Future Materials and Australian Nanotechnology Alliance

In this Issue

  • Research News

    Building greener roads: Researchers at the Cooperative Research Centre for Sustainable Resource Processing (CSRP) are using treated mineral residue for road base and nutrient filters. The initiative is part of a technology revolution being led by WA researchers to convert a wide range of mining and energy sector wastes to commercial products.

  • Know your material

    (Re)written in amber: Amber is the fossilised resin of ancient trees. It’s long been a popular source for ornamental objects, beads and jewellery. But what scientists find most interesting about this amazing material is its exceptional powers of preservation.

  • Tin Tacks

    The road to cleaning up biosolids: Melbourne’s growing stockpile of biosolids could be significantly reduced, thanks to new research from Swinburne University of Technology. As part of a study into sustainable infrastructure, researchers determined that biosolids – by-products of the sewage treatment process – are suitable for use as fill material in road embankments.

  • Sensational Materials

    ToughSkin for spray on engineering solutions: ToughSkin is a revolutionary polymer product that can be sprayed onto surfaces, adding structural strength and waterproofing in just 30 seconds. Developed at the University of Wollongong, ToughSkin can be used as a second skin for mining tunnels and water pipes.

    CSIRO focuses on materials and manufacturing: Flexible plastic solar cells that can be printed like money, carbon fibres so thin they can be spun into yarns and a raft of new biomedical products to combating illness and injury are just some of the research breakthroughs being developed by the new CSIRO National Research Flagship for Future Manufacturing launched in September.

    International magnesium award for CAST researcher: An Australian materials scientist has been awarded the prestigious GKSS Magnesium Research Award at the 8th International Conference on Magnesium Alloys and Applications held in Germany last month. Dr Mark Easton from Monash University and the CAST Cooperative Research Centre received the award for his important contributions to the understanding of the relationship between nuclei and grain refinement of magnesium alloys.

Event Calendar

For more information on international conferences in minerals, metals and materials click here.


The strategic alliance between Future Materials and the Australian Nanotechnology Alliance encapsulates our belief in collaboration through open innovation principles. Aligning Future Materials’ foundations within research organisations and the ANA’s industry focus provides a catalyst for economic development utilising new and advanced materials


Future Materials
School of Chemistry & Molecular Biosciences (Bld 68)
University of Queensland
ST LUCIA QLD 4072
Australian Nanotechnology Alliance
PO Box 609
HAMILTON QLD 4007

Phone: 07 33653829 • Email: c.gerbo@uq.edu.au
www.future.org.auwww.nanotechnology.org.au


Carla's Corner

Enterprise in Europe and at home

Carla Gerbo

Since my last editorial there has been much happening in the Australian Nanotechnology Alliance and Future Materials networks.

I reported a couple of months ago that I was one of three Australian industry representatives joining in with a dozen Australian researchers attending a European Commission workshop. (I was able to attend this event with financial assistance from the Federal Government under the National Emerging Technology Strategy).

The workshop took place over three days in October, and examined the issues of emerging materials; processes and nanotechnologies for ICT; and applications for the manufacturing, health, environment and energy sectors. The idea was to broker collaborations between European and Australian researchers under the relevant EC Framework Programs.

Because Australia is not a part of the EC, does this mean Australian firms aren’t allowed to collaborate with European consortiums in Framework Programs? This was one concern of many Australian researchers, however, it was clearly stated that if Australian researchers are part of a successful consortium, it makes no difference on their place of residence. The key factor is where the expertise comes from. The limiting factor for Australian participants, however, remains finding the research funds to be involved in these international projects.

The Seventh Framework Program (FP7) is the EU's main instrument for funding research in Europe and it will run from 2007-2013 with a budget of over €50Billion. It was set up to meet the EU’s aim of becoming the “most dynamic, competitive, knowledge-based economy in the world”. I’ve mentioned before that the strategy to achieve this ambitious goal is the Knowledge Triangle model, aimed at research, education and innovation; it’s a model that I believe has enormous relevance in Australia.

The 12 Australian researchers who took part in the workshop are already undertaking either established or new collaborations with a broad range of European research facilities ranging from CEA and Enserg (France), Fraunhofer (Germany), the University of Antwerp and the University of Brussels (Belgium), the University of Southampton, University College London and Imperial College (UK), Delft University of Technology (Netherlands), Dublin City University (Ireland), CNR-ISMN Bologna and the University of Catania (Italy), and the University of Oslo (Norway).

Joint presentations by the Australians and their international collaborators from the above organisations were a focal point of the workshop. Soon a pod cast from three participating Australian speakers will be posted on the ANA website showcasing their research and thoughts on the workshop. They are: Professor David Jamieson (University of Melbourne), Professor Laurie Faraone (University of Western Australia) and Professor Calum Drummond (CSIRO).

Moving closer to home, I’ve been very impressed with Enterprise Connect’s Researchers in Business program. This program supports the placement of researchers from universities or public research agencies into businesses where they can help develop and implement new ideas with commercial potential.

With up to 50 per cent of salary costs (maximum of $50,000) provided for each placement, which can last between 2 and 12 months, I would encourage industry to look closely at this program to see if it would be of any benefit (For more details, visit the EnterpriseConnect website).

I’ve had a chat to one company that have taken on a researcher through this process and they could not have been more delighted with the outcome. The communication to me was that the process was “easy and quick” – honestly you don’t often hear those words connected with government funding!

Remember, I’m just an email or phone call away (07 33653829 or c.gerbo@uq.edu.au.)

Carla Gerbo
National Co-Ordinator - Future Materials
Director & CEO - Australian Nanotechnology Alliance


Notice Board

Director appointed at Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication - Professor Ian Boyd has been appointed Director of the MCN. Professor Boyd comes to the MCN with 30 years of experience in nanotechnology and materials science, and most recently he was the Director of Nanoelectronics at the London Centre for Nanotechnology and Professor of Electronic Materials at University College London (UCL).

Researchers in Business: The Australian Government has committed $10 million within Enterprise Connect to support the placement of researchers from universities or public research agencies into businesses where it is identified that such a placement would help to develop and implement a new idea with commercial potential. For more information on Researchers in Business.

NICNAS (The National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme) will shortly commence consultation around a proposed regulatory reform package for industrial nanomaterials to determine support and assess the feasibility of a strategy. Public consultation sessions are planned beginning November 16. A public discussion paper is available or visit NICNAS website at www.nicnas.gov.au.

The NSW Scientist of the Year 2009 winner Professor Stephen Simpson was announced last month. Professor Simpson is a researcher from the University of Sydney who is internationally recognised for his cutting-edge work on nutrition and its implications for ecology, evolution, agriculture and human health

For NSW researchers and industry two innovation prizes will soon open. The NSW Energy Challenge Prize is one of the world’s most generous prizes in this field and will assist in putting this State at the forefront of the clean energy industry. The apps4nsw competition, which is due to open later this year, will offer $100,000 in prizes for winning ideas on new and innovative ways to store, use and analyse government data.

The Queensland International Fellowships is opened until December 11th to any Queensland-based government or industry professional involved in an eligible area of research. The program enables Queenslanders to undertake collaborative scientific research or policy development projects at leading international institutions, government agencies and/or private sector research organisations.


Research News

Building greener roads

CSRP is turning mine waste into valuable road materials

Researchers at the Cooperative Research Centre for Sustainable Resource Processing (CSRP) are using treated mineral residue for road base and nutrient filters. The initiative is part of a technology revolution being led by WA researchers to convert a wide range of mining and energy sector wastes to commercial products.

CSRP CEO, Stevan Green, says that the current programs effectively recast waste materials as useful products.

“We have made some major advances in recent years to develop the technology for converting mining and energy sector residues into potentially valuable construction and agricultural materials”, says Mr Green.

In the first trial, more than 2500 cubic metres of sand was extracted from bauxite residue and used as road base to widen the Greenlands Road access to a new highway near Pinjarra in WA.

CSRP has developed a concept called ReSand® where sand sourced from recovered materials is compared to conventionally sourced quarry sand. The source of sand which is assessed as having the lowest ecological footprint or impact can then be designated as ReSand®. This gives developers, regulators and the community an assurance that the use of these residue materials is in fact the best outcome for the environment and for society.

Mr Green said the recovery of construction sand from mineral residues would have a range of potential benefits including:

  • replacement of increasingly scarce supplies of quarry sand;
  • reduction in the clearing of natural bushland for sand quarries; and
  • reduction in the demand for expensive waste residue containment facilities.

“These benefits can lead to reduced costs, less energy and water use and lower greenhouse gas emissions”, says Mr Green.

In another trial associated with the Perth-Bunbury Highway, a demonstration “nutrient trap” has been installed by the side of the new road. The trap collects water run-off and removes nutrients such as phosphates and nitrates, to help prevent algal blooms in the surrounding waterways.

The fact that bauxite residues were used in both of these trials is understandable considering the vast amounts of this material produced in WA each year (over 25 million tonnes).

These trials however, are only two of several exciting CSRP innovations turning mineral processing residues from Australia's mining and energy industries into useful products like concrete, construction materials (such as sand and aggregates), soil treatments and nutrient traps; all with the aim of improving ecological, societal and economic outcomes.

CSRP worked with the Department of Agriculture and Food WA, Main Roads WA, Southern Gateway Alliance, Alcoa, Wallis Water and other project partners to establish these and other projects.

CSRP was established in 2003 under the Australian Government's Cooperative Research Centres Program and is supported by the Western Australia Government through its Centres of Excellence Program.

The WA Government continues to support research in creating value from waste through a proposal for a new Cooperative Research Centre for By-product Utilisation which will greatly extend work in this area. If the proposal is successful then this new centre will commence work in mid 2010.

More info: Lisa Laurie lisa.laurie@csrp.com.au or visit www.csrp.com.au


Know your materials

(Re)written in amber

Sargent Bray is rewriting plant evolution by understanding amber chemistry

Amber is the fossilised resin of ancient trees. It’s long been popular a source for ornamental objects, beads and jewellery. But what scientists find most interesting about this amazing material is its exceptional powers of preservation. Fragments of plants, insects and even small vertebrates often get trapped within amber when it is in a fluid state. These fragments are then preserved for many years, often millennia, as the resin becomes fossilised. That makes amber the ultimate natural time capsule and sometimes researchers make some startling discoveries when they break open this capsule.

And that’s just what happened when Macquarie University PhD student Sargent Bray examined plant molecules contained in amber found in coal deposits. Bray made the discovery while working on his Masters degree at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in the United States, and his findings were recently published in the prestigious international journal Science.

Bray found that ambers contained in coal deposits (which predated the occurrence of flowering plants by hundreds of millions of years) contained chemicals most similar to what is seen in ambers produced by modern flowering plants.

The find was startling because coal deposits from the Carboniferous period are dated some 300 to 350 million years ago, long before the flowering plants existed.

“The chemistry was totally unexpected because flowering plants are not established in the fossil record until the Cretaceous period – around 125 million years ago,” says Bray.

The find does not mean that flowering plants existed earlier than was previously thought. Rather, the amber’s chemical signature provides us with a clue as to the early evolution of flowering plants.

“These ambers do not suggest that flowering plants existed during the Carboniferous period, but they do suggest that aspects of flowering plant biology began to develop much earlier than the 125 million years ago that we previously thought,” he explains.

“The nature of the chemical compounds in ambers is the basis for an amber classification system and, since certain plants make certain types of amber, amber chemistry can be used to determine which broad group of plants produced a particular amber specimen.”

More info: lyn.danninger@pru.edu.au


Tin Tacks

The road to cleaning up biosolids

Dr Arul Arulrajah

Melbourne’s growing stockpile of biosolids could be significantly reduced, thanks to new research from Swinburne University of Technology. As part of a study into sustainable infrastructure, researchers determined that biosolids – by-products of the sewage treatment process – are suitable for use as fill material in road embankments.

Dr Arul Arulrajah, lead researcher on the project, says that the findings could go a long way to reducing the 67,000 tonnes of biosolids that Melbourne produces each year.

“We conducted tests on the shear strengths and compressibility of untreated biosolids, as well as biosolids stabilised with additives such as cement, crushed brick and lime,” says Dr Arulrajah. “We found that biosolids, stabilised with additives, are suitable for carrying the embankment and traffic load, and can be used as fill material for road embankments.”

As Melbourne’s population increases, finding innovative uses for biosolids is a key challenge facing the water industry. The Swinburne researchers’ solution – to combine biosolids with a crushed brick additive – has numerous environmental benefits. Not only are the biosolids being recycled, but crushed brick that would otherwise go into landfill is also being used.

According to Dr Arulrajah, the research has shown that biosolids can provide a sustainable resource for road embankment construction in new roads, or in the repair or expansion of existing roads.

The research was supported by the Smart Water Fund, an initiative of Melbourne’s water businesses in partnership with the Victorian Government.

More info: aarulrajah@swin.edu.au


Sensational Materials

ToughSkin for spray on engineering solutions

Dr Chris Lukey, Chief Technical Officer, ToughSkin

ToughSkin is a revolutionary polymer product that can be sprayed onto surfaces, adding structural strength and waterproofing in just 30 seconds. Developed at the University of Wollongong, ToughSkin can be used as a second skin for mining tunnels and water pipes.

Dr Tamantha Stutchbury, intellectual property manager for ToughSkin, says the product was initially designed to replace steel mesh in underground mines.

"The program has been running for three years now, with 10 to 20 researchers working on it," she says.

Research and development manager Dr Chris Lukey said the product was a polymer made up of two clear liquid products, with glass fibre added for strength.

"There is a reactive component in both liquids,” he explains. “It's easy to apply and is sprayed onto surfaces and adheres very strongly to concrete, stone and coal. It sets in 30 seconds, reaching full strength in a few minutes, is stronger than concrete and can hold up a greater mass than steel mesh can."

Dr Stutchbury says the product could be used in infrastructure repair in addition to its mining applications.

"It's cheaper, quicker and easier to apply than other products on the market, and the product has been proved in the lab and now we're ready for the scale-up stage," says Dr Stutchbury.

The polymer, which is capable of holding over 1 tonne per square metre, can also be used to re-line sewerage pipes and extend the life of the infrastructure.

"We are looking at the pipe remediation market," Dr Lukey says. "The polymer will also penetrate into cracks, so it can be used to fix leaky pipes without having to dig them out. This is much less disruptive, and the lining is extending the life of the pipe fairly considerably."

More information: Tamantha Stutchbury - tamantha@uow.edu.au

CSIRO focuses on materials and manufacturing

The Future Manufacturing Flagship’s Dr Scott Watkins holds a sample sheet of flexible solar cells. Flexible plastic solar cells are much cheaper and more efficient to produce, and have the potential to replace silicon in the next generation of solar collectors. (Photo by: CSIRO)

Flexible plastic solar cells that can be printed like money, carbon fibres so thin they can be spun into yarns and a raft of new biomedical products to combating illness and injury are just some of the research breakthroughs being developed by the new CSIRO National Research Flagship for Future Manufacturing launched in September.

The Flagship – a $A36.2 million research program designed to boost Australia’s manufacturing capabilities – was launched in Melbourne by Innovation Minister, Senator Kim Carr.

“Australia’s innovative and highly skilled manufacturing industry is one of the greatest hopes for our future prosperity and this flagship is an important addition to its arsenal,” Senator Carr said.

“Manufacturing not only provides quality jobs, it drives innovation through mobilising new skills and creating new capabilities. Australia’s innovative and highly skilled manufacturing industry is one of the greatest hopes for our future prosperity and this flagship is an important addition to its arsenal.

“Countries that don’t have manufacturing industries are building them fast and those that have let their industries go are racing to get them back.

“Australia’s manufacturing employs around one million Australians, generates 10% of GDP and exports over $A94 billion a year.

“Australian manufacturers are under increasing pressure from global competition, the rise of low-cost, low-wage manufacturing economies, and the changes that will need to be made to reduce emissions and become more sustainable.

“The future of our manufacturing industry is tied to its willingness and capacity to continue to innovate. It needs to focus on high technology, high-skill, and high-wage manufacturing where its strengths lie. This Flagship will help hone that focus.”

CSIRO Deputy Chief Executive, Dr Alastair Robertson, said CSIRO’s advances in the commercial development of flexible, large area, cost-effective, reel-to-reel printable plastic solar cells, supports this approach.

“Developed with our partners in the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium, flexible plastic solar cells will be much cheaper and more efficient to produce, and have the potential to replace silicon in the next generation of solar collectors,” Dr Robertson said.

“This is the kind of transformational, environmentally responsible technology the new Flagship has been established to create to support sustainable manufacturing into the future.”

The Future Manufacturing National Research Flagship was launched at the Flagship’s recently refurbished, state-of-the-art Flexible Electronics research facility at CSIRO’s Clayton laboratories.

Flagship Director, Clive Davenport, said innovation is the key to positioning Australian manufacturing to meet the challenges of the future.

“Taking a holistic approach, encompassing innovation together with market integration, the Flagship will streamline the uptake of new technologies for Australian industry, which will be crucial to improving the future competitiveness of our manufacturing sector as well as generating new employment opportunities,” Mr Davenport said.

“In partnership with industry we will focus on emerging manufacturing opportunities in flexible electronics, cleantech manufacturing, biomedical manufacturing and nanosafety, helping the Australian manufacturing sector address major national challenges in energy, health, climate and waste.”

More info: Clive.Davenport@csiro.au

International magnesium award for CAST researcher

A thin section through a magnesium alloy

An Australian materials scientist has been awarded the prestigious GKSS Magnesium Research Award at the 8th International Conference on Magnesium Alloys and Applications held in Germany last month. Dr Mark Easton from Monash University and the CAST Cooperative Research Centre received the award for his important contributions to the understanding of the relationship between nuclei and grain refinement of magnesium alloys.

Magnesium is a lightweight alternative to traditional materials, especially for automotive applications. Magnesium is 33% lighter than aluminium and 75% lighter than cast iron, has an excellent strength to weight ratio, high shock and dent resistance and will dampen noise and vibrations significantly more than either aluminium or steel.

Dr Mark Easton, an international research leader in the development of magnesium alloys.

Dr Easton was selected from a field of applicants from Asia, Australia, Europe and North America. He was involved in the development of a new grain refiner for wrought alloys containing zirconium. Dr Easton also led in the development of several new magnesium alloys, predominantly for casting, and for a range of other applications.

“My passion is for doing research that spans the gap between good science and the development of real technologies,” says Dr Easton. “Research is able to contribute to some of the important issues that face the world and humanity. One of the greatest issues is how we learn to live in a resource-limited world. I like to think that my research goes some way to addressing these issues.”

Dr Easton is a Research Program Manager with the CAST Cooperative Research Centre based at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.

The GKSS Research Centre in Geesthacht initiated the award to honour innovative work by an individual researcher in the area of the science and technology of magnesium alloys.

More info: Email: Mark Easton@eng.monash.edu.au


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