Mixed plastic and glass waste is set to become a valuable commodity with the establishment of an $8.8 million “green manufacturing” research hub at UNSW led by Scientia Professor Veena Sahajwalla.

The federal government will contribute $2.2 million as part of the Australian Research Council Industrial Transformation Research Hubs scheme, and industry partners will contribute a further $6.6 million in cash and in-kind support for the four year project.

Professor Sahajwalla, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology, says the research hub provides a unique opportunity for a range of different industries to join forces with scientists in a common goal.

“Our overarching commitment is to get value out of waste and not always put it into landfill, which is not a good solution, both environmentally and economically,” she says.

The hub’s industry partners are Brickworks Building Products Pty Ltd, Arrium Mining Consumables, Jaylon Industries Pty Ltd, and Tersum Energy Pty Ltd.

The hub will undertake world-leading research into the high temperature transformation of waste that is rich in glass and plastic – for example, from used cars – into new products that could include wear-resistant grinding media and light-weight “green” building materials.

Professor Sahajwalla has a won many awards as the developer of a revolutionary “green steel” making process, commercialised by OneSteel, in which old rubber tyres and plastics are used as a partial replacement for coke in electric arc furnace steelmaking.

“We’ve clearly had good success with green steelmaking, and we could do so much more through green manufacturing. There are so many other opportunities. That’s what drives me on,” says Professor Sahajwalla.

The UNSW research hub was one of seven announced this week by Minister for Education Christopher Pyne, to be funded with $23.9 million in government grants and more than $36.4 million from industry partners.

“The Australian Government is committed to a vibrant research sector with strong industry collaboration. This particular scheme allows us to deliver exactly that,” Mr Pyne said.

UNSW Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Les Field said it was a great outcome for UNSW.

“Professor Sahajwalla and her team are at the forefront of waste recycling technology. The Industrial Transformation Research Hubs are important vehicles for bringing together the research sector and industry to translate her great research into practice,” Professor Field said.

UNSW Science media contact: Deborah Smith: 9385 7303, 0478 492 060, deborah.smith@unsw.edu.au