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Research Themes and Projects


Energy

MMFI will develop clean, highly efficient and cost-effective hydrogen technology and water treatment systems to provide humanity with a sustainable environment into the future.


Hydrogen promises to be an energy carrier for grid-scale storage of renewable energy such as solar and wind, enabling the continuous usage of these diffusive and intermittent energy sources when used together with fuel cells.1,2 The application of hydrogen technology has been severely constrained by the high cost and low efficiency of water electrolysis, fuel cells and hydrogen storage. Current technologies use precious metal catalysts, such as oxides of ruthenium and iridium for the oxygen evolution reaction (OER), and platinum for the hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) and oxygen reduction reaction (ORR). Electrochemical CO2 reduction to fuels and nitrogen reduction (NRR) to ammonia (NH3) provide alternative pathways for hydrogen storage and transport. These emerging technologies call for highly efficient catalysts to promote their industrial viabilities. In the Nanoelectrochemistry Lab at UNSW, we have developed advanced electrochemical systems for hydrogen conversion and storage using low cost, non-precious metal (e.g. Ni, Fe, Co) and carbon-based catalyst materials with efficiency comparable to that of precious metal catalysts. Our lab has been working in the clean energy sector for more than 10 years and currently has ~30 PhD-level researchers. We have published ~200 high impact papers and hold >12 patents, the majority of which have been successfully commercialised. This paper shows our recent discoveries in hydrogen conversion and storage technologies, and introduces two newly patented technologies: i) low cost catalysts for water electrolysis, and ii) ground-breaking hydrogen ion batteries. If you are interested in collaboration on the project, please contact Professor Chuan Zhao at chuan.zhao@unsw.edu.au or us at mmfutures@unsw.edu.au.

Harvesting solar energy for the synthesis of ammonia and using it as a hydrogen carrier holds tremendous promises to drive a green economy in the society, particularly for Australia as a continent with ample supply of solar energy. However, finding usable solid-state materials that are capable to catalyze the solarthermal ammonia synthesis from naturally abundant feedstocks (H2O and N2) has been grossly inefficient and had seen very limited success. Here, by applying a machine-learned material descriptor to perform high-throughput material screenings on 957 ternary metal oxides, we have identified 23 materials, including 14 previously unknown ones, that show promising potentials as catalysts for solarthermal ammonia synthesis. In this project, we will be carrying out in-lab thermal-chemical characterizations on these newly discovered materials in order to validate their catalytic efficiencies for solarthermal ammonia synthesis.

For more information on this project, please contact Dr Jianliang (Jack) Yang at jianliang.yang@unsw.edu.au or us at mmfutures@unsw.edu.au.
This project will be developed starting from the lessons learned from the previous EU project Zero-Plus and in this case, an affordable module of low carbon technologies for energy production and energy conservation will be developed in collaboration with several industrial partners interested in the project. For more information on this project, please contact Dr Gloria Pignatta at g.pignatta@unsw.edu.au or us at mmfutures@unsw.edu.au.

Information Technology & Infrastructure

We will overcome the fundamental limits of current silicon semiconductor technology to significantly enhance the performance of nanoelectronic devices for advanced information technology.


In the Energy Internet of Things, digital technology and energy will meet. By using sensors, meters, digital controls, and analytics to monitor, control and manage the flow of energy and information, the Internet of Things will be the key enabler of Smart Energy Management, Smart Buildings and Smart Grids. With the help of sensing, communications, data analytics and real-time control, the aim of the Energy Internet of Things is to enhance the efficiency of energy use and to reduce the cost to consumers and businesses – and to the environment. In this project, key technologies for providing secure, reliable and low latency communication, real-time data analytics, fog computing and robust distributed control will be investigated to achieve the goal of energy Internet of Things. If you are interested in collaboration on the project, please contact Professor Jinhong Yuan at j.yuan@unsw.edu.au or us at mmfutures@unsw.edu.au.

The project highlights the increasingly important role that power electronic conversion will play in everyday life and in the transition to a more sustainable future. Specific examples will include the integration and management of storage across electrical networks, opportunities derived from massive electrical vehicle uptake, and the integration of renewable energy. If you are interested in collaboration on the project, please contact Professor John Fletcher at john.fletcher@unsw.edu.au or us at mmfutures@unsw.edu.au.

The development of wireless communication networks and technologies has triggered an exponential growth in the number of wireless communication devices worldwide. In the future, smart physical objects embedded with sensors and communication chips are able to collect and exchange information. In particular, the smart objects are connected to computing systems to provide intelligent services in daily life such as e-health, automated control, environmental monitoring, energy management (smart city and smart grid), logistic, and safety management. This new concept of interconnection of massive wireless devices is known as Internet of Things (IoT), which provides new business and technology opportunities in products manufacturing, telecommunication, and service industries. A ubiquitous communication infrastructure is a key enabler of IoT. It is great beneficial and economical to deploy IoT by using wireless networks . In fact, IoT mainly relies on efficient and effective machine-to-machine (M2M) communications infrastructure. In most cases, data and information are exchanged between a massive number of machines without human intervention. In the next decade, M2M communications are expected to be one of the major drivers of future digital society. It is predicted that in 2025, the number of interconnected devices via the Internet on the planet may reach up to 50 billion, which opens up many promising methods in transforming societies and industries in order to contend with the enormous challenges they face, boosting productivity and efficiency.

While IoT networks have been designed for various industrial applications and deployment scenarios, most of the current IoT applications aim for urban deployment (such as smart cities, smart campuses, smart grids, etc.) and there are usually targeted to a medium to large scale wireless network or deployment.

Finding a particular location, or called localisation, is often important and challenge issue in people’s life. With wireless networks already deployed in cities, campus, or shopping malls, and well placed IoT devices, it is highly desirable to exploit the existing wireless signals from IoT networks and help users to determine the locations. In some sophisticated situations, the localisation for various items can also help users to navigate through large venues via optimal route. To do this, one requires to sensing the transmission frequency of the wireless signals, as the inherent severe path loss and the vulnerability to blockages in the frequency bands are the fundamental issues to be tackled for achieving the promising localisation accuracy and optimal route.

Motivated by these, this project aims to investigate:

- Characterizing the signal propagation losses and blockages for different environments and conditions for IoT networks.

- Based on the signal loss and blockage characteristics, investigating novel localisation methods by sensing the radio propagation environment and effective navigating through a venue via an optimal route.

For more information on this project, please contact Professor Jinhong Yuan at j.yuan@unsw.edu.au or us at mmfutures@unsw.edu.au

This project aims to investigate the possibility to develop an innovative renewable building material for building envelopes and internal element applications. This material is a geopolymer, which currently is being researched for fire-resistant, nuclear storage, and cement-based applications. These materials, which are fabricated from the high-volume waste materials fly ash and blast furnace slag and are stored in landfill and tailings ponds, have the capacity to facilitate the transition toward a more sustainable and energy-efficient built environment and contribute to an effective circular economy in the Australian building sector.

UNSW researchers recently have solved two of the problems facing the use of geopolymers in construction, which are the need for heating during curing and highly corrosive compositions. The UNSW work has pioneered low-cost geopolymers that can be cured at room temperature at reduced alkalinities. However, essentially all research in geopolymers has targeted optimisation of strength, which requires fully dense product. The proposed construction materials will apply a counter-intuitive approach of increasing and optimising the porosity level as such a microstructure will reduce both heat and sound transmission. Thus, introducing porosity would expand their applicability to a range of building components suitable for thermal insulation and soundproofing. Large slabs could be cast and installed as external roofing tiles and cladding as well as internal architectural elements in the form of wall, floor, and ceiling panels.

The aim of this seed proposal is to minimise heat and sound transmission in geopolymers while balancing the opposing effects of porosity and strength. The porosity will be induced by the addition of hollow glass cenospheres (i.e. another waste product), hollow polymer, perlite (i.e. a foamed volcanic glass), and the exfoliated vermiculite (i.e. kitty litter). Standard cement-mixing techniques will be used to fabricate samples to be examined in terms of: (1) true porosity (i.e. hydrostatic weighing), (2) microstructure (i.e. scanning electron microscopy), (3) compressive strength, (4) thermal conductivity, and (5) acoustic attenuation.

Following characterisation and testing, the thermal and acoustic properties will be modelled using dynamic simulation software to predict the thermal performances under different climate conditions and building typologies. A full life-cycle assessment (LCA) also will be undertaken.

Probable outputs are: (1) patent application, (2) one publication on thermal performance, (3) one publication of acoustic performance, and (4) one publication on (LCA).

For more information on this project, please contact Dr Gloria Pignatta at g.pignatta@unsw.edu.au and Dr Riccardo Paolini at r.paolini@unsw.edu.au or us at mmfutures@unsw.edu.au

For the pilot phase of this project that will investigate several apartment buildings in Sydney, it is needed to install a dedicated weather station and several energy meters in one identified apartment building. This project will help building owners corporations to save money on their energy bill and push the apartment building market to achieve the sustainability goal. For more information on this project, please contact Dr Gloria Pignatta at g.pignatta@unsw.edu.au or us at mmfutures@unsw.edu.au
This project aims to significantly decrease the demand for cooling buildings and reduce the urban overheating by improving also the outdoor thermal comfort. For this project, we are looking for collaboration with industrial companies interested in providing raw materials for the R&D phase of the products (e.g., building components, shading devices, etc..). For more information on this project, please contact Dr Gloria Pignatta g.pignatta@unsw.edu.au or us at mmfutures@unsw.edu.au

Healthcare

We will create new and affordable, implantable and wearable, biomedical devices and sensors to meet the demands of future healthcare technologies.


The goal is to produce two state-of-the-art commercial technologies for immediate and effective solutions for (1) real-time protection against COVID-19 virus and (2) its inactivation. Rapid product development (3-6 months) will commercialise an aerosol spray for topical application to face masks, the body, and environmental surfaces. Extended product development (3-12 months) to commercialise a virus-inactivating face mask insert for real-time virus neutralisation. These technologies have the capacity for substantial health and economic benefits. If you are interested in collaboration on the project, please contact Professor Charles C Sorrell at c.sorrell@unsw.edu.au or us at mmfutures@unsw.edu.au.

The ongoing global pandemic caused by novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) presents an extreme impact to global economy. The need for a fast and accurate method of testing is essential in controlling this rapidly evolving pandemic. We propose here a methodology of delivering fast and accurate detection system, based on a two-dimensional transition metal dichalcogenides in a field effect transistor; we feel that this will be beneficial in detecting the virus by providing low-cost real time testing. Whilst the device will be optimised for COVID-19, it will provide a flexible platform for detecting any such pathogen provided the C-DNA is available.

For more information on this project, please contact chief investigator Associate Professor John Strideat J.Stride@unsw.edu.au or us at mmfutures@unsw.edu.au.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the increasing need to leverage electronic wearable devices for rapid diagnosis and remote patient monitoring. This project is employing polymer hydrogel strain sensors to remotely monitor the patients’ respiration rates which is able to differentiate the COVID-19 patients from normal patients with other viral illness such as influenza or common cold. The strain sensors based on polymer hydrogels possess the virtue of outstanding flexibility and biocompatibility, fast-response, high accuracy, and low costs. The overarching aim is to assemble these unique sensors with excellent performance on respiration rate measurements. The successful delivery of the project will produce wearable strain sensors with the potential for commercialization.

For more information on this project, please contact Dr Jiangtao (Jason) Xu at j.xu@unsw.edu.au or us at mmfutures@unsw.edu.au.

This project aims for the development of a portable two-dimensional (2D) phased array ultrasonic imaging system for real-time 3D high resolution diagnosis of lung function based on our newly developed the ultrasonic transducer with piezoelectric single crystal 2D arrays. The expected outcome includes optimal prototypes of portable 2D phased array transducer for early detection and screening of COVID-19 as well as follow-up exams on recovery from the disease through efficiently producing real-time high-resolution volumetric lung imaging for the identification of fine pathological abnormalities. Compared with the traditional radiology imaging, the developed high-resolution 3D lung ultrasound is a relatively low-cost and radiation free diagnostic method that can be performed very frequently, allowing a close and routine monitoring of patients clinical conditions by capturing very early and subtle change in lung involvement. In addition, the implementation of lung ultrasound can be carried out at bed-side without the need of patient transfer, thus greatly minimizing the risk of person-to-person transmission during diagnosis and subsequent evaluation.

For more information on this project, please contact Associate Professor Danyang Wang at dy.wang@unsw.edu.au or us at mmfutures@unsw.edu.au.

Transportation

We will create better transport technologies with lightweight and environmentally-responsive functionalities, to assist with urban mobility and space exploration


The de-fogging and de-icing of glass is a safety requirement of any vehicle, from automobiles to public transport options to marine vessels, with consumer demand for glass de-fogging also in architectural glass, mirror, and eyewear industries. Green vehicles and architectural innovation are making the transition from old de-fogging technologies to smart glass with increased performance, lower energy requirements, and lower cost. MMFI has developed a silver nanowire-based glass treatment that is superior to any comparable treatment on the market. The technology has a high margin potential and delivers a transparent, extremely cost-effective, conductive heating element for glass of any size or shape. MMFI is partnering with Australian glass manufacturers to serve the marine and automotive glass markets, and then grow by selling automated printing systems and consumable ink products to glass manufacturers worldwide.

If you are interested in collaboration on the project, please contact Professor Sean li at sean.li@unsw.edu.au or us at mmfutures@unsw.edu.au


MMFI Seed Grant 2020


Congratulations to the following successful proposals for UNSW MMFI Seed Grant funding and thank you to all applicants. Applications are now closed but watch this space and follow our newsletter to find out about the next call for proposals.