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Australian wins international award for research into repurposing glass waste

An Australian has won a national award for his research into a process that could turn waste glass into every day products ranging from fertilisers to toothpaste.

The University of Queensland PhD candidate is the first Australian to win Young Innovator of the Year at the Falling Walls Berlin conference.

Rhys Pirie won the international competition with his presentation, which explained how his work used broken glass destined for landfill to create sodium silicate.

“We estimate the process is more than 50 per cent cheaper than conventional ways of producing silicate,” Pirie said.

“It requires less energy, raw materials and capital, and that’s before you consider the reduced social and economic costs compared to landfilling material.”

Pirie was selected to present in Berlin by the Australian Academy of Science after impressing judges at the Falling Walls Lab Australia event in Canberra in September.

He received support from Trade and Investment Queensland and UQ Global Engagement and Entrepreneurship to attend.

The process, developed with Professor Damien Batstone from the University of Queensland’s Advanced Water Management Centre, can be used to make thousands of products, from concrete sealers to detergents.

“The transition towards circular economies is a movement which is gaining momentum and something I’ve always been interested in,” Pirie said.

The Falling Walls Berlin conference is a global gathering of innovators and scientists, brought together to share their breakthroughs and plans to impact science and society.

The conference is held annually on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.