5 ways university science is partnering with industry in critical minerals

September 06, 2022

Australian university science is partnering with industry to produce high-performance, alloys, batteries and circuits.

1.University of Queensland + Cobalt Blue

TECH: High-performance alloys and batteries

MINERAL: Cobalt

Cobalt is a critical mineral often associated with its bright blue colour. It has historically been used in relatively small quantities to produce lightweight but durable alloys like those used in aircraft. It’s a potential boom mineral, with uses in satellite and space travel projects, and in 

high-performance batteries where rapid charge and discharge is key — think top-end car batteries. 

Cobalt Blue and the University of Queensland are working together to investigate and rehabilitate old copper mines where the tailings contain cobalt.

2. University of Queensland + EQ Resources

TECH: Circuits and cooling for electronic devices

MINERAL: Tungsten

Tungsten is a rare mineral used to make alloys that are extremely durable against both heat and wear. Tungsten alloys are some of the hardest metals around, almost as hard as diamond, making them good for things such as heavy cutting blades, armaments and aeronautics. But tungsten is also used in many electronic components, for filaments, electrodes and heat sinks. 

In January 2022, EQ Resources received a co-investment from the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre to re-mine waste product at the Mt Carbine tungsten mine site, supported by the Sustainable Minerals Institute at UQ.

3. PARTNERSHIP: University of Tasmania + Group 6 Metals

MINERAL: Tungsten

Tungsten is also a critical part of much modern circuitry as a heat sink: essentially a piece of metal that sits inside your phone, laptop or other electronic device that transfers heat away from the processor so that the delicate circuitry stays cool and doesn’t overheat or melt. China is currently the dominant global producer for tungsten, which brings with it some environmental and social governance concerns. Australia has tungsten deposits in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and along the eastern seaboard, presenting  an opportunity for Australia to step up its tungsten production and deliver a more ethically produced metal in this space. The partnership between the University of Tasmania and Group 6 is built around research into ecologically sustainable production of tungsten at King Island.

4. QUT + Lava Blue

TECH: Batteries

MINERAL: Alumina, magnesium, vanadium

High Purity Alumina is a product used in the energy-efficient lights of today — LEDs — as well as for separators for lithium-ion batteries. QUT Associate Professor Sara Couperthwaite’s research alongside industry partner Lava Blue has shown this valuable mineral — as well as critical minerals magnesium and vanadium — can be found in kaolin clay. 

In April 2022, the collaborative project received $12 million in funding to scale-up operations at Redlands Research Park in south-east Brisbane. 

“This investment is helping Queensland become not just a mining state but a high-tech developer of the future energy needs for the world,” says QUT Vice-Chancellor Prof Margaret Sheil.

5. Curtin University + Draslovka

TECH: Electrical conduction

MINERAL: Gold

More than just a luxury metal used in jewellery, gold, while not a critical mineral, is a key element in many electronic devices important to the renewable energy economy. Its high conductivity makes electroplating in gold an important part of circuit boards. Curtin University scientists have developed technology that uses amino acids such as glycine to leach gold and other minerals from ore, including waste tailings. The method removes the need to use cyanide in the extraction of gold, making it a much more environmentally friendly process. The Curtin Uni-developed technology was commercialised when Czech multinational chemical supplier Draslovka purchased it in May this year.

First published in Australian University Science

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