We need to support our industries as they make the transition and how we do that is important.
We were very fortunately to receive the total funding we requested, through a variety of industry support and government. The CRC will be funded to the amount of $329 million.
At the moment there's a contract phase that all CRC and government grants have to go through, which we are going through now.
Essentially the Blue Economy CRC will become a company in its own right so we are in the process of appointing the board of directors, chief executive and research director.
Is the CRC already working with industry or are you seeking partners?
We went forward with the CRC application already with strong support from industry. The application was put forward with a pledge of $78 million from industry as well as about $180 million in in-kind support.
What we are trying to do is bring together three sectors, seafood and marine production, offshore engineering and offshore renewable energy together who have never worked together before.
Australia has the world's third-largest exclusive economic zone and is positioned adjacent to the largest markets for seafood and energy.
But with more than 80 per cent classified as offshore, industries must be enabled to move from the coast zone into more exposed operating environments before we can secure this major opportunity for the nation.
What will be the CRC's initial focus?
A: The focus of the first five years of the program would be in developing and testing new offshore aquaculture and renewable energy technologies, which will then be brought together on a single platform to demonstrate the economic and environmental benefits of co-location.
The offshore research platform will act as a living laboratory where we can vertically integrate renewable energy and aquaculture technologies with other engineering activities, such as autonomous and remotely-operated vehicles, in a proof of concept for how we could operate in the future.
It will be the first offshore research platform of its kind in the world, and we're confident that it will deliver ground-breaking research alongside commercially viable new materials, concepts, prototypes and monitoring systems - all informed by best practice and delivered in an environmentally sustainable way.
What has been the reaction so far?
A: Professor Penesis said the reaction from the industry they had worked with so far had been overwhelmingly positive and that there was scope for the Blue Economy CRC to work hand-in-hand with industry.
UTAS vice chancellor Rufus Black said the Launceston-based Blue Economy CRC would build on Tasmania's and the university's distinctive strengths in aquaculture and marine ecology, offshore engineering and marine renewable energy.
"This is big blue-sky thinking fused with practical, impactful research to answer one of our planet's most critical questions: how can we sustainably feed and power ourselves from the world's oceans," Professor Black said.
"The Blue Economy CRC imagines a future where integrated seafood and renewable energy production systems operate offshore and where the community and industry have confidence that they are safe, reliable, efficient and environmentally responsible.
"This work will leave a compelling legacy of high-impact research, a competitive advantage for Australian industry, and innovation, collaboration and leadership on a global scale.
"And it will further solidify Northern Tasmania as an important hub for marine engineering and ocean renewable energy - a place where we can imagine new futures and chart a course to reach them."
Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies Professor Stewart Frusher said the development of new environmental guidelines and policies was an integral part of the research program.
"This CRC provides a unique opportunity to simultaneously support policy development, environmental monitoring and management while securing sustainable and ethical industry expansion," Professor Frusher said.
"Australia has a global reputation for quality, safe and sustainable seafood and management of its marine natural resources and biodiversity.
"The CRC will provide governance for the new industry capability to position Australia as the market leader in this burgeoning area."
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