Tag Archives: Deakin University

Supercharging the next generation

ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials scientists (l to r): Associate Professor Jenny Pringle, Dr Danah Al-Masri, Dr Mega Kar and Professor Douglas Macfarlane.

The ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials is taking teamwork to new levels.

The ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) is an impressive knowledge hub that has significant runs on the board, including the creation of spin-off company AquaHydrex. Set up in Wollongong in 2012, the now Colorado-based energy company utilises fundamental science research outcomes to commercialise an innovative and cheaper way of producing hydrogen.

But talk to the teams that conduct research at ACES and the passion for knowledge translation, training and entrepreneurship are just part of the story. What comes through most clearly is that it’s simply a great place to work.

The ACES focus is on training the next generation of research leaders and providing manufacturing and industry opportunities across health, energy and smart materials. There are five international partners and seven Australian universities on board: the University of Wollongong, Deakin University, Monash University, the University of Tasmania, Australian National University, University of Melbourne and Swinburne University of Technology.

Deakin University Associate Professor Jenny Pringle says it’s a “strong, tight-knit community”. “Students get to hear about everything, it’s really diverse.”

Collaboration is facilitated through weekly dial-in meetings, and twice yearly national and international symposia. Students regularly present at workshops, and training in entrepreneurship and communications is prioritised.

A/Prof Pringle is project leader for thermal energy storage and battery materials, and a chief investigator at the Institute for Frontier Materials, an ACES collaboration partner, where she works with PhD graduate Dr Danah Al-Masri. With colleagues ACES Energy Theme leader Professor Douglas MacFarlane and Laureate Research Fellow Dr Mega Kar, their métier is creating cheaper, safer energy harvesting and storage systems. Dr Kar’s focus is on new battery materials to improve or replace lithium ion batteries, which are widely used in laptops and phones and can be expensive and, rarely, but catastrophically, unstable.

Dr Al-Masri is one of around 70 PhD students at ACES, more than three-quarters of whom come from overseas. “Efficient energy storage is such a complex problem — you have to collaborate and some of the best people are working across the world,” she says. “ACES’s strong international reputation allows us to come together.” 

The centre draws in physicists, chemists, biologists and engineers, with the recognition that basic science is critical. “Exceptional science is at the core of everything the centre does,” says

A/Prof Pringle. The team works across the innovation system, from designing electrolytes — materials with an electric charge — to prototyping batteries that are tested in electric cars, laptops and mobile phones, always seeking energy storage’s holy grail: inexpensive materials that need to be charged less often, but hold their charge for longer. 

“The critical outcome of our research shows we can outperform some of the lithium batteries out there, which has led to some patents and interest from industry,” says Dr Kar. 

“Within ACES, we have a good gender balance and we encourage students from all backgrounds to focus on climate change and global warming. Storage is a hot topic right now and we need the best of the best to be involved,” she says.

Professor MacFarlane says that while it’s exciting to see the application of fundamental science come to fruition, the outcome from ACES is more than great basic science.

“One of our top priorities and our chief outcome is our bright young scientists – that’s what we produce mostly, and the science is the vehicle for that training. If we can produce exceptional science as well, that’s a bonus.”

Heather Catchpole

This article appears in Australian University Science Issue 1.

aerogel

Turning jeans into joints: artificial cartilage from denim aerogel

This aerogel, which is synthesised from recycled denim, shares the material properties of joint cartilage. Image credit: Deakin University.

The team, which includes Deakin scientist Dr Nolene Byrne and PhD candidate Beini Zeng, have been pioneering advanced textile recycling methods in a joint project with Deakin’s Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM) and the School of Engineering.

One of their developments has been the use of recycled textiles to form aerogels.  Aerogels are a class of low density materials with a range of applications, which include water filtration and separators in advanced battery technologies.

Denim is an excellent candidate for forming aerogels because the cotton it is woven from is composed of a natural polymer, cellulose. “Cellulose is a versatile renewable material, so we can use liquid solvents on waste denim to allow it to be dissolved and regenerated into an aerogel,” explains Dr Byrne. The process is known as sol gel synthesis.

Aerogels have highly porous structures and extremely low densities. Dr Byrne describes the synthesis of the artificial cartilage aerogel as an unexpected discovery. “It has a unique porous structure and nanoscopic tunnels running through the sample. That’s exactly what cartilage looks like,” she said.

This surprising finding is particularly exciting because of the challenges involved with trying to control the properties of artificial cartilage in tissue engineering. “You can’t 3D print that material,” says Dr Byrne. “Now we can shape and tune the aerogel to manipulate the size and distribution of the tunnels to make the ideal shape.” The pores of the aerogel can be manipulated based on the drying technique – for example, supercritical CO2 drying is used to obtain an aerogel in the form of nanospheres.

The aerogels are now being tested to optimise their mechanical properties. “We are now entering pilot-scale trials and look to be at commercial scale within 3 to 5 years with industry support.”

This unique method of recycling denim will also help contribute to minimising textile waste, says Dr Byrne. “Textile waste is a global challenge with significant environmental implications, and we’ve been working for more than four years to address this problem with a viable textile recycling solution,” she said.

Textile recycling involves the use of chemicals, which can be both expensive and environmentally unfriendly. “We use environmentally-friendly chemicals, and by upcycling our approach to create a more advanced material we can address the limitations affecting other less cost-effective methods,” says Dr Byrne.

For more information, visit the Deakin Institute for Frontier Materials and the ARC Research Hub for Future Fibres.

– Larissa Fedunik

corrosion

Fighting corrosion in the desert

Natural gas pipelines are a vital part of our infrastructure, bringing energy from distant fields to households and industry. Maintaining the integrity of pipelines is a crucial factor to keeping the gas flowing – a major concern of the Energy Pipelines CRC (EPCRC), which is tasked with enabling safer, more efficient and reliable pipelines to meet Australia’s growing energy needs.

Deakin University PhD student Ying Huo had first-hand experience of the impact of the work of the EPCRC during a three-week industry placement last year, working with a team detecting corrosion in pipelines on just a small section of Australia’s 35,000 km long gas pipeline network.

Corrosion can be caused by a number of factors related to the environment around the pipeline. The damage caused by corrosion can potentially affect the pipeline’s integrity. Inspection technology uses ultrasound and magnetic measurements to find corrosion and determine its area and depth. Pipeline operators can then decide how best to deal with the corrosion.

“Every student should get the chance to get out in the field to see how industry works,” says Huo.

“I was able to observe firsthand how technology and asset management decisions are used to ensure the safe and continued operation of pipelines in Australia.”

This opportunity would not have been possible without the strong collaboration between the Australian pipeline industry and the EPCRC.

– David Ellyard

www.epcrc.com.au