Future Materials and Australian Nanotechnology Alliance

In this Issue

  • Research News

    New barrier coating saves time and money for aluminium smelters: A new barrier coating developed by CSIRO's Light Metals Flagship offers aluminium smelters significant annual savings in time and money. Smelter trials indicate that the low-cost coating prevents air burn oxidation and extends the operational life of carbon anodes used in high-temperature electrolytic cells.

  • Know your material

    Know your paint: Art world turns to synchrotron for enlightenment: Australian scientists and paintings conservators are using synchrotron techniques to shed new light on the composition of artists’ pigments. Their efforts are helping to establish a library of pigments.

  • Tin Tacks

    A universal customs X-ray standard: The first international standards for testing equipment used to examine large cargo objects has been designed and developed by scientists from ANSTO and the University of Canberra. The development of these standards promise to help increase border security.

  • Sensational Materials

    Printable solar cells: Monash University researchers have developed a solar cell which is thin, flexible and can be produced on a mass-scale using the same technology used to print polymer banknotes.

    A new materials research institute for Wollongong and Australia: March saw the opening of new materials science institute at the University of Wollongong (UoW). Called the Australian Institute for Innovative Materials (AIIM), the new institute is made up of two of UOW’s flagship research centres: the Institute for Superconducting and Electronic Materials and the Intelligent Polymer Research Institute.

    Tenth neutron beam instrument approved: Australia’s nuclear science research organisation, ANSTO, last month gave the green light to build a tenth neutron beam instrument - KOOKABURRA. The instrument will assist scientists studying a range of materials and organic structures, from polymers and industrial coatings to viruses, and how they react under various conditions such as intense heat and pressure.

Event Calendar


From the Director

Working towards a better tomorrow

Carla Gerbo

I’ve attended a number of seminars on the global financial recession (no longer a crisis you will notice) and I’m getting a little frustrated on the lack of solutions being offered to industry.

Sure there has been considerable debate on the effect of the government’s stimulus package, but what concerns me is that when Australia (and the rest of the world) does emerge from this mess, we can’t afford to be behind the eight ball and spend crucial time building research and innovation capacity to return to competitive positions.

Experience around the world has shown that advances in materials technology is often the absolute essence of a competitive advantage for many of today’s manufacturing industries. I’m clearly aware that many small-to-medium-sized firms, and even larger firms, miss out on opportunities regarding advances in materials science because they may lack the structure and people to monitor the rapidly evolving technologies in this space.

This expert knowledge is available through involvement in networking organisations like Future Materials and the Australian Nanotechnology Alliance. Regardless of whether you’re in research, industry or public policy development, it’s crucial that you keep abreast of individuals and trends.

So how does Future Materials work?

Future Materials is a research institution-based network with foundation partners including leading universities in most Australian States and Territories, which connects researchers and industry in the field of advanced materials technology. For industry, Future Materials provides an Australia-wide network of leading researchers and facilities offering characterisation and analysis expertise. It is these resources that have the potential to keep your firm at the leading competitive edge.

But Future Materials isn’t just about helping you with new research. Many universities now offer consultancy services that can help your firm with investigations of issues, and for anyone interested in such services, contact me and I’ll link you with the appropriate people in your State. The types of services offered through Future Materials include:

  • Materials characterisation and evaluation
  • Problem solving, such as investigating contaminants and materials failures
  • Studies and testing on coatings, thin films and surface modifications
  • Expert and independent opinion in litigation and IP matters
  • Collaborative research aiding the development of new products and processes

The scope is enormous, because now you have economical access to an extensive range of sophisticated technology and skills.

The other benefit of involvement with a networking organisation is the range of networking activities that are offered that provide you contact with leading researchers. How often have I heard that one of the problems faced by industry dealing with universities is trying to find the right person to fit with a particular problem? It is a significant problem for industry, but it certainly isn’t an insurmountable problem and the solution may be as easy as contacting the Future Materials network.

The same can be said about keeping abreast of trends within a particular discipline. Again, Future Materials has a potential answer with regular networking events that showcase leading research and industry speakers that have expertise on collaboration that has attained results. Attending such events is a very unintimidating way to get the links and the knowledge that could be the first stop to ensuring competitive advantage for your firm.

Why not give Future Materials a try, call 07 33653829 or email me c.gerbo@uq.edu.au

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


Research News

New barrier coating saves time and money for aluminium smelters

CSIRO project officer Enzo Gulizia (left) with Dr Mahnaz Jahedi inspecting the surface of a freshly coated carbon anode intended for use in a trial at an aluminium smelter. (Image CSIRO)

A new barrier coating developed by CSIRO’s Light Metals Flagship offers aluminium smelters significant annual savings in time and money. Smelter trials indicate that the low-cost coating prevents air burn oxidation and extends the operational life of carbon anodes used in high-temperature electrolytic cells.

Use of the coating was shown to produce a net reduction in carbon usage of 0.02 Kg carbon per kilogram of aluminium produced.

“Our coating can provide considerable savings for the companies operating the more than one hundred smelters that produce aluminium at present,” said Dr Mahnaz Jahedi of CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering.

“The trials demonstrated that the coated anodes don’t develop air burn, and last longer in the smelter cells as a result”.

Carbon anodes are made from petroleum coke, and in the extreme heat of aluminium electrolysis cells, the exposed top and sides of the anodes can oxidise spontaneously due to air burn. Air burn can spread rapidly between anodes, and replacing burnt anodes causes more frequent interruptions to the smelting process.

The CSIRO coating performed significantly better than conventional aluminium spray coating. The trials were designed to test the efficacy of the coating by placing coated anodes in positions in the electrolytic cells found to be particularly prone to air burn.

“None of the coated anodes had to be removed due to air burn during the trials,” Dr Jahedi said.

Uncoated anodes placed in similar positions needed to be replaced more frequently due to severe air burn.

The cost-effective coating also proved very durable, remaining undamaged during transport of anodes to the smelter and during in-plant handling.

“The coating did not melt or crack while the anodes were in use. The trials showed no safety issues with application or use of the coating in smelters,” observed Dr Jahedi.

The coating is simple to apply, and adheres well to the carbon anode.

The next stage of in-plant trials will use several hundred coated anodes and is expected to provide a complete assessment of the productivity improvements offered by the coating.

CSIRO plans to license the coating technology to smelters, and invites expressions of interest in the technology.

More info: Email: Mahnaz.Jahedi@csiro.au


Know your materials

Know your paint: Art world turns to synchrotron for enlightenment

Paintings are often attributed to particular artists on the basis of expert assessment of styles and materials, particularly when the work is unsigned.

Now Australian scientists and paintings conservators are using synchrotron techniques to shed new light on the composition of artists’ pigments. Their efforts are helping to establish a library of pigment ‘fingerprints’ that will help curators, conservators and collectors answer questions about who painted a particular art work or when it was painted.

Not all cobalt blue pigments are the same (Photo CSIRO Materials Science & Engineering)

Paintings conservator Linda Waters is working with Deborah Lau and Natasha Wright from CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering and other CSIRO scientists. Their interest was sparked several years ago by an unusual sample of cobalt blue that defied easy analysis.

Synchrotrons provide information not accessible by other laboratory-based methods and their brilliant, highly-focussed x-ray beams can analyse the smallest of samples an essential consideration when it comes to taking pigment samples from precious works of art.

In August 2008, Natasha and her colleagues used the powder diffraction beamline at the Australian Synchrotron to analyse several samples of cobalt blue. Their results showed some clear differences between cobalt blue from different sources.

The researchers also plan to use the x-ray fluorescence microprobe to examine layers of pigments, and the x-ray absorption spectroscopy beamline to obtain information to complement their powder diffraction studies.

(This story appeared in Feb 09 issue of Lightspeed. The newsletter of the Australian synchrotron.)


Tin Tacks

A universal customs X-ray standard

The first international standards for testing equipment used to examine large cargo objects has been designed and developed by scientists from ANSTO and the University of Canberra. The development of these standards promise to help increase border security.

The standards are designed to test X-ray equipment used to scan air cargo and shipping pallets and large shipping containers. An international standard already exists for small-tunnel X-ray scanners similar to those used at most airports.

ANSTO’s Ned Blagojevic said it was the first time an independent scientific standard has been set to determine the best X-ray equipment for air and sea cargo examination around the world.

“The key role of the project was to test manufacturers’ claims about how good their machines are. This will lead to improvements to equipment and therefore better border security,” he said.

“Bearing in mind that the United States government will require 100 percent inspection of cargo entering the country by 2012, having the correct standards for X-ray machines is vital. Currently only about 10 percent or less of all maritime cargo is examined by any technology so throughput is a major challenge facing cargo security.”

The research collaboration designed two test pieces- called AUS1 and AUS2 - which contain materials mimicking shapes and composition of what might normally be found in cargo and as well, contraband and security threats, such as narcotics and explosives.

The standards originated in a conceptual design by the University of Canberra’s Professor Dudley Creagh during an Australian Government project managed by the Office of Transport Security, in which the performance of large scale X-ray equipment used in major Australian ports and airports was evaluated. The project involved collaboration with the Australian Customs Service (ACS) and a number of parcel and freight forwarding firms, such as QANTAS and DHL.

The new standards, which are currently in the patent process, are also being tested in the United States and China. It is expected that more Customs authorities worldwide will follow this lead to ensure that their equipment remains in excellent operational condition in a world in which tight security must be maintained.

Professor Dudley Creagh said that recognising contraband and threats using X-rays relied on the sharp imaging of the object under examination so that anomalies could be readily recognised.

“A good X-ray system will highlight shapes that are inconsistent with shapes of items expected to be in the container: for example cartons of cigarettes mixed in with cartons of ceramic items, said Professor Creagh. “Clear images make it easier for Customs officers to detect anomalies in a shipment. To maintain the required excellent performance regular testing is essential.

“A significant feature of the ANSTO standards is that they substantially reduce the amount of time Customs officers must take to ensure their X-ray equipment is working properly. In the past it would take a working shift to undertake the performance testing. Now it takes only a matter of minutes. Any time lost in testing is time lost from the essential activity of container examination: the detection of contraband and explosives.”

So far ANSTO has built 15 test standards, with 10 currently in use by Australian Customs Services, and it envisages demand will increase over time.


Sensational Materials

Printable solar cells

Monash University researchers have developed a solar cell which is thin, flexible and can be produced on a mass-scale using the same technology used to print polymer banknotes.

The first of the trial polymer solar cells have rolled off the presses at the Melbourne-based plant of Securency International -- the company responsible for printing Australian polymer banknotes and currency for 26 countries around the world.

The low-cost solar cells are being made using the same printing process as banknotes

Monash researchers Dr Udo Bach and Professor Yi-Bing Cheng are part of the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium -- a team of scientists and industry partners working in collaboration to develop a polymer solar cell that can be printed cheaply and efficiently.

"The film-like solar cells are fabricated on a polymer substrate and are almost as thin as a sheet of paper. The ultimate goal of our work is to develop this alternative solar cell technology to a point where it can compete with conventional photovoltaic technologies already established on the market," Dr Bach said.

The printable cells offer a number of advantages over traditional solar panel technology. They are lightweight and easily transportable, making them attractive to a domestic market and also flexible like a banknote. Being partially transparent, they can be installed almost anywhere, including roofs of homes and cars, windows or glass panels. The cells also float, allowing them to cover pools or dams, reducing evaporation while also generating energy.

Professor Yi-Bing Cheng said the printing trials had begun six months ahead of schedule and he was confident the printable solar cells.

"Competition in this field is very strong. It is becoming increasingly difficult for individual small research groups to compete with larger research initiatives overseas. Within VICOSC we do have the critical mass of manpower, excellence and funding that allows us to compete on an international level," Professor Cheng said.

The three-year $12 million Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium solar cell project is 50 per cent funded by the Victorian Government through an Energy Technology Innovation Strategy Sustainable Energy Research and Development grant.

More info: Dr Udo Bach: udo.bach@sci.monash.edu.au.

A new materials research institute for Wollongong and Australia

Dr Joselito Razal (right) from the Intelligent Polymer Research Institute shows Senator Carr through a research laboratory

March saw the opening of new materials science institute at the University of Wollongong (UoW). Called the Australian Institute for Innovative Materials (AIIM), the new institute is made up of two of UoW’s flagship research centres: the Institute for Superconducting and Electronic Materials and the Intelligent Polymer Research Institute.

The AIIM building, which houses both groups, was officially opened by Federal Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Senator Kim Carr who described the output of the two research centres as “world-class, providing real opportunities for both the transformation of traditional industries and opportunities for the development of new industries”.

“This (AIIM) building has a very serious concentration of expertise and resources in an area of research that will help define the 21st century,” he said.

“They (the two research institutes) are developing high-skilled, high-wage jobs for the future that will keep Wollongong as a manufacturing hub well into the future.”

“The Australian Institute for Innovative Materials addresses one of the critical challenges facing us today - the challenge of building sustainable growth in a rapidly changing world.”

Vice-Chancellor Professor Gerard Sutton welcomed Senator Carr, Australian Research Council Chief Executive Officer Professor Margaret Sheil and around 200 guests to the opening.

“This is a special day in the history of the University and the city of Wollongong,” Professor Sutton said. “The research (being conducted at AIIM) will form the basis for new high-tech manufacturing industries in the health and energy areas.”

More info: http://www.uow.edu.au/science/research/ipri/

Tenth neutron beam instrument approved

KOOKABURRA will be similar to the USANS instrument recently constructed at NIST in the US

Australia’s nuclear science research organisation, ANSTO, last month gave the green light to build a tenth neutron beam instrument - KOOKABURRA.

Attached to Australia’s only nuclear reactor, KOOKABURRA will be an ultra small-angle neutron-scattering (or USANS) instrument. It will join a world-class family of neutron beam instruments already operating at ANSTO.

KOOKABURRA will be vital for scientists studying a range of materials and organic structures, from polymers and industrial coatings to viruses, and how they react under various conditions such as intense heat and pressure. The main applications will be for soft-matter and biological systems, porous materials, the earth sciences and engineering materials, including potential industrial applications, paints, oil and gas recovery and issues for the steel industry.

Instrument project leader, Dr Christine Rehm, said KOOKABURRA and the complementary ANSTO instruments will help unlock many secrets in the materials and biological worlds.

“KOOKABURRA, like its brothers and sisters at ANSTO, is the first of its kind in Australia,” says Dr Rehm. “It could help solve a variety of questions about how structures, both visible and invisible, that surround us every day, actually change and adapt when influenced by stimuli, it’s a fascinating area of work.

“The benefits for the manufacturing and medical industries resulting from the core research that will be conducted on Kookaburra will be invaluable to Australia.”

KOOKABURRA will be placed on the CG3 cold-neutron guide upstream of the PLATYPUS reflectometer. It uses the classical Bonse-Hart method, and will be similar to the recently constructed USANS instrument at National Institute of Standards and Technology in the US (NIST).

Kookaburra’s measurement range starts at 100 nanometres and goes up to 10 microns. Detailed design of the instrument is about to commence, and it will be operating by 2013. Kookaburra will cost $2.7 million.

More info: http://www.ansto.gov.au/research/bragg_institute/news2


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