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I believe there is a change on the horizon. As we head into a new decade, for the first time in history, Australia’s next great resources boom will not be fuelled by extracting resources such as gold, coal, and iron ore. It will instead be driven by deep technologies.
With the Asia pacific region right on our doorstep, which includes the fastest-growing middle class in the world, Australia is well poised to capitalise.
And there are three factors that will drive this change.
Firstly, the growing digitisation of the world’s largest industries – infrastructure, manufacturing, transportation, agriculture, energy – is driving a growing need for deep technologies as the new inputs.
Deep technologies are built on a foundation of substantial scientific breakthrough or high-tech engineering innovation. They cover areas such as advanced materials and manufacturing, AI, biotech, robotics, photonics, electronics, and quantum computing, which can all be applied in many formats across many unrelated industries.
Secondly, global industries are increasingly facing pressure to transform so as to begin addressing – and stop contributing to – the world’s most pressing concerns.
Deep technologies are not your usual “apps and marketplaces” style of innovation. Instead, they are capable of radically transforming whole industries, or even creating entirely new ones.
Where former resource booms have contributed to environmental degradation, increased carbon emissions, and even human rights violations such as modern slavery in the global supply chain, deep technologies can instead help to solve the world’s biggest problems as defined within the framework of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These cover many different areas of concern, such as food security, water supply and sanitation, health, gender equality, and energy supply.
But of note, SDG number thirteen, “Climate Action” is described as “the single biggest threat to development”. The UN goes on to state that climate change’s “widespread, unprecedented impacts disproportionately burden the poorest and most vulnerable.”
Using the SDGs as a framework to address some of our world’s most critical issues will become increasingly central to the long-term viability of all companies and industries, as driven both by increasing need and also societal pressure.
Finally, these two “demand” factors will combine with a third “supply” factor. Australia produces an abundance of world-leading research and IP, and we know how to commercialise it.
Studies suggesting we rank last in the OECD for research/business collaboration are based on survey methods measuring the perceptions of business leaders, not data on the number or success of these collaborations. Nor do they include the input of universities.
And the more we see stories proclaiming Australian universities don’t collaborate with industry, the more we perpetuate these incorrect perceptions.
The reality is, there are successful research/ industry collaborations hidden across the country like veritable nuggets of gold, which can and must be emulated at scale.
ls out of our long-suffering land.
But to profit from these above three factors, it is critical we integrate and invest in the ecosystems that support the deep technology companies solving the world’s biggest problems.
And we have evidence it is possible.
Cases in point
There are many science-based, IP-intensive innovations emerging in incubators and accelerators across the country.
As one example, Cicada incubatee, Gelion, has created ENDURE: an energy storage platform designed to bring new capability to the energy sector globally. By re-thinking Zinc-Bromine, Gelion has created powerful batteries with more abundant – and, thus, lower-cost – materials, making it scalable, affordable, safe, and cheap.
The new batteries can be organised into flexible configurations, depending on the required application, and can help to accelerate the proliferation of renewable energy so as to help Australia reach net carbon neutrality.
Technologies such as those that Gelion are building will be the inputs into Australia’s next resource boom and will, over time, be integral to solving the climate crisis and helping Australia avoid more natural disasters.
At Cicada, here is another example of how deep technology will fuel a deep technology resources boom, which is also especially relevant for the Asia Pacific region, is SDG number two: “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture”.
Cicada incubatee, InvertiGro, is working on a vertical farming solution that converts indoor spaces into highly efficient rural-scale farms capable of growing leafy and micro greens, berries, fruits, vegetables, and more. The farms are 95 per cent more water efficient and yield 150 times more per square metre than traditional farming, use zero herbicides or pesticides, and production occurs 365 days per year.
This will have enormous impacts on the reliable supply of fresh produce in any type of location, climate, and environmental conditions, such as high-density cities, remote locations, or even humanitarian crisis areas. Scaled globally, it could revolutionise food supply for billions of people.
A word of warning
We might miss Australia’s deep tech resources boom. Becoming a global supplier of the technologies driving these industries and addressing these issues requires specialised ecosystems designed to support the unique characteristics of deep technologies.
These technologies take far longer to commercialise due to lengthy periods of R&D that often include field or clinical trials. They are capital- and IP-intensive, and demand larger, longer-term investment to achieve potential commercial success.
Building a deep tech business is an enormous feat, and success cannot occur without dedicated ecosystems that bring together investors, mentors, talent, customers, markets, industry partners, and government (as both customers and advocates).
What we are doing at Cicada Innovations is a microcosm of what needs to scale at a national level with more investment from both the private and public sectors.
We would be remiss to forgo the opportunity of our lifetime because we remained focused on digging rocks and damaging fossil fue