THE University of Newcastle made national headlines this week for all the wrong reasons, with its chancellor elect Mark Vaile pressured into relinquishing the appointment because of his association with coal.
But Vice-Chancellor Alex Zelinsky took an opportunity on Friday to burnish the university's environmental credentials as he and staff from Mineral Carbonation International (MCi) showed the Governor-General, David Hurley, and his wife Linda, through the company's facility at Shortland.
MCi learned earlier this month that it had succeeded in a federal grant application and is finalising details with Canberra on a $14.6-million grant from a Carbon Capture, Use and Storage (CCUS) Development Fund, one of six projects to share a combined $50-million distribution.
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Since 2013, MCi's small crew of scientists and engineers have been operating a pilot plant at the university's Newcastle Institute of Energy and Resources (NIER) - a site at Shortland originally developed by BHP as its Newcastle steelworks laboratories.
The federal grant will allow MCi to build a purpose built demonstration plant on the site of its partner Orica at the explosive maker's Kooragang Island plant.
The demonstration plant will have about 50 times the capacity of the Shortland pilot plant and would take about two years to build.
The MCi process uses a patented electrical process that can utilise various raw materials, including steelworks slag.
Trial runs have been done on stockpiled waste from Port Kembla steelworks. This is combined with CO2 to make a stable mineral product that can then be used as road base or as the basis for cement blocks or plasterboard sheets.
MCi chief operating officer Sophia Hamblin Wang has presented on MCi at two recent World Economic Forum gatherings at Davos, Switzerland.
"The White Cliffs of Dover in England are an example of Earth's natural weathering process: over millions of years, CO2 has been absorbed into those cliffs and that's why they're white," she said.
"We've just taken that process from millions of years into a matter of hours in an industrial setting."
MORE DETAIL HERE at MCi website
Professor Zelinsky said the university's partnership with MCi was "part of our commitment to a cleaner, greener planet" in that its processes helped to "decarbonise" by taking waste CO2 and using it in a "commercially viable way".
He lamented the Mark Vaile controversy as "something that got a bit polarised" but said the university was committed to "helping the region diversify and transition in the long term" by "helping industry today and tomorrow".
General Hurley said MCi's ideas "scratched an itch" with him when he learned of them at a forum in Sydney in March 2020.
"This is a gem and the potential here is enormous," General Hurley said, applauding MCi for working "hand in glove with government and academia".
He urged it to "keep the IP (intellectual property) in Australia".
Earlier, General Hurley officiated at the official reopening of Newcastle City Hall. He left MCi to take part in a university graduation ceremony.
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