Australia could place itself at the heart of the most important technology, intellectual property and service industries of the next century. This combination effect would provide a solid future for Australia domestically as well as placing it as a central provider for the global economy.
1. Renewable Energy
Still a developing field in 2015, it ceased being emerging technology by 2010. Strong investment in developing the practical technology in Australia would provide both the means to escape the energy trap as well as an example of how countries can navigate the change away from fossil fuel dependence into a new environment of distributed electricity generation and off-grid solutions.
With Australia’s abundance of natural sources of energy, there is no excuse for the country to avoid its natural role in leading global development. In fact, Australian scientists have routinely been at the forefront of solar photovoltaic, solar thermal, wind, wave and tidal energy generation projects.
Why renewable energy?
Renewable energy generation is also the foundational change needed to shift the Australian economy away from its current reliance on fossil fuels. It is also the change needed to make electric vehicles a truly low carbon sustainable solution. Since renewable energy is experiencing a global rise in demand globally as awareness of the grim reality of climate change spreads, this is an obvious and natural area for Australia to excel in.
What needs to happen exactly?
We need local engineering projects building as many solutions as possible now, with the focus on supplying the local market first to build up the skills and experience required. Any future export business should be focussed on selling skills and best practice experience of the emerging world leaders in all renewable technologies; Australia.
The continuing lack of investment and consistent support from the Australian government and the very few Australian individuals and organisations that are capable of providing support is preventing progress. Whatever the reason for this lack of internal support historically, it must change now to promote a culture of entrepreneurialism to drive this kind of technological and service innovation locally. With such a small population and little culture of investing in Australian innovation, it is up to the government to direct taxpayer’s money into incubating small businesses to develop this industry locally. Purely market driven solutions for large engineering projects of this kind simply dont work with small populations and have had issues even with corporate support. The government must take the lead in Australia to regrow the future that we need.
The fact that we need to move to renewable generation as quickly as possible only adds urgency to this requirement.
This will require the government to actively protect these emerging industries from foreign exploitation and competition in order to provide them the environment to grow a strong and broad domestic market. That may ran afoul of existing ‘free trade’ agreements and those agreements must be modified or repudiated as required to take back control of Australia’s future.
2. Electric Vehicles
Electric vehicles must replace the vast majority of fossil fuel powered vehicles by 2040 in order to avoid the energy trap. This means we need solutions to replace every kind of vehicle starting as soon as possible. At the moment the production of some of these vehicles is restricted to a few very large economies and that is going to cause many countries problems in the future.
Australia does have a strong history in technical and mechanical innovation with a surprising array of global solutions having an Australian origin. We built an automotive industry after world war two when it became clear that the inability to produce or maintain anything locally made us very ineffectual during wartime. We were promised that US companies would be allowed in to help kickstart the local industry, but they never left and genuine competition was made impossible by the small market in Australia. This lack of vision translated into the destruction of the local industry by the neoliberal government in 2014, with the wind-up occurring over the next few years. This means there is plenty of opportunity to redirect the failure of the fossil fuel automotive industry into incubation for a new electric vehicle industry.
Why Electric Vehicles?
Australia’s automotive manufacturing industry needs to be redirected into creating electric vehicles. This in turn will build many supporting industries that are incredibly useful for renewable energy and sustainable technology solutions generally. Battery storage solutions will be crucial to the ongoing impact of renewable energy generation and electric vehicles; making Australia an industry leading power is essential to both changing the local economy and participating in the knowledge economy of the new century. An electric vehicle industry would provide skilled jobs and opportunities in Australia indefinitely with effects and support far beyond just electric vehicles.
What needs to happen exactly?
We need an urgent program to salvage the remnants of the fossil fuel industry to create the basis for a new industry in Australia. Every country in the world that produces automobiles subsidises that industry heavily and most invested far more than Australia used to provide. Investment in this industry has returns estimated to be over $40 for every dollar spent. This is why other advanced economies invest heavily in this industry for all the benefits it delivers to the long term viability of the country. If the government incubated and subsidised a locally driven electric vehicle industry, Australia could be producing quality vehicles for the local market at parity pricing with fossil fuel vehicles.
Another way to encourage the industry is to change the current motorsports racing circuits to support electric vehicle competition. This has already started and the new culture required is developing today – but it needs more support and investment to grow into something bigger nationally. There should be targets for the creation of locally produced plug in electric vehicles that compete in consumer pricing with existing fossil fuel vehicles. The first one should be to have such a vehicle in production by 2020, even if this only means assembly in Australia at first. Then Australia needs to diversify to produce every kind of vehicle that currently only has a fossil fuel solution. This must be in conjunction with development of high speed electric rail to greatly reduce the need for interstate fossil fuel trucking.
The demand for electric vehicles will only increase from this point on as fossil fuel prices inevitably climb over the next decade. Australia could become a visionary leader given the right support and attention.
3. 3D Printing
3D printing is currently emerging technology making the transition to developing affordable consumer solutions. There are already printers that can handle multiple types of plastics and polycarbonate, as well as different ones that can fuse metal layer on layer. These are already creating finished products instead of just prototypes and the ability to print in multiple materials at the same time grows every year.
Australia has abundant mineral resources that are causing a major problem today. We extract raw materials, ship them overseas and buy them back as finished products. This is a cycle that can only lead to hollowing out of local industry and eventual dependence on foreign corporations and countries for daily existence. The future of 3D printing provides a unique opportunity to Australia to turn raw materials directly into finished products in one smooth manufacturing process.
Why 3D Printing?
This completely changes our balance of trade from requiring massive imports of finished products to trading part of our mineral wealth for the useful elements we can’t acquire locally. Which means we should be exporting both the technology that turns those materials into products as well as the designs for those 3D printers to execute. The technology is not capable of this today, but given the same incubation support now, it could develop into a game changing solution for Australia within 30 years.
What needs to happen exactly?
Australia is already contributing to research in this field, this needs to be encouraged, expanded and turned into the basis of an industry in building 3D printers capable of turning our mineral wealth into instant, complex products. Today 3D printers are supplied by filament threads that look like plastic wire. In the future this may well be replaced by metal wires of many different materials as required. These filaments should be processed in Australia from the raw materials into the format needed by 3D printers – making Australia a large self-sustaining nation for many branches of manufacturing.
This would require a printer that can handle plastics, polycarbonates and metals all at the same time. At that point you would be able to print out a car. OR a truck. Or a train. Or a building. Or a computer. Or a smartphone. This is technology the world will be demanding in a few decades, working towards it locally places Australia at the forefront of the emerging industry.
As a part of this development, it must be a design requirement that all 3D printed products be capable of close to 100% recycling. Picture a machine that can turn your old car into a new car with the addition of a new design and the small amount of extra materials needed. Grind it up, melt it down and build a new one in a sustainable process.
As a subsidiary industry, investment in hemp plantations and processing centres must be made to supply the sustainable raw material for many plastics used by these devices. This should be encouraged separately to assist with the move away from the current reliance on fossil fuel based plastics.
3D printing will change the nature of manufacturing globally. With the ability to build a vast array of creations with a single machine, the focus moves from the manufacturing to the design. The ability to produce working designs for the printers will be as important as the printers themselves. Visionary investment in this today will place Australia at the centre of a high demand global market in 30 years time and help lay the foundations for a solid, sustainable future for the country for another century after that.
The Combinational Multiplier
Building these three industries together as a new pillar of the Australian economy and workforce provides a sustainable solution for Australia to:
1. Escape the energy trap and fossil fuel dependence
2. Build sustainable industries, skills and intellectual property to supply national energy, transport and manufacturing needs permanently.
3. Provide a secondary set of industries in selling these skills and services globally
4. Guarantee Australia remains an advanced economy rather than a hollowed out mess based on mining and tourism synonymous with the third world
5. Provide global thought leadership of how to navigate the pathway to a sustainable future.
So what can I do today?
1. Help fund Australia’s first solar thermal with storage power station. You can do it with the help of CORENA right now and tell everyone you know. Click the link to make your contribution.
2. Share this article with everyone you know to begin resetting the national conversation about Australia’s future beyond the next election cycle. Send it to politicians across the country and demand answers to show a real vision for Australia’s future.
3. Buy an electric vehicle if you can to at least support the global industry. Explore electric conversions, there are many available in all the southern capitals. Look here for more information.
5. Talk about the possibilities for Australia’s new sustainable industry future with everyone you meet.