5 ways small business benefits from university science.

May 11, 2021

From solar cells to meat substitutes, Australian university sciences adds value to Australian small business.

Image: Professor Paul Dastoor from the Centre for Organic Electronics at the University of Newcastle.

1. Featherweight printed solar cells could power walls, roofs and windows

The new field of organic electronics emerged in the 1970s with the Nobel Prize winning discovery of polymer materials that could conduct electricity. Fast-forward three decades and Professor Paul Dastoor established the Centre for Organic Electronics at the University of Newcastle in 2007. It is here where he has developed thin films, surface coatings and cheap, lightweight printable solar cells within recyclable plastic sheets.

Recently, just five workers installed a 200 square-metre solar fixture on a Newcastle factory roof using these sheets, in just one day. “Our vision is a world in which every building in every city in every country has printed solar cells generating low-cost sustainable energy for everyone,” says Dastoor. “This latest installation has brought the goal of solar roofs, walls and windows a step closer.”

2. Meat substitute teams with food science in alt-protein startup

Microbiologist and food scientist Professor Martin Cole — who heads the University of Adelaide’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine — has teamed up with plant-based meat substitute startup v2food as its chief scientific advisor. Cole’s research includes using yeast to predict food shelf-life, and grain and legume breeding. “As a nation, we are globally competitive on grain and meat exports, however we could be delivering far greater value out of the raw commodities we produce,” he says. The company’s founder, Nick Hazell, says innovative research has helped v2food create an affordable alternative to meat, and flavour chemistry and agricultural science is important to its success.

3. Environmental DNA in seawater protects endangered species

Environmental impact statements which influence decisions about where to locate large infrastructure projects are usually conducted by small specialist agencies. Their reporting requirements can be onerous, particularly when it comes to biological surveys to locate endangered animals and understand ecosystem interactions. Curtin University’s Trace and Environmental DNA (TrEnD) Laboratory in the School of Molecular and Life Sciences has developed a test that can locate rare marine and aquatic species by testing water for fragments of mitochondrial DNA. “Detection of rare or cryptic species in their environment can be challenging at the best of times and our results show eDNA [environmental DNA] can offer conservation agencies an additional monitoring tool to augment existing approaches,” says Curtin University Research Fellow Dr Nicole White.

4. At-home saliva solution licks invasive diabetes tests 

Associate Professor Guozhen Liu completed her chemistry PhD at the University of NSW, and she has developed smart biosensing platforms that can detect tiny traces of certain materials in the body — such as insulin, glucose, cytokines, microRNA and nucleic acid — to aid diagnosis of various conditions. In 2018, she teamed up with entrepreneur Kaiji Wang to launch Bio-Sens Tech, a startup that produces a low-cost smart paper test strip which allows at-home diabetes diagnosis and insulin monitoring using saliva and a smartphone app. This non-invasive, accurate detection of insulin levels is very low cost for consumers.

5. Nanotube slice device processes advanced materials

New Australian company 2D Fluidics, based in Nedlands, Western Australia, sells a device to let industrial chemists ‘slice’ carbon nanotubes so research teams can work with single cells and small molecules to process advanced materials. The device is based on technology from Flinders University chemistry Professor Colin Raston, who invented the Vortex Fluidic Device which can rapidly create a range of chemicals in water and other non-toxic liquids, reducing the cost and environmental harm in a range of chemical processes.

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