ARC green light for pioneering, sustainable projects

Four Deakin initiatives have been funded in the latest round of Australian Research Council Linkage Projects.

Lithium ion batteries that can operate in hot climates; premium farmed barramundi that tastes like the sea; sustainability planning that considers Indigenous values, economics and conservation; and noise-powered nanofibres that cancel out the very noise that powers them are the ground-breaking outcomes we can hope for from four innovative Deakin University projects funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC).

The Deakin-led research teams were granted a combined total of over $1.6 million through the ARC Linkage Project scheme, which promotes collaboration between universities, government, industry and end-users, with the goal of applying advanced knowledge to secure commercial, social, environmental and other benefits.

Each project will also receive substantial funds and in-kind support from partner organisations and collaborating institutions. The four project leaders are Dr Emily Nicholson, from the Centre for Integrative Ecology (CIE), Professors Ying Chen and Tong Lin, from the Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM), and Dr David Francis, from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences.

Deakin’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Peter Hodgson congratulated the researchers for capping off a particularly successful ARC grant year for the University.

“Deakin achieved a high success rate in ARC Linkage Grants for 2017, with 50 per cent of applications being successful and our most successful year, of over $2.5m (including three awards earlier in 2017) in five years,” said Professor Hodgson.

“This is an excellent achievement, given the increasingly competitive ARC funding environment, and it is pleasing to see that the projects have a focus on sustainable development that will likely benefit society at large into the future.”

Deakin researchers are involved in five other Linkage Projects announced last week, led by other institutions. These include: Professor Wanlei Zhou; Ms Jun Zhang; Dr Ha Vu; Dr Beata Ujvari; Dr Emily Nicholson; Associate Professor Rebecca Lester; Dr Susanna Venn; Dr Lucie Bland; and Professor Don Driscoll.

The four Deakin-led projects are outlined below:

Participatory planning offers path to sustainable land-use

Lying around 60 km north of Darwin, the Tiwi Islands are Aboriginal freehold land and comprise two main islands, Melville and Bathurst Islands, with a combined area of 8,320 square kilometres. The Tiwi Islands are ecologically and culturally significant, and home to many species that have declined drastically elsewhere in Australia, which makes them a high priority for conservation.

The Tiwi Land Council, the primary decision-making body for land use on the Islands, is seeking to expand economic opportunities for Tiwi communities and to improve social, economic and health outcomes for Tiwi people, while sustaining the Islands’ unique cultural and biodiversity values.

The Land Council has identified a critical need to enhance its capacity to make informed, integrated and strategic decisions about land use, and has partnered with researchers from Deakin and other universities to achieve this aim. What they learn will have ramifications for sustainable development, particularly in Indigenous areas, across the Globe.

The Land Council will work with Dr Emily Nicholson and her team to develop a new approach to participatory land-use planning that focusses on sustainable development and conservation on the Tiwi Islands, working with Tiwi rangers, Land Council staff and a project-specific Tiwi research assistant. The team will receive $490,233 from the ARC for the project, and will include Deakin’s Professor Brett Bryan and researchers from Charles Darwin University and The University of Melbourne.

Dr Nicholson explained that planning for sustainable development in the area is complex, with strong ties between people, land and nature, and globally-important biodiversity values, but sustainability is vital to reconciling economic, social and conservation goals.

“We will evaluate land-use scenarios, including Indigenous Protected Areas, with ecological and economic models that integrate Indigenous and scientific knowledge, providing information that can support Tiwi decisions about Tiwi lands,” Dr Nicholson said.

“Indigenous goals and values have been neglected in ecological modelling and conservation planning. This work will allow us to develop new planning tools and improved understanding of trade-offs between goals that will be of use worldwide, especially to Australia’s vast Indigenous estates. A central benefit will be improved methods for collaboration and co-development of knowledge between scientific and Indigenous communities, to enable better social and environmental outcomes.”

Developing safer lithium ion batteries for hot climates

The use of batteries in a hot Australian summer, with local temperatures up to 50 degrees Celsius, is a major safety issue for the nation. Alfred Deakin Professor Ying (Ian) Chen, Chair in Nanotechnology at the IFM, has been awarded $401,850 ARC Linkage funding to improve the safety of lithium ion batteries through the development of high-temperature, stable boron nitride nanotube (BNNT) separators.

The new technology will enhance the ability of batteries to withstand high temperatures and avoid the current problem of thermal runaway of battery cells and short-circuiting of batteries that can occur in hot climates in Australia and other parts of the world. Once finalised, the technology could be used in any type of battery, from home energy storage, to electric cars, to mobile phones.

Current commercial polymer separators shrink under high temperatures, causing the battery to short circuit. The separators’ thermal stability will be improved by coating them with boron nitride nanotubes, which have very high thermal and chemical stability. The nanotube-coated separators will allow battery cells to operate safely under high temperature environments with an improved electrochemical performance, noted Professor Chen.

“Many colder countries in the Northern Hemisphere, such as Russia and parts of Europe, have obviously been more concerned with developing batteries that could operate in extreme cold weather, but in Australia, Africa, the Middle East and parts of the United States, we have the opposite problem,” said Professor Chen.

“The outcomes of this research will position Australia at the cutting edge of battery technology and benefit energy storage development here and elsewhere. It could have an enormous global impact on the safety of current battery technology and offers an innovative application of boron nitride nanotubes.”

Professor Chen’s team will work with Bolt Technologies Company and Darvat P/L.

In 2017, Professor Chen and colleagues achieved a world-first in successfully 3D printing a Boron Nitride Nanotube/Titanium composite. The composites could include metallic, polymer and ceramic composites and transparent materials for many potential applications such as the defence and automotive sectors; thermally-conductive and electrically-insulating material for the semiconductor industry, and sensors and structural or multifunctional applications for the aerospace and energy sectors. Deakin has patented its BNNT production technology and is currently scaling up at the Waurn Ponds campus to produce BNNTs in kilogram quantities to meet increasing demand for the product.

Sound science. Can noise-powered nanofibres cancel out noise pollution?

It might sound like sci fi, but IFM’s Professor Tong Lin is calling on developments in nanotechnology and electrospinning to develop a high-tech material that is both powered by low frequency noise and able to cancel out that noise. It is an ingenious method of reducing noise pollution that could have applications in daily life, health, aged care, industry and defence within a decade.

Professor Lin is a pioneer and world leader in the technique of electrospinning, where an electrical charge is used to create tiny nanofibres with special properties from a liquid. He has been awarded a $390,000 ARC Linkage Grant, which, along with industry support, will allow his team to work on developing an active noise control system that can eliminate low frequency noise that is powered by that noise, without the use of external electricity.

Noise pollution from industrialisation and human activities is very real. It causes discomfort, has a potentially negative impact on human health, and is on the rise. In 2004, a wide-ranging investigation on residential noise pollution in Australia indicated that 46 per cent of respondents experienced traffic noise problems at a level that adversely affected their quality of life. Data suggests that low frequency noise annoyance is related to headaches, tiredness, lack of concentration, irritation and sleep disorders. In occupational environments, it may negatively affect performance.

“The adverse effects of low frequency noise are of particular concern because of its general presence from numerous sources, as well as the way it is efficiently propagated from the source (due to the longer length of the sound wave), and the poor attenuation efficiency of most building structures,” said Professor Lin.

He explained that conventional passive sound absorbers/insulators can reduce high frequency noise, but are unable to reduce low frequency noise, especially for frequencies below 100 Hz. Given the length of the wave, a large space and weight would be required to reduce the sound.

However, active noise control offers a new way to eliminate low frequency noise. Existing active noise controllers (ANCs) are restricted to limited applications, due to large energy requirements, complexity in control algorithms and hardware structures, high cost, and integration difficulties.

“Making ANCs ‘self-powered’ would eliminate dependence on external power, hence simplifying the operation, increasing adaptability to various situations and broadening the application scope,” said Professor Lin.

“We could make the devices useful for various areas, but achieving this functionality is challenging. In previous research, we have shown that some nanofibrous materials possess exceptional piezoelectricity. This means they are able to accumulate an electric charge in response to applied mechanical stress. Piezoelectric nanofibres produced by electrospinning show large acousto-electric conversion efficiency. They can be used to develop highly-sensitive sound pressure sensors and acousto-electric power generators with large voltage outputs.

“This project will focus on gaining in-depth knowledge about this novel noise controlling system and how we can prepare a self-powered ANC using electrospun piezoelectric nanofibres as a sound pressure sensor and power source.

“We will develop a special nanofibre device that can absorb noise and, meanwhile, convert noise into electricity. The electricity generated will be strong enough to drive a speaker to generate an anti-phase sound pressure wave signal with the same frequency and amplitude as the noise source. In this way, noise can be eliminated, without costing external electricity.”

Professor Lin will work with IFM’s Dr Jian Fang, researchers from RMIT University and high-tech companies Applied Measurement (Australia) P/L; Meikemai Nano Technology; and Jiangxi Shan Ren Science and Technology P/L.

Taste of the sea aids ‘green’ barramundi farming

Australians should soon be able to experience a healthy, premium ‘clean and green’ barramundi dining experience – that tastes like the sea – thanks to a Deakin-led project funded by an ARC Linkage Grant.

A prized eating fish, barramundi has had a strong commercial history in Australia with aquaculture production expanding rapidly over the past few decades. But modern aquaculture farmers have faced marketing challenges in recent times, as the domestic market has been flooded with lower quality imports from Asia.

Deakin aquaculture nutritionist Dr David Francis and his team will receive $339,300 from the ARC, and substantial industry support, including from Australia’s largest producer of animal nutrition solutions, Ridley Agriproducts, to enhance the flavour of Australian-farmed barramundi through natural dietary supplementation. They aim to produce a premium product to market in Australia and overseas, and facilitate the economically-sustainable growth of this regional industry.

Building on a completed successful pilot project, the team are confident their work will lead to the commercialisation of flavour-enhanced fish food that will flow through to the flavour experienced by human consumers, as well as the identification of new markets that will see increased product returns for farmers.

The team expects to expand fundamental knowledge of flavour enhancement, drawing on the world-class “taste” expertise of Deakin’s Professor Russell Keast, whilst providing significant practical benefits to final product quality.

“By adding a natural compound found in certain types of seaweed, we can achieve a barramundi that is both nutritious and delicious, and provide Australian producers with a premium product,” explained Dr Francis.

“The seaweed component added to the diet imparts a flavour of the sea that consumers in the trial preferred. This will differentiate Australian producers here and, in the longer term, Asia and other parts of the world. In the future, the optimised fish food may also benefit other commercial fish producers for a host of other species such as Murray cod, yellowtail kingfish and Atlantic salmon.

“In Australia, we have very strong guidelines for best practice production of farmed fish. Our goal is to achieve a premium product that will benchmark Australia as a high-end producer of nutritious, delicious, ‘clean and green’ barramundi, as well as other fish species.”

Other Deakin staff involved in the project include: Professor Giovanni Turchini, Dr Damien Callahan, Dr Xavier Conlan and Professor Russell Keast. They will work with researchers from James Cook University, the University of Milan and partner organisations: Ridley Agriproducts PL; Humpty Doo Barramundi PL; Pejo Enterprises; King Reef Barramundi; MBD Industries Ltd; and the Australian Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Main photograph: Assoc Prof Jane Elith (University of Melbourne, UM), Dr Marg Ayre (UM), Colin Kerinaiua (Tiwi ranger), Dr Brett Murphy (Charles Darwin University), Dr Gurutzeta Guillera-Arroita (UM), Kate Hadden (Tiwi Land Council), Vivian Kerinaiua (Tiwi Ranger), Dr Emily Nicholson (Deakin) and Willie Rioli (Tiwi Ranger). Photo: courtesy Jose Lahoz-Monfort.

Published by Deakin Research on 20 June 2018

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