Archive for the ‘Minerals & energy’ Category

Think hubs!

May 14, 2009

Industry Minister Carr has subconsciously recognised the importance of place is because he is quietly funding industry centres and hubs around Australia. For example, a mining technology centre in Mackay, a creative industries hub around UTS in inner Sydney, a defence hub in Dandenong, a clean energy centre in Newcastle.

These examples of ‘localised capability and competitive advantage’ can equally apply to social and environmental projects. Members are advised to ponder the following:

  • The feds are currently announcing a spate of local infrastructure spending e.g. $2.4 million for a 15 hectare eco-tourism precinct on the Swan River, $910k for a Marine Discovery Centre at Bondi Beach. This is smart, because the expenditure aligns with local competitive advantage.
  • The Jobs Fund is providing another tranche of relevant expenditure ($650 million) right NOW.
  • The Building Australia Fund will eventually roll-out like a latter day Super Auslink program, and the city suits will be looking for local competitive advantage, critical mass and alliance partners.

We are excited by the potential for our members to use the ‘competitive hub’ concept to get some very worthy projects off the ground. Indeed, my crystal ball shows real potential for:

  • International aid hubs e.g. Cairns, Darwin.
  • Food value-adding hubs e.g. northern Adelaide
  • Eco-tourism corridors e.g. East Gippsland, Central Ranges (Victoria), Darling Ranges.
  • Logistics hubs e.g. Parkes, Shepparton, Ipswich.
  • Historical tourism and lifestyle hubs e.g. Braidwood, Chiltern.
  • Environmental management hubs e.g. eastern Adelaide, Sunshine Coast.
  • Indigenous arts and culture hubs that actually work e.g. Wilcannia, Broken Hill.
  • Recreation, health and social service hubs e.g. Wee Waa, Port Macquarie, Port Augusta. 

 Progressing these possibilities is beyond a gopher writing an application. Contact us for further details.

Clean Energy – Newcastle NSW wins

March 19, 2009

Senator Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, claims Australia has taken a step closer to becoming the clean energy hub of the Asia Pacific with the announcement that Newcastle will house the $20 million national Clean Energy Innovation Centre.

“This centre will assist firms in the clean energy sector to tap into expertise, research and technologies through partner organisations and their networks” he said.

Enterprise Connect is to partner with Newcastle Innovation (commercial arm of Uni of Newcastle), Australian Institute for Commercialisation and WA Sustainable Energy Association to deliver assistance to the SMEs.

P.S. Certain state governments are reportedly dismayed at losing out on this Centre, given that Newcastle is not widely perceived as having the pre-eminent national standing in the clean energy field.

Singapore exaggerates claims

January 15, 2009

In 2007, Singapore identified the Clean Energy sector as a strategic growth area.

Building on this, the Singapore Economic Development Board announced a joint venture between VDE Institute and Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE). VDE Institute is an EC institution that tests and certifies electrical appliances, components, systems etc. while Fraunhofer ISE is a well-known German research institute.  

The SEDB claims the deal is a strong endorsement of the nation’s efforts at developing its solar energy industry, and that it’s the first Southeast Asian hub for solar photovoltaic testing and certification.

The SEDB further trumpets that it’s a ‘new milestone for the local solar industry’ and is the latest addition to an already vibrant Clean Energy sector. It breathtakingly notes that companies such as Renewable Energy Corporation, Oerlikon Solar and Norsun have already set up shop, and that the industry is forecast to contribute US$1.2 billion to GDP and to create 7,000 jobs in manufacturing, training and R&D by 2015.

However we looked more closely at the information provided, and we determine that JV is valued at only US$550k. We all tend to forget that Singapore is smaller than the economy of Victoria. (We still admire their proactive industry policy).

Clusters and Zones on radar in Algeria

September 22, 2008

The Algerian Government is considering the creation of a competitiveness cluster in the region of Cap Djinet.


The agenda is led by the group Cevital. The National Agency for the Development of investment will soon submit it to the National Council of Investments.


The aim is to develop partnerships with foreign companies in steel, aluminium, automotive, chemical/petrochemical and paints. The agenda might involve an Integrated Activities Zone where companies, universities and technological partners could work in synergy.


Source: SPL Info

EC Innovation Hubs – pointer for other regions!

September 22, 2008


In 2005, EC President José Manuel Barroso came up with the idea of EC innovation hubs. And the Board of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) is now working towards the launch in 2009 of the first hubs – to be known as Knowledge and Innovation Centres (KICs).


They will cover climate change, renewable energy and ICT. The first Board meeting is in Budapest on 15 September.


The details have not been revealed, but there are references to virtual centres of scientific collaboration, and the bringing together of ‘departments of universities, companies and research institutes to form an integrated partnership to perform education and innovation activities in inter-disciplinary strategic areas’.


Sounds like the usual stuff, although the difference is that they’re aiming to stimulate collaboration across the EC. It provides an interesting precedent for ASEAN and APEC as they attempt to harness technological collaboration in the Asia Pacific region. The Cooperative Research Centres (Australia) and Crown Research Institutes (New Zealand) could provide nodes of such networks. However it will be some time before the CRCs are ready to drive international collaboration. Their combined track record has been underwhelming, and the recent review of the CRC Program makes no major references to the role of CRCs in international collaboration. (Source: EDGE News)

Go to

Federal program updates – Australia

July 24, 2008


Things are quiet because many programs have temporarily disappeared. Numerous program reviews at present.


Cutler Review of Innovation Programs – they are currently mulling over hundreds of submissions. The  Green Paper is expected end July. Three issues that might get a run are 1. smarter use of government procurement; 2. another shake-up of the CRCs; and 3. clustering and milieu themes.


Green Review of TCF support – understood to be on-track. Cockatoo hopes that it will focus on 1. keeping the local industry tracking to higher value activities that complement the market position of low-cost competitors; 2. strengthening of global supply chains; 3. integration of design into quality apparel fashion goods; 4. increased local processing of natural fibres.


Creative Industries Innovation Centre ($16.2 million) – submissions have just closed. This Centre has the potential to trigger a lot of smart activity. Decision likely in August, although we hope it is not rushed.


Clean Energy Innovation Centre ($20 million) – submissions due 21 July. This centre could be very significant if it captures the latent opportunities. The industry is defined as solar; wind; geothermal; biofuels; fuel cells; hydro (latter is marginal). We believe it must focus on the links between research, SMEs and the big corporates.


Regional Development Australia – the RDA Committees (the old ACCs) are currently providing comments on new admin arrangements and local infrastructure requirements. This could be valuable if it can be somehow integrated with the big ticket agendas of Infrastructure Australia.


House of Reps Enquiry on a new regional infrastructure program – submissions close 14 July. Cockatoo is making a submission pleading for Ministers to keep out of the process, and for the feds to stop its piecemeal approach. Watch this space. 

Care needed with Garnaut report

July 24, 2008


The report by Professor Ross Garnaut on a response to global warming has led to a frenzied debate in Australia about how an Emissions Trading System should work.


Sanity has gone out the window as spruikers and activists of all persuasions push their points of view. Garnaut cautions about the risks if Australia’s market economy gets ahead of the pack. But in the next breath he talks about a 2010 start, and a ‘short and transitional’ adjustment period.


Whoa! How an ETS plays out on the international stage has certain parallels to the industry protection debate. There we had Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the Nordics taking lead positions in winding back protection and restructuring their economies. The recent 10-12 years of economic sunshine helped cushion the falls in manufacturing job losses.


However those nations leading on greenhouse gas emissions will incur the wrath of a lot more people. Why? First, virtually all mum and dad investors via their superannuation funds (at least in Australia) have big exposure to energy-intensive industry. Secondly, Japan, France, Russia, China and USA will surely drag their heels on ETS arrangements (they have the track record).


The risk here is that the Australian Government’s policy response will be unconsciously shaped by the extreme elements within the environmental lobby. The result could be a huge political stoush in the lead-up to the next election, as the industry heavyweights side with the Opposition. The process has already started.


Biofuels – wake up world!

July 24, 2008

The CSIRO has grabbed the national headlines in Australia by claiming that petrol prices will hit $8 a litre within a decade.

This sits oddly with the forecast by Australia’s other major forecaster, ABARE, that world oil price would fall to $67/barrel by 2013. This means that ABARE is plumping for a bowser price of around $1/litre, against $8/litre from their mates across Lake Burley Griffin. Go figure! (Former head of ABARE, Dr Brian Fisher, famously said that, if prices are high enough, roosters will lay eggs. Australian Greens Senator Christine Milne, retorted that ABARE now has egg all over its face).

Cockatoo reckons NEITHER has a CLUE, and that the truth is in the middle. Both should exit the forecasting game, and just tell us who is forecasting what. Bureaucrats do not have any divine skills in this field. CSIRO at least flagged what is now self-evident – that the world must rely more on non-conventional fuels including ‘biofuels which do not reduce food production by requiring valuable arable land to produce.’

The hot goss is that there is a crop – brassica mustard – that is high-yielding and very suited to arid areas. It is crying out for R&D to fine-tune it to local conditions. Grain growers in NSW, Victoria, SA and WA are raring to go, but the public R&D agencies are unsure due to concerns that biofuels are pushing up food prices. But mustard is very suited to marginal rainfall areas, such as west of the Newell Hwy. Time for lobbying by certain Cockatoo members! (The other strong contender long-term must be solar energy)

Singapore petrochemicals cluster (BEST PRACTICE)

June 24, 2008


Output of Singapore’s chemicals industry is now US$59.4 billion – 34% of Singapore’s manufacturing output.

Merrill Lynch says its petrochemicals segment hasn’t been affected by the oil price hike – on the contrary. Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC) predicts Asian demand for petrochemicals would outstrip the combined demand of the US and Europe within two years. To understand, just consider the end products – plastic bags, packaging, textiles, car parts, electronics – and their relevance to Asia’s increasingly wealth.

Singapore has been actively building its petrochemicals capabilities since it opened SE Asia’s first petrochemicals complex in 1984. Today, there is even a dedicated island – Jurong Island – hosting 95 companies including heavyweights ExxonMobil Chemical and Shell. Companies benefit from industry integration – sourcing raw materials and selling products over the fence, and sharing common pipeline services and other utilities.

The latest boost is synthetic rubber supplier Lanxess AG’s decision to invest in a €400 million butyl rubber facility to meet demand from auto tyres.

Technology is a critical enabler, and Singapore is investing heavily in petrochemicals R&D to become a “first implementer” of technologies, as well as a technology creator. It has its sights set on new process routes and novel applications. Indeed, Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research fosters research talent e.g. the Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences, sited on Jurong Island, does research work in biocatalysis, catalyst screening & optimisation, bioprocess engineering, and protein engineering.

Go to

Mao-tai diplomacy

June 2, 2008


Australia’s minerals export boom to China did not happen overnight. In 1986, our Ambassador to China convinced Canberra to organise a series of technical missions to advise the Chinese on the best technology for their ageing lead and zinc smelters, alumina refineries, steel mills etc.


My job was to be the government person on the non-ferrous mission, along with the mining engineers and metallurgists from CRA, Western Mining, BHP, CSIRO etc. Eight of us literally bounced into Beijing, and for the next 21 days (except Sundays) the mission members gave free advice to the management of sixty plants across the length and breadth of China.


We saw unimaginable amounts of machinery, concrete, ores and metals, all the while advising on what type of minerals processing technology could deliver better productivity. Much of the plant was old Russian or local stuff, so Team Australia was merrily recommending they purchase particular equipment from Sweden, USA, Canada, Japan and Italy. Strange, I thought.


After a week, we were knackered – lack of sleep, long train trips, cat-sized rats around our feet,  copious amounts of food and Mao-tai (like metho mixed with soy sauce). After two weeks, we were fading, and one mission member was even packed off home. After three weeks, we emerged at Guangzhou in a state worse than knackered.


We recuperated in Hong Kong, and finalised our mission report for subsequent translation and dispatch to the Chinese agencies. When I got back to Canberra, my big boss called me in for a de-brief. He was less than impressed when I said not to expect a spike in exports of Australian mining equipment to China. He stared at the far wall for an eternity, and then asked why I was even on the mission (the same thought had crossed my mind somewhere around Zhuzhou).


Those were the days when the big mining companies literally told our equipment suppliers to ‘get out of the way’, and they in return lobbied government for local content arrangements. The federal agencies were similarly aligned. Indeed, Australian equipment sales counted for nought with my hard-nosed mission members. No wonder they created enormous goodwill with our Chinese hosts.


While we never sold much mining technology to the Chinese, they began to make significant investments in Australia – the Portland smelter was one of the early investments. Then the massive sales of iron ore, gas, nickel, lead, zinc, copper began to take shape.  


Lessons? – You can’t beat mutual self interest. The Chinese are patient and gracious people. Our foreign service is seriously professional, but we failed to roll our mining equipment into the equation.