Why the world’s engineers need to come together to build a better future

By | Leadership and influence | 6 Comments

The clock is ticking to achieve the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The World Engineers Convention will explore the crucial role the profession plays in hitting the UN’s 2030 target.

“Every single one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals requires engineering to implement, and this is the message we have been putting out since the goals were implemented two years ago,” said Marlene Kanga, President of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO).

As co-host of the upcoming World Engineers Convention (WEC) with Engineers Australia, WFEO will tap into its network of 100 member nations, comprising almost 30 million engineers, to make this a truly global event, Kanga said.

Each of the convention’s six themes aligns to the UN Sustainable Development goals – from technology and innovation to fostering diversity and inclusion, increasing liveability and preparing the next generation of engineers.

Across the three-day event, WFEO members present alongside Australian engineers on topics that showcase how these themes are being put into practice.

Trish White, National President of Engineers Australia, said collaboration between engineers from around the world is crucial to building a more sustainable future.

“It’s an exciting time to be an engineer, and this coming together of some of the world’s most prominent engineers is the perfect time to think about how you as an individual can make an impact,” White said.

“The No. 17 UN Sustainable Development Goal is about Partnerships — what are the connections and networks that need to be pulled upon to make it possible to fulfil the other 16 goals? That’s what makes the World Engineers Conventions a wonderful opportunity to come together and see what is possible for the future of engineering.”

This is the first time the event has been held in Australia — and it’s likely to be a long time before it’s on Australian shores again. As such, both White and Kanga urged the country’s engineers to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect with and learn from their peers around the world.

“There are some 500 speakers, about 25 per cent are women, and more than 60 countries are represented,” Kanga said.

“Whether it’s water, whether it’s energy, whether it’s sustainable cities, technology … It’s about engineers thinking about the impact of our work. It’s about the purpose of our work, and that makes engineering more meaningful.”

A pivotal moment

Besides coming to Australia for the first time, the World Engineers Convention also coincides with Engineers Australia’s centenary year.

The organisation was founded just after the end of World War I, which was a time of immense change similar to the one we are experiencing now, said White.

“It was formed then to help the country’s engineers take advantage of the great technological changes that were happening and help the many disciplines come together,” she said.

“We’re in a rather similar time now. The next 100 years will be a time of enormous technological change, so we need to come together to think about what is the potential future of the engineering profession.”

Having the World Engineers Convention hosted by Australia during this important time in Engineers Australia’s history speaks to the centenary theme of ‘Anything Is Possible’, Kanga said.

“I think we can communicate about Australian engineering to the world, just as the world’s engineers will communicate to Australia,” she said.

“We are bringing the world to Melbourne.”

The World Engineers Convention 20-22 November in Melbourne is about engineers coming together to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.

To learn how you can help build a better world, register here

renewable energy exports as hydrogen

What will it take to make hydrogen the clean fuel of the future?

By | Climate change resilience | 6 Comments

Interest in hydrogen as a source of clean energy has risen in recent years, and engineers have a key role in scaling up technology to help Australia fulfil its potential as a major exporter.

According to Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel, a keynote speaker at the upcoming World Engineers Convention, Australia has all of the key ingredients needed to make and export hydrogen.

“We’ve got the land, the sun, the wind, the coal and gas, the technology smarts, the regional hubs, the global networks and the industry expertise,” he said.

Finkel added that clean hydrogen technologies could also help reduce emissions on the home front. For example, hydrogen-powered trucks, trains and ships could meet the growing demand for zero-emissions transport.

Hydrogen could also replace liquified natural gas (LNG) in domestic and industrial heating, which has the potential to cut emissions and reduce energy bills at a greater rate than electrification.

And engineers will have a key role in making hydrogen a viable energy source for both local use and export.

“The key challenges here are to get to scale, bring down production and utilisation costs and improve efficiencies – these are all the bread and butter of engineers,” Finkel explained.

Why now?

As well as a zero-emissions energy alternative to coal, oil and natural gas, hydrogen can be used as a feedstock for industrial chemistry.

And while this isn’t the first time the world has gotten excited about a hydrogen revolution, Finkel said current interest is being driven by factors including rapidly falling production costs, as well as hydrogen fuel cell transport options such as the Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo, which are starting to compete with petrol-fuelled vehicles in terms of cost, efficiency and performance.

hydrogen powered cars

Vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells offer benefits like faster charging compared to electric vehicles.

“This isn’t the first time the world has been interested in hydrogen. But I can tell you that this time it is different,” he added.

Another driver is that energy-intensive countries such as South Korea and Japan do not have the capacity to generate enough clean and renewable electricity to meet their needs.

“These countries will be looking to import zero-emissions energy. This is where clean hydrogen comes into the picture,” Finkel said.

Japan has already made a strong commitment to importing hydrogen from Australia. Construction has recently begun on a government-backed joint venture between Japanese and Australian industry to prove the technology to liquefy hydrogen produced from brown coal in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley and ship it to Japan, although carbon capture and storage will be needed to prevent increased local emissions if the trial is scaled up to commercial proportions.

It won’t happen overnight

Finkel said that turning this opportunity into a real-world transformation will require both the production and use of hydrogen to be significantly scaled up.

“This is not something that can happen overnight. It is a journey to be navigated with patience, innovation and determination. We will need to build out gradually, learning and recalibrating along the way,” he added.

But Finkel believes that Australia has what it takes to build a large-scale hydrogen industry, citing the three decades of work that has put Australia in a position to surpass Qatar as the world’s leading exporter of LNG.

To help the country fulfil its potential, Finkel is leading the development of a national hydrogen strategy commissioned by the Coalition of Australian Governments Energy Council (COAG), which is due for release in December .

Australia Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel

Dr Alan Finkel, Australia’s Chief Scientist

The strategy is focused on six areas: hydrogen exports; hydrogen for transport; hydrogen in the gas network; hydrogen for industrial users; hydrogen to support electricity systems; and issues such as safety, finance, and research and development (which could affect the other five areas).

In July, the Hydrogen Working Group released nine issues papers that focus on various aspects of the emerging industry, which has already attracted more than $100 million in Federal Government funding. Finkel said these papers provide some indication of what the final strategy will look like, and will provide more details during his WEC keynote in November, when the strategy is closer to completion.

Demand for engineering resources

Finkel said scaling up hydrogen production and use will require a huge quantity of engineering and manufacturing resources.

In the longer term, engineers will be needed to maintain the reliability of the hydrogen energy network by developing smart systems to manage diverse networks and loads, and solving the challenges of large-scale storage.

They will also be key players in managing trade-offs and opportunities as we move from independent electricity distribution and transport sectors to a coupled relationship governed by hydrogen use.

And while the challenges are far from trivial, there is scope to use hydrogen along with other clean energy technologies to improve reliability, while reducing energy costs and emissions.

“If we get this right, we will all benefit from using new technologies to overcome the problems that have emerged from the use of older technologies,” Finkel said.

Dr Alan Finkel will be a keynote speaker at the World Engineers Convention 20-22 November in Melbourne, where he will explore the challenges of scaling up to meet the dream of a low-emission planet based on the development of Australia’s national strategy for clean hydrogen.

Register here