Future Materials and Australian Nanotechnology Alliance

In this Issue

  • Research News

    Plastic iron makes a great mould: A new technique developed by Swinburne researchers could provide a boon for plastics manufacturing, particularly in medical applications where parts - such as prosthetics - are only needed in small numbers. By combining plastic filament, heat and a computer-aided design program with a fused deposition rapid prototyping machine, the researchers are making moulds from metal-polymer composites to create complex plastic objects.

  • Know your material

    Building with sugar cubes: Building with sugar cubes has long been a design test of architectural students. Earlier this year, around 200 first year architecture and interior architecture students at Curtin University had a stab at setting a new world record for the tallest sugar cube tower. And guess what, they took it out.

  • Tin Tacks

    Geopolymer concrete: Geopolymer concrete is a new greenhousefriendly product created from waste products that does the same job as conventional concrete but with a 60 per cent reduction in carbon emissions.

  • Sensational Materials

    Making it economical to recycle old tyres: Each year about one billion tyres are discarded around the world with most ending up in landfill. Now a new research effort is seeking to turn this waste stream into new tyres, industrial insulation, road pavement, flooring or geotextiles for retaining walls and embankments. CSIRO is working with Australian company VR TEK Operations to design and develop a new, improved method of recycling waste rubber.

    Paper from sugar cane: A researcher at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) has devised a new way to make paper from bagasse, the fibrous sugar cane waste from sugar production. What’s more the process is easier and cheaper than making paper from trees.

    SA Solar testing centre open for business: Australia’s capacity to develop advanced solar thermal technologies took another step forward with the opening in April of a new testing centre at the University of South Australia (UniSA).

Event Calendar


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


From the Director

Working towards a better tomorrow

Carla Gerbo

“Encouraging:” and “a vote of confidence” are two of the terms used by research institutions following the release of the Federal Budget on May 12th. It’s a sentiment shared by Future Materials and the Australian Nanotechnology Alliance (ANA).

“Innovation is the key to making Australia more productive and more competitive. It is the key to answering the challenge of climate change, the challenge of national security, the age-old challenges of disease and want. It is the key to creating a future that is better than the past”. That’s a quote from the Australian Government's Innovation Agenda to 2020 - Powering Ideas - An Innovation Agenda for the 21st century. It’s a relief to see such acknowledgement after we’ve taken a considerable time talking to decision makers attempting to convince them of this.

With $8.58 billion earmarked in the budget for science and innovation (up 25%), the Innovation Priorities are well received. While not all the ideas and money are new, the selling and better communication of the innovation priorities is welcomed.

The priorities include:

  1. Public research funding supporting high-quality research that addresses national challenges and opens up new opportunities
  2. Ensuring Australia has a strong base of skilled researchers to support the national research effort in both the public and private sectors
  3. An innovation system to foster industries of the future, securing value from the commercialisation of Australian research and development
  4. More effective dissemination of new technologies, processes and ideas with a particular focus on small- and medium-sized enterprises
  5. An innovation system that encourages a culture of collaboration within the research sector, and between researchers and industry
  6. More international collaborations involving Australian researchers and businesses
  7. Public and community sectors work with others in the innovations system to improve policy development and service delivery.

Business innovation and collaboration are key areas being encouraged by Future Materials and the ANA. With an aim of increasing by 25% the number of businesses engaged in innovation over the next decade, the government recognises that Australia has relatively few large firms so an important focus is to encourage innovation from smaller firms. Proposals include:

  • Aim to increase the proportion of businesses engaging in innovation by 25% over the next decade - building on initiatives including Enterprise Connect, Clean Business Australia, and the new $4.5 billion Clean Energy Initiative.
  • Aim to increase the number of businesses investing in R&D over time — fuelled by the introduction of a new R&D Tax Credit, which will double the tax incentive for small-business R&D (restoring it to pre-1996 levels), and lift the base tax incentive for R&D by larger firms.
  • Support innovative responses to climate change - including engagement through Clean Business Australia, the Green Car Innovation Fund, the Clean Energy Initiative, the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, and the Climate Change Action Fund.
  • Improve innovation skills and workplace capabilities, including management and leadership skills - building on Enterprise Connect and the Education Revolution.
  • Support the efforts of Australian firms to get their ideas to market - through initiatives including Climate Ready, the Green Car Innovation Fund, and the new Commonwealth Commercialisation Institute.
  • Work with the private sector to increase the supply of venture capital — building on the Government’s measures to maintain stability and liquidity in the Australian financial system during the global financial crisis, and on the new Innovation Investment Follow-on Fund.
  • Maintain a continuous dialogue with industry about how we can maximise business innovation — including through Enterprise Connect, Industry Innovation Councils, and working groups like those established for pharmaceuticals.

In terms of building collaborations between public research and private industry, the following initiatives have been announced:

  • Aim to double the level of collaboration between Australian businesses, universities, and publicly-funded research agencies over the next decade - building on initiatives including mission-based funding compacts for universities, Enterprise Connect (including its Researchers in Business Program), Industry Innovation Councils, the new Joint Research Engagement Scheme, and the new Royal Institution of Australia.
  • Increase international collaboration in research by Australian universities — building on actions to open important Australian Research Council awards and fellowships to international applicants, and increase multilateral engagement (for example, in the Square Kilometre Array radio-telescope project).
  • Renew the Cooperative Research Centres Program along the lines proposed in Collaborating to a Purpose - building on the new program guidelines released in 2008, which reinstate public good as a funding criterion, encourage research in the humanities, arts and social sciences, and increase the program’s focus on the needs of end-users.
  • Improve Enterprise Connect’s services to individual firms, anticipating that Enterprise Connect will continue to develop and may include regional clusters and networks uniting businesses, researchers and educational institutions.
  • Promote proven models for linking public and not-for-profit researchers with industry and the wider Australian community - including the CSIRO’s National Research Flagships and the CSIRO ICT Centre

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


Research News

Plastic iron makes a great mould

Syed Masood

A new technique developed by Swinburne researchers could provide a boon for plastics manufacturing, particularly in medical applications where parts - such as prosthetics - are only needed in small numbers. By combining plastic filament, heat and a computer-aided design program with a fused deposition rapid prototyping machine, the researchers are making moulds from metal-polymer composites to create complex plastic objects.

About the size and shape of a refrigerator, the machine uses a process called Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) through which plastic parts are produced when layer after layer of plastic is rapidly deposited. Each layer is 0.05 to 1.25 millimetres thick and the part takes its form from a computer-generated model that is sent to the rapid prototyping machine.

Although the first FDM system was launched in the early 1990s, applications have remained limited because the layer-by-layer approach it uses means that plastic is the only suitable raw material for creating parts. Most of the parts fabricated using FDM are used for design verification or checking the form and fit of a part.

However, Professor Syed Masood from Industrial Research Institute Swinburne (IRIS) saw the potential for fused deposition rapid prototyping machines to be used to create complex metal parts, assuming the machines could handle metal as the raw material.

Because the machines need the raw material to be delivered in filament form, Masood and his colleagues have spent the past few years developing metal composites that can be used in the FDM process.

“Any part of any shape can be created using fused deposition rapid prototyping machines,” Masood said. “But nobody has tried to make parts or tooling with metal-based composites. The applications increase if you can use the same FDM technology with new material and make a stronger part. One of the main applications is in the development of injection moulds.”

Injection moulding is one of the most widely used manufacturing processes for common plastic products. It involves producing a plastic part by injecting molten plastic into a closed steel mould cavity of the desired shape, allowing the plastic to cool and then ejecting the part. For each new plastic product the injection-moulding machine requires a new mould, known as a tool die. Most of these are made of hardened steel, and can be used to make up to two million parts.

“For every new plastic product, a steel mould needs to be designed, machined and cut into shape,” says Masood. “It is time-consuming and very expensive. If the part is complex, creating the mould may cost millions of dollars. So why not use a technology that can develop the mould directly on a rapid prototyping machine? It saves a lot of time and money to create a part and reduces the cost of making the mould.”

Although steel moulds are desirable for high production runs, moulding dies can be made of aluminium or softer material if they are being used to make parts with smaller production runs in the hundreds or thousands.

Dr William Song has spent three years at IRIS developing and testing an iron-nylon composite that could be extruded into filaments and fed into the fused deposition rapid prototyping machine. The material is 40 per cent metal and 60 per cent nylon plastic, so it can withstand the heat from the molten plastic that is used in injection-moulding machines.

“The injection mould produced from our iron-nylon composite material is as good as any full steel mould for short production runs,” Masood said.

The mould has already been tested in an injection-moulding machine and plastic parts have been successfully produced. The technology is ready to be taken to market if a suitable commercial partner can be identified.

Professor Masood acknowledged that limitations remain.

“When you do injection moulding into this mould it will eventually give way, so it’s only good for short-run production of, say, 100, 200 or 500 parts.”

More info: Professor Syed Masood smasood@swin.edu.au


Know your materials

Building with sugar cubes

James and the giant (record breaking) sugar tower

Building with sugar cubes has long been a design test of architectural students. Like bricks, they have good compressive strength but little tensile strength when arranged into towers or walls. The test, then, is how many cubes you can arrange together before the instability of your structure brings it down.

Earlier this year, around 200 first year architecture and interior architecture students at Curtin University had a stab at setting a new world record for the tallest sugar cube tower. And guess what, they took it out. The tower built by James Hastie measured 188.5 cm tall.

“Although unconfirmed, it was such a buzz to build a new world record tower, even though it was only made of sugar cubes,” says James.

“The previous tallest sugar cube tower was constructed at West Quay Shopping Centre in Southhampton, England, on 15 November 2008 by the UK’s Jon Cuthill, presenter of BBC Radio Solent, and measures 146.5 cm tall,” says Michael Richardson, James’ lecturer.

“This assignment is a fun way of introducing Curtin students to the basics of building construction,” he explained. “One important construction principle — stability — decreases with height, so the students learned how they must bring together all they know about solid construction to take stability to the edge.”


Tin Tacks

Geopolymer concrete

A geopolymer footpath laid at Curtin University (WA) in 2008. Its performance will be closely monitored by CRC For Sustainable Resource Processing (CRSP). Photo courtesy of CRSP

Geopolymer concrete is a new greenhousefriendly product created from waste products that does the same job as conventional concrete but with a 60 per cent reduction in carbon emissions. If widely adopted in the building and construction industries, it will help significantly in achieving our greenhouse gas reduction targets. A cut of one or two per cent in Australia’s emissions is possible over the next 10-15 years from this initiative alone.

Concrete is the most widely used material on Earth next to water, and it is estimated it contributes at least 5 per cent of the world’s human created greenhouse gas emissions, possibly as much as 8 per cent.

But geopolymer concrete is made quite differently from conventional concrete.

Conventional concrete uses carbon-rich limestone—also known as calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is one of the two main ingredients—the other is sand, or silicon. These are baked together at 1400 degrees to produce cement in a process that generates large amounts of carbon dioxide. For every 1.6 tonnes of limestone, only 1 tonne ends up as cement—the other 0.6 of a tonne goes up the chimney and into the atmosphere as CO2.

And, of course, it takes enormous amounts of energy to heat the mix causing even more carbon dioxide to be released generating the energy. Consequently, nearly a tonne of carbon dioxide is emitted for every tonne of cement produced.

By contrast, there is no waste of materials in geopolymer concrete—one tonne of materials mixes up to create one tonne of concrete—and there is no high-temperature cooking.

Geopolymer concrete is made using waste materials—fly ash produced by coal-burning power stations, and slag, produced by iron-making blast furnaces. These materials are mixed together with a selection of basic commodity chemicals so that when the concrete is combined with water it reacts to mimic ordinary concrete, hardening at a predictable rate and having the same, even superior properties, as a building material.

The product is being commercialised in Australia by Zeobond Pty Ltd of Melbourne. This company, established by the former Dean of Engineering at the University of Melbourne, Professor Jannie van Deventer, opened a demonstration readymix plant in the suburb of Campbellfield in June last year, capable of producing up to 200 cubic metres of geopolymer concrete a day, or around 60,000 cubic metres a year.

The company’s greatest challenge lies not in finding customers but in growing its capacity and increasing its sales in a sustainable way.

Zeobond continues to fund a strong R&D program, while the CRC for Sustainable Resource Processing based in Perth is conducting long-term tests of geopolymer performance and exploring how the process can be further improved and extended to other products.

[The information in this story came from the ‘Science in our lives’ series of factsheets produced by the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies. See http://www.fasts.org/]


Sensational Materials

Making it economical to recycle old tyres

A stockpile of dumped tyres (Image: CSIRO)

Each year about one billion tyres are discarded around the world with most ending up in landfill. Now a new research effort is seeking to turn this waste stream into new tyres, industrial insulation, road pavement, flooring or geotextiles for retaining walls and embankments. CSIRO is working with Australian company VR TEK Operations to design and develop a new, improved method of recycling waste rubber.

Tyres are almost impossible to recycle economically and create health and environmental hazards when burned. Given that global demand for rubber currently exceeds supply, industry’s inability to economically recycle tyres also represents lost opportunities in terms of potential resource efficiency and conservation gains.

As part of an Advanced Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre project, CSIRO is collaborating with VR TEK to develop new technologies designed to reduce waste tyres to devulcanised and activated high quality rubber powders that can be used to manufacture new rubber products.

CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering scientist Barrie Finnin says CSIRO and VR TEK recently succeeded in segmenting a tyre into specific pieces using a cutting mechanism built to VR TEK’s design.

“This is a very positive first step in a three-stage process and CSIRO is delighted to be part of a project that is enabling an Australian company to pioneer the commercially and environmentally sustainable recycling of tyres,” says Mr Finnin says.

“The next two stages will involve devulcanisation and activation of rubber to produce the resultant high quality rubber powders.”

VR TEK Managing Director, Michael Vainer, says the rubber powders to be produced from the process could be turned into many commercially viable products.

“Not only is there commercial potential for all these new products, recycling rubber is a cheaper and more energy efficient option than producing virgin materials,” says Mr Vainer says. It is expected that the next two stages of the project will begin shortly.

This project between VR TEK and CSIRO receives funding support from the Advanced Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (AMCRC) and the Victorian Government, through the Victorian Centre for Advanced Materials Manufacturing (VCAMM).

Paper from sugar cane

Tom Rainey with a handful of bagasse

A researcher at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) has devised a new way to make paper from bagasse, the fibrous sugar cane waste from sugar production. What’s more the process is easier and cheaper than making paper from trees.

QUT Sugar Research & Innovation research fellow Tom Rainey has dispelled the myth that bagasse paper production would never be economically viable in Australia. His method can be used to make generic writing paper, tissues and packaging. And by using bagasse it will be possible to lower the amount of plantation and old growth forest that was cut down for paper production.

“My research has overcome a major technical hurdle to optimising bagasse fibre so it can be made into pulp for the production of paper, board, structural and packaging materials,” says Mr Rainey. "This process will be more profitable because the raw sugar cane material is up to five times cheaper to buy than wood, and higher paper production rates are possible."

Mr Rainey said because the majority of generic-grade paper sold in Australia was manufactured overseas, this technology could provide a new market for sugar cane growers.

This research was supported by the Sugar Research and Development Corporation's PhD scholarship program and Queensland Government’s ‘Growing the Smart State’ PhD funding program in association with QUT.

More info: Tom Rainey, t.rainey@qut.edu.au.

SA Solar testing centre open for business

Minister Garrett officially launched the Sustainable Energy Industry

Australia’s capacity to develop advanced solar thermal technologies took another step forward with the opening in April of a new testing centre at the University of South Australia (UniSA).

Peter Garrett, Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts officially launched the solar testing facility at UniSA’s Sustainable Energy Industry Support Centre at the Mawson Lakes Campus.
“This cutting-edge testing centre is now available for industry use and to support the research and development of solar hot water, solar heating systems and other solar technologies,” Mr Garrett said.

“We now have an Australian facility that can encourage industry innovation and improve our solar technologies and delivering better quality products to Australians, sooner.

“This comes at an opportune time, with the Government’s $3.9 billion Energy Efficient Homes Package inspiring up to 300,000 households to install a solar hot water system and bolstering the solar hot water industry.”

The Sustainable Energy Industry Support Centre’s key focus is on solar hot water applications in Australia through independent testing, product development and monitoring services to support local manufacturers and suppliers of solar hot water systems.

At the testing facility solar thermal technologies and materials are put to the test in a range of ways including measuring thermal performance of solar collectors, checking the impact of rainfall and large hail stones, evaluating safety and performance during extended periods of no hot water draw-off and protection against freezing temperatures.

“By contributing $410,000 towards the development of this testing centre, the Government is investing in research facilities, helping to stimulate jobs and drive demand in the solar industry, which in turn is delivering a major component of the Energy Efficient Homes package,” Minister Garrett said.

UniSA Pro Vice Chancellor Information Technology, Engineering and Environment, Professor Andrew Parfitt, said UniSA was very proud to be the host of the centre.

“At its heart the centre aims to build on advances in the technology and testing of solar thermal energy systems to improve uptake and ultimately reduce carbon footprint. This is a fabulous opportunity for Adelaide and South Australia to make a major contribution to solar thermal systems,” Professor Parfitt said. “We look forward to a fruitful and perhaps transformational relationship with all our partners in this venture.”

More info: Bruce Perkin, Business Manager, Sustainable Energy Industry Support Centre Bruce.Perkin@unisa.edu.au


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