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UOW joins the great graphene development race

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The University of Wollongong has joined the graphene race with a $25 million federal funding grant and a new patenting agreement.

Headquartered at UOW, the new ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) was launched yesterday by senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, a move that will see the University of Wollongong heading up an international materials research effort.

The new seven-year funding arrangement worth $25 million is aimed at moving discoveries made during the first round of ACES research into the design stage, according to the Illawarra Mercury.

ACES now brings together six Australian and five international partners, which will embark on an ambitious program to take materials science research, training, commercialisation and engagement programs into new dimensions through to 2020.

The grant came after ACES entered into a commercial patent licensing agreement with Australian-based start-up NanoCarbon, which plans to engineer graphene-based lithium ion batteries, water purification technologies and high barrier films.

ACES director Professor Gordon Wallace said ACES will build on its internationally recognised fundamental research program to fast track the development of new technologies around the next generation of batteries, solar cells and medical implants.

“We enter this new era with a confidence that comes from having established a world class body of knowledge through our previously funded ARC Centre of Excellence,” Professor Wallace said.

“Having revealed the amazing properties of electromaterials encountered in the nanodomain, we are now challenged to take these properties into structures, with nano-micron sized features suitably distributed throughout macroscopic devices,” he said.

Wallace said that while Australia has lagged behind in the development of nanomaterials such as graphene, ACES was well placed to make up that ground.

"Where we are not lagging is in the ability to pull together multi-disciplinary research teams that can really take this from start to finish," he said.

"The mining of the graphite, the chemical processing that enables the graphene to be integrated into ... devices - there's not many places under the one umbrella encompassing all those activities and skill.

"We've got the skills and ability to generate a whole raft of intellectual property which can be globally competitive."

In partnership with the Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF), and with the help of NSW Government funding, ACES will take advantage of advanced 3D fabrication equipment and engineering expertise to provide the transition from fundamental research to workable 3D products.

The University of Adelaide is one of the leading graphene researchers in the country to date, after earlier this year presenting two new papers on applications for the nanomaterial.

The graphene research team headed by Professor Dusan Losic has made progress on several applications for the new nanomaterial in recent months, including excellent performance as in new adsorbents for water purification.

Other new applications investigated by Losic’s team include removal of toxic metals from waste waters, for removing spilled oils from water, as well as uses in soil remediation and in agricultural applications.

The academic research papers, presented at one of the world’s largest nanotech conferences held in Washington, look at a new, green approach for the reduction of graphene oxide using non-aromatic amino acids which can be used for production of graphene and graphene oxide with controllable size and chemistry of nanosheets.

The second paper outlines the development of graphene composite hydrogels and aerogels for selective removal of oils and organic contaminants.

Graphite miner Archer Exploration has committed $200,000 over two years to funding the Graphene Research Centre at Adelaide University, while Valence Industries have committed 800,000 over three and a half years.

Graphene was first isolated in 2004, and is a one-atom thick layer of graphite, is the basic structural element of graphite, charcoal, and carbon nanotubes and spherical fullerenes.

The high-tech, two-dimensional substance has a range of potential applications, including lightweight, thin, flexible, yet durable display screens, electric circuits, and solar cells, as well as various medical, chemical and industrial processes.

Graphite became a prospect of notable interest in South Australia early last year, with a spate of new graphite resource discoveries on the Eyre Peninsula.

The resource is relatively uncommon and produced in only a few countries, including Brazil, Canada, India, China, and The Glorious Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea).

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