Carbon-neutral and biodegradable products: can we keep it local?

Can we make alternatives to petroleum products that are carbon-neutral and biodegradable, and also as reliable as they need to be?

Can we make alternatives to petroleum products that are carbon-neutral and biodegradable, and also as reliable as they need to be?

My opinion is we can do this if we support Australian manufacturing, rather than solely relying on cheap petroleum imports from overseas.

After all, when Australian businesses speak to me about the innovations they need and the conditions that their machinery has to work in, they are looking for Aussie solutions to Aussie problems.

Domestic industry adding value

Manufacturing has dropped to less than 6% of Australian GDP – down from 25% in the 1960s – as we have increasingly relied on cheap imported goods. But domestic industry still adds value when it comes to innovation, decarbonisation, and local knowledge.

Our miners, construction businesses and transport operators understand the evolving constraints around carbon and emissions, and they are under pressure to reduce or replace diesel, natural gas, steel, and concrete, as well as lubricants such as grease with carbon-neutral alternatives.

Any venture that uses large machines – mining, automotive, civil works, shipping, agriculture – uses grease measured by the tonne, and as our economy decarbonises these industries have to account for their usage of lubricants.

Mining, construction, automotive and agriculture are among the major industries driving the global carbon-neutral lubricants market.

Sustainable lubrication manufacturing at Harrison

At Harrison Manufacturing we have been looking for ways to keep the wheels of industry turning – pun intended – while planning for the future by investing in research and development in relevant products and technologies for our customers and their needs.

This goal saw us investing in R&D towards “drop in” sustainable lubrication products that avoid using petroleum-based oils that can be relied upon by users who cannot have their machinery fail or operate anything short of full efficiency.

I remember when I first told our customers we were developing a heavy-duty grease that was a sustainably sourced bio-based plant-derived product. Even if they did not think I was mad, I am sure they wondered how viable such a product might be.

As companies continue to set emission reduction targets, these types of products are becoming more and more viable. To keep up with this growing trend, we are developing a range of different solutions to help industries move towards carbon neutrality.

These include Low Carbon products created from recycled raw materials, Bio-Based products created from sustainably sourced Australian-made vegetable oils, and Biodegradable products for use in environmentally sensitive locations for total loss applications. All while maintaining the same performance characteristics of the existing solutions.

Australian industry meeting the demand of Australian industry: it is a proud story to tell.

Australian industry meeting the demand of Australian industry: it is a proud story to tell.

However, I should also add that governments have their part to play in commercial innovation. While Australia’s free-trade agenda was supposed to rely on domestic resources and agriculture – with manufacturing happening overseas – not all manufacturing is suited to the low-quality/high-volume model we have become accustomed to.

The innovation opportunity

I think there is a great opportunity with this range of low-carbon, bio-based and biodegradable products. It will be made from Australian raw materials, manufactured in Australia, designed for our conditions, and be relevant to Australian (and global) markets thanks to emissions targets, environmental laws, and a general desire to use cleaner products and processes.

Every week I am seeing innovative products being developed and manufactured in Australia, with relatively low volumes, and yet they succeed economically. Other countries do this: for instance, some regions specialise in producing high-quality computer chips, while others excel in exporting wind turbine hardware. Additionally, certain areas lead the world in sectors like agricultural technology (agtech) and biotechnology, despite not being among the largest economies. This global diversity of innovation showcases the potential for economic success across various industries and markets.

I believe that with careful industry planning, and strategic government frameworks, Australian manufacturers – underpinned by home-grown science and engineering – can export innovation to the world.

These exports will start by dealing with many of the challenges that confront us in our own country: climate change, energy transition, water management, biosphere protection and the decarbonisation of mining and agriculture. The solutions start as smart people responding to local challenges, and they eventually become value-added, advanced manufacturing exports.

Australian industry as global pioneers

In a world of fast-changing economies and new industries, smart intellectual property emerges as the winner and Australian innovators have as much right to be global pioneers as any other nationality.

We recently received a $1.9 million grant under the federal government’s critical minerals capabilities project to develop an advanced lithium extraction process. The grant will help fast-track a $3.91 million project at our company’s research and development subsidiary – Harrison SPARC – with the aim of improving the extraction of critical minerals such as lithium, cobalt, neodymium, and vanadium. These are some of the most in-demand resources in the world.

Our project aims to advance the extraction of lithium and other critical minerals. Lithium is one of the most in-demand resources in the world.

We are collaborating with Curtin University’s WA School of Mines, Minerals, Energy and Chemical Engineering (WASM), with completion due in March 2025. The project will improve lithium recovery per tonnage of spodumene ore from 85% to 95%, creating a potential $400 million of lithium to the Australian market annually. And once the process is working, the technology becomes an Australian export.

I reckon that is not bad for an Aussie grease-maker.

Australia may never be self-sufficient. Our economy while strong is small, complex, and outward-looking. But COVID has taught many Australian businesses and companies operating in Australia that having a local supply alternative of critical goods is imperative, especially when the supply chain disruption is due to causes outside their control.

Australian manufacturing does not need protection – it just needs a level playing field so we can innovate with the same support enjoyed by American and European manufacturers.

That could mean tax incentives, targeted grants or quotas (e.g., in defence). It might even involve special tax breaks for innovation that reduces carbon emissions or reliance on petroleum products.

I reckon Australian manufacturing has some world-beating surprises in store. For now, we will continue our journey developing the products to keep the wheels of industry moving in a carbon-neutral future.