Emerging innovation comes in all different shapes and sizes. New entrants with new ideas spring onto the scene and disrupt seemingly unshakable markets and hierarchies. But of these emerging innovations, which ones are megatrends set to shape, not just Australia, but the rest of the world for decades, if not centuries to come? At Radium Capital, we have our finger on the pulse of innovation and a bird’s eye view of emerging innovation trends. So let’s take a whistle-stop tour of the ones we see shaping the first half of the 21st century and beyond.
If there is one trend that rules them all, it would probably have to be alternative energy innovations driven by climate change. Advances in alternative energy are on the cusp of revolutionising how we live, work and play. Last year, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) declared a code red for humanity and has long warned that we could start experiencing the impacts of climate change earlier than scientists previously expected. In February, the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report confirmed that the devasting impacts predicted to occur in future years and decades have already arrived. Australian innovation businesses and organisations — big and small — are stepping up to meet the moment with alternative energy solutions to tackle climate change.
Green hydrogen is hydrogen that has been manufactured from water using renewable energy and an electrolyser to complete a process called electrolysis. Water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen atoms. The electrolyser extracts the hydrogen from water molecules to create clean energy that can be stored, transported and used at a later date. Potentially green hydrogen has many uses. It can be used for transport (personal, passenger and freight) and heating, as well as powering industrial processes, such as steel manufacturing.
Take the Green Energy Manufacturing Centre (GEM) in Queensland owned by Fortescue Future Industries (FFI). It’s the world’s largest electrolyser and a perfect example of a big, established business pivoting to new, planet-friendly energy. By 2030, FFI aims to produce 15 million tonnes of green hydrogen annually from GEM. This will see the GEM hydrogen technology create an energy emission saving equivalent to taking 60 million cars off the road.
Despite its many benefits the full potential of green hydrogen as a net-zero energy source is yet to be realised. Before that can happen, the challenges of reducing production costs, optimising storage and putting the required infrastructure in place will need to be overcome.
Some forms of alternative energy such as solar are ubiquitous. Rooftop systems can be found on every street, in every town and city and solar farms have sprung up in every state and territory. Wind turbines dot the landscape and Australia’s coastlines. And other less common forms of alternative and renewable energy such as hydroelectricity, wave and tidal power, solar thermal energy and biofuels are emerging. Despite their obvious differences, what they all have in common is transience. Before alternative energy can go mainstream, it needs to overcome this barrier through effective and affordable storage systems. And Australian research is leading the way when it comes to battery storage innovation.
You’ve probably heard of lithium-ion batteries. They first became commercially viable around 30 years ago. Today they’re the powerhouse behind mobile phones, countless electronic devices and even electric vehicles. But they have their limitations. For a start, this type of battery storage requires large quantities of minerals such as cobalt, nickel and manganese which are increasingly in short supply. The consensus is that lithium-sulfur batteries are the answer. The beauty of the lithium-sulfur option is that sulfur is both cheap and abundant. But the technology hasn’t surged ahead of lithium-ion batteries because the lithium-sulfur combination is both slow to charge and discharge. Until now that is. Research by Monash University has changed all that by developing a battery interlayer that enables super-fast charging and improves both the battery’s performance and lifetime. Their manufacturing costs are around half those of lithium-ion batteries too. Monash University has patented their technology and researchers are exploring ways to build their innovation in Australia where sulfur is plentiful.
Biotech is a broad church. Renowned for its medical breakthroughs and next-generation pharmaceuticals, biotech can be any science-based industry grounded in molecular biology and using living organisms to create a wide range of products. Although Biotech is probably best-known for its breakthroughs in the medical field, it also spans innovations in agritech, marine and industrial processes and products. Think pest-resistant crops and biopesticides in the agri-business space, and biofuels and bioderived chemicals used in industrial applications. Biotech is an important trend, in particular, synthetic biology, genomics, gene editing and nanotechnology because discoveries in these fields will help us create climate and disease-resilient crops, cure and eradicate diseases, develop new technology for vaccines and other medical and biological breakthroughs . While researchers around the world are pushing back the boundaries of science, Australian innovators are at the vanguard.
Vaccine technology and COVID-19
With COVID-19 here to stay and predicted to become endemic, there are currently three COVID-19 vaccines in Stage I clinical trials in Australia. The trials include COVIGEN, a needle-free immunisation, and there are a further six potential COVID-19 vaccine candidates at the laboratory or pre-clinical stage. Beyond vaccinations, Victoria-based biotech StarPharma, one of the top 20 nanotechnology companies in the world , has recently released research findings showing that its antiviral nasal spray, named VIRALEZE, is highly effective against the Omicron variant.
Challenging diseases and conditions
At Medical research institutes throughout Australia, scientists are hard at work on therapies and cures for previously untreatable diseases and conditions.
Radium Capital alumnus Recce Pharmaceuticals, which invented synthetic anti-infective compounds, is the only clinical-stage new class of antibiotic in the world being developed for sepsis – a condition that causes an estimated 20% of deaths worldwide . To learn more, read the Radium Capital Case Study about Recce Pharmaceuticals.
Last year was a big one for biotech investment in Australia. The Medical Research Future Fund received a $6 million funding injection for its Coronavirus Research Response. The money will support the ongoing R&D required for Australia’s three homegrown COVID-19 vaccines. The world’s third-largest biotech, CSL, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI), and the University of Melbourne have teamed up and secured funding to develop an incubator for biotech start-ups. The state-of-the-art facility will be located within CSL’s new global head office, currently under construction at the Melbourne Biomedical Precinct. It will open its doors and be ready to support 40 biotech start-ups as early as 2023 . Meanwhile, in terms of government support, The Department of Industry, Science, Energy & Resources has consulted on the first-ever determination for the R&D Tax Incentive on certain clinical trials. Determinations are binding on Industry Innovation and Science Australia (IISA) and its delegates. So if this determination is approved it would make it easier for companies involved in some types of clinical trials to register for the R&DTI and provide a new level of certainty around access to the R&D tax incentive and R&D financing.
Mining and the resources industry more broadly finds itself at a juncture. While it remains a contributor to climate change and environmental pollution, it also offers solutions. Mining is currently undergoing a series of technological revolutions that will transform its impact. And Australian innovation is leading the charge. Resources companies are doubling down on innovation and finding ways to reduce waste, boost efficiency and safety, and even reverse the environmental damage the sector’s activities have created.
Productivity and environmental management
From global juggernauts such as BHP Billiton to small-scale exploration companies, Australian miners are going full throttle when it comes to using technology to tackle waste. In 2020, BHP threw down the gauntlet to innovative companies, start-ups, consortia, research centres and universities worldwide with its Tailing Challenge. The Challenge was designed to find innovative solutions to increase the repurposing of copper tailings and reduce waste. The drive to reduce waste and repurpose is happening the length and breadth of Australia. From Australian Vanadium in Western Australia, SIMEC Mining in South Australia and Radium Capital client, Linecrest, in the Northern Territory, a new breed of innovative miner is emerging. And they’re finding paydirt by beneficiating waste ore from mothballed mine sites and transforming it into a saleable product. SIMEC Mining and Linecrest have embraced innovation to create iron ore from waste stockpiles, while Australian Vanadium is beneficiating vanadium ore to produce an enriched vanadium-iron concentrate. To learn more, read the Radium Capital Case Study about Linecrest.
Mining processes are not just risky for the environment, but they can also cause injuries and death for the people that work on mine sites. That’s why Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) is a top priority for any miner or resources sector business. BluVein’s Dynamic charging technology for heavy-duty battery-electric mining vehicles offers an array of benefits to miners. The technology helps miners mitigate the manual handling risks of using trollies at mine sites and boosts productivity at the same time. Mine operators no longer have to swap out old batteries on mine site trollies or leave trollies standing idle while they charge. The technology also increases haulage speeds and enables miners to cut their diesel transport emissions. In a further boost to safety, the Magneto-EX robot created by Nexxis, and launched last August, is an innovative new inspection robot equipped with electromagnetic feet and cutting-edge AI so it can climb and inspect vertical and complex mine site structures in hazardous zones. Despite a myriad of technological advances in the resources sector, it hasn’t been possible to eliminate manual handling risks that are part and parcel of mine-site drilling – until now that is. Radium Capital client Tribe Tech Group has completely redesigned the RC drill rig to entirely eliminate manual handling risks. To learn more about its technological breakthrough, read the Radium Capital Case Study about Tribe Tech Group.
The COVID-19 pandemic, extreme weather events, the future of climate change careening towards us today and war in Europe all serve to underscore the importance of food security for Australia and the rest of the world. To shore up the security of food and the supply chains from paddock to plate, we will see a ramping up of the plant-based meat trend and digitalisation increasingly weaving across all points of the supply chain. But in addition, we’ll also see some crucial new themes take root, such as zero-food waste, edible packaging, automation to tackle workforce shortages, climate and disease-resistant crops, as well as AI playing an increasing role in pest control and quantity control for produce after it leaves the farm gate.
Towards zero waste
Methane emissions from landfill are a significant contributor to climate change. Now governments at every level around the world are stepping up efforts through the carrot and stick of education and fines to ensure compliance with the Paris Climate Agreement. Food rescue companies, such as OzHarvest are taking centre stage in the efforts to educate and support a zero food waste future.
At the other end of the spectrum, Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning and platform-based technologies are playing an increasing role in optimising farming and how and when the produce we consume gets to market. Leading-edge technology is increasingly guiding farmers on which crops to sow and how, and when to do so to optimise yields. Crop classification start-ups such Adelaide-based Cropify are harnessing the power of AI to classify more effectively and efficiently.
Deep tech comes in all different shapes and sizes. It invariably involves investing substantial and long-term science or engineering R&D towards a life-changing technology goal with global impacts. The term deep tech can be used to describe the practice of applying cutting-edge science such as advanced materials, synthetic biology and AI to challenges such as human health, food security, space research and exploration, and the climate crisis.
Traditionally, Australia has made its name and powered its economy through its mining and farming industries. But this century, Australia has decisively chosen to springboard from the nation’s deep tech achievements of the 20th century such as ultrasound, the black box flight recorder and spray on skin. Today, Australia is poised to assume a leading role in deep tech and help solve the existential challenges the world is currently facing. Leading the charge is Australia pioneering deep tech incubator and Radium Capital partner, Cicada Innovations.
Established in 2000, in an historic South Eveleigh site that was part of the last industrial revolution, Cicada Innovations’ incubator space is now dedicated to developing revolutionary science and technology that will power the next industrial revolution. With over 5,000 members, Cicada Innovations has a growing community for those who want to support and unlock the potential of deep tech. By connecting entrepreneurs, policymakers and researchers, Cicada Innovations’ mission is to make Australia a leader in innovation, while developing the advanced science that will create a more sustainable and prosperous future. For deep tech start-ups that have reached the scale-up stage there is Main Sequence. Main Sequence is a government-backed venture capital firm that manages $490 million in funding and was specifically created to assist deep tech businesses.
Although Australians like professional astronaut, Andy Thomas, have been to space and Australia has provided invaluable support for countless NASA missions, it wasn’t until 2018 that The Australia Space Agency was founded. Today, South Australia with its proud history of space endeavours at the Woomera Rocket Range is home to the nation’s space industry. Founded by the South Australian State Government in 2017, The South Australian Space Industry Centre (SASIC) houses more than 100 space-related businesses across its precincts, including space pioneer, Fleet Space Technologies, which is building a new hyper factory in the Australian Space Park facility in Adelaide. Fleet Space has disrupted the space technology industry by developing and launching 3D printed nanosatellites into space. Fleet Space Technology’s mission is to create a global Internet of Things (IoT) network to connect sensors across the world and ultimately improve efficiencies in areas such as agriculture, mining and logistics. In February, Cicada Innovations launched the National Space Industry Hub and the NSW Space Research Network (SRN) moved into the new facility. The Space Hub provides a physical space, resources, mentoring, and connections for emerging space ventures and researchers across Australia. And it also offers commercialisation training programs nationally to share essential knowledge for anyone on the path of creating a space tech venture.
Quantum computing and Artificial Intelligence
As the new millennium dawned, the Australian Research Council established the Special Research Centre for Quantum Computer Technology and Australia’s focus on quantum computing began. More than two decades later, Quantum computing, AI and other new technologies are already beginning to reshape our industries and economies. Quantum computing, big data, AI and autonomous robotics will transform all industry sectors from scientific research and healthcare to energy and transportation. Take Sydney-based tech company Q-CTRL. It has shown its software smarts can deliver a 9000 times increase in quantum algorithmic success. This represents a giant leap forward to achieving quantum advantage, which is where a quantum computer can solve a real-world problem faster than a traditional computer. Meanwhile, Google has become the first founding partner of Australia’s new CSIRO-run National Artificial Intelligence Centre, with the two organisations set to share skills in a bid to build an economy-wide network around “AI for humans”. The new partnership will deepen ties between the organisations that signed a five-year, multi-million-dollar deal on other emerging trends — clean energy and AI — research in 2021.
Funding innovation trends
Whether you’re at the forefront of an emerging innovation trend like some Radium Capital clients or using R&D to refine an existing product or service, having consistent capital and cash flow is essential. Early-stage businesses working on innovation can often find it impossible to access traditional finance such as bank loans. And attracting investors can be challenging too. But there are other options. Start by exploring whether your R&D is eligible for the R&D tax incentive (R&DTI). If it is and your company meets the eligibility criteria, your business could qualify for the R&DTI refund of 43.5 cents for every R&D dollar spent. If you’re eligible for the R&DTI that opens the door to R&D financing. At Radium Capital we don’t think like a bank. If you’re eligible for the R&DTI, you’re eligible to apply for a Radium Advance. A Radium Advance is a loan that lets you access your upcoming R&D tax refund early, allowing your business to smooth its capital and cash flow and accelerate its R&D. Interested? Reach out to one of our R&D finance experts today for a no-obligation consultation. We’re here to support you to access the capital you need to reach your R&D goals.
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