An Indigenous researcher at RMIT is using his passion for sustainability to tread new ground in the circular economy.
Face masks dumped next to rubbish bins and gloves floating into gutters were some of the concerning sights that Shannon Kilmartin-Lynch regularly observed in the early days of the pandemic.
Concerned about the amount of waste that ended up in landfill, Kilmartin-Lynch was motivated to put the excess PPE to better use.
As a PhD researcher and a Vice-Chancellor’s Indigenous Pre-Doctoral Fellow at RMIT, Kilmartin-Lynch had the skills and expertise to do so, but on a personal level, his Indigenous identity has proved to be his biggest motivation and helped to guide the path forward.
“Caring for Country is a big part of Indigenous identity. It means not only caring for the physical country, but the spiritual bond you have with Country. These go hand-in-hand,” says Kilmartin-Lynch, a proud Taungurung man from Mansfield in Victoria.
“When you take care of Country, then you take care of yourself and your mob.”
Together with Dr Rajeev Roychand, Dr Mohammad Saberian, Professor Jie Li, Professor Kevin Zhang and Professor Sujeeva Setunge, has managed to turn excess personal protective equipment (PPE) into concrete reinforcement.
“Taking waste that’s usually bound for landfill and incorporating that as fibrous reinforced concrete has huge applications,” says Kilmartin-Lynch.
“It’s a significant development that’s moving us further towards a circular economy.”
Spearheading sustainability in engineering
RMIT’s focus on sustainability became readily apparent to Kilmartin-Lynch when he was completing his Bachelor of Civil and Infrastrucutre Engineering at the university from 2015-2018.
“Sustainability made up a few of the core subjects, including sustainable building design, sustainable transport and sustainable materials,” says Kilmartin-Lynch.
“Being able to incorporate sustainability across a wide range of applications within civil engineering is something that I’ve really valued at RMIT.”
His personal commitment to environmental causes, and the opportunities that RMIT offers to contribute in this space, provided Kilmartin-Lynch with a clear progression pathway.
“It’s definitely a big reason why I transitioned into a PhD program to focus on sustainability – for my country, for my people, for my daughter and for my family. Sustainability really hits home for me personally,” says Kilmartin-Lynch.
While Kilmartin-Lynch and his team are continuing to pursue the PPE project, other researchers in the School of Engineering are also making significant inroads towards a more sustainable future.
Many researchers are exploring ways of using waste tyre rubbers as a replacement for asphalt, bitumen and concrete.
Last year, engineers at RMIT manufactured a concrete replacement using treaded tyre particles.
“They developed a way to incorporate used tyres as a 100 per cent replacement,” says Kilmartin-Lynch. “What’s really impressive is that it had no negative effects on the concrete whatsoever.
“Using waste more effectively and giving it a second life is a big target at RMIT.”
Opening the door
Encouraged by his own positive experience, Kilmartin-Lynch hopes other Indigenous students will consider applying for the RMIT fellowship.
“It’s a great opportunity for Indigenous people to get their foot in the door to become early researchers,” says Kilmartin-Lynch.
“There are so many different areas you can study, and so many ways to contribute to your community. It’s definitely something I would promote in my community.”
He also encourages aspiring engineers more broadly to pursue a PhD at RMIT.
“The PhD program has enabled our team to target research that helps to promote sustainability in different areas and across different applications. Whatever area you’re interested in, RMIT will make sure you’re in the right spot and doing the right research for you.”
PhD applications are currently underway at RMIT. Find out more and explore opportunities for further study on the RMIT website.