Ballarat could be the centre of the renewable energy revolution, as Federation University continues its push into the sector with a new research centre.
The Centre for New Energy Transition Research, which will operate at the Mount Helen and Churchill campuses, will encourage new developments in microgrids, transmission technology, electric vehicles, and hydrogen.
A multi-disciplinary team, funded by a $2 million federal government grant, will link up with industry partners to explore how to accelerate Australia towards net carbon zero, interim director Professor Syed Islam said.
"There are significant challenges, and this centre is very timely for looking into those," he said.
"Our aim is to go well above world-standard, so we can lead this area of research nationally and locally, and internationally."
Joining the university's academics will be up to eight post-graduate students, and heavyweights from other research areas, including mathematics, artificial intelligence, and business research.
Professor Islam said the aim is to help beat, or at least meet, the federal government's 2050 target for carbon neutrality.
"The sooner we get there the better," he said.
"To have near-100 per cent or 100 per cent electricity coming from renewables is a big challenge, and I think setting the goal of 2050 is, in the Australian context, realistic, but of course we'd like to see it sooner, as researchers."
A closer look at microgrids will also be central to the ongoing research, particularly given the need for and furious opposition to new transmission projects - Professor Islam said he is on AusNet's technical advisory panel for the controversial Western Victoria Transmission Network Project.
"(What) the centre sees as an opportunity is basically to look at modernised and future grid technologies that would make the grid more efficient, make the grid, on a favourable day, to be able to transfer more power intelligently through that system," he said.
"I think some powerlines would still need to be required to be built, it's fundamental to transit to the new energy technology-based electrical industry."
The research centre builds on the university's investment into the renewable energy sector, with new TAFE courses for wind turbine maintenance, and a new training tower in Mount Helen.
Vice-chancellor Professor Duncan Bentley said new discoveries will help "transform society", and he was excited to see the research commercialisation opportunities that will emerge.
"Because we're a small university, we have to work with industry all the time - since we were founded, in fact - most of our research funding is actually not from the Australian Research Council, it's from industry, and so essentially, it's just building on what we've always done, and we've had joint ideas, some from industry and some for us," he said.
"The key thing is that we always work closely together - the commercial world can't wait for the university to faff around for six months to a year to make up its mind, we have to be there with them responding immediately."
One of the research centre's partners is Ballarat's own Gekko Systems, through its Gaia Envirotech company, which helps run a demonstration modular anaerobic digester plant at a dairy farm in Bungaree.
General manager Michael Renehan said the collaboration with the university will help the company access "real applied research" for its projects.
"One of the great things they're doing at Federation University is putting that cutting edge technology into the field," he said.
"If we can support the scholarships, the students, we hope to retain them here in Ballarat, and then we build a critical mass - we want Ballarat to be the heart of the bioenergy sector."
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