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"This lithium niobate chip is the size of a fingernail and is made on thin film lithium niobate and can be used in telecommunications, to make our internet faster." Credit: RMIT University

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University Research Roundup Down Under

Even though university is closed for the summer in Australia and students are dividing their time between catching some rays to patch their tans and working to pay their fees, there is plenty of good news. Scientists and researchers are holding true to their calling and looking for solutions to the crises of our time.


Let’s start at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) where there are reports of the expansion of biomanufacturing in Mackay:

“[The Queensland University of Technology Mackay Renewable Biocommodities Pilot Plant (MRBPP)] that converts biomass from a sugar mill into bioproducts will be expanded thanks to funding support from the Palaszczuk Government.

“Based on the site of an operating sugar mill, the QUT Mackay Renewable Biocommodities Pilot Plant (MRBPP) is a research and development facility that converts biomass into biofuels, green chemicals and other bioproducts.”


Also from QUT, the life cycle of a methane-gobbling micro-organism has been mapped. (Is nothing private?)

“A microorganism that helps reduce the release of the greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere has been found to be a ‘shape shifter’ capable of markedly changing its appearance and metabolism to rapidly respond to changes in its environment, a team of microbiologists has found.

• Study of a globally distributed species of methane-consuming microorganism vital for sustaining Earth’s climate
• Identified distinct life stages for this microorganism that enable it to rapidly respond to changes in its environment
• First study to show a complex life cycle of an archaeal species within a mixed microbial community.”


From bacteria to beef, at the University of Queensland, researchers have developed a tool to cut costs and reduce emissions in beef production:

“A research team led by the University of Queensland has developed a tool to help the global beef industry simultaneously reduce costs and greenhouse gas emissions while meeting demand for meat.

“The team assessed the economic and emissions impacts of different cattle feeds at different locations around the globe to formulate a framework to guide and inform industry sustainability efforts.

“Postdoctoral Research Fellow Adam C. Castonguay from UQ’s School of Veterinary Science said the study showed that as much as 85 per cent of emissions could be cut without an overall economic hit to the beef sector.”


Moving south to New South Wales, the University of New South Wales–Sydney has just been awarded more than $29.3 million for renewable energy research and development

“UNSW Sydney researchers have been awarded a share of $41.5 million from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) Research and Development (R&D) Program to support research and development (R&D) and commercialisation activities that aim to significantly reduce the cost of solar.

“The researchers from the School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering (SPREE) at UNSW Engineering will receive more than $29 million for nine projects across the Cells and Modules stream, and the Balance of System, Operations and Maintenance stream. Both streams have the potential to reduce the levelized cost of solar PV and improve cell and module efficiency.”


“This lithium niobate chip is the size of a fingernail and is made on thin film lithium niobate and can be used in telecommunications, to make our internet faster.” Credit: RMIT University

Further south at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (no, King Charles was not a student there), researchers are working on super thin chips to enable navigation on the moon.

“Super-thin chips made from lithium niobate are set to overtake silicon chips in light-based technologies, according to world-leading scientists in the field, with potential applications ranging from remote ripening-fruit detection on Earth to navigation on the Moon.

“They say the artificial crystal offers the platform of choice for these technologies due to its superior performance and recent advances in manufacturing capabilities.

“RMIT University’s Distinguished Professor Arnan Mitchell and University of Adelaide’s Dr Andy Boes led this team of global experts to review lithium niobate’s capabilities and potential applications in the journal Science.

“The international team, including scientists from Peking University in China and Harvard University in the United States, is working with industry to make navigation systems that are planned to help rovers drive on the Moon later this decade.

“As it is impossible to use global positioning system (GPS) technology on the Moon, navigation systems in lunar rovers will need to use an alternative system, which is where the team’s innovation comes in.

“By detecting tiny changes in laser light, the lithium-niobate chip can be used to measure movement without needing external signals, according to Mitchell.”


Moving westward to South Australia, we look at the research being undertaken by the University of South Australia into how to stay cool in Australia’s very hot summers.

“With Australians facing skyrocketing energy bills, and a long hot summer ahead, many households are turning their attention to a range of passive cooling measures. Double glazing, insulation, tree shading and rooftop sprinklers are all contenders, but there’s a relatively new concept that is fast gaining popularity — living walls.

“Also known as vertical gardens, living walls are covered completely in vegetation, housed in pots, felt pockets or planter boxes, and irrigated on structures attached to the wall. University of South Australia research has already demonstrated their effectiveness in reducing household temperatures by up to 12 degrees on scorching summer days, but a new UniSA study has taken this a step further.

“UniSA Sustainable Water Resources Emeritus Professor Simon Beecham says that experiments comparing the cooling effect of living walls with porous concrete pavement systems show the latter are, at best, just 15 per cent as effective as green walls — and only four percent as effective in the worst cases.”


Moving further westward to Western Australia and sneaking a peak at what Edith Cowan University in Perth is up to. Apparently, they are getting into the movie business to highlight the impact of climate change on our oceans.

“Bringing the marine environment to life on the big screen for the new movie blockbuster Blueback was made possible with the help of ECU marine scientists and the world-class equipment used by staff and students. The film depicts the escalating global climate crisis and the state of the world’s oceans.

“Blueback is the Tim Winton film adaptation set in the fictitious community of Longboat Bay, however the ecological messages within the movie blockbuster are based on science.

“Bringing the marine environment to life on the big screen was made possible with the help of Edith Cowan University (ECU) marine scientists and the world-class equipment used by staff and students.

“‘We lent our field equipment and microscopes to the film crew to assist in realistically depicting how science is conducted both underwater and on research vessels along the West Australian coast, where filming took place,’ said Associate Dean of Research Science Kathryn McMahon.”

The film depicts the escalating global climate crisis and the state of the world’s oceans.

Coming to a theatre near you.


CleanTechnica is planning to feature university roundups as part of its ongoing reporting in scientific fields. Let me know what you think in the comments section.

 
 
 
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Written By

David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].

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