Sunset on 2023! Looking Back and Forward…

Every year seems to speed right on by, but this one felt faster than most. But while the year flew by, we have been very busy!

Being incorporated back in July of 2021, SPARC has strived to push and grow our innovative R&D company. This year not only did we officially commence work on our second product development line, we also received nearly $2M in federal funding to bring this technology to market. This project also saw the start of one of our first collaborations, with Western Australia School of Mines (WASM, a part of Curtin University). This project truly pushes the envelope for the Harrison Group, as it deals with the development of a novel lithium frother additive material to increase critical mineral extraction – desperately needed for the rapid transition to renewable energy technology.

The year also saw us attend the AFR Business Summit as well as the OzWater Conference, with our sister companies Harrison Manufacturing and A S Harrison & Co. This was important as it gave us unique insights into research and market trends in the renewables and water treatment spaces, as well as make more valuable connections with potential collaborators in the future.

And what do we have on the horizon in 2024? Well, we’re in the process of getting approvals and building our new research facilities to continue our IP development pipeline. We have collaborations in development here with the University of New South Wales as well as internationally with Allozymes in Singapore. And while these projects are in their infancy, we’re excited to branch out into our other focus areas and build meaningful collaboration partnerships.

While 2023 has been a major milestone year for us, we can’t wait to see what’s to come in 2024!!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM SPARC!

Water Treatment into AgTech

8.07 Billion….that’s the current population of the planet, based on UN figures. It’s a staggering number, and considering that this population needs food and water to exist, in an era where rapid climate change is dramatically effecting both necessities, it’s little wonder that AgTech is a rapidly expanding industry.

To further highlight the significance of the growing food crisis and impact on the planet, nearly 11% of the global population is undernourished. Every day, roughly 30,000 people die of hunger according to the UN World Food Programme. These are numbers that underscore the BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals) that SPARC wants to contribute to – how can we reverse this trend and increase food supplies? 

Artificial Humic Matter

Vertical farming, genetically engineered crops resistant to disease, and hydroponics are just some of the technologies in the AgTech space. But, increasing crop yields from existing agricultural land is another way. Novel, low-energy intense fertiliser production is a growing area of research. However, so too is artificial humic matter generation – an area sited by IPUAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) as one of the top ten emerging technologies in chemistry. Humic matter is the enriched material that remains when organic matter naturally decomposes over time – think peat and permafrosts in the Arctic. This material enriches the soil, giving valuable nutrients for plant growth. But just like permafrost, the process generates large amounts of CO2 and methane.

Synthetic processes look to speed the breakdown of biomass as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, the leading technologies generate very low-grade humic matter, requiring large dose rates to effect sufficient crop enrichment and growth. Any new research and technology developed in this space to simultaneously improve the quality of the humic matter generated and reduce the carbon emissions would not only make for a great AgTech business but also greatly advance society.

How does SPARC fit into this space?

Currently, we’ve got several projects in the water treatment and energy space. But we’re always looking to leverage our findings in one area into tangential areas – horizontal growth. Developing products for new, seemingly unrelated, market sectors because the underlying chemistry is similar, or the waste streams of one sector can be the raw material streams for another. All organic matter eventually breaks down to humic matter….and wastewater treatment systems create large amounts of biomass perfect for humic matter creation. The development of novel water treatment additives that speed this process would be a unique material on the market. And it’s these types of cross-sector ideas that also pool the talents of multi-disciplinary researchers and collaborators – similar to our current projects and university partners. All stemming from one BHAG – how can we inspire and contribute towards a better world.

One team, one vision!

To find out more of what we’re up, read or download the current newsletter below.

SPARC Grant Success and Future Prospects

In our March newsletter, we mentioned that SPARC was submitting a grant application in the federal government’s Critical Minerals Development Program. The program is designed to fund projects which increase the supply chain of critical minerals in Australia to further boost the economy in the renewable energy sector. I’m happy to say that SPARC was one of thirteen successful application to receive funding! Fellow awardees are the likes of Evolution Mining, Ecograf (with ANSTO), and IGO Ltd (a refinery partner of Andrew Forrest), which highlights the strength and competitiveness of the program.

Froth flotation process

Our project involves further development and commercialisation of lithium selective frother additives for spodumene ore processing. Currently, the refining of lithium from spodumene ore is roughly 85% efficient, meaning 15% of the lithium resides in the tailings, along with other valuable minerals. Our technology will improve the extraction efficiency to between 90 and 95%, giving a sizable boost to the lithium supply chain.

The economic benefits of this project are quite massive. Based on last year’s mining figures of 55 kilotonnes of lithium extracted, this technology could extract an extra 6 kilotonnes of lithium residing in the tailings, worth more than USD$400M – in Australia alone! Therefore, this could significantly add to the Australian economy and the lithium supply chain. But there is much more than just an economic benefit to this technology, there is an environmental aspect as well.

Mining and mineral processing generates significant amounts of carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gases, into the environment. And while it’s unavoidable, it can be mitigated by improving the efficiencies of the process involved in the extraction. According to estimates, 9 tonnes of CO2 are generated for every tonne of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) refined. Roughly a third of this, 3 tonnes of CO2, is due entirely to the mining and extraction process (here in Australia), not the shipping and reprocessing. So, by improving the extraction efficiency to increase the supply chain, this process would mitigate roughly 17 kilotonnes of CO2 per year – the equivalent of removing 3700 cars from the road!

Check out the rest of our June Newsletter below for more on this project, as well as what other work SPARC is looking to develop and how you could make an impact.

SPARC Receives Critical Minerals Grant for Li Frother Development

Harrison SPARC, the R&D arm of The Harrison Group, an Australian manufacturing stalwart which helps turn the wheels of the automotive, agricultural, manufacturing, logistics and mining industries at home and globally, will receive $1.9 million from the Federal Government to value-add to Australia’s critical mineral capabilities.

The funding was announced today by Resources Minister Madeline King as part of the Critical Minerals Development Program. A $50 million grant scheme designed to accelerate the development of Australia’s critical minerals sector, it will also support downstream value-add process as outlined in the Federal Government’s Critical Minerals Strategy 2022.

The grant will enable Harrison SPARC to expand the Harrison Group’s chemical manufacturing capabilities. SPARC was started in 2021 to innovate and expand The Harrison Group’s capabilities and offering in the critical infrastructure industries. Sydney-based sister company, Harrison Manufacturing produces high-performance grease, lubricants, oils and imports specialty chemical additives, supplying approximately 50% of domestic market usage. It also exports its know-how and tailor-made lubricant applications to industries such as mining across the global economy.

Harrison Group Director Julie Harrison says the $1.9 million injection will help fast-track a $3.91 million research and

manufacturing project at the company’s HQ in Brookvale, NSW and testing in Kalgoorlie, WA. It is set to improve the refining efficiency and extraction yield of critical minerals such as lithium, cobalt, neodymium and vanadium.

Australia is one of the largest natural reserves of rare earth elements and is the largest supplier of lithium, producing nearly 50% global lithium supply.

“We know Australia has the know-how, the ambition and the ability to become serious value-add players in the critical minerals sector. This injection of funds will help The Harrison Group on its road to helping ensure Australia is at the forefront of this push,” Ms Harrison said.

Already underway in collaboration with Curtin University’s WA School of Mines, Minerals, Energy and Chemical Engineering (WASM), the commercially sensitive project is set to be completed by March 2025. Dr Tony Granville, lead researcher for the grant and Harrison SPARC Innovation Manager says the project is forecast to improve both the mining industry’s output of critical minerals and the sustainability of the sector.

“We believe what we are working on will make mining for critical minerals more sustainable because it will allow greater output with the same input.”

Calling it a potential game changer in the extraction of critical minerals, Dr Granville says the project has the potential to provide $400 million of lithium to the Australian market annually.

“The current rate of extraction of lithium in mining is roughly 85% per tonnage of spodumene ore. We believe our project would bump that figure up to 95%.”

SPARC at the AFR Business Summit

Two short weeks ago, the Harrison Group attended the AFR Business Summit. This year’s theme for the summit was ‘Crunch Time for Prosperity’, which couldn’t be anymore appropriate. Given the ongoing war in Ukraine, the slowing (but still prevalent) COVID-19 pandemic and rising global interest rates (and recession fears), this is a very turbulent time. Given these events, and that this is a business summit, you’d be right to think that some of the major topics would relate to say increased productivity, improving the Australian manufacturing sector, or finding ways to ensure reliable raw material supply chains. All of these were touched on, but so too was climate change and Australia’s potential response to a growing global renewables sector.

Regardless of the speaker or panel members, the drive to renewable, green energy and its impacts on business and trade were a major topic. With the Australian economy so dependent on the mining sector, the move away from fossil fuels in the coming years and decades is a cause of concern. But, innovation can and should drive us into new fertile business ventures. As battery storage systems and EVs grow in use and demand, the critical minerals needed to support these industries will also grow. Australia is uniquely positioned for this, as we have such a large amount of these minerals, especially lithium, throughout the country.

Along with the critical minerals and mining sector, the growing focus on the green hydrogen economy was also a hot topic at the summit. And while this discussion was due in part to Andrew Forrest’s Q&A talk during the summit, the sentiments were also echoed by the OECD Secretary General, Mathias Cormann. Green hydrogen production probably won’t be useful for battery storage or fuel cell vehicles – but it will have a place in steel production, firming energy supply, potentially diesel replacement and agriculture spaces. Regardless of end use, when European countries are signing contracts for green and blue hydrogen supplies, the market demand is there and growing.

Along with the science and technology of the renewable energy sector, the other hot topic was the Inflation Reduction Act in the US and its implications for climate and energy. The IRA is the single largest investment by the US government into clean energy and climate. It is setting the US up to be a world superpower in renewable energy technology, and far and away eclipses the National Reconstruction Fund, still to pass Parliament. And while much of the discussion regarding the IRA and its implications centred around the investment dollars that the US is offering to entice renewable manufacturing there, it doesn’t negate the development of the technology and IP here in Australia. The abundance of wind and solar here far exceeds the US, and that abundance could be used to generate green hydrogen to export to countries overseas. Along with exporting Australian energy supplies, expanding and improving on existing battery technology would allow for rapid electrification of the country and reducing the need for firming energy resources such as natural gas. In either event, the inherent natural resources of Australia, if properly developed through innovation and technological advances, can lead to another prosperity boom for the country.

End Of The Year – Look Back & Looking Ahead

As we come to the end of 2022, we at SPARC have had a very exciting year.

While SPARC was incorporated on July 1 of 2021, and we began work behind the scenes setting up the business structure, 2022 has seen the bulk of the business activity thus far. This past year, we’ve seen the rollout and launch of our company and office space to the wider community as well as successfully attained several milestones from our first research project.

In order to continually populate ideas across the spectrum of our focus areas, we initiated the implementation of disruptive brainstorming workshops across the Harrison Group of companies. Additionally, we’ve begun fostering and expanding our research collaborations with university and industry partners so as to increase our potential in our key focus areas.

But that’s all where we’ve been over this past year, we can’t wait for the new year to come! We’re looking forward to completing one of our first research projects. It still remains close to our Harrison roots and resides in the lubricant additive space, but we hope the technology can be a springboard into new arenas and applications to expand our customer base for the Harrison Group.

Additionally, we’re looking to begin work on our next research projects. These collaborations have the potential to have significant impacts in the water treatment, renewable energy, and recycling/sustainability areas. These projects are in their infancy, so the results and potential product lines are several years away, but we are excited to begin having a positive impact in these important focus areas!

It’s never a good thing to look past the holiday season – especially when good food, presents, and family gatherings are involved – but we really can’t wait to build on the momentum of this first year and jump into 2023. There’s a LOT to come, and this is only the beginning of the journey!

Moonshots and SPARC

September 12th, 1962, President John F. Kennedy gave his famous ‘Moonshot’ speech where he gave NASA the goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade. It was an ambitious goal, that set an entire national workforce into motion – one that was accomplished in less than seven years.

Fast forward to today, and the EU and Australia are beginning to define their current ‘moonshot’ agendas around climate change – reducing emissions and increasing electrifications by 2030. The US now has two agendas – one on climate change electrification by 2040 and one to cut the cancer death rate in half within 25 years. All are lofty goals, and given the rapid rate of climate change and environmental impacts, these initiatives are much more pertinent than going to the moon.

So what makes ‘moonshot’ projects so special and how does it relate to SPARC?

These types of projects pool the best talents together, because collaboration is the ONLY way to accomplish an undertaking of this magnitude. And everyone involved has the same shared vision, that no matter how big the problem is the solution is not impossible.

And solving these ‘moonshot’ problems leads to technologies and solutions to the unknown future problems. NASA’s moonshot initiative led to the direct and further development of cordless tools, fire retardant clothing, solar panels, and GPS to name a few. The human genome mapping project of the 90’s led to rapid sequencing that was critical to developing vaccines for the current COVID-19 pandemic.

This is the same for SPARC. We’re looking to develop the next manufacturing technologies – solutions to the big problems today and into the future. And we’ll be doing this with our collaboration partners, from both across our sibling companies and external researchers – a team that we’re growing more and more every day.


DISRUPTIVE BRAINSTORMING

SPARC has now successfully run four disruptive brainstorming sessions. And these sessions have generated nearly 200 potential research project ideas, across plastic remediation in oceans and wastewater treatment. But what exactly is ‘disruptive brainstorming’ and how effective can a system like this be to implement change and new product and IP development?

Disruptive brainstorming relies on giving a problem – whether it’s a research idea or customer issue or global-scale issue – to a group of people with the intent of generating as many ideas and solutions as possible. The key aspects are that there are NO preconceptions about the solutions being implemented and NO judgement on the ideas – the crazier the better! By throwing caution to the wind in developing a solution, real innovation can occur. While the molding, casting and forming of metal and plastic parts has been around for ages, the development of 3D printing has only come about since the 1980’s. This crazy idea was limited to certain plastics in photolithographic or melt- extrusion processes, making it more of a novelty than a truly useful large-scale manufacturing process. But over the decades, as it improved and evolved, the speed of printing got faster, the materials expanded to powder-fused metal parts, and the scales expanded to 3D printing of concrete structures and houses – all from answering the question “how can we cast/forge a more intricate 3D part without welds?”.

When we pool our collective intellect, and remove the constraints and critiques of an idea, truly great things can come about. And this doesn’t just apply to innovative product development ideas for companies, national governments have done this as well. France pooled 150 random French citizens into a Citizen’s Convention for the Climate in 2019. Over the course of two-weeks, the assembly was given a crash course in climate science and then given the task to brainstorm ideas on how France could cut carbon emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030. The assembly worked for nine months to produce a 150-page document with policies to be implemented by the French Parliament. And while some of the policies were watered-down (a ban on flights less than four hours was reduced to two and a half; and banning advertising for big petrol cars was reduced to having them include climate warning messages), the result is that innovation and disruption can come from anywhere.

This is the same premise that SPARC takes to heart. Tackling the big problems is going to take a collective effort, from all walks of industry and research, to develop the next crazy innovation. And if we can develop and refine it over time, we can fulfill our vision ‘to inspire and contribute towards a better world’!

Climate Action – Solutions Needed

Last month, the COP26 summit in Glasgow finished, and while the politics of the summit and its results can be debated, the event put the need for climate action at the forefront of the world stage again. Arguably, one of the biggest outcomes was the push for a reduction in global carbon emissions, which led to the historic agreement to begin phasing out coal-fired power stations – one of the biggest emitting processes on the planet.

Anthropogenic carbon emissions, the generation of various forms of carbon due to human activity, is the leading contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions and the escalation in climate change. So, what does carbon emission look like on a per person basis? Here in Australia and New Zealand, we contribute 13.6 tonnes of CO2 per person per year, ranking us 5th in the world. That sounds like a lot (and it is), but we only contribute 1% to the total global output. China, USA, and India (the top 3 emitting nations) account for nearly half of all global CO2 emissions – a staggering amount under any metric. All of this equates to over 34 billion tonnes of CO2 emitted every year, all needing to be reduced, removed, or mitigated somehow to impact climate change in a positive means across the globe.

USD$50 Trillion Business Potential

Recognising that you have a problem is the first step to solving it. The Glasgow U.N. Climate Change Conference did that to some extent, and several nations made sweeping pledges as a result. Over 100 nations pledge to stop deforestation in their countries by 2030; financial organisations have agreed to fund more renewable energy programs and industries rather than fossil fuel-burning ones; and countries like the US, China, and Australia have begun rolling out programs to supply billions of dollars into renewable energy and CO2 reduction technologies.
So, we have a society recognising a problem exists; businesses acknowledging that ESG (environmental and social governance) is animportant topic for customers and stakeholders; and governments and financial institutions willing to fund solutions to these issues. All of the hallmarks of a market sector ready to takeoff! And the data supports it. Several market analysts recently presented data suggesting that the markets primed to take the lion share of these initiatives would collectively comprise more than USD$50 trillion. Green hydrogen generation, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology, electric vehicles (EV), next-gen batteries and renewables are just a few of the technologies which would dramatically impact CO2 emissions, and thus climate change. 

How does this relate back to SPARC? Our vision statement: SPARC’s burning ambition is to inspire & contribute towards a better world, means that this sector is exactly where we want to be – going after the major challenges on the global stage. Also, the energy sector is one of the six focus areas SPARC intends to go after, as they all positively contribute to a better world and have large business potential. Finally, every single one of these technologies – EV, CCS, next-gen batteries, green hydrogen – require specialty chemicals and catalysts to make them successful. Lithium-sulfur technology makes up some of the more energy density rich battery designs; surface modified graphite and graphene have applications in EV and green hydrogen technologies; and metal catalysts are being used for CCS systems. If we can attain a mere half of 1% of this market, we have a USD$250 million business. Chance favours the brave. So what brave ideas do you have in this space? Chances are, we can develop it into a great business!