Advanced materials facility key to a sustainable future

Friday, 03 September, 2021

Advanced materials facility key to a sustainable future

The University of Adelaide’s North Terrace campus is now home to an Advanced Materials Research Facility, which will enable scientists to develop the next generation of advanced materials to achieve a more sustainable future for society.

“In the new Advanced Materials Research Facility, chemical engineers and scientists will be making materials for a range of applications such as renewable energy conversion and storage, and to reduce the impact of microplastics on the environment,” said Professor David Lewis, Head of the School of Chemical Engineering and Advanced Materials at The University of Adelaide.

Prof Lewis said Adelaide researchers are finding new materials that will increase the efficiency of making ‘green’ hydrogen from water. The majority of hydrogen used today is made from fossil fuels, and green hydrogen is not yet an economically viable alternative due to low yields from electrolysers that use electrolysis to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

“The next generation of electrolysers that use materials developed by our scientists could provide the key to a cleaner energy future using cheap hydrogen produced from water,” Prof Lewis said.

Other advanced materials being developed at the new facility include:

  • the next generation of material used in aqueous batteries (batteries that use water instead of organic solvents as electrolyte) that is non-flammable and safe;
  • materials that will enable microplastics to be converted into environmentally harmless products;
  • catalyst materials for next-generation solar-to-fuels production technology;
  • smart nanoreactors which assist with the manufacture of products on a nanotechnological scale.

Much of the scientists’ work will be carried out at the molecular scale and can be upscaled towards mass production.

“The facility is the first of its kind in the country where we will be able to observe the growth, formation and structure of new materials in real time,” Prof Lewis said.

“Our specialised technology allows us to go from the design of the material from the virtual molecular level on a computer to the growth of the material and ultimately the actual device, in one location.”

Professor Peter Høj, Vice-Chancellor and President of The University of Adelaide, said the new facility complements the existing outstanding research capability in the advanced materials field at the university.

“The facility will contribute to the training of university science and engineering students who will advance technological innovations across South Australia and around the world,” he said.

Image caption: Researcher Dr Jieqiong Shan holding an electrode loaded with next-generation catalyst materials, which increases the amount of hydrogen produced during electrolysis.

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