Australian Centre for Water
and Environmental Biotechnology

Director's Report - December 2021

Friday, 10 December 2021

Collectively, we should be proud of our achievements in research performance in 2021. ACWEB has put UQ on the map as the global leader in Water Supply and Treatment (The Australian Newspaper Research Report 2021). The 2021 release of the Nature Index showed that ACWEB significantly contributed to UQ’s achievement of top university in Australia, and were it a university, ACWEB would be ranked in the top 400 universities in the world, based on metrics of high-quality research and collaboration.

I would like to acknowledge and thank our researchers and partners for their significant investment of time and energy this year in applying for new funding. Despite a changing funding landscape and business uncertainties, we have worked together to develop robust proposals based on innovative science and strong collaborations. I am looking forward to exciting outcomes in 2022.

Our Centre continues to go from strength to strength as the Australian Centre for Water and Environmental Biotechnology. This strategic rebranding reflects both our firmly established standing in water, and our expanding capacity in application of environmental biotechnology. UQ is supporting our future aspirations to lead major research initiatives in these areas by granting $0.5M funding per annum for 5 years to grow and retain researcher capacity. UQ has also awarded ACWEB $0.5M funding to upgrade existing gas laboratories, enabling us to expand capacity in synthetic biology. This infrastructure, unique in the southern hemisphere, will establish UQ as a leading institute for gas fermentation, and enable us to further build capability and partnerships in the biofutures space.

ACWEB continues to train the next generation of researchers, and I congratulate the cohort of 12 PhD students who graduated in 2021. Thirteen new students enrolled in our postgraduate programs in Urban Water Engineering, and 12 students graduated this year, including one who is now employed in her dream job with one of our industry partners. A few Master’s students will also continue their studies with the Centre as PhD students. I look forward to seeing the future impact of our graduates in academia and industry. Our CPD offerings with IWES were delivered online in September with about 120 participants and 9 courses, ranging from drinking water quality to biosolids management. More online training will be rolled out in February, with an in-person program planned for July 2022.

I would like to acknowledge some outstanding achievements from the ACWEB team this year. PhD graduate Tao Liu won the AWA 2021 QLD Student Water Prize for his work on Net-zero emission and energy neutrality, a novel technology to utilise methane produced in wastewater treatment. Tao was also recently awarded a prestigious ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA). PhD graduate Zhiyao Wang won the AWA’s National Student Water Prize for 2021, with a passionate and inspiring acceptance speech.

Dr Tim Huelsen and Prof Damien Batstone won the Partnership Excellence Award at the UQ Research Partnerships and Translation Awards for his project Protein-rich feed production from agri-industrial wastewaters by phototrophic bacteria. Shihu Hu, who started at AWMC as a PhD student over a decade ago, has been promoted to Associate Professor. Shihu’s collaborative work with Urban Utilities on Anammox won the AWA 2021 QLD Infrastructure Project Innovation Award (Metro). Dr Haoran Duan was awarded runner-up of the UQ EAIT Faculty Early Career Award.

PhD Student, Casey Huang was selected to represent our Faculty in the UQ 3MT final, with the fascinating presentation, How to stop a serial killer: Legionella in plumbing systems. The 3MT is great practice for our students to communicate complex research in simple terms. And indeed, I was taken by surprise and humbled to be named one of the Superstars of Research published in The Australian Research Report, which identified the top 40 Australian researchers measured by their performance over their career.

Finally, with a challenging year behind us, I look forward to 2022 with optimism. I wish all ACWEB colleagues, friends, and family a safe and restful break, so that we are refreshed and ready for another exciting year of innovative, collaborative and impactful research.