Greening Victoria, one student research project at a time

Check out the ground-breaking research by two international students living and studying in Melbourne.

Meet the Colombian-born green electricity innovator

How can we reduce Victoria’s electricity pollution, which makes up over 50% of emissions, to meet our energy targets? Angela Rojas is looking at answers.

Although Angela Rojas was born in the Colombian capital of Bogota, she is truly a global citizen: living in Madrid for years before arriving in Melbourne to undertake a University of Melbourne’s Masters in Environmental Engineering.

“After considering universities in Europe, I found the programs offered in Melbourne were the closest to what I was looking for to study in another language and education system,” she says. “And living in Australia was once one of my Colombian mum’s never-achieved dreams.”

Angela’s presence here is much-needed and appreciated. She’s helping to changing the way we approach electricity, looking for a greener, more democratised alternative.

“The electricity system in Victoria has been largely dependent on brown coal, the most polluting primary energy source of electricity given its high-water content. My focus is about achieving greenhouse gas emissions targets, but my research also looks at societal impacts from energy transition,” she points out.

Image of Angel RojasIt’s research – funded by a low carbon and resilient futures scholarship, offered through Low Carbon Living, a hub driving our built environment sector towards a globally competitive low carbon future – that she’s passionate about.

“I’ve developed a simulation model of the electricity system from its beginnings in Victoria in the 1900s and it explores possible future trajectories and transition opportunities– looking at greenhouse gas emissions, energy vulnerability of households and renewable energy.

“If we understand how this system works, how it’s configured, then we can ask ourselves: is the current electricity system meeting our society’s current and long-term needs? What can we do to improve it?”

Why, though, is Angela’s research relevant to Victoria right now?

“Our state, as well as every other participant state of the Australian Eastern grid, is  contributing its share of electricity from cleaner and reliable sources to achieve greenhouse gas emissions targets, which is really positive, but systems cannot be forced into change at any societal cost, we need a systemic approach with careful and informed decision-making," she observes.

“Between 15% to 20% of the Eastern grid electricity is generated with Victoria’s brown coal, so every research effort in all disciplines towards a system’s change will help Australia achieve its emission targets in a socially just way, without leaving anyone behind.

“Australia has a big responsibility to the world and future generations in reducing emissions. This challenge can be transformed into a big opportunity for the country, and this is where research, and innovation in policy, technology, education and novel business models can help.”

Meet the Iranian-born tyre recycler innovator

More than 56 million waste tyres end up in landfill every year in Australia and less than 10% are recycled. Ramin Raeesi’s research is helping to change that.

Ramin Raeesi was born in the south Iranian province of Fars, but has also lived in Rasht and in the capital Tehran.

Since 2018, Melbourne has been his home as he undertakes a PhD at the University of Melbourne, exploring sustainability.

Ramin has settled well into Melbourne life: “I moved to Australia on my own but have since made many friends who are like my family here.”

Where Ramin is making a difference is in ’waste tyre permeable pavements’: a pavement invention comprising 50% recycled tyres that can sustain light to medium traffic. Adding recycled tyre particles to the mix ticks the sustainability box and enhances performance.

The idea has approval with the business community: as a result of his research, Ramin has co-founded a start-up company through the University of Melbourne to commercialise his product.

Image of Ramin Raeesi“We’ve already trialled the waste tyre permeable pavements in South Australia (City of Mitcham) and in Victoria (Cities of Yarra, Darebin, Stonnington), while we have several more projects in the pipeline,” he says.

It’s important work, given more than 56 million waste tyres end up in landfill every year in Australia and only less than 10% are recycled. He adds “In every square metre covered by this new product, there are three passenger car tyres used, given another purposeful life.”

Weather also enters the equation. “Waste tyre permeable pavements – through their absorbency can significantly reduce the risk of flash floods – a major challenge most Australian cities face,” says Ramin.

Working on the pavement design has been what he has been living and breathing for years. “It’s fun, challenging, and enjoyable. Apart from all the experiments that I did in the laboratory, I visited our first large-scale trial in South Australia around 10 times over the past three years.”

Those results – using optic fibres and high-tech outdoor sensors – have helped Ramin refine the product, making it a sustainable, smart option for most surfaces in urban areas.

It’s projected that hundreds of tons of recycled waste tyres can be turned into new pavements in a few years while reducing the risk of flash floods. This is in line with the goals of the Australian Federal Government, particularly in terms of waste recycling and circular economy, which is also supported by state governments.

Where does Ramin envisage himself in a decade’s time?

“I see myself working here as a professional researcher/engineer and a university lecturer, whose work impacts on national and international levels. As a researcher/engineer, I can directly have an impact by continuing my research on sustainable construction solutions for the challenges our cities face, while as a lecturer, I’ll pass knowledge to the next generation so they too can help create smart solutions for the problems humans may face.

“I’ve found Australia a country that supports those who try to make a positive impact on the community. I find the Australian values completely in line with mine. I believe Australia is the place I want to stay and make progress towards my goals in life, most important of which is to make the lives of all people easier and happier.”

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