Tag Archives: Swinburne 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.

Graphene: an energy storage alternative

Super-thin, super-capacity, clean batteries from graphene oxide

An energy storage alternative using technology better than lithium or even solar is under development as researchers work to efficiently capture the energy of graphene oxide (GO).  

Under a new $3.45 million Cooperative Research Centre Project (CRC-P) grant, researchers at Swinburne University of Technology and Flinders University will partner with Australian industry to commercialise the world’s first alternative to lithium-ion battery (LIB) technology as an energy storage alternative.

The industry collaboration, with Australian Stock Exchange-listed First Graphene Ltd and  Victorian manufacturer Kremford Pty Ltd, aims to make inroads into the production of a new super-capacity GO-powered battery, an energy storage alternative to the emerging LIB technology.  

Researchers at Swinburne’s Centre for Micro-Photonics are working on a commercially viable, chemical-free, long-lasting safe GO-based supercapacitor which offers high performance and low-cost energy storage capabilities.  

Graphene is the lightest, strongest, most electrically conductive material available and has been predicted to generate revolutionary new products in many industry sectors. But so far unreliable quality and poor manufacturing processes has prevented an industrial graphene market.

Last year First Graphite entered into a research agreement with Professor Raston’s research group at Flinders University to improve GO processing and production.     

The new national CRC Project via the Australian Government’s Advance Manufacturing Fund will expand Flinders University’s clean technologies and nanotech research focus.

Professor Colin Raston, the South Australian Premier’s Professorial Research Fellow in Clean Technology, says there is significant global research to improve energy storage capability to support its role in the development of sustainable energy storage systems.

“For example, we’re seeing the rapid rise of LIB around the world, notably with South Australia’s significant investment in the new storage facility near Jamestown in this State.”

The ‘High performance energy storage alternative to lithium ion batteries’ project seeks to advance the GO-based supercapacitor that has promising superior energy density, flexibility and environmental sustainability ahead of traditional batteries.

“This project aims to develop the manufacturing specifications for the commercial production of a graphene oxide (GO) super-capacitor with the ‘look and feel’ of a LIB but with superior performance across weight, charge rate, lifecycle and environmental footprint factors,” Professor Raston says.

“The production of GO from graphite ore, without generating lots of waste, is an important part of this collaborative project.”

First Graphene (ASX code: FGR) managing director Craig McGuckin says the $1.5 million in CRC-P funding, to be matched by the partner organisations and in-kind, would propel the company’s innovative approach to finding real-world applications for graphene.

“The success in the fourth round of the CRC-P funding demonstrates the high regard in which the company’s research efforts are held,” Mr McGuckin said.

“It also shows the robustness of the programs designed by FGR’s university partners.”

First published by Flinders University, 12 December 2017

Image: By AlexanderAlUS – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11294534

Read next: The Sunshine Factory 

machine learning

New frontiers in digital disruption

The building blocks of digital technology consists of information theory (which codifies content into binary 0/1 format) and transistors (essentially on/off switches). They were both invented during the hey-day of American research and scientific development company Bell Labs in the decade following WWII. Subsequently, each new and improved wave of digitisation has caused upheaval as it visits particular markets and occupations. However, from the perspective of the whole production and consumption system, progress has been relatively slow and staggered compared to what we are likely to see in the future.

In the 1950s, computers at even the most advanced tech locations in the US comprised two-storey buildings and only performed highly specialised and limited functions. It was not until the 1980s – when smaller mainframes became cheap and fast enough to replace routine operations – that digital technology effectively eliminated the labour market for clerical workers.

Automation, robots and digitally guided technologies started making inroads into manufacturing around this time. Although satellites have been used since the 1960s to provide market intelligence for producers (giving US farmers advice on what and how many crops their competitors were growing, for example), it took until the 2010s for satellite-aided location services to become ubiquitous and part of consumers’ daily lives.

More and more, digital disruption is being triggered by innovative software, such as travel search engines and language translation services, rather than hardware. Since software can be shifted into large-scale production much faster than hardware, this accelerates the pace of disruption.

One form of software that is playing an increasingly important role is a form of artificial intelligence called ‘machine learning’. Computers are governed by algorithms comprised of many rules that dictate “if X, then do Y”. These rules are usually set by the programmer(s) that wrote the algorithm code. But things are different in the case of machine learning algorithms. Such an algorithm can ‘learn’ from data by altering its own parameters, progressively improving its ability to determine patterns or predict future trends in the data (analogous to the way our brains learn from past experience).

For example, machine learning algorithms have been used for the past two decades in spam filters. When we label emails as spam, we are generating a labelled dataset that can be used to train a machine learning algorithm to recognise the properties of emails that are usually associated with spam. The trained algorithm can then remove such emails automatically.

Machine learning has even begun transforming the oldest of professions, such as medicine and the law, hitherto considered the preserve of nuanced interpretation and experiential knowhow. Law has long resisted automation from computers and digital analytics, in part because of the non-routine nature of contracts and litigation. However, this is now changing as machine learning methods have partially automated tasks by detecting patterns and inferring rules from data.

eDiscovery is one such digital tool used to assist lawyers’ search through emails and piles of office documents to find evidence needed to clinch a case (looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack). Machine learning can disrupt the eDiscovery process by efficiently bringing together similar documents based on their contents and metadata. Brainspace provides lawyers an eDiscovery tool that increases the efficiency and accuracy of finding information pertinent to a court case. Alternatively, ROSS, a machine learning law tool, can provide answers to legal research questions, posed using natural language, and can monitor recent legal developments that are relevant to a particular case.

In medicine, machine learning algorithms are increasingly being used to help perform radiological diagnoses. They can be trained to classify medical scans as normal or diseased, or to quantify the size of diseased areas. In the area of brain cancer, Microsoft’s InnerEye research project has been investigating the use of an image analysis tool to measure the size of brain tumours.

As these machine learning methods save lawyers’ and medicos’ time, we will see their labour productivity rise along with a major shift in content of their work, and perhaps a reduction in the demand for lawyers and medicos. Handled sensibly by governments, this reduced demand will release workers for other occupations in for example, the creative, scientific and caring industries.

Professor Beth Webster

Pro Vice-Chancellor of Swinburne University (Research Policy and Impact) and Director, Centre for Transformative Innovation

Co-authored by:

machine learning

Dr Stephen Petrie, Data Scientist, Centre for Transformative Innovation 

machine learning

Mitchell Adams, Research Centre Manager, Centre for Transformative Innovation

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