Rhys Pirie pictured at the Australian Falling Walls Lab event, hosted by the Australian Academy of Science. Rhys was one of three winners at the Australian event; the precursor to the Falling Walls Conference in Berlin. He was presented with his award by Australia's chief scientist Alan Finkel.

Breaking down the glass wall: Rhys becomes first Australian Young Innovator of the Year

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Published: 
November 18, 2019

University of Queensland PhD student Rhys Pirie’s glass recycling research continues to draw recognition at the highest levels. Rhys is the first Australian to win Young Innovator of the Year at the world’s premier conference for research and innovation, Falling Walls, which took place in Berlin last week. 

Rhys’s ground-breaking research, co-funded by CRDC, has developed a chemical recycling process for the more than 60 million tonnes globally of glass that goes to landfill every year because of its different colours and it is too small to be sorted by traditional recycling methods.

Rhys has led the development of a chemical recycling process that turns glass into low-cost industrial feedstock used to make thousands of different consumer products, including tyres, toothpaste and fertiliser, which is of particular interest to the cotton industry.

Rhys was awarded the CRDC-supported ABARES Science and Innovation Award for Young People in Agriculture in 2018 for his focus on re-purposing organic wastes (such cotton gin trash) as fertilisers and soil ameliorants. He was further honoured with the Minister for Agriculture’s Science and Innovation Award.

The glass processing technology has the potential to revolutionise multiple supply chains and Rhys is also looking at ways in which waste glass could also be used to create a low-cost amorphous silica additive to increase phosphorous (P) fertiliser efficiency.

“The economics of improving fertiliser efficiency are quite challenging, but a step-change decrease in raw material costs opens up the possibility for new products.

“Our initial tests in sorghum have shown that mixing bio-solids ash with our silica-gel results in a statistically significant increase in P uptake.

“It’s still very early and cost reductions are reliant on the process first scaling in high-value traditional markets (tyres, toothpaste), but it’s exciting to see the research completing the loop!”