Challenges and opportunities: the future of energy, waste and materials

Challenges and opportunities: the future of energy, waste and materials

With the rapid onset of urbanisation, we need to harness ethical and sustainable innovations in energy, materials and waste management to foster healthy, inclusive cities and communities.

Working on the big challenges faced by industry, government and the community, researchers at RMIT University collaborate and innovate to find shared solutions to some of our most critical questions.

Wastewater treatment plant

Research to transform biosolid resource management

A by-product of the wastewater treatment process, biosolids can be used as fertiliser, in land rehabilitation or as a construction material. But in Australia, around 30% ends up in landfill. 

How to change that? By bringing together expertise from 20 national and international partners in a research centre dedicated to transforming the way Australia’s biosolids are managed and delivering more environmentally sustainable practices. 

The $17 million centre at RMIT is the place where universities, water management authorities and industry from Australia, the UK and US are collaboratively tackling the challenge.


solar panels on rooftops

An ‘Airbnb’ for energy could help homes share spare power

Could the future of energy lie in the sharing economy? Energy sharing platforms may be key to supporting our transition to new tech and cleaner power, while delivering for consumers.

Australians eager to shift to clean technologies like solar are keen on platforms similar to Airbnb or Uber that would enable them to trade and share their excess power, research shows.

Delivering critical insights into how people want to engage with the transformation of the nation’s electricity system, the study points a way forward for how the sector can empower consumers to pursue opportunities to participate in the energy market. 


Circular economy graphic

Distracted by rubbish, sustainability plan forgets people

In a circular economy, the focus is on reducing environmental impacts of production and consumption and gaining more productive use from natural resources. 

While the Victorian Government has committed $37 million to implement a circular economy plan, sustainability experts warn that significant opportunities could be missed because vital ingredients to make it work are currently missing. 

What’s needed? Broadening out the definition of circular economies beyond simply recycling and waste, and bringing in a key factor for implementing any reform – engagement of people.


An acoustically-created MOF, with the microchip that produced the high-frequency sound waves used in the process.

Building next gen smart materials with the power of sound

Metal-organic frameworks are incredibly versatile and super porous nanomaterials that can be used to store, separate, release or protect almost anything. 

They’re predicted to be the defining material of the 21st century, but the traditional process for creating MOFs is time-consuming and environmentally unsustainable. 

The solution? A clean, green technique developed at RMIT that can produce a customised MOF in minutes, with the power of high-precision sound waves


pile of construction waste

How to stop 20m tons of construction industry waste going to landfill each year

The amount of construction waste going to landfill in Australia has grown significantly in the past two decades. 

RMIT researchers are working to connect organisations and industries across the country so instead of filling up landfill sites, that waste can be traded instead. 

The aim is a national economic approach to deal with the barriers preventing the effective management of construction and demolition waste, such as implementing an extended producer responsibility, as well as identifying ways to integrate supply chain systems in the waste and resource recovery industry. 



Harnessing light for a solar-powered chemical industry

The chemical manufacturing industry is one of the world’s biggest energy users, accounting for about 10% of global energy consumption and 7% of industrial greenhouse gas emissions. 

But solar power could offer a sustainable answer, with RMIT researchers developing new technology that harnesses sunlight to drive chemical reactions.

As well as reducing the environmental impact of chemical manufacturing, the innovation could in future be used to deliver technologies like better infrared cameras and solar-powered water desalination.


The complex challenges we face as a society call for shared solutions. Join local and international leaders across industry, research and innovation, as we identify collaborative opportunities to shape our future. Find out more at Engaging for Impact 2020 (4-6 February).


Story: Gosia Kaszubska


  • Research
  • Sustainability
  • Science and technology
  • Advanced Materials
  • Industry
  • Environment

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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business. - Artwork created by Louisa Bloomer