Curtin first ‘Trailblazer’ uni with resources tech and minerals commercialisation hub


Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

Perth-based Curtin University has been named as the first of Australia’s four Trailblazer universities, receiving $50 million in federal funding from the new competitive program to develop a research commercialisation hub for resources technology and critical minerals.

Announced Tuesday by Prime Minister Scott Morrison during his second day campaigning in Western Australia, the new hub will receive additional funding from university and industry partners to bring the total value of contributions above $200 million.

Curtin’s new commercialisation hub will build on its existing industry partnerships. Image: Curtin.edu.au

Curtin University partnered with The University of Queensland and James Cook University, as well as 33 corporate partners across Australia involved in value chains that require lithium, nickel, cobalt, vanadium and hydrogen resources.

The university’s leaders said the new hub would lead to more industry input on research outcomes, cultural change to improve translation rates, and more support for staff and students to start their own businesses.

The $242.7 million Trailblazer Universities program was announced by the Morrison government in November as part of a push to improve commercialisation rates for Australian research. The program offered up to $50 million each over four years to four universities through a competitive process.

In a quick turnaround, 21 Universities made an initial expression of interest on their plan to foster increased collaboration with the business community for areas of research within the Coalition’s six manufacturing priorities.

A shortlist of eight was revealed in January, with these universities then submitting detailed proposal for the direct hub funding and an additional $8 million in specialist support from the CSIRO.

Curtin University was announced as the inaugural Trailblazer university on Tuesday by the Prime Minister during an election campaign visit to Western Australia where he talked up mining jobs.

“It’s no accident we’re announcing the first Trailblazer program in Western Australia, which is designed to push the boundaries, drive collaboration between universities and industry and challenge intellectual property arrangements that limit the dividend for our young, smart, savvy researchers,” he said in a statement.

The Western Australian university has existing industry partnerships with the mining and resource sector, including an alliance with multinational BHP which contributes to several Curtin run Cooperative Research Centres.

Curtin University vice-chancellor professor Harlene Hayne said in the university’s own statement the new Trailblazer hub will drive a cultural change to improve commercialisation rates of resources technology and create more opportunities for university staff and researchers to start their own businesses.

“Together with The University of Queensland and James Cook University, we will use Trailblazer to affect deep and lasting change in the way technology readiness, commercialisation and industry-led research are prioritised, taught and rewarded in our universities,” professor Hayne said.

Curtin deputy vice-chancellor research, Professor Chris Moran said the university will start by listening to industry demands to direct research outputs.

“The mission of the collaboration is to conduct and translate the research needed to link the value chains so desperately needed if Australia is to become a genuine international leader in efficient production of critical minerals, precursors and ultimately, metals”, professor Moran said.

“In doing so, Trailblazer will add significant value, resilience, and sovereign capability throughout Australia’s critical minerals and hydrogen energy value chains. It will deliver the skills and the future workforce required to realise the potential benefits from our resources.”

Professor Moran was also named as the chair of a new advisory committee for the Australian Research Council this month, to guide a new government set research translation focus for the agency.

The remaining three Trailblazer universities are expected to be announced during the election campaign. A further $119 million was allocated in last month’s budget for two more Trailblazer universities through the government’s regional accelerator program, which extends existing programs to regional applicants with dedicated funding.

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