Net Zero fund

The Net Zero Fund was established in 2020 as part of La Trobe’s Net Zero program, to provide support to La Trobe University staff, students and stakeholders through research, scholarships and student initiatives.

Lawrence & Hanson | Specialised Lighting Solutions (SLS) and its global parent Sonepar have provided $500,000 towards the fund. Specialised Lighting Solutions were also La Trobe’s partner for its LED – Stage 1 project, supplying and installing over 25,000 LED light fittings across all La Trobe campuses.

All research projects are designed to either improve energy efficiency, sustainability or lighting.

The research projects

Testing more effective lighting sensors

Project Title: An embedded solution to energy efficient lighting for La Trobe Offices

This project aims to improve energy efficiency by turning off lights in vacant rooms or rooms with enough natural light that is suitable for office work.

An embedded system based on a low-cost micro-controller and a camera will be developed with the size of the system to be smaller than a credit card. It will act as a control to the light switch based on the images captured by the camera. If successful, a working prototype will be developed that can be easily installed in an office.

Lead Investigators: Dr Dennis Deng and Dr Robert Ross, Department of Engineering

Improving HVAC efficiency

Project Title: Reducing the cost and emission from split HVAC systems

This project will develop and deploy HVAC control units – which will be called Energy4climate (E4C) – to manage split HVAC systems in order to avoid:

  • Unnecessary running – by switching off operation when there is no one in a room or the building (e.g. common areas and corridors)
  • Inefficient use – by standardising optimal temperature and fan settings. E.g. avoid running the unit at unnecessarily low temperatures for long periods of time

The E4C units will automate the management of split HVACs avoiding ongoing energy waste.

Lead Investigator: Professor Ani Desai, Centre for Technology Infusion

Developing Australia’s first Green Lab

Project Title: The 1st Australian Green Lab. Developing a framework for sustainable labs at La Trobe University

The laboratories at La Trobe are some of the largest energy and resource consuming facilities within the university. Estimates indicate that laboratory spaces consume up to ten times more energy than office spaces, and scientists at the University of Exeter (UK) calculated that the average scientist in their facility was generating almost 1,000 Kg of plastic waste per year. Therefore, it is essential to look critically at the contribution and changes that La Trobe can make in its laboratories.

To be part of this effort for change, the Hill lab went through a certification process which included a rigorous review of protocols and practices and identified actions to improve the lab’s sustainability. It became the first sustainable Green Lab-certified laboratory in Australia, as recognised through the global initiative My Green Lab.

More importantly, these efforts will serve for the development of a framework for sustainable labs across La Trobe University and its campuses.Read more about Australia's first certified Green Lab.

Lead Investigators: Dr Eduard Willms and Professor Andrew Hill, College of Science, Health and Engineering

Developing wildlife friendly lighting

Person holding a sugar glider

Project Title: The dark side of energy efficient lighting: LED lights give wildlife the blues. Shifting spectral wavelengths to develop “Wildlife Friendly” lighting

The aim of the project is to quantify the impact of artificial night lighting on wildlife and develop “wildlife friendly” options to reduce impact.

Specific objectives are to:

  1. Gain a better understanding of how artificial light affects wildlife health and ecology.
  2. Experimentally assess our ability to mitigate the negative impacts of artificial light at night through the development and testing of “wildlife friendly” lighting.
  3. Generate guidelines regarding lighting design and spectral wavelengths required to meet industry standards and achieve conservation goals in ecologically sensitive areas

Lead Investigator: Dr Kylie Robert, Department of Ecology, Environment & Evolution

The scholarships

Congratulations to all our scholarship recipients. All projects demonstrated the ability to further our knowledge in energy efficiency, sustainability or lighting.

Understanding the impact of LED lighting on animals and testing ‘wildlife-friendly’ LED lighting

Scholarship recipient: Alicia Dimovski 

Alicia’s research, titled ‘Environmental sustainability and wildlife conservation: does energy-efficient lighting cause unexpected ecological damage?’ aims to gain a greater understanding of how direct and indirect light pollution affects the ecology of Australian animals.

Light pollution represents the most drastic change to the nocturnal environment by effectively turning night into day. However, we are only beginning to learn the damaging effects this has on nocturnal ecology. This is of particular concern in Australia where over 80% of our mammals are nocturnal.

A combination of lab and field studies will be used to identify the impacts.

In conjunction with lighting engineers, “wildlife-friendly LED lighting” will be developed and tested as an alternative to currently used lighting.

The animals chosen for the study are urban sugar gliders and involves understanding impacts on breeding as well. This work is also part of Dr Kylie Roberts work which was successful in receiving research funding from the Net Zero Fund.

Given the majority of old technology streetlighting (e.g. high-pressure sodium) is now past its 25-30-year lifespan there is an urgent and substantial need for the installation of energy and cost-efficient lighting. This provides a timely opportunity to develop and test sustainable, wildlife friendly lighting options.

This research will help inform industry to carry out sustainable lighting replacements which significantly reduce the negative impacts on Australian wildlife and contribute to the Department of the Environment and Energy’s next release of the National Light Pollution Guidelines for Wildlife

Developing AI algorithms to minimise energy consumption

Scholarship recipient: Prabod Rathnayaka, Research Center for Data Analytics and Cognition (CDAC), Business School, La Trobe University

Prabod’s project focuses on energy management and aims to:

  1. Design and develop new AI algorithms for LEAP, La Trobe’s Energy Analytics Platform to predict energy consumption
  1. Transform these algorithms into a data analytics platform within LEAP for La Trobe’s I&O division to use to optimise energy usage and thereby net zero carbon emission.

LEAP was developed by La Trobe’s Centre for Data Analytics and Cognition (CDAC) to consolidate internal energy-related data streams and external data sources into a centralised data platform to facilitate the application of data analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms, for actionable insights and energy optimisation.

The data from LEAP will enable La Trobe to keep energy consumption to optimal levels and therefore reduce our carbon and cost footprint. Real-time monitoring highlights anything out of the norm enabling further investigation by the operations team.

Once fully developed, LEAP will not be limited for use at La Trobe University locations; it will also provide a service to the local community; schools, not-for-profit organisations, and small businesses.

Creating energy efficient and secure IoT devices

Scholarship recipient: Quynh Ngo

This project, titled ‘Internet of Things – creating energy efficient and secure IoT devices – cyber security angle’ aims to develop a wireless energy self-sufficient and secure IoT network that could simultaneously guarantee data communications secrecy and energy constraint satisfaction.

The Internet of Things (IoT) aims to globally connect everyone and everything and to support every application. The advent of 5G facilitates and accelerates the process of having an IoT network that can support a massive number of connected devices with ultra-high speed and quasi-real-time connections. A network like this raises a variety of unavoidable challenges that today’s infrastructure is not equipped enough to handle. One of these major challenges is supplying adequate power to IoT devices to ensure uninterrupted power availability in real-life IoT system deployment.

The research has three main phases

  1. Develop power/energy saving mechanisms for platforms deployed for IoT
  1. Apply artificial intelligence onto the power/energy saving techniques to have an energy self-sufficient IoT network
  1. Research cybersecurity techniques to secure the network’s data communications.

The project is currently tracking towards the end of phase 1 with a paper titled “An Extreme Power Saving Directional MAC Protocol in IEEE 802.11ah Networks” which has been accepted for publication in IET Networks journal (IF: 2.58; H-index: 12; Q2).

Detecting cyber-attacks in Smart Grid

Scholarship recipient: Haftu Tasew Reda

The research titled ‘Detection of Data Integrity Cyber Attacks in Smart Grid Based on Data-Driven Approaches’ focuses on the detection of cyber-attacks called Falsified Data Injection Attacks (FDIA) in state estimation.

State estimation plays a very important role in smart power systems. Its purpose is to improve the dispatch of energy, system reliability and planning capabilities by understanding the operating state of the power system.

There is recent research showing that a newly emerged and coordinated class of cyber-attacks called Falsified Data Injection Attacks (FDIA) can circumvent existing detection techniques, mislead the power system state estimation, and induce abnormality in the power system operation.

The research will set out to:

  1. Identify vulnerabilities over existing power system state estimators
  1. Propose detection techniques to ensure the reliability of power system operations.

The proposed detection/defence scheme could bring a sustainable security solution towards the energy sector.

The role of film in reducing waste, pollution and exploitation caused by fast-fashion

Scholarship recipient: Nicole Pavich

The aim of the research is to consider how film can play a role in reducing the waste, pollution and exploitation caused by fast fashion. Simultaneously, it will investigate film’s capacity to increase the appeal and accessibility of sustainable apparel for millennials.

YouGov research has revealed millennials (aged 16-34) consume and dispose of fast fashion more than other generations in Australia (2017). Fast fashion economically bolsters clothing chains who rapidly manufacture cheap, large quantities, of un-durable apparel. This system costs the environment and offshore workers in its supply chain.

This project has examined several articulations of “fashion film” (including branded intermedial films, documentaries, user-generated content and 360-degree videos) to understand how existing screen texts are harnessing audio-visual media to present arguments and ideas about sustainable clothing.

This research has been well received at conferences in and beyond La Trobe University. Interviews with youth consumers, sustainable fashion activists and industry practitioners will form the next phase of this study. Two short films will also be produced that will test environmentally considerate, innovative film production practices and are scheduled for pre-production later this year.

This research also aims to identify and implement innovative filmmaking practices that champion environmental sustainability.

Other projects

A little goes a long way in the Net Zero Fund

La Trobe’s Net Zero program is so much more than LED lights and solar panels. Through the program’s Net Zero Fund, launched in 2020, students from La Trobe’s Sustainable Management and Marketing subject were recently given an opportunity to put their own spin on how we can all make ‘change for life’.

Read more