Tag Archives: university research

hydrogen economy

The future Hydrogen Economy is scaffolded by universities

The world faces a huge challenge in sustainably delivering our energy needs. Hydrogen promises to become a major clean energy contributor, yet currently most of the world’s 70 million tonnes of hydrogen produced each year comes from hydrocarbon/coal processes such as coal gasification, with only around four per cent from ‘clean’ processes involving electrolysis (converting water into hydrogen and oxygen).

Australian university science provides the basis on which the hydrogen industry has evolved and continues to innovate, playing an essential role as a partner in establishing innovation and technological change. This research is coming from surprising places, including centres of biology, chemistry and geology.

Plant science key to unlimited clean fuels 

Using electrolysis to convert water into hydrogen — with a by-product of oxygen — is costly because it must use continuous grid power. At present, these energy-hungry and inefficient processes defeat the purpose of creating hydrogen as an energy source.  

At the Australian National University, chemistry professors Ron Pace and Rob Stranger have taken a leaf from nature, uncovering the process used by all photosynthetic organisms to use the sun’s energy to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen. This natural electrolysis is the most efficient method known and relies on a ‘chemical spark plug’ called the water oxidising complex.

For decades, debate has raged about how the atoms that comprise water are used in this photosynthesis process. Profs Pace and Stranger used Australia’s fastest supercomputer at the ANU’s National Computational Infrastructure facility to model the chemical structure of the manganese atoms involved in this process and to decode the reasons behind its efficiency.

Their discovery has opened up opportunities to develop ‘artificial leaf’ technology with the capacity for potential unlimited future hydrogen production.

Professor Pace now heads a $1.77 million project in partnership with Dr Gerry Swiegers and Dr Pawel Wagner at the University of Wollongong, which uses specially designed electrodes, made of Gor-Tex, to mimic natural surfaces. The materials will help the formation of hydrogen and oxygen gas bubbles to operate more efficiently and also allow them to use fluctuating power sources such as wind and solar energy. 

Hydrogen pilot plant delivers first shipment 

Potential demand for imported hydrogen in China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore could reach 3.8 million tonnes by 2030. The QUT Redlands Research Facility is already geared up to generate hydrogen gas from seawater using solar power generated by its concentrated solar array.

The project received funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to develop next-generation technologies in electrolysis, energy storage and chemical sensing to produce hydrogen without any carbon dioxide emissions. 

The facility is led by Professor Ian Mackinnon, who possesses deep science expertise in geology and chemistry, and also heads QUT’s Institute for Future Environments. The first shipment of green hydrogen was exported from the facility, to Japan, in March 2019 as part of a collaboration between QUT and the University of Tokyo, which uses proprietary technology owned by JXTG, Japan’s largest petroleum conglomerate. It’s just one of the ways in which Australian science expertise, led by universities, is driving a new economy forward.

Fran Molloy

University science delivering key outcomes to hydrogen and energy futures

  • New material splits water into hydrogen cheaply: Professor Chuan Zhao and UNSW chemists invented a new nano-framework of non-precious metals, making it cheaper to create hydrogen fuel by splitting water atoms.

  • Molecular breakthrough helps solar cells tolerate humidity: Nanomaterials scientists at Griffith University, under Professor Huijun Zhao, invented a way to make cheap solar-cell technology more tolerant of moisture and humidity.

  • A spoonful of sugar generates enough hydrogen energy to power a mobile phone: Genetically engineered bacteria that turn sugar into hydrogen have been developed by a team of molecular chemists at Macquarie University who are looking to scale the technology.

  • Solar crystals are non-toxic: Under Dr Guohua Jia, molecular scientists at Curtin University have invented tiny crystals that don’t contain toxic metals but can be used as catalysts to convert solar energy into hydrogen.

  • Green chemistry breakthrough makes hydrogen generation cheaper: Electromaterials scientists at Monash University, led by Dr Alexandr Simonov, have found a solution to metal corrosion caused by water splitting to create hydrogen.

  • Gelion revolutionary battery technology: A University of Sydney chemistry team, led by Professor Thomas Maschmeyer, created low-cost, safe, scalable zinc bromide battery technology for remote and renewable energy storage.

  • Ocean mapping finds prime-tide for energy: University of Tasmania Associate Professor Irene Penesis is using hydrodynamics and mathematics to assess Bass Strait’s tidal energy resources to stimulate investment in this sector.

  • New catalyst helps turn CO2 into renewable fuel: CSIRO materials chemist Dr Danielle Kennedy, with University of Adelaide scientists, created porous crystals that help convert carbon dioxide from air into synthetic natural gas using solar energy.

This article appears in Australian University Science Issue 1.


university

Australian University Science: Knowledge and impact

University science has long been recognised for the stream of fundamental discoveries that stem from its research: from the origins of the cosmos and the causes of climate change to the most intrinsic parts of the atom. But university science is now much more than a catalyst for discovery. 

Through a multitude of collaborations — including with other research institutions and government, in Co-operative Research Centre partnerships, with the CSIRO, or directly with companies large and small — university science now engages at every stage of the cycle in which knowledge is turned into new and better ways of doing things. 

In the modern world, university scientists and students do more than explore, uncover and discover. They also use their knowledge to work closely with the people who produce the new technologies and practices that a changing world needs.

Materials and processes we use every day stem from science. They are so common that many of us simply take them for granted. But whenever there is a great new kind of technology, advances in clean energy, or smarter ways to diagnose and treat disease, you can be sure that university science lies somewhere behind it. 

University teaching is also critical. It develops the science graduates who are an important part of the workforce and possess the finely honed skills to understand, manage and develop new technologies from cutting-edge science. As we endeavour to front the challenges of tomorrow, university science will deliver the tools and people we need to create a better future.

Professor Ian Chubb AC
FAA FTSE FACE FRSN

This article is published in Australian University Science Issue 1.

partnerships

Coming to the table

While it may not be immediately obvious, universities and industry have a shared purpose: universities focus on educating people and creating new knowledge; industry seeks to be more innovative, productive and diverse. Our shared purpose is in delivering solutions to help tackle social challenges and drive economic growth.

We’re in the midst of a global knowledge economy and universities are a vital centre of competence for end-users such as industry. Industry and the professions get the benefit of universities’ research and intellectual capacities. Universities get access to stimulating questions, new challenges and opportunities for our students.

Collaboration works when you have something the other party wants. Being open to collaboration begets other collaboration and it leads on from there.

That being said, universities are a business like any other. We may not be commercial organisations but we’re pro-commercial. And in business you have to supply what the market wants.

The European universities where I began my career are active collaborative institutions and I saw an opportunity to bring this ethos to the University of South Australia, an institution that has a history of working with industry and the professions.

In the four years that I have been Vice Chancellor of the institution I have seen the growth of more than 2500 partnerships that range from guest lectureships to program advisory boards to co-creators of program content.

One great example of collaboration is the one we have with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE). We co-developed a 4-year Honours degree, the Bachelor of Information Technology (Honours) (Enterprise Business Solutions) which offers 12 month paid internships for students. HPE has also become an Anchor Industry Partner in our Innovation and Collaboration Centre for students and start-ups and they’re a Foundation Partner in our new Museum of Discovery that’s due to open in 2018.

I have also seen the breaking down of silos within my own institution as we plan our new education precinct, which will be a focal point of educational innovation and enterprise.

The first partnership is with the State government, the schooling sector and the university. This was followed by partnerships between our engineering people, our environmental management experts, our architects and interior designers to build a precinct that will ultimately accommodate all facets of education.

We’re extending transdisciplinary approaches to education by engaging social work, psychology and other areas to contribute to the learning and holistic development of young people.

Having sat on both sides of the table I have seen collaboration work, and not work. It works when you have a shared vision of the project and you can see what each party stands to gain. You also need to know to walk away early if you know something is not going to work.

Ultimately collaboration allows you to do what you do even better.

I don’t know if the question is ‘Collaborate or crumble’. Collaborate or become increasingly irrelevant might be more apposite.

Professor David Lloyd

Vice Chancellor, UniSA

Read next: Hon Philip Dalidakis MP, Victorian Minister for Small Business, Innovation & Trade, discusses cybersecurity as a perfect example of turning a challenge into a collaboration opportunity.

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university research

$1.5 billion in funding for university research

More than $1.5 billion will be available over four years to support Australia’s world-class university research following the introduction of new laws into Parliament today.

Minister for Education and Training Senator Simon Birmingham said the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2015 would guarantee $1.538.9 million for university research programmes funded through the Australian Research Council (ARC) from 2015 through to 2019.

“Up to $748.3 million in ARC grants will be available in the 2017–18 financial year, while up to $739.6 million will be available in 2018–19,”says Birmingham.

“This legislation secures funding for the Future Fellowships programme after the previous Labor Government left a funding cliff that provided zero dollars for a Future Fellows Scheme from 2015 onwards.”

“High quality research can help save lives, protect the environment, raise living standards for people around the world, create business opportunities and efficiencies, and drive the innovation and creativity needed for the jobs of the future.”

Birmingham says the new legislation also honoured Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s commitment to NZ Prime Minister John Key in Auckland last week to extend Australia’s student loans scheme to New Zealand citizens who have been long-term residents of this country since childhood.

“If the Bill is passed this year, an estimated 2600 New Zealanders will be eligible for loans to help them study at university, or for higher level vocational education and training qualifications, in 2016,” Birmingham says.

The Bill follows legislation currently before the Parliament which allows data sharing between Australia and New Zealand to support the Australian Government’s requirement for anyone who moves overseas to continue to pay back their Australian student loan just as they would if they lived in Australia.

The Bill will also make Torrens University Australia eligible for research block grant funding, placing it on an equal footing for university research funding as other Australian private universities, and recognise Ballarat University’s name change to Federation University.

– Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education and Training

This article was originally published on 22 October in a media release by the Department of Education and Training Media Centre. Read the original article here.