University of Wollongong researchers developed new Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy instrumentation and methodology for sensitive detection and quantification of greenhouse and other important gases in field environments. This led to commercialisation and world-wide distribution of the technology, benefitting a multinational environmental monitoring business and their customers around the world. For example, this research enabled Australian meat and livestock industries to determine valid methods for their producer members to benchmark gas emissions for abatement and emissions trading. This allowed these industries to explore innovative new greenhouse gas abatement strategies in line with the Australian government’s Emission Reductions Fund initiative.
3. Good health and well-being
9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure
13. Climate action
15. Life on land
Details of the Impact
UOW research, led by the Centre for Atmospheric Chemistry (CAC), on the use of Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopic techniques to detect and quantify gases, developed instrumentation and provided unique methodologies for detecting and quantifying trace gases in field environments including urban locations, farms, forests and oceans.
The research benefitted (1) a multinational company, and its customers, through a long-term licencing arrangement to build and sell field-ready FTIR instrumentation, and (2) agricultural industry groups by developing a tool to monitor and understand emissions from livestock farms.
1. UOW researchers, with commercial partner Ecotech Pty Ltd, based in Melbourne (261 employees), developed an instrument (Spectronus) based on their FTIR spectroscopy research.
Spectronus is described by Ecotech as “the first multispecies greenhouse and other atmospheric trace gas and isotope analyser based on FTIR spectroscopy – conceived by Dr David Griffith, students and colleagues at the University of Wollongong” . Ecotech’s alliance with UOW and CAC “allowed Ecotech to expand into the international research instrumentation market for accurate and precise greenhouse gas (GHG) measurements … The Spectronus GHG analyser offered something unavailable in any existing instrument on the international market at the time” . Based on sales, Spectronus generated over $2.5M in revenue. The instrument has been sold to more than a dozen research institutions worldwide .
Royalties from sales flowed back to UOW and were reinvested into CAC research and instrumental improvements. In 2011, UOW and Ecotech signed a five-year licence, renewed in 2016 for another five years. Importantly, “…continuing research and development at UOW has ensured that not only have we kept the customer focus in mind at all times but we have been able to build on that with the help of UOW to improve the accuracy and precision of the instrument” .
Sixteen Spectronus instruments built by Ecotech in consultation with Prof Griffith and CAC, were deployed worldwide including with the Department of Primary Industries (Australia), Chinese Meteorological Administration (Peoples Republic of China), Korea Standards Institute (South Korea), Laboratory for the Science of Climate and Environment, Gif-sur-Yvette (France) and the Finnish Meteorological Institute .
2. UOW researchers provided a validated scientific tool, using FTIR open-path methods, for Australian primary producer peak bodies to provide guidance to their members on quantifying and optimising gas emissions from beef, lamb, pork and chicken meat production. Direct field measurements were vital: “You can't take the information from one animal and extrapolate it to a herd. You can't take the information from one small herd of animals and extrapolate that to Australia's animal population.” Dr Phillips, UOW .
Meat and Livestock Australia Ltd (MLA) is a producer-owned company providing marketing, research and development services to over 50,000 cattle, sheep and goat producer members and the broader industry. Gas monitoring research by UOW researchers provided MLA with direct GHG emission measurement protocols (particularly for methane) to be implemented as a tool to measure methane emissions from ruminants: “this technology will assist us to quantify our carbon footprint on farm and provides MLA with a vital measurement tool for quantifying and understanding changes in methane emissions from grazing ruminants ... The research provided by [UOW] for MLA, to develop and validate the open-path FTIR technique has, and will continue to be of value to us” .
MLA concluded: “The open-path FTIR technique can be used to measure methane emissions from flocks of grazing sheep. The technique could detect differences of less than 10% in the methane emissions from different flocks and from flocks grazing different pasture types. The technique can be used as a tool to demonstrate methane abatement strategies on commercial farms” . “The technology was an integral part of the National Livestock Methane Program (NLMP) managed by MLA (2012–17). The program provided livestock producers with practical strategies and tools to help increase productivity and profitability commensurate with lower enteric [gut-related] methane emissions” .
Similarly, UOW developed FTIR open-path methods for Australian Pork Limited (APL) to understand and benchmark gas emissions from intensive animal management systems including pork and chicken-meat production and layer hen industries.
APL – a producer owned organisation supporting the Australian pork industry – required an understanding of current GHG emission levels from livestock farms, as benchmarks, so that emission reductions can be claimed in the government-funded Emission Reduction Fund (ERF). Using open-path FTIR techniques, UOW researchers (led by Dr Phillips) directly measured gas emissions from piggeries, hen-lots and other farms.
As part of the National Agricultural Manure Management Program managed by APL, one study measured the difference in emission from piggeries using effluent ponds versus using shorter retention time tanks or straw bedding . The study revealed a significant emissions reduction for the two alternate manure management systems. With UOW farm-based gas FTIR measurements, APL then commissioned a cost-benefit study from external consultants [7,8] to “quantify the potential carbon abatement opportunity for a defined number of scenarios, with large-scale commercial farms” and “provide recommendations on which scenarios would be best suited to development into an ERF methodology” . The analysis confirmed the financial feasibility of targeted strategies for manure management that can benefit farmers by reduction of emissions.
- Ecotech Pty Ltd
- Australian Pork Limited (APL)
- Meat and Livestock Australia Ltd (MLA)
- Department of Primary Industries (Victoria, Australia)
- Chinese Meteorological Administration (Peoples Republic of China)
- Korea Standards Institute (South Korea)
- Laboratory for the Science of Climate and Environment, Gif-sur-Yvette (France)
- Finnish Meteorological Institute (Finland)
- Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua (NZ)
- South Korea
- New Zealand
Approach to Impact
Summary of the approaches to impact
Research in Chemical Sciences at UOW spans wide-ranging fundamental directions across many disciplines of chemistry coupled with major applied research centres. Many UOW institutional funding mechanisms and strategic activities facilitate the deployment of chemical research to make profound impacts on external users. Approaches that have specifically supported the realisation of the impact of applied gas spectroscopy research include long-term stable internal funding and staffing models, outward-looking strategies to ensure collaboration and engagement beyond academia, legal and commercialisation expertise to support interactions with industry and product development, and support to maintain ‘field-readiness’ to be responsive to demand-driven industry needs.
Approach to Impact
At UOW, research in atmospheric chemistry over the past 30 years, primarily driven by the Centre for Atmospheric Chemistry (CAC), uses spectroscopy techniques (Fourier transform infrared, FTIR) to measure trace gases. CAC is recognised and supported by UOW and its Faculty of Science, Medicine and Heath, as a Faculty Research Cluster. CAC receives substantial annual, flexible internal funding to support research operations and encourage national and international collaborations. This support enables outreach strategies to ensure effective promotion of CAC research activities and outputs to the wider Australian community (including media, industry, business, government departments and the general public).
CAC membership, in a combination of experimentalists and modellers (atmospheric chemistry and gas-transport), presently includes 10 academics and fellows (including an ARC DECRA Fellow and UOW VC Fellows) and three dedicated technical staff, in addition to partners from other UOW academic units (including Physics, Mathematics and Statistics).
In 2001, in recognition of the commercial value and impact of the FTIR research within CAC, UOW underwrote Prof David Griffith’s position to be research-only, thus allowing him to focus on the commercialisation of this FTIR technology (and also allowed the hiring of an additional atmospheric chemistry academic into CAC).
CAC researchers have been consistently supported by many UOW-funded travel grants for staff and students, research partnership grants and equipment grants. This funding has allowed FTIR research to progress and continually translate into applications.
Our approach prioritises long term engagements with our end users to maximise ongoing impact. Stable internal funding has provided the mechanism for CAC to collaborate nimbly and extensively in the Australian atmospheric science community, at both the academic and end-user levels. Collaborators include other universities, CSIRO, ANSTO, Bureau of Meteorology, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, and other federal and state government departments. All these agencies interface with industry groups and local communities. Through on-going research in trace gas detection by FTIR spectroscopy, CAC rapidly translates technical and scientific research into impact measurement research for end users. This provides a rather unique service for end-users to access cutting-edge instrumental techniques and technical expertise, for application to their requirements. Research with Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and Australian Pork Limited (APL) – detailed in Part A – highlights this beneficial arrangement.
CAC has focussed on developing strong links to international networks addressing global atmospheric air quality and composition, including the Total Carbon Column Observing Network. A jointly-funded five-year postdoctoral fellowship has been established in CAC (Dr V. Velasco) to support participation in this network. These global networks have huge impact potential for monitoring global-gas composition.
PhD students (many with UOW-supported tuition and scholarships), undergraduate and UOW-funded visiting students have been critical to CAC’s strategy of engagement with end-users in industry and agriculture. Highly trained technicians and students are frequently deployed to assist with end-user operations, providing them with invaluable training in fieldwork operations and, in turn, providing highly trained expertise to our end users.
Vital to the research connection with industry partners, UOW’s Research and Innovation Division and legal support services provide extensive support for formalising contracts to guide research activities, covering insurance and the control of intellectual property (including the representation of data by external parties). With the ongoing improvement of instrumentation, methods and analysis, UOW legal and patent staff worked with CAC to commercialise this technology with Ecotech Pty Ltd in 2011, for a five-year contract, which was renewed in 2016 for another five years. UOW continues to manage the Ecotech licence and software technology associated with FTIR analysis software called MALT (Multiple Atmospheric Layer Transmission), which is licenced to >60 users worldwide, including its use by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, BIPM, Paris, France.
We also provide support to maintain ‘field-readiness’ to be responsive to industry needs. Institutional support, along with many other grant-funded operations, has allowed CAC to continually develop field-ready scientific tools for on-demand use by industry. Extensive UOW supporting resources, including data management, transport vehicles, repairs, instrumental calibration, are also integrated into research projects. This ‘field-readiness’ allows us to deploy immediately when opportunities arise. For example, CAC researchers make measurements of bushfire emissions from controlled burns, often requiring deployment at short notice. In this way, CAC is an exemplary model of how University research groups can provide unique services to external users. In turn, our external partners can access cutting-edge research tools and expertise on-demand.
This capability served as a key pathway to impact within the agricultural sector by providing opportunities for the Victorian Department of Primary Industries and the Australian Greenhouse Office to apply FT-IR techniques to agricultural gas-emissions. Crucial to the engagement with the agricultural sector, was that the infrastructure for field-based FTIR instrumentation was available and supported within CAC operations. This allowed rapid engagement with new partners from industry (including MLA and APL) and government departments (Dept. of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the then Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research), through the deployment of field-ready instrumentation for the measurement of gas emissions on farms.
UOW has >30 years of researching Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopic techniques to detect and quantify gases (including carbon dioxide, ammonia, methane and nitrous oxide) led by the Centre for Atmospheric Chemistry. Instrumentation and technique-advancement, coupled with concomitant advances in spectral analysis software, provide unique and validated methodologies for the detection and quantification of trace gases in many field locations including over urban environments, farms, forests and oceans. Measurements undergo immediate spectral analysis, saving time compared to conventional methods. FTIR also allows for many gases to be simultaneously monitored, making different gas concentrations directly comparable within the one measurement.
Measuring agricultural emissions is one major aspect of this research program with key researchers including Dr Frances Phillips, A/Prof Clare Murphy, A/Prof Stephen Wilson and Prof David Griffith. This capability has been applied to GHG monitoring. Spectronus measurements were compared with global GHG monitoring network methodologies and found to be more precise than the Advanced Global Atmospheric Gases Experiment measurements and exceed the requirements to contribute to the World Meteorological Organisation’s Global Atmospheric Watch program. This technique has been applied to the European Commission’s Integrated non-CO2 Greenhouse gas Observing System as a ground-based observation to complement satellite remote sensing.
1. Ecotech website, http://ecotech-research.com/spectronus-ftir/
2. Felicity Sharp, Head of Ecotech Europe, Ecotech Pty. Ltd. Company. Testimonial on file.
3. ABC Landline story: http://www.abc.net.au/tv/programs/landline/old-site/content/2010/s2858177.htm Frances Phillips, University of Wollongong.
4. Dr Nigel Tomkins, Research and Development Manager, Meat and Livestock Australia. Testimonial on file.
5. CCH.1009 Final Report Reducing Emissions from Livestock Research (RELRP) Program by Peter Moate. Project Code: B.CCH.1036 “Open Path FTIR spectroscopy: University of Wollongong”; published by Meat and Livestock Australia Ltd. https://www.mla.com.au/download/finalreports?itemId=1554
6. NAMMP: http://australianpork.com.au/industry-focus/environment/national-agricultural-manure-management-program (UOW is listed as a contributor); http://australianpork.com.au/nammp-project/ (UOW as partner); http://australianpork.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2015_FactSheet_Pork_GHG_Mitigation.pdf (cites UOW FTIR measurements).
7. Stephen Weidemann, external APL consultant. Testimonial on file.
8. Australian Pork Limited Final Report, Project No 2015/2215.
9. Wiedemann, S. G., Phillips, F. A., Naylor, T. A., McGahan, E. J., Keane, O. B., Warren, B. R. & Murphy, C. M. (2016). Nitrous oxide, ammonia and methane from Australian meat chicken houses measured under commercial operating conditions and with mitigation strategies applied. Animal Production Science, 56 (9), 1404–1417.
10. Phillips, F. A., Wiedemann, S. G., Naylor, T. A., McGahan, E. J., Warren, B. R., Murphy, C. M., Parkes, S. D. & Wilson, J. (2016). Methane, nitrous oxide and ammonia emissions from pigs housed on litter and from stockpiling of spent litter. Animal Production Science, 56 (9), 1390–1403. See also pp. 1367–1395 in the same issue.