The University of Newcastle was ideally positioned to play a leadership role in the Hunter's transition to a clean energy economy, vice-chancellor Alex Zelinsky believes.
As part of its energy research agenda, the university has recently formed a taskforce to focus on converting coal to hydrogen.
"We all know that Newcastle is the world's largest coal export port and either way you cut it that is going to be a sunset industry. It's certainly got 20, 30 years ahead but going forward there is no doubt the volumes will decrease," Professor Zelinsky told the Newcastle Herald.
"So how do we help the region transition into other parts of the economy? We have been doing research into hydrogen and our researchers believe there are ways to use coal to convert it to hydrogen, capture the carbon dioxide so you are not polluting and export the hydrogen."
Several multidisciplinary teams are already conducting world-leading research into energy productivity and sustainability at the university's Institute for Energy and Resources.
Other recent breakthroughs include the creation of organic printed solar cells that are similar in texture and flexibility to a potato chip packet.
The material created by physicist Paul Dastoor delivers unprecedented affordability at a production cost of less than $10 per square metre.
Earlier this year researchers announced they had created a technology that will help accelerate the shift to renewable energy by providing clean, economic, and scalable storage of energy.
The material, which resembles a brick, can be scaled and adapted to different applications including being used as an alternative heat source for coal-fired power stations.
As part of its sustainability goal, the university became the first Australian university to commit to purchasing 100 per cent renewable energy.
It has also just taken delivery of its first electric vehicle, with future vehicles to be either hybrid or electric.
"When your campus is running on 100 per cent renewable energy the cars will effectively be carbon neutral," Professor Zelinsky said.