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$12.5m Project To Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions Using ‘digital Twin’ Technology

University of Waikato School of Engineering Professor Michael Walmsley will lead a seven-year research programme to reduce energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, thanks to $12.5m in funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

The researchers will build a new technology platform called Ahuora to help reengineer the way we use, convert, supply and store renewable energy for industrial process heating.

Process heat includes the fuel that industries burn for steam, hot water and hot gases to convert raw materials to useful products, such as food and dairy products, cement, and wood products. Process heat accounts for 28% of energy-related emissions in New Zealand.

The Ahuora platform will be underpinned by new adaptive digital twin technology, providing a virtual model of a physical environment, with real-time data shared between the physical and virtual domains.

Being adaptive, the digital twin can respond to changing circumstances and learn from previous experience, in order to support better real-time decision making and longer-term strategic planning.

The new platform’s name, Ahuora, combines two Māori words: ‘ahu’ meaning ‘to fashion’ and ‘ora’ meaning ‘healthy’, to represent sustainable industry; it was gifted by Associate Professor Te Taka Keegan of the University of Waikato.

The Ahuora platform will be accessible to researchers, service providers, industrial manufacturers and other large-scale energy users. It will help decision makers transition to using more renewable energy options, instead of burning coal or natural gas.

Professor Walmsley was delighted with the funding announcement, which will allow the complexity of our energy systems to be modelled more accurately than ever before.

“Finding effective ways to reduce our emissions involves knowing when, where and how to apply numerous technologies while minimising any adverse effects on production, and managing volatilities in energy supply and demand,” he says.

“Our proposal brings together a new collaboration of high-level expertise in advanced chemical, process, mechanical, electrical, and software engineering from three New Zealand universities, with an additional seven international universities.”

The programme is an important step towards zero net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050, a goal set under the Government’s Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Act 2019.

“A net-zero-carbon process heat sector by 2050 will require highly integrated, productive and efficient systems that encompass both industrial sites and their surroundings, including neighbouring industries, local renewable resources, and the community,” says Professor Walmsley.

The programme will incorporate a Māori worldview through research projects which analyse the inherent connections between Māori, resources, energy and kaitiakitanga (stewardship).

“This will be important as many iwi own energy resources and infrastructure, as well as businesses that use process heat,” says Professor Walmsley.

The Ahuora programme will get underway in October 2020.

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