A Net Zero Future: Meet the Minds Bringing a New Strategy to the Climate Change Fight

TEDxSydney Salon – Net Positive: Visions of a Net Zero Future for Australia · 27 June 2024

To help the world meet its climate change goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, the University of Sydney’s Net Zero Institute (NZI) is pioneering efforts to lead Australia and the world toward a sustainable, zero-emissions future. The Institute is dedicated to advancing research across four critical themes: demand reduction, zero emissions energy and industry, climate change risk, and greenhouse gas removal.

The NZI is a bold vision to accelerate the development and responsible deployment of world-class net zero technologies and solutions for our planet’s future. Under the leadership of Director Deanna D’Alessandro, the Institute brings together experts from various fields to develop and implement strategies that reduce our carbon footprint and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

“What we’re talking about is a whole-of-society transformation,” says Professor D’Alessandro. “We need to see enormous changes in technology, in policy and legislation, in our financial systems.”

The NZI’s comprehensive approach ensures that every aspect of the challenge is addressed, from reducing energy demand to finding innovative ways to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

So what research Initiatives are the focus at the Net Zero Institute?

Powerfuels Research

The research and development of Powerfuels extends across the value chain, from production to storage and utilisation. The NZI tackles the challenges surrounding the use of Powerfuels in combustion systems and fuel cells and aims to facilitate Powerfuel production and utilisation by developing novel, efficient, and cost-effective technologies for synthesising ammonia (NH3) and enhancing carbon sequestration from point sources and direct air capture.

Fundamental issues are addressed to expedite the implementation of green fuels in combustion systems and create efficient, durable, and stable fuel-cell technologies for various applications, ranging from household power to transport. Green fuels, essential for decarbonising heavy industries, are considered carbon-neutral or carbon-negative alternatives to fossil fuels, deriving from renewable energy sources.

Water Management Research

The transition to a low-carbon economy is essential for mitigating climate change effects, but it poses significant risks and disruptions for various sectors. Research of water management includes investigating and analysing sustainable water management techniques, innovations in water recycling, efficient irrigation, and comprehensive water conservation practices. This research is crucial for maintaining ecosystem health and supporting agricultural sustainability.

The NZI has been structured to support a collaborative environment and aims to enable cross sector participation between the university, industry and corporates that will help to mitigate the risks associated with climate change, such as extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and temperature extremes. Scenario analysis and strategic planning are key techniques used to develop adaptive strategies for climate resilience.

Carbon Capture (Direct Air Capture)

CO2, methane and other fossil fuel emissions have an impact on global warming. The NZI is developing engineered approaches for Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) solutions that will actively remove historical emissions from the atmosphere and explores methods like Enhanced Mineral Weathering and Direct Air Capture (DAC), which involves separating CO from the air using engineered systems and either storing it underground or turning it into products. DAC is a scalable, flexible solution that can be deployed anywhere and capture CO from any source.

Continued research focuses on making DAC more cost-effective and energy-efficient. Current estimates suggest the future cost of DAC could drop significantly, making it a valuable tool in the portfolio of carbon removal solutions. The NZI also investigates the use of captured CO for synthetic fuels and other applications, contributing to a circular carbon economy.

AI Energy Reduction

The International Energy Agency (IEA) highlights the importance of energy efficiency, predicting a significant reduction in final energy demand by 2030. The NZI’s Green AI pillar, models prioritise energy efficiency by employing techniques such as network pruning and knowledge distillation, ensuring powerful yet lean models. This is complemented by a lightweight machine learning protocol, that slashes energy consumption across the training, deployment and inference phases, embodying efficiency in every step of AI model lifecycle.

A holistic co-design approach integrates energy-efficient AI models with hardware specifically engineered to support these models, enhancing their performance while minimising power requirements. By embedding optimised AI models into devices like drones and autonomous vehicles, we enable them to perform precise, intelligent tasks with judicious energy use. Green computing ensures that as our devices become more integrated into our lives, they do so with the lightest possible impact on our planet.

For more information about the University of Sydney’s Net Zero Institute, visit the University’s website. Explore the Institute’s four themes and related pillars and recent developments in Talking About a Revolution.

The Net Zero Institute’s efforts are a testament to the power of collective expertise in addressing one of the world’s most pressing issues. As we move forward, the exchange of ideas, creativity, and innovation remains crucial in the journey toward a net-zero future.


Meet Professor Deanna D’Alessandro and our University of Sydney Researchers at the TEDxSydney Salon on 27 June. Tickets are available here.

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