The Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, the Honourable Karen Andrews MP has announced the University of Sydney as a joint recipient of almost $10 million in Cooperative Research Centre Projects (CRC-P) grants for projects that aim to power the green economy.
Round 8 of the funding was allocated to Engineering and Science supported projects with a specific focus on reducing plastic waste, boosting plastic recycling and innovating the energy sector.
Led by industry applicants, CRC-P Grants support short-term research projects and are designed to encourage innovation through collaboration with researchers.
Associate Professor Ali Abbas from the University of Sydney’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Waste Transformation Research Hub will work alongside ASX-listed company, Integrated Green Energy Solutions (IGE) to oversee a plastic recycling project aimed at chemically converting plastics that are currently unrecyclable.
The University of Sydney’s Waste Transformation Research hub specialises in the scaling-up of industrial plants, and has provided valuable insights to its industry partners in the development of new or existing technologies across various industries.
“Waste plastic is a growing global problem and has become a real challenge in Australia due to the lack of facilities to deal with mixed and contaminated post-consumer plastics. The objective of our project is to adapt existing process technology to scalable cost-effectively recycle otherwise non-recyclable mixed plastics,” said Professor Abbas.
“As we move towards the circular economy, the waste industry sector will need to evolve; it is critical that we develop technologies to deal with current and future plastic waste streams. Our intent is to focus on chemically recycling the waste plastic back to the manufacturing of virgin plastic, to close the loop on the circular economy.”
IGE Chairman Paul Dickson said, “The outcome of the project will be to deliver a further range of products from end of life plastics specifically for the virgin plastics industry. The unique combination of the IGE knowhow, a Government grant and the University's expertise will surely accelerate the achievement of creating a cleaner planet for the next generation.”
On a project led by Separtis, a sustainable waste management solution company, School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering academic and Waste Transformation Research Hub leader, Dr Alejandro Montoya will design and operate a miniaturised separation bio-polymer reactor. This will then inform the design of a larger plant, to be constructed at an existing waste plastics collection facility at Orange NSW.
The technology will use patented bio-polymers (derived from renewable sources) to break down co-mingled and contaminated waste plastics without the need to sort the waste stream so that they can be reconstituted into other plastic formulations, without any loss in strength.
“The proposed technology operates at atmospheric conditions with catalysts derived from biomass resources without the need for large amounts of external energy. The technology can be expanded across multiple value chains and industries, making it ideal to operate in regional areas,” said Dr Montoya.
A CRC-P grant was also awarded to a Faculty of Science project that, working alongside project lead, PEGRAS Asia Pacific and NSW Smart Sensing Network, aims to make the process of recycling milk bottles cleaner and more efficient.
Modern milk bottles are made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE), a common plastic used to store many fast-moving consumer goods.
“Presently, when plastic milk bottles arrive at a recycling plant, they are chopped up and put through a washing process aimed at removing glue, labels and other impurities,” said Faculty of Science academic and Director of the Key Centre For Polymer Colloids, Associate Professor Brian Hawkett.
“We are looking at both the physical and chemical ways whereby we can better separate other components from the HDPE so that the resultant product is purer,” he said.
A research team led by Faculty of Science academics, Professor Anita Ho-Baillie and Professor David McKenzie was announced as the joint recipient of a $3 million grant to develop ‘Solar Skin’; a solar polymer membrane that can generate power.
Professor Ho-Baillie has recently joined Sydney Nano and will work alongside researchers from the University of New South Wales and Macquarie University to develop a solar membrane that will generate power efficiently from direct and indirect sunlight on vertical and horizontal surfaces.
Working alongside industry partner Flame Security International, researchers hope the non-flammable and clean energy-producing cladding will be able to be affixed to almost any external surface, potentially turning every CBD and local government area into sustainable and green power stations. Her laboratory is based in the Sydney Nanoscience Hub.