RMIT Develops Heat-Blocking Coating For Smart Windows

RMIT University has developed a self-modifying coating 1000 times thinner than a human hair that automatically lets in heat when it’s cold and blocks heat when it’s hot. The researchers behind the breakthrough say it could lead to the creation of self-regulating smart windows and “temperature-responsive buildings”.

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The coating is created with vanadium dioxide, which at 67°C transforms from an insulator to a metal, staying transparent but becoming opaque to infrared radiation.

The RMIT researchers developed a way to create and deposit the coating directly to materials like glass without the need for the creation of specialised layers, or platforms, as had previously been needed

Lead investigator Associate Professor Madhu Bhaskaran said the breakthrough could help the built environment sector become more sustainable.

“We lose most of our energy in buildings through windows,” Dr Bhaskaran said.

“This makes maintaining buildings at a certain temperature a very wasteful and unavoidable process. Our technology will potentially cut the rising costs of airconditioning and heating, as well as dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of buildings of all sizes.”

The researchers said smart windows were 70 per cent more efficient than dual-pane glass in summer and 45 per cent more efficient in winter, though current technology generally requires electrical input to change the glass’s infrared opacity.

“Our coating doesn’t require energy and responds directly to changes in temperature.”

Co-researcher and PhD student Mohammad Taha said the coating’s automatic switching ability could also be overridden by a simple switch.

“This switch is similar to a dimmer and can be used to control the level of transparency on the window and therefore the intensity of lighting in a room,” Mr Taha said.

“This means users have total freedom to operate the smart windows on demand.”

The technology could also find applications in medical and security imaging, and controlling radiation that can penetrate plastics and fabrics.

The research team has filed to patent the technology in Australia and the US, and is looking to roll out the technology as soon as possible.

 

Source: The Fifth Estate

B Corp of the Week: Whole Kids

Following a passion and creating an alignment of career and purpose is no easy feat, particularly when there’s a lot at stake. It’s often said you’ve got to ‘risk it to get the biscuit,’ which is exactly what Monica and James Meldrum have done (biscuit and all…)

Monica and James are the couple behind Whole Kids; an Australian owned organic food company, specialising in healthy snacks for kids.

Tired of mislabelled and misleading food products, the pair decided to bite the bullet – spending their entire savings on the startup of their now widely successful food production business Whole Kids – dedicated to “unjunking” food and kids’ lives.

The first food business in Australia to become a registered B Corp, James says that from the get go they wanted to create a socially responsible company that reflected their personal values.

It’s almost impossible to begin to cover all the areas that Whole Kids is working to create positive impact. From their ethical sourcing policies, to the incredible charitable efforts they are undertaking to feed kids in Cambodia – the sky is the limit when it comes to the ways in which this small business seeks to give back to people and the planet. Their philosophy that business needs to exist for a purpose beyond profit is exactly why they’re our ‘B Corp of the Week.’

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What does positive impact mean to you? How does Whole Kids encapsulate this?

“Positive impact to us means that everything we do as a business brings us closer to fulfilling our purpose which is to help mums and dads create a happy, healthy life for their children. What we do at Whole Kids is stand up for what we believe in and tell people about it. If you agree with our values and beliefs, then try our products and, in effect, cast your vote for us rather than the other food brand. For us, that’s the heart of what makes our community so deeply connected to our purpose and values. And it’s also the power that can drive meaningful change. For example, working with one of our community partners (Plan Australia), we’re aiming to deliver 500,000 nourishing meals to school children in Cambodia. A nutritious start to the day can often mean the difference between staying in school or dropping out, and this have can have life-changing consequences for a child.”

You mention that you spent your house savings the start-up of Whole Kids. What pushed you to make this decision?

“That’s correct! Almost all our savings was eaten up with our first production run so there was a great incentive from the start to make a Whole Kids a success. But Monica and I are not from the food industry and the more we delved into the problems and frustrations that families were experiencing in trying to find healthy food for their kids, the more incensed we became with the ethics, motives and conventions of many parts of the food industry. Issues like junk food to kids, misleading health claims, not disclosing all ingredients in a product on the packaging, and so on. It really got our goat up. Something needed to change.

Also, we didn’t want to create a business just like all the ones we had worked for where profit and revenue were the primary focus. We wanted Whole Kids to make a real impact on these issues. And that commitment led us to become the first food company in Australia to become a B Corp and one of the founding BCorps.”

What differentiates Whole Kids from other organisations doing similar things? What lasting impacts are you hoping to achieve?

“We can’t think of many food companies that would lobby for tighter restrictions for their own industry, yet that’s exactly what we advocate for. The food industry has many structural and regulatory problems that need to be fixed, and more and more health professionals are believing that many chronic health issues are linked to the food we eat and the way food is produced. Our aim is to bring about wholesale change to the industry, so we can help families and reduce the rates of chronic health problems. Some of the things we do are:

  • Advocate for tighter regulations around junk food marketing to kids;
  • Partner with an environmental company to fully recycle and upcycle our packaging waste;
  • Work with school parent groups to create additive-free canteens;
  • Involve our customers in developing new and better products;
  • Lobby for a ban on harmful food additives to kids;
  • Work with NGOs to distribute food to families in need;
  • Encourage kids to reconnect with nature and promote mental health; and
  • Commit at least 1% of our gross revenue, regardless of our profitability, to community projects.”

 

As a founding B Corp Talent Nation shares Whole Kids commitment to using the power of business to create a happier, healthier, more sustainable world. We love our B Corp community and want to showcase the incredible people that are working to do truly incredible things.

Got questions about any of the above? We’re keen to chat to more B Corps about what their certification means to them, and how their organisation is living out these values. Connect with us here.

Queen Elizabeth II Has Banned Plastic Straws and Bottles From Royal Estates

Queen Elizabeth II has declared war — on plastic — with a new waste plan put into place across the royal estates.

The environmentally-conscious move was said to be inspired by nature documentarian and naturalist Sir David Attenborough, after the pair worked together on a documentary about wildlife in the Commonwealth, according to The Telegraph.

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Buckingham Palace has said the royal household has a “strong desire to tackle the issue” and would do so by cutting back plastics, such as straws and plastic bottles.

A spokesman for the Palace said, “Across the organisation, the royal household is committed to reducing its environmental impact.

“As part of that, we have taken a number of practical steps to cut back on the use of plastics,” he said.

These steps would include phasing out plastic straws in public cafes and banning them completely from staff dining areas.

Royal cafe takeaway food containers will now be compostable or biodegradable, while those working and living within Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh will only be able to use crockery and glasses, or recyclable cups.

The initiative comes after the EU announced plans to make all plastic in Europe recyclable or reusable by 2030.

The Queen’s stance follows that of her son Prince Charles, who often talks about environmental issues, including the damage plastic garbage is doing to the oceans.

Last year he said climate change was “catastrophically underestimated” and urged that world leaders act urgently to protect our marine environments.

Prince Charles has a long history of environmental advocacy and established the International Sustainability Unit in 2010 to address major environmental challenges across the globe including marine degradation, deforestation and animal conservation.

He has even weighed in on the degradation of the Great Barrier Reef, saying: “The fact that significant portions of the Great Barrier Reef on Australia’s eastern coast have been severely degraded or lost over the last few years is both a tragedy and also, I would have thought, a very serious wakeup call,” he said.

According to Cleanup.org.au, an estimated 1 trillion plastic bags are used and discarded worldwide each year — and many of those bags are only used once.

Australians alone use around 5 billion plastic bags a year — with some 50 million entering the litter stream.

Single-use bags will soon be banned across all states and territories in Australia, except NSW. Meanwhile, major supermarkets — Coles, Woolworths and IGA — have already announced they will phase out single-use plastic bags this year.

Source: Renew Economy

B Corp of the Week: BRM Projects

We love being a B Corporation for a number of reasons, but the incredible sense of community among like-minded, purpose-driven businesses definitely has to top our list. For this reason, we want to contribute to the support of the organisations that are striving to make a difference by sharing with you some of our favourites B’s!

To kick off this series we interviewed Steve Schmidt, CEO at BRM Projects; a business operating in the architectural and planning space who provide search, fitout and relocation guidance. With a large focus on supporting Not for Profit and small to medium businesses, BRM are a perfect example of tailoring industry expertise to create positive impact across the sectors in which they operate.

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BRM Projects offer a unique mix of expertise. What were you doing before this? What pushed you to make the change?

“BRM Projects was established to provide quality property solutions to SME and Not for Profits. Over the years, our team has grown allowing us to offer a diverse array of core and supplementary services that enable a business to create a workplace that works well.”

What notable positive outcomes have arisen from past projects?

“BRM Projects works with a wide cross-section of commercial businesses and Not for Profits and

…we rate the success of a project based on the improvement to a business’ culture, efficiency and productivity.

This is different for every client – it could mean renegotiating a lease so a client has more money to invest into their cause, or it could be redesigning an outdated layout that enables greater collaboration and staff retention.”

What is your vision for the future of the architecture and planning industry? What do you want to see happen?

“As technology continues to infuse further into our daily lives, workplaces that champion creativity and strategic thinking understand the importance of a designing considered and social-led spaces.

Already we have seen a shift in the design approach, including:

Bright, colourful and playful spaces that take their cues from kindergartens – to embrace and nourish creativity;

Soft, subtle and luxurious finishes that allow you to relax and enjoy the space as is you were at home, and;

Amenities galore, making you feel you have a personal concierge at the fanciest hotel – thereby allowing you to focus on work, rather than life-admin.

The modern office will focus more on community, connections and spaces for idea sharing – something that difficult to replicate over email or video, and definitely cannot be achieved when working alone from home.

Based off this principle, the humble office desk will no longer be the primary fixture. In its place, there will be alternate zones to compensate – a variety of meeting rooms, phone booths, breakout lounges, and of course the clichéd ping pong table is here to stay.

These spaces, combined with the ideas of wellness and mindfulness will become necessary platforms we will need to embrace enabling us to live a faster-paced, more creative and purpose driven existence.”

 

Currently undergoing an office fitout of our own here at Talent Nation, we understand the importance of industry expertise when it comes optimising a space in terms of comfortability and that “wellness” factor. BRM share our core value of sustainability, and as a certified B Corp also share our commitment of using the power of business to create positive environmental and social impact.

Got questions about any of the above? We’re keen to chat to more B Corps about what their certification means to them, and how their organisation is living out these values. Connect with us here.

Clean Energy Crunch Time … Where are the Workers to Build $10bn in Solar and Wind Projects?

There’s good news and bad news in the world of clean energy. First the good news. The solar PV and wind projects required for Australia to hit its 2020 Renewable Energy Target are being built. In fact, there’s a surplus. The bad news is that there is simply not enough skilled talent to handle the backlog of work.

The latest estimate from the Clean Energy Council suggests 5,500 jobs will be created to complete more than 50 wind and solar projects worth more than $10 billion.

“It’s busy all over the place,” says ACRWorld director of renewable energy Rob Lawrence. “Everyone knew this was coming. The industry will cope, but it’s certainly very tight.”

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At recruitment consultancy Polyglot global head of renewable energy and infrastructure Jan Rieche thinks constraints in the talent pool may test the limits of some projects.

Everyone knew 2018 would be a busy year, says Rieche, but things got “crazy busy” about November last year and haven’t let up. Polyglot’s seeing inquiries from across the board – EPCs, contractors, development companies, project finance companies, smaller contractors – and Rieche expects things will get even busier when workers are required to bolt hundreds of thousands of panels in place.

“This will put immense cost pressure on EPCs and eventually also developers,” Rieche says. “If you marry that problem with increasing panel and general equipment prices, it might squeeze their margins quite a bit. This year will show us who did their planning and financial modelling really well and who didn’t.”

Rising panel prices are a function of rising demand, as manufacturers channel supply to international markets where margins are favourable. “In some countries, even in India, the margins are bigger [for panel manufacturers than in Australia],” he says. “So they send to where the margins are bigger.”

Rieche predicts some projects that are pinched by rising costs may even be sold entirely or partly to other investors or developers. “I’m pretty sure we’ll see some,” he says.

Bees to honey

At Bradman Recruitment Group director Michael Green is taking calls from companies looking to enter Australia or existing players after new staff. He admits some of the established companies in the Australian renewables market are “raising an eyebrow” over what work there will be for any new entrants and how they will win market share, but the ones he’s spoken to are very positive. “I don’t know quite [which side] to believe. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle of that,” Green says.

Other than the more traditional wind and solar, inquiries from overseas have come from companies working in energy efficiency, cryptocurrencies and energy retail, he says. “We’re even doing some recruitment for a new EPC that’s entering the market from the US.”

The most gaping skills shortage is developers, says Green, the skilled talent who find sites, negotiate with landholders, government and authorities, design power purchase and offtake agreements and apply for grid connection and permits. “You’ve really got to dig very deep to fill a development role at the moment,” he says.

Salaries offered for developers have risen. Nine months to a year ago he says it would take about $150,000 to lure an experienced developer. Now it’s more like $175,000 to $200,000. “And even then it’s not easy.”

As Australia gears up to replace its fleet of ageing coal-fired generation, developers are scouring the country non-stop to find new sites that would fit renewable energy projects. “There is full employment in developers,” he says. It’s full steam ahead, and Green admits employers seldom make mention to him of the National Energy Guarantee or what will happen beyond the 2020 Renewable Energy Target.

Up against the tunnellers

The recruitment market has been “incredibly busy”, says ACRWorld director of renewable energy Rob Lawrence, with an emphasis on construction of wind and solar farms mainly on the east coast and in South Australia, with some in the west as well. The challenge is to fill positions, especially as it is also a boom time in infrastructure.

“It’s got to the point where really the industry is at maximum capacity now, so anybody who has experience in wind or solar is employed and people are just trying to pinch off each other,” Lawrence says.

The other way to relieve that pressure is to recruit from overseas or from other industries. It was once the time that workers left over from a waning mining sector could be attracted to clean energy projects in regional areas. When you’ve been working on energy infrastructure projects or at mines far from the state capitals it’s not such a jolt to the system to take a job on a wind or solar farm. Since then, work has begun on vast infrastructure projects in the cities.

“There’s a renewable energy boom happening but in Sydney and Melbourne there are hundreds of billions of dollars worth of intrastructure projects going on at the same time,” Lawrence says. “Our company recruits across both areas – and those areas are just booming.”

In the minds of some jobseekers there are a couple of forces that may appear to be aligned against renewables: infrastructure work pays better, and in the current market there are plenty of roles offered in the cities or very near them. “That’s really who the renewables sector, from a construction perspective, is competing with.”

In this market, Lawrence says recruiters have to rely on networks of contacts established over the long term. A prospective worker’s skills and flexibility about location must be matched with the developer’s requirements, all within the constraints of a tight labour market. “It’s tricky,” he says. “Everybody’s looking for the same sort of people: civil and electrical project engineers, construction site managers, site supervisors – and those people are easily transferrable into infrastructure projects and other projects, so they’re not all gagging to get into renewables.”

But let’s not overlook the clean energy sector’s pulling power, where so many who work in it are happy to admit they were attracted by a personal sense of purpose. Everyone knows clean energy is good energy – that it can be done and so it needs to be done. To take part in that revolution is to take part in a massive cleansing of the economy and all that drives it. “That attracts a lot of people.”

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Visa welcome

Compared with other types of generation wind and solar plants are pretty quick to build. If workers are thin on the ground in Australia and need to be sourced from overseas, developers will be hoping the paperwork around visas can be processed quickly. That’s not been the case recently, however, and Lawrence says processing has been “very slow”, with applications taking up to 12 weeks.

Changes to the visa requirements in 2016, where the 457 was abolished and replaced with the Temporary Skill Shortage visa, the requirement for skilled workers, had a knock-on impact, he says. Well-resourced developers in the infrastructure sector have plenty of experience managing applications and guiding recruits through the visa process whereas some companies in the renewables sector may struggle with it. Some may even shy away from recruiting offshore simply because it’s seen as a bit tricky.

The Temporary Skill Shortage visa is offered in three variants: a short-term stream, up to two years; a medium-term stream, up to four years, and; a labour agreement stream for sponsored migration, with the possibility of permanent residence.

The attitude towards finding talent overseas varies from client to client, says Green at Bradman Recruitment, and some are “dead against it”. For them, the rigmarole involved with applying for visas and relocating workers and families is a step too far. As a recruiter he can see the benefit of sometimes looking offshore for the right person, even if a few extra costs are incurred. Immigration and relocation can add about $20,000 to a package, but that could work out being good value if it means an employer finds exactly who it’s looking for. “If you have an open mind I think you’ll have a stronger short list,” he says. “I guess each company has to make that decision for itself.”

Hold on to your talent

As demand for workers exceeds supply, wages are beginning to feel some upward pressure and employers are taking caution to hold on to the staff they have. Some companies are placing key employees on retention plans or increasing notice periods in an effort to retain staff. Any increase in salaries will be reflected in higher project costs, but there haven’t been any major blow-outs – so far.

If more workers in regional areas were offered training in renewables the job market wouldn’t be so tight today, but it’s a bit late for that now. Once approval and financial backing comes through, every developer wants its wind and solar plants built as soon as possible, and they’ll want workers who have done it before. For them, there isn’t the time to train whoever is looking for work in the area. “It’s almost as though they’ve thought about this too late [and they] should have been training people two-plus years ago,” says Lawrence at ACRWorld. “But that’s just not how it’s worked.”

It’s a good time for Australian workers attracted overseas to think about returning, especially from the UK, for example, where the renewables sector has been hit hard. A trip back home could pay off, although the number of Australian clean energy workers roaming the world is a drop in the ocean compared with the number required back at home to complete the backlog of projects.

What comes next?

The rush to build clean energy generation isn’t so much driven by uncertainty over the National Energy Guarantee, says Rieche at Polyglot, but by the Renewable Energy Target. “It’s a question of can we build it and commission and connect it on time,” he says. “And with what kind of margin, if any, can we build it.” Panel price and cost of labour will be the two major pain points.

After the RET’s been met he expects a lull in the industry, but it won’t “fall off a cliff”. Companies that managed the building boom will have learned valuable lessons along the way and be faster and more efficient at delivering projects, including managing labour costs. There may not be as many projects after 2020 but those who are building them will have a much better understanding of the costs and structures. “Those projects, most likely including storage, will be able to compete definitely with coal-fired and potentially with gas,” he says.

It will be a different landscape, where some companies will exit Australia in search of the next boom market, possibly Africa, and the rest will progress with a little more confidence and perhaps test the merchant market. “If you do it right in the next year-and-a-half – and you’re happy to work some crazy hours this year and suffer a couple of blows as well as the good times – then I think there is a great opportunity for local businesses to learn and for overseas businesses to localise their workforces more and more.”

So, now that we’re all up to date on the job market, let’s get back to work.

 

Source: Eco Generation

Report Finds Shift to Cheap Electric Vehicles Feasible in Australia

The CEO of Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) says Australians would do well to consider switching to cheap electric vehicles within the next ten years.

Vanessa Petrie said in a Daily Telegraph report that there are many good reasons to make the switch. These are also detailed in BZE’s 98-page ‘Electric Vehicles Report’ released in August 2017.

While electric vehicles cost more to buy than regular cars, they also cost less to run. This is consistent with information from the Electric Vehicle Council that the cost of running a fuel-powered vehicle is almost four times that of an electric one.

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Electric vehicles are also cheaper to maintain, due to having fewer moving parts than internal combustion engines. The cost of electric vehicle batteries is also falling. According to the report, prices are 75 per cent lower than they were in 2010. And this price drop is expected to continue.

Reduced emissions & pollution with cheap electric vehicles

Vehicles contribute approximately 6 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in Australia, which would be eliminated in a switch to all electric cars. The reduction in emissions could also be as high as 8 per cent if the switch includes regional passenger vehicles.

Lower emissions would give us numerous other benefits too. These include cleaner and healthier air, fewer deaths from emissions, reduced noise pollution and less reliance on imported fuels.

Recharging getting easier and faster

Most car trips in Australia are under 120 km, which is within the range of contemporary electric cars.

Owners of solar panels and energy storage batteries could save even more by powering up their electric vehicles from their solar power systems.

More charging stations are also being built, including Queensland’s Electric Super Highway launched in 2017.

Renewable energy growth in Australia means we could easily generate the extra energy supplies needed for electric cars.

While electric vehicles may cost more to buy right now, the overall findings of the report are that this will be offset by the considerable savings and benefits that electric vehicles offer over time.

 

Source: Energy Matters