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Otago research to seek energy efficiency in NZ’s transport sector

The Clocktowers clock

Thursday 23 August 2012 2:59pm

Janet Stephenson
Dr Janet Stephenson

How to create an energy efficient transport sector is a question about to be tackled by University of Otago researchers in a multi-million dollar, multi-year project.

The University’s Centre for Sustainability has won a bid to run a national project looking at energy uses in New Zealand’s homes, small businesses and transport sector.

The Energy Cultures 2 team, headed by Centre Director Dr Janet Stephenson and consumer psychologist Professor Rob Lawson, has been funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to look at energy efficiency, particularly in transport. The team have been awarded more than $3 million over four years in the Ministry’s 2012 science investment round announced today. Information about Resilient urban futures and Functional formula, Two other Otago-led projects also gained funding in the round.

Dr Stephenson says the project hopes to answer the questions: “What energy efficiencies can be achieved with new transport technologies and practices? How can markets be encouraged to deliver them, and consumers to adopt them?”

“We will be looking into the future of transport, at what technologies are becoming available, what new fuels are likely, and how households and businesses might adopt these or change their behaviour in other ways. And then, how can we help make this road to the future a smooth one rather than full of bumps and diversions?”

The project, which has been funded for four years initially, also includes co-funding from EECA for national household/transport surveys, and Z Energy for research on fuel customers.

Dr Stephenson says the project will involve researchers from many disciplines at Otago, and additional expertise from Waikato University and two specialist consultancies. International collaborators include Oxford and Durham Universities in England, and universities in Sweden, Australia and America.

“This project leads on from our original three-year Energy Cultures project, which looked at energy efficiency in homes, and what were the barriers to uptake of efficiency measures,” she says.

“We created a framework for that project which involved looking at the interactions between the energy technologies in people’s homes, their energy practices, and their beliefs and understandings.

“The results have given us lots of insights into what prompts behaviour change, and we’ve been able to suggest practical solutions to overcoming barriers and improving our homes as a result.

“The team will now use that same framework in this new project, but extend that to small businesses and transport.

“There are huge cost savings and productivity gains to be made. We hope that our work will support a faster and more effective uptake of energy efficiency in all these areas.”

For more information, please contact

Dr Janet Stephenson
Centre for Sustainability
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 479 8779

Other Otago-led projects funded in the Ministry’s 2012 investment round:

Resilient urban futures

Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman (University of Otago, Wellington)
Director, New Zealand Centre for Sustainable Cities
$9,236,552 over 4 years
Mob 027 220 1620

Project description:

Most New Zealanders live in cities. Resilient Urban Futures explores which of several possible urban futures in the new green economy will be most resilient, liveable and competitive.

The research team led by the New Zealand Centre for Sustainable Cities, links five universities, NIWA and Motu, with end-users from local and central government, iwi, developers and community groups.

The aim of the research is to compare the broad costs and benefits and qualitative features of two possible urban development paths, one emphasising more compact development and the other emphasising more greenfield development.

We will study development in six cities, Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Kapiti, Wellington and Christchurch. We will extend our geographically-based models to integrate environmental impacts on air and water with other outcomes of urban developments such as different land-use, housing and transport patterns, and varying co-benefits for people’s health and welfare.

We will also analyse the possible efficiencies of local infrastructure and inter-urban infrastructure, in particular impacts of ultra-fast broadband, and transport links between the ports of Auckland, Tauranga and Whangarei, and the proposed inland port at Hamilton. The important roles of iwi with Treaty settlement resources in urban development, finance and governance of such infrastructure will also be explored.

Overall, this research will deliver New Zealand’s first comprehensive framework for considering urban futures – one that accounts for cities as complex systems and is informed by case studies – to enable government, developers and iwi to have a clear idea of the broad future consequences of different urban investment decisions.

Functional formula

Professor Gerald Tannock (Microbiology & Immunology)
$789,900 over 2 years
Tel 03 479 7713

Project description:

The research will investigate the use of novel carbohydrates (oligosaccharides) that can be added to infant formula made from cow’s milk. The carbohydrates will be extracted from NZ resources and modified chemically so that they resemble the oligosaccharides that occur naturally in human milk.

These kinds of oligosaccharides will enhance the growth of certain bacteria (bifidobacteria) that dominate the collection of bowel bacteria in healthy breast milk-fed babies.

Oligosaccharides selected on this basis will lead to the production of infant formula from cow’s milk that will mimic the effect of human milk in enriching the bacterial collection in baby bowels with bifidobacteria.

Specifically, the research will involve testing the effects of these novel carbohydrates on bifidobacterial physiology. Particular focus will be on the effects of the carbohydrates on a keystone species of bifidobacteria. The physiological effects on the bacteria will be measured and the impact of these physiological effects on the interplay between different kinds of bifidobacteria will be studied. Mathematical models will be generated from the data and used to predict the outcome on bowel ecology of adding the novel carbohydrates to infant formula.

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