Flinders leading clean-tech showcase

amanda-ellis3Flinders has a strong presence among South Australia’s leading clean technology innovators at today’s CleverGreen™ Conference and Showcase, being held at the Adelaide Convention Centre.

As well as sponsoring the event, Flinders will be represented at the Innovative Research sessions by Dr Amanda Ellis [pictured], Dr Stephen Clarke and Professor Jorg Hacker who will demonstrate some of the University’s latest clean-tech research to an audience of government, industry and investment representatives.

Dr Ellis and her colleagues at the Centre for NanoScale Science and Technology (CeNSST) and the Molecular Technologies ASRI are undertaking research into world-first technology that is set to revolutionise desalination plants, significantly lowering their energy consumption, waste and land use.

The project is examining how self-assembled vertically aligned carbon nanotubes are able to continuously “filter” out salt from seawater.

“Carbon nanotubes are thousands of times thinner than a human hair and we use a self-assemble process to place them on a surface but instead of lying flat they are repelled from the surface and stand upright,” Dr Ellis said.

“We are able to make the nanotubes remain vertical then wrap polymer around them to form next generation desalination membranes,” she said.

“Because the carbon nanotubes are hydrophobic – they simply hate water – the water shoots through at 1000 times faster than it does in the conventional reverse osmosis membranes we use at the moment.”

Known as ballistic transport, once the nanotube is wet the ability for the water to pass through so quickly significantly reduces the need to force water through membranes under pressure, resulting in huge energy savings.

“The membranes fabricated will be one million times thinner than conventional membranes – thinner membranes means less space required in desal plants and less waste polymer for transportation and recycling,” Dr Ellis said.

An added benefit in using nanotubes in the desalination process is that, as not prone to corrosion and fouling, the membranes last longer, requiring less maintenance and end-of-life waste disposal.

Dr Ellis said it will be potentially possible to retrofit existing desalination plants using reverse osmosis membranes with the new vertically aligned carbon nanotubes.

It is envisaged that this technology will be available in working desal plants within the next decade.

Dr Stephen Clarke, a member of the Flinders Materials and BioEnergy Group, will discuss Flinders research into second generation biofuels produced from material such as saltwater algae instead of food crops such as canola, that are promising a viable alternative to petroleum.

He said technological advances in microalgae production were boosting biofuel yields from smaller land areas, as well as creating a range of high value added products.

“Flinders, with its many Government and industry partners, is well advanced in the development of the biorefinery concept: that is, a biofuels production system that generates large volumes of renewable fuel as well as materials that are readily converted to pharmaceutical products and plastics,” Dr Clarke said.

“Pilot studies, such as those we are conducting in ponds at Torrens Island, reveal that we’re less than 10 years away from fully-functioning biorefineries becoming a possibility,” he said.

“We will have the fuel we need for our transport and a wide range of high value added products that we currently get from petroleum – but from environmentally-friendly sources.”

Dr Clarke and his team have already created an additive that allows biofuel mixed with tallow, or purified beef fat, to be used in diesel engines.

Negotiations are currently under way to trial the additive, developed for Meat and Livestock Australia and two other industry partners, with a view to large-scale manufacture in 12 months.

Professor Jorg Hacker, Director and Chief Scientist of Airborne Research Australia, will talk about the group’s pioneering work in low cost environmental sensing using manned aircraft.

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