Scientia Professor Veena Sahajwalla

ARC Georgina Sweet Laureate Fellow
Director, Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology
University of New South Wales

Australian Research Council (ARC) Laureate Professor Veena Sahajwalla is revolutionising recycling science to unlock the wealth of resources embedded in the many complex and toxic wastes currently destined for landfill.

As a materials scientist and engineer and founding Director of the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, she is producing a new generation of green materials, products and resources made entirely, or primarily, from waste.

Veena also heads the ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hub for ‘green manufacturing’, a leading national research centre that works in collaboration with industry to ensure new science is translated into real world environmental and economic benefits.

Numerous international and national honours have recognised Veena’s research and leadership; in 2017 she has received PLuS Alliance Prize for Research Innovation and awarded the prestigious Jubilee Professorship by the Indian Academy of Sciences.

The New Science of Recycling

Veena is renowned for her internationally commercialised EAF ‘green’ steelmaking process that is utilising millions of waste tyres otherwise destined for landfill as a partial replacement for coke. The conceptual and scientific breakthroughs that underpin ‘green steel’ have paved the way for an unparalleled portfolio of new ‘waste to value’ science, built over years of research at the SMaRT Centre, with valuable contributions from industry partners.

With her SMaRT Centre research team, Veena is overcoming the many technical limitations and cost barriers of conventional, industrial scale recycling by investigating waste at its elemental level. The world’s waste mountains are packed with useful elements like carbon, hydrogen and materials like silica, titania and metals our industries would otherwise source from virgin resources.

By using precisely controlled high temperature reactions – that selectively break and reform the bonds between different elements within the waste mix – Veena is producing previously unimaginable value-added resources and products.

This approach is enabling her to transform many of the world’s most challenging waste streams – like e-waste, automotive waste, batteries and construction waste – into new materials and resources that can be redirected back into production.

Micro-Factories – The Future of Green Manufacturing

Veena is facilitating the roll out of safe, cost-effective ‘waste to value’ solutions via her unique micro-factory model, which brings the solution to the (waste) problem for the first time. In future, these small-scale micro-factories will enable local communities to produce many of the products, materials and resources they need locally, using resources largely derived from waste.

This new approach promises to disrupt today’s highly centralised, vertically integrated industrial model and its mass global markets, as agile, scale technologies drive the decentralisation of manufacturing, with positive economic and social impacts.

The first two micro-factories will be unveiled on campus at UNSW in 2017 focusing on e-waste and green materials. Using Veena’s high temperature approach, e-waste can be safely transformed into valuable metal alloys, plastic 3D printer filament and other advanced materials, like silicon carbide nanoparticles; with multiple industrial uses.

The replica of ‘Gandhi glasses’ created by using filaments were presented to the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, by Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, as a memento of the Australia-India bilateral relationship during an Australian-India Skills Conference held in India in April 2017. High quality green materials, such as benchtops, panelling and flooring, can manufactured from mixed glass and plastics and other common wastes currently destined for landfill.

Recognition and Engagement 

While already well-known and highly respected in her field, Veena became one of Australia’s best-known scientists and inventors through her regular appearances as a judge on the long-running ABC TV series The New Inventors. She continues her community engagement through regular school visits and public talks, her mentoring program for girls in science (Science 50:50) and regular media commentary.

In the academic sphere, Veena has published 388 peer-reviewed papers and delivers keynote and invited speeches across Australia and worldwide. In 2016, Veena was named one of Australia’s Most Innovative Engineers by Engineers Australia. In 2015, Veena was the Innovation Winner of the Australian Financial Review­–Westpac 100 Women of Influence awards, and was named Australia’s 100 Most Influential Engineers (Engineers Australia).

In 2012, Veena won the Australian Innovation Challenge (Overall Winner) as well as the Banksia Environmental Foundation’s 2012 GE Eco Innovation Award for Individual Excellence. In the same year her ‘green steel’ technology was listed by the US Society for Manufacturing Engineers’ as among the ‘innovations that could change the way we manufacture’.

She was elected as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) in 2007 and a Fellow of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, in 2005, and a Honorary Fellow in 2015.