The Centre has an extensive network of collaborators across academia, research organisations and industry within Australia and around the world.
Examples of our collaborations are summarised below:
Low cost metal remediation of remote contaminated regions with the Australian Government Antarctic Division
For many years, Professor Geoff Stevens has collaborated with Dr Ian Snape’s team at the Australian Antarctic Division to develop a low-cost in-ground remediation scheme will provide vital protection for remote Australian, Antarctic and sub-Antarctic areas. The research involves the development of (i) standard methods for analysis of contaminated soils, sediments and landfill materials, (ii) chemical fixation methods for soil and sediment, (iii) the use of zeolites and other materials for permeable reactive barriers and caps in areas of freezing ground and temperate sites with large variability in soil moisture.
Self assembly of surfactants and polymers in solution is a core interest in the PFPC and for the past 10 years Professor Geoff Stevens and Associate Professor Andrea O’Connor have had a strong collaboration with Professor Alan Hatton’s group in the Department of Chemical Engineering, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in the United States. Initially, the collaborative research examined the kinetics of self assembly of micelles. More recently, the research has focussed on the structure and properties of the hydrophobic domains of polymers, including Pluronic poly(acrylic acid) block copolymers which have the characteristic of forming micelles at particular temperatures and so offer the potential of drug delivery agents.
The PFPC’s research activities into the chemical and physical effects of ultrasound in aqueous systems, has evolved significantly over the past 6 years. Professor Muthupandian Ashokkumar is collaborating with Dr Tom Matula and Professor Larry Crum of the Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, in the United States to examine the dynamics of bubble oscillations in the presence of surface active solutes. Through the use of an acoustically "levitated" single bubble this collaboration has explored solute effects on bubble size, sonoluminescence intensity and gas transport across the bubble interface.
The main aim of this project is to improve the separation efficiency of molecules using microfluidics/lab-on-a-chip technologies. The project investigates the fundamental physics of the transport of molecules through nanoscale geometries and develops programmable nanostructures in microchannels to increase the efficiency of molecule separation. Professor Geoff Stevens is working with Dr Yonggang Zhu’s group in the CSIRO Microfluidics Laboratory in the Division of Materials Science and Engineering.
Acid extraction of natural products such as alkaloids offers the opportunity to develop a range of new products based on Australian agriculture. Professor Geoff Stevens is collaborating with GlaxoSmithKline who have identified marketable products that could be extracted using an acid based technology but lack a viable process. The acid causes breakdown of plant material to form a gel-like system, which leads to dewatering and emulsion stability problems in processing. These are major technical barriers for commercialisation of acid extraction. This project aims to address these issues by developing a quantitative understanding of the interplay of rheology, interfacial forces and fluid mechanics on dewatering and emulsion stability and define a new process route.
The minerals industry, through a variety of sources, continues to be a key collaborative focus for the PFPC. A key route to collaborative work is AMIRA, the Australian Minerals Industry Research Association. One of the PFPC’s major projects in solid-liquid separation has been sponsored through AMIRA project P266D. PFPC researchers led by Professor Peter Scales are collaborating with CSIRO Process Science and Engineering in Perth (Dr John Farrow and Dr Phil Fawell) and Melbourne (Kosta Simic), Monash University in Melbourne (Dr Murray Rudman) and more than twenty minerals and minerals industry service companies. A key focus of the work is to understand the relationship between flocculant structure and function and dewatering in a thickener.
PFPC researchers are collaborating with Burra Foods Australia, a dairy company based in Korumburra, Victoria to develop production processes for concentrated fresh milk ingredients for the international market. Within this project, the team is assessing and optimising a number of dairy membrane processes. Research is focussed on microfiltration of skim milk to produce a casein concentrate and ultrafiltration to concentrate whey solids. This system is used for the separation of dairy lactose and valuable calcium salts, from the less valuable sodium and potassium salts. The project is coordinated by Associate Professor Sandra Kentish.
PFPC researchers Dr Lydia Ong, Associate Professor Ray Dagastine, Associate Professor Sandra Kentish and Dr Sally Gras have been investigating curd and cheese at a microscopic level. Advanced microscopic techniques are used to understand how milk components, such as the fat globules and casein micelles, interact to form cheese and how they effect cheese texture and functionality. Confocal Laser Scanning Microscopy enables the non-invasive characterisation of the samples' internal structures and Cryo Scanning Electron Microscopy allows the observation of hydrated specimens without the need for conventional SEM sample preparation techniques. These technologies have been used to investigate the influence of various processing parameters used on a factory scale on the microstructure of milk, curd and cheese. The project has facilitated interactions between the PFPC, Dairy Innovation Australia Limited and major cheese producers in Australia, namely: Murray Goulburn; National Foods; Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory; and Burra Foods. It also involves collaboration with the Dr Mark Auty of Moorepark Teagasc in Ireland. The knowledge generated from this study can be used by cheese manufacturers to predict and control the functional properties of cheese.
Geopolymers are a class of aluminosilicate materials with potential applications as a cement replacement for Greenhouse gas emission minimisation and niche applications, and also as an advanced material for use in fire-proof composites and refractories. Utilisation of industrial wastes, particularly geothermal wastes, fly ashes and mineralogical slags, is an area receiving significant attention. PFPC research is focused on developing a more complete understanding of the chemistry of geopolymerisation, with a view towards optimising performance in desired applications. We work closely together with the Zeobond Group in developing geopolymers as a sustainable alternative to traditional construction materials.
The introduction of solvent extraction columns to replace mixer settlers in the mining industry has significantly enhanced the productivity of Uranium recovery for BHP Billiton at Olympic Dam, others are now following. Professor Geoff Stevens is leading a project that will develop a sound fundamental basis for predicting column performance over a range of operating conditions. To date this has been very empirical. This will support this key Australian industry and ensure its competitive advantage.