Greener factories, better transport systems

Posted on February 23, 2012

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New international high-tech R&D links with India

Premier Baillieu, left, and Vice-Chancellor Dewar sign the agreement with Mahindra Reva's Mr Chetan Maini, centre.

You’re at work and there is a power blackout. So your company’s electrical grid taps into your car batteries.  Along with roof-top solar panels and the energy stored in hundreds of your colleagues’ vehicles, this keeps the wheels of industry turning.

It’s a scenario that  one day may not only overcome temporary power interruptions, but manage our dwindling energy supplies and reduce greenhouse gas emissions throughout the industrialised world.

Joint Research and Development links between La Trobe University and Indian electric vehicle manufacturer Mahindra Reva – one of the first companies to introduce electric vehicles worldwide – are now working to turn that goal into global reality.

The project, one of two new La Trobe R&D links with India, was announced by Premier Ted Baillieu while leading a Victorian trade mission to India.

La Trobe University Vice-Chancellor, Professor John Dewar, who accompanied the Premier, said the advanced energy management system will be developed and trialled by Mahindra Reva at its new electric vehicle plant in Bangalore.

The plant’s power supply includes solar panels with a back-up diesel generator, which the company would eventually like to replace by ‘harvesting’ energy from hundreds of company and employees cars in their car park. 

Trialled on La Trobe’s  Melbourne campus

The project is based on cutting-edge Information and Communications Technology (ICT) developed by La Trobe’s Centre for Technology Infusion and trialled in buildings on the Melbourne campus since 2008.

The La Trobe system is already used for domestic applications following its successful installation by the University, CSIRO and commercial builders in Australia’s first Zero Emission House last year.

Among other features, it enables electric vehicles to be plugged into the home grid, drawing down car battery power, for example during the evening peak, and then, overnight when power is cheaper, recharging the car’s battery for the morning.

Mr Chetan Maini, founder and Chief of Technology and Strategy at Mahindra Reva, said his company pursues a low-energy manufacturing process where not only cars are emissions free, but the way they are made is also highly energy efficient.

‘This collaboration will make future manufacturing plants a benchmark in energy management,’ Mr Maini said.

Developing ‘Intelligent Transport Systems’

The second La Trobe University R&D agreement in India involves collaborating with leading multinational company, HCL Technologies, on research and development of Intelligent Transport Systems.

This project deals with problems associated with traffic and infrastructure management, security, enhanced driver safety and logistics support for transport operations.

Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor John  Rosenberg, who was in India with Vice-Chancellor Dewar, said both projects were exciting developments for Victoria’s research and high-tech development sector in general, and the University in particular, by recognising La Trobe’s key role in such leading-edge ICT research.

‘They are based on systems developed by staff and higher degree students at La Trobe’s Centre for Technology Infusion led by Professor Jugdutt (Jack) Singh on our Melbourne campus,’ he said.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Tim Brown, explained that the HCL transport project is based on technology now being trialled in Victoria, part of a $5.5m rail crossing safety project involving 100 vehicles fitted with special wireless communications systems. 

La Trobe Centre for Technology Infusion's Professor Singh

Safety – and potential export markets

Expected outcomes include improved traffic flow for commuters, fewer road accidents, better transport information for city planners, increased productivity for business, and reductions in fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

‘It promises to be of great benefit not only for driving safety and traffic management, but has the potential of creating export markets for Australian innovation,’ Professor Brown said. 

HCL Technologies will also provide opportunities for students to undertake internships on community and government ICT projects. The company will recruit graduates from La Trobe who, after completion of training, will be allocated to projects in Victoria, or at other HCL locations globally.

Bringing together universities and industry

Victorian Minister for Technology, Mr Gordon Rich-Phillips, welcomed the signing of the MoU and said the collaboration was important in bringing together academia and industry.

He said Victoria’s ICT industry, generating around A$29 billion in revenue and A$2.45 billion in exports annually, leads the way as an internationally competitive source of innovative products and services, and provides many opportunities for partnerships and investment.

While in India, La Trobe University also signed a higher education exchange and co-operation agreement for research and teaching with the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, in Pilani, Rajasthan.

● The Victorian Government’s trade mission to India commenced in New Delhi on 21 February 2012, showcasing  the best of Victorian industry capability in key centres including Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai and Pune.