Circular Economy

The water industry’s transition to a circular economy is driven by pressures impeding current practices and by environmental, financial, and social benefits. For the water sector, this transition corresponds to maximising the value of water and associated resources to position itself as an aspirational steward to society and the economy. However, there is no clear plan to transition away from our current linear model effectively and further research is required to embed circular activities in our practices.

Closing the loop on resource generation and use

Extensive engagement with our members resulted in creating a tailored research program that effectively clears the knowledge gaps by avoiding duplication and overlap. The tailored research program is built on a centralised framework which guides our research efforts and serves as a basis for defining Priority Activities, providing a better understanding of the gaps, and enabling a sustainable and just transition.

Priority Activities

Our tailored research program provides research projects that address the most impactful and urgent aspects of the circular economy – our Priority Activities. Transitioning to a circular economy can only be achieved through collaboration and our role is to synthesize the key components of the research to make it more accessible to the Water industry.

The development of an Australian green hydrogen economy has received considerable attention in recent years due to hydrogen’s crucial role in the energy transition, its numerous applications, and its potential to decarbonise numerous sectors. Despite significant progress being made in the hydrogen industry, water is still often considered an input with a cost rather than a valuable resource that requires careful planning. It is particularly relevant to source adequate water for green hydrogen production in Australia as it is a water-stressed region, meaning that additional water demands must not compete with critical water uses (e.g. domestic and agriculture).

The projected water demand for green hydrogen production is expected to exceed that of the mining industry by 2050, which will invariably position water utilities as key players. Water utilities need to be involved in this rapidly growing economy early, shape it through cross-sectoral collaboration, and ensure it benefits the water industry, its customers and the broader community.

WaterRA’s hydrogen initiative aims to provide research projects that enable a just development of the hydrogen economy by providing a strong voice for the water industry within the hydrogen economy, demonstrating the viability of green hydrogen, co-products and hydrogen-derived chemicals, clarifying the barriers, benefits, and opportunities of co-location, and focus on best practice processes and systems to support this growing economy and deliver shared value.

As global temperatures continue to rise and exceed pre-industrial levels, the need to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions has become increasingly urgent. Unfortunately, despite efforts to curb emissions, net anthropogenic GHG emissions have continued to increase across all major sectors, with the urban water sector now playing a significant role in contributing to global GHG emissions.

Water utilities worldwide face the pressing need to achieve net-zero operation, with at least 13 Australian water utilities serving 16.3 million people committing to achieve net-zero by as early as 2030. Achieving this goal is a significant challenge, but it is one that must be urgently addressed to protect the environment for future generations.

The net-zero water research program is an initiative led by Water RA, the Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA), and the University of Queensland (UQ). The program aims to provide a nationwide platform for consolidating expertise and resources to work towards achieving the net-zero goal. This initiative is essential for enabling the sharing of knowledge, translating technology, and communicating inclusively with broader communities. While there are still uncertainties and knowledge gaps hindering the pathway to net-zero in the water industry, this collaborative approach offers a powerful solution to the challenges we face.

The prime focus of this Net-zero water program are to:

  1. deliver advances in quantification, reduction and off-set technologies for net-zero water operation; and
  2. train next generation of industry-ready workforce, laying the foundations for Australia water industry to achieve net-zero operation.

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