UNSW - Science

Professor Sahajwalla


Professor Veena Sahajwalla

Professor Veena Sahajwalla is one of Australia’s best known engineers and scientists who has made a significant contribution to the understanding and application of sustainable materials and processes and industrial scale recycling.

Her goal is to “re-imagine” waste so that the materials and resources lost in the world’s ever growing mountains of rubbish and end of life products can be re-used in industrial processes or to create new goods.

Professor Sahajwalla’s own research into high temperature reactions in electric arc furnace steel-making has led to the commercialisation of a world-first, patented “green steel” making process in collaboration with Australia’s largest manufacturer of long steel products, OneSteel.

In green steel making the coke used in electric arc furnaces is partially replaced with used tyres and waste plastics, demonstrating that problematic large scale waste can be successfully recycled back into commercially-viable industrial processes, while improving efficiencies and reducing emissions.

“Conventional recycling takes used plastics, for example and turns them back into plastic. But if we reconceive waste as a source of valuable materials and look at the elements it is made up of we can take one product at the end of its life and turn it into something entirely different,” she explained in a presentation to TEDx Sydney last year.

“Then we could never waste anything and we could successfully ‘mine’ our rubbish stockpiles instead of using new, virgin resources and materials.”

Professor Sahajwalla holds the OneSteel Chair of Recycling Sciences at UNSW; the Directorship of the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT@UNSW) and an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship at the University of NSW. She was appointed to Australia’s Climate Commission earlier this year.


Inspiration

“I have spent much of my life thinking about environmental solutions – as a child growing up in India I walked to school past huge waste dumps picked over by desperately poor communities. I always wanted to turn that waste into something we could absorb back into industrial production, allowing the rubbish pickers to resell refuse for reasonable prices in the process. We could begin to close down the world’s landfills by recapturing materials we currently throw away and reduce the unsustainable stripping of the earth’s resources. This “waste not” philosophy unpins all my work and all the work of SMaRT@UNSW”.


Major awards, honours, appointments

  • Eureka Prize for Scientific Research (2005)
  • Environmental Technology Award, US Association of Iron & Steel Technology (2006)
  • Elected Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) 2007.
  • Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award, Government of India, for outstanding achievement in the field of Science (2011)
  • Presenter, Tedx Sydney (2011) : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wMbdwfplBk .
  • Judge, Google Science Fair, US (2011)
  • Telstra Business Woman of the Year (Innovation) 2011
  • CRC Australian collaborative Innovation Award 2012
  • Appointed to Australian Climate Commission 2012