Green hydrogen project takes Curtinnovation Awards’ biggest prize

November 14, 2023

A new and cost-effective way to extract green hydrogen from untreated water has won the highest prize at this year’s Curtinnovation Awards.

The water electrolysis method developed by Curtin University Professor Zongping Shao and PhD candidate Ms Jiayi Tang works on unpurified water sources, including seawater. Their approach uses an alternative catalyst that costs just one tenth of existing methods and could produce green hydrogen at 60 per cent of the current cost.

Curtin Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research, Professor Melinda Fitzgerald congratulated the new generation of innovators.

“This year’s field of finalists was incredibly impressive, and I want to congratulate all of them for their outstanding work in trying to solve some of the world’s most difficult challenges,” Professor Fitzgerald said.

“As the global call for decarbonisation intensifies, it’s especially pleasing to see this year’s Griffith Hack Winner go to a project that is focussed on solving the energy needs of the future.

“I look forward to following Professor Shao and Ms Tang, along with all the Curtinnovation teams as they continue their journeys towards commercialisation of their fantastic innovations.”

The green hydrogen project was one of 10 bold new products and services named winners at the Curtinnovation Awards 2023 event, including a deployable sensor system capable of flying under the radar to track aircraft and satellites, a theory based chatbot designed to support mental health in young people, an AI-driven model to predict the quality of a pineapple that doesn’t damage the fruit, and a leading national education platform that is improving access to school content.

The annual Curtinnovation Awards recognise Curtin’s commitment to transforming exceptional research into new products and services that benefit the community, with leading research acknowledged across Curtin’s Faculties of Science and Engineering, Health Sciences, Business and Law and Humanities. Prizes are also awarded for the top submissions from a Curtin Entrepreneurs program graduate, the Learning and Teaching department, International or Student team, and the Trailblazer prize for the submission that can benefit the critical minerals and resources industry. 

The winners from the 2023 Curtinnovation Awards include:

  • Griffith Hack Overall Winner – Green Hydrogen: an electrolyser to produce green hydrogen from untreated water

The two existing methods for extracting hydrogen from water have their limitations: one process requires ultrapure water and an expensive catalyst, the other requires significantly higher energy inputs for the same level of hydrogen production. Curtin researchers have created a new water electrolysis method that employs unpurified water sources, including sea water. Their approach uses an alternative catalyst that costs just one tenth of existing methods, calculated to offer up to a 38% cost saving in hydrogen production. This exciting development could be a cost effective, plentiful source of hydrogen that contributes to the achievement of global zero carbon goals. 

Team: Professor Zongping Shao and Ms Jiayi Tang

Video: Watch the team video here.

  • Business & Law Award –Curtin ANI Research: An automated self-service market research solution​ for SMES

ANI Research is a self-serve, market research platform that helps businesses understand their customers’ needs, identify new opportunities, test new products and make data-driven decisions. The fully automated platform draws from a bank of proven questions to create a customised survey with associated analysis and data presentation templates. Data is collected via shareable survey links or consumer panel services, and the statistically validated analytics are applied to the results. Rather than only providing data to the business, the automated analysis and interpretation assists in creating true insight.  Disrupting the domain of full-service market research agencies, ANI Research’s affordable subscription model makes rigorous market research accessible to even the most modestly funded organisations and start-ups and empowers and educates clients to make informed data-driven decisions. 

Team: Professor Billy Sung, Dr Sean Lee. 

Video: Watch the team video here.

  • Curtin Entrepreneurs Award- Tempo: A two-sided marketplace for health providers and health professionals

Tempo is a new web app designed to help address Australia’s growing healthcare needs. The innovative two-sided platform helps healthcare providers find available, qualified practitioners to fill shifts quickly in a variety of healthcare settings, while allowing freelance healthcare professionals the chance to nominate their availability, and to negotiate their pay rate for each shift they accept. Previously, agencies have acted as the hub between professionals and providers, but the Tempo app now gives all parties greater flexibility. The web app offers self-employed healthcare professionals more control over their work-life balance, helping avoid burnout, while healthcare providers who have previously relied on a time-consuming booking process, now have instant access to a pool of practitioners with just one post.  

Team: Ms Nicola Cuthbert

Video: Watch the team video here.

  • Health Sciences Award- MYLO: A novel mental health chatbot

Manage Your Life Online, or MYLO, is an AI web-based chatbot that generates specific questions for individual users, prompting users to ask questions they may not have thought to ask themselves. The app is designed to emulate ‘Method of Levels’ therapy, which encourages users to listen to themselves. It also uses elements of Perceptual Control Theory, prompting users to find ways to change their perception of challenges they face to better manage their life and emotions. Users are able to rate the helpfulness of each question, informing and improving future questioning. The Curtin MYLO project team has forged strong ties around the globe with mental health service providers, commercial entities and development partners interested in researching, funding and distributing MYLO. In the future, the team anticipate translations of the app to other languages and platforms to support a wider international audience.   

Team: Professor Warren Mansell, Ms Aimee-Rose Wrightson-Hester, Professor Melanie Johnston-Hollitt, Mr Joel Dunstan, Mx Georgia Anderson

Video: Watch the team video here.

  • Humanities Award- Marri Gum Dye: a natural dye extract from the Western Australian Marri gum

With the global textile industry seeking out sustainable alternatives to toxic synthetic dyes, this offers a new, energy-efficient method to produce a natural dye from the iconic Western Australian marri tree. Marri gum contains up to 70% soluble and insoluble tannins, giving it the potential to become an effective natural dye, but up until now, the insoluble elements, which cause colour inconsistences, have proven difficult to remove. The discovery is an efficient way to separate the soluble and insoluble fractions of the gum in cold water to create a water-soluble extract that produces yellow-brown colours on cloth, or with the addition of a food-grade reducing agent, pink to pinkish-red hues.   The next step is a collaboration with Aboriginal artists participating in the Noongar Arts Program who are exploring natural, locally made dyes for the creation of their work. The team envisages a commercialisation model led by Noongar businesses for harvesting and producing the dye, with the support of state and federal government initiatives. 

Team: Ms Helen Coleman 

Video: Watch the team video here.

  • International Award- Pine-sense: A new AI-driven model to predict pineapple quality based on skin colours

The humble pineapple fruit is popular worldwide, with the global pineapple market forecast to reach US$23.1 billion by 2026. However, current methods to test the flavour profile and quality of a pineapple prior to sale are time consuming and invasive, destroying the fruit in the process. Researchers at Curtin Malaysia have developed Pine Sense, a non-destructive AI method that identifies a correlation between the colour of the fruit’s shell and its sweetness or acidity.  An image of each pineapple is separated from its background, and its colour data is assessed through quality prediction modelling. Pine Sense’s ability to quickly and accurately assess pineapples, without destroying the fruit, makes it possible to grade individual fruit for different sectors of the market during processing. With Malaysia producing on average 400,000 to 600,000 tons of pineapples yearly, this new innovation aims to benefit the local and wider pineapple market by helping producers identify higher quality varieties, while reducing product waste. 

Team:  Dr Christine Yeo Wan Sieng, Mr Eric Chua Yong Hong (Curtin Malaysia)

Video: Watch the team video here.

  • Learning & Teaching Award- Elucidate Education: a not-for-profit education platform

Elucidate Education is Australia’s largest not-for-profit education platform, making upper secondary school learning resources accessible to all students, regardless of their circumstances.  Curtin students have joined forces with a large team of university volunteers to create curriculum-based textbooks, online content and videos that are already proving to be effective. To date, 82,000 students globally have accessed the material, with many expressing a preference for these learning resources.  While the textbooks are available for purchase by all students and high schools, Elucidate Education also uses a two-for-one donation model aimed at supplying every third textbook for free to students who are financially disadvantaged, or who are under-resourced due to regional isolation. Following its initial roll-out in Western Australia and Victoria, Elucidate Education has an Australia-wide expansion plan to increase the number of volunteers writing textbooks for middle and upper school learning. The team is also developing a production studio for the creation of educational content.  

Team: Mr Christian Bien, Mr Jack Anderson, Mr Patrick Catambay, Ms Hannah Knight, Mr Ben Whitten 

Video: Watch the team video here.

  • Science & Engineering Award- Space Domain Awareness: a deployable sensor system

Curtin researchers have harnessed their expertise in imaging distant galaxies to create a highly portable and ‘invisible’ radar system, with exciting potential applications for the defence and aerospace industries. The Space Domain Awareness (or SDA) system was designed in-house and looks for reflections of FM radio and TV station signals that have bounced off objects in the sky.  Using this method, the SDA system does not broadcast its position, unlike conventional radar systems, which transmit a dedicated signal and look for its reflections. By employing techniques from radio astronomy applications, such as low noise amplification of weak signals, the SDA system has the capability to track aircraft or even objects in orbit thousands of kilometres away. The highly portable system was manufactured in Western Australia and can be deployed by a small team in under two hours. 

Team: Associate Professor Randall Wayth, Ms Emmaline Yearsley, Mr Jake Jones, Ms Aoife Stapleton, Ms Mia Walker, Mr Luke Verduyn

Video: Watch the team video here.

  • Student Award- MacroMop: Enhanced immune cells to remove diseased tissue

A special type of immune cell could offer an alternative treatment pathway for patients with infections that have become immune to antibiotics, or patients with cancers that are not responding to chemotherapy. The cells, known as macrophages and microglia, consume and remove infected and damaged tissue in a process known as phagocytosis. A team of Curtin researchers have identified a novel protein, present in the macrophage cell, that when increased, dials up the rate and capacity of phagocytosis. These ‘super active’ macrophages could potentially be applied or injected into specific infection sites or tumours to ‘consume’ the diseased tissue more quickly. While macrophage therapy is currently being explored, the use of this protein is new and presents a novel way to increase the utility of macrophage therapy. The next phase of research will look into the potential of other further therapeutic uses, such as improving the skin condition of burns patients, enhancing pathogen recognition by macrophages in infections, and modifying the environment of solid tumours. 

Team: Ms Melissa Eccles, Dr Benjamin Dwyer, Associate Professor Giuseppe Verdile

Video: Watch the team video here

  • Trailblazer Award- Hydrobe®: a scalable carbon capture process

Finding ways to capture and recycle carbon discharged by heavy industries is critical to achieving net zero emissions targets. Western Australian company Hydrobe has developed a new, sustainable approach to decarbonisation that uses a biological process to convert carbon into algal biomass, without generating new carbon. Hydrobe is using Curtin research to quantify and improve the effectiveness of recycling carbon into organic carbon while co-producing hydrogen. As Hydrobe’s core technology doesn’t require high heat or pressure, the cost, size and energy footprint of large-scale photosynthetic reactor systems are reduced. A recent independent study has confirmed the viability of Hydrobe’s process at scale, and an ability to produce hydrogen for less than USD$2 per kilogram. 

Team: Mr Brent Bonadeo (Co-Founder and Executive Director, Hydrobe), Mr Duncan Anderson (Chair, Hydrobe), Mr Jaco Zandberg (Head of Research & Development, Hydrobe), Dr Nadia LeineckerDr Milinkumar Shah, DrSufia Hena, Associate Professor Tejas Bhatelia. 

Video: Watch the team video here.

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