Ten ways RMIT research is helping to build a more sustainable future

From turning back the emissions clock to building more durable roads from old tyres, RMIT researchers are tackling today’s biggest challenges and developing solutions for a more sustainable world.

Guided by the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), RMIT’s commitment to addressing environmental challenges and social inequalities is embedded in the University’s approach to research. 

Recently ranked number one in the world for efforts to reduce inequality in the Times Higher Education (THE) SDGs Impact Rankings, the University is celebrating a year of sustainability wins, highlighted in the Annual Sustainability Report.

For Global Goals Week 2020, we revisit some of the most innovative RMIT research paving the way to a more sustainable world. 

Turning carbon dioxide back into coal

Scientists at the School of Engineering have discovered a way to turn back the emissions clock to transform CO2 back into solid coal.

By using a liquid metal catalyst, our researchers developed a new technique that can efficiently convert CO2 from a gas into solid particles of carbon.

To date, CO2 has only been converted into a solid at extremely high temperatures, making it industrially unviable.

This incredible breakthrough offers an alternative pathway for safely and permanently removing the greenhouse gas from our atmosphere.

Equitable transport and mobility options

Melbourne’s growing population means more residents are being pushed to the outer suburbs and often these areas don’t have the same level of service and infrastructure. 

Urban researchers from the Centre for Urban Research are collaborating with local government, planning agencies and developers to overcome barriers to provide early transport options in new suburbs.

This project will have huge impacts on relieving Melbourne’s road congestion as well as ensure suburbs in Melbourne’s growth areas liveable and equitable. 

SDGs and business transparency

new report from RMIT and the United Nations Association of Australia has revealed a rising trend in reporting on the SDGs by Australia’s top 150 companies, but the quality of disclosure remains lacking

The report found that despite a growing number of companies reporting a commitment to the SDGs, very few disclosed measurable business performance targets related to the goals. 

The findings are valuable for investors, regulators, managers and other stakeholders wanting to understand how Australian businesses are embedding the SDGs into their organisations.

It also provides insight into how businesses can better engage with the goals they identify as priorities for them.

Vegan leather made from mushrooms 

While raising a cow to maturity for bovine leather can take several years,

Now new research has found fungi-derived leather products can be grown from a single spore in just a couple of weeks.

The researchers investigating how leather can be made from mushrooms discovered when mushroom roots are grown on sawdust or agricultural waste they form a thick mat that can then be treated to resemble leather.

This could mould the future of sustainable fashion. 

Energy producing homes

Forget low energy buildings, the future of sustainable design could be buildings that generate more energy from renewable sources than they consume.

RMIT researchers are contributing to a European project on energy-producing or Plus Energy Buildings, looking at household energy consumption to inform a new type of building. 

The project is setting the way for the future development of positive energy districts

Improving the financial wellbeing of vulnerable Australians

For low-income Australians, saving enough money to provide educational basics such as school uniforms for their children, or increasing their own employability through education can seem out of reach.

Collaborating with ANZ and the Brotherhood of St Laurence, researchers from the School of Economics, Finance and Marketing have shown the long-term improvement in the financial health of those who are involved in matched-savings programs such as Saver Plus.

The research confirms that actively saving is one of the most important influences on financial wellbeing, benefitting not only individuals but their households, communities and the broader economy.

Building sustainable roads from old tyres and rubble

Research has shown how a blend of old tyres and building rubble could be used as a sustainable road-making material.  

The new material is the first to combine recycled rubble and rubber in a mix that is precisely optimised to meet road engineering safety standards.

The recycled blend is more flexible than standard materials, making roads less prone to cracking. 

This zero-waste solution can help boost recycling and put us the road to a circular economy. 

The new material is the first to combine recycled concrete aggregate and scrap tyres in a mix that meets road engineering safety standards.
The new material is the first to combine recycled concrete aggregate and scrap tyres in a mix that meets road engineering safety standards.

Educating children on pollution

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), in 2018 Ho Chi Minh City’s air pollution reached a level that poses serious threats to the environment and people’s health.

To raise awareness of the increasing levels of air pollution, RMIT researchers have installed Air Quality Monitors (AQMs) at local schools and social organisations across the city to teach children more about the air they breathe and become more proactive in environmental movements.  

The data collected from the AQMs is expected to become a useful source for policymakers, government, industry and schools to revise the traffic and infrastructure system and waste disposal and consider other environmental solutions.

Mapping liveability for health and equality

RMIT researchers from the Centre for Urban Research have developed a first of its kind digital platform to transform how we map liveability in major cities across Australia.

The Australian Urban Observatory helps local government and industry to build liveable communities that are safe, socially cohesive, inclusive and environmentally sustainable.

The Observatory is based on research knowledge about public health and urban environments and brings together critical data on easy-to-use maps for the first time in Australia.

Green solutions for urban planners 

The significant reduction in pollution levels as a result of COVID-19 lockdown measures is leading many European cities to reconsider how we navigate our urban spaces. 

RMIT urban researchers have been helping to develop a new digital tool to assist authorities and urban planners to identify the best Nature-Based Solutions to tackle the specific environmental problems in their cities such as green roofs and facades, urban tree planting and cycling paths.  

Nature-Based Solutions aim to innovatively make use of a city’s natural elements to reshape urban areas and increase sustainability and resilience to climate change. 

Through the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), and along with 11 other Australian universities, in 2017 RMIT made a public commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals. Read more about RMIT’s commitment and contribution.

Story: Chanel Koeleman
Video: Natalie Campbell