University Research Roundup Down Under

Although university is closed for the summer in Australia and students are splitting their time between catching some rays to patch up their tan and working to pay their fees, there is plenty of good news. Scientists and researchers stick to their calling and look for solutions to the crises of our time.

Let’s start at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) where there are reports of the expansion of bio-manufacturing 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 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-devouring microorganism has been mapped. (Is nothing private?)

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

• Investigation of a globally widespread species of methane-consuming microorganism that is essential for maintaining the Earth’s climate
• Identified distinct life stages for this microorganism that enable it to respond rapidly to changes in its environment
• First study to show a complex life cycle of an archaeal species in a mixed microbial community.”

From bacteria to beef, on University of Queenslandresearchers have developed a tool to reduce 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 reduce costs and greenhouse gas emissions while meeting the demand for meat.

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

“Postdoctoral researcher 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 reduced without an overall financial 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 commercialization activities aimed at reducing the cost of solar energy significantly.

“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 between system, operation and maintenance. Both streams have the potential to reduce the leveled costs of solar installations and improved cell and module efficiency.”

“This lithium niobate chip is about 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 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 the world’s leading scientists in the field, with potential applications ranging from remote ripening of fruit on Earth to navigation on the Moon.

“They say the artificial crystal offers the platform of choice for these technologies because of 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 researchers from Peking University in China and Harvard University in the US, is working with industry to create navigation systems planned to help rovers drive on the Moon later this decade.

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

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

Moving west to South Australia, we look at the research being carried out by University of South Australia for how to keep 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 shade and roof sprinklers are all contenders, but there is a relatively new concept that is quickly gaining popularity – living walls.

“Also known as vertical gardens, living walls are covered completely with vegetation, placed in pots, felt pockets or planters and watered on structures attached to the wall. Research from the University of South Australia has already shown 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 experiments comparing the cooling effect of living walls with porous concrete pavement systems show that the latter are at best only 15 per cent as effective as green walls – and only four per cent as effective in worst case.”

Moving further west to Western Australia and sneaking a look at what Edith Cowan University in Perth is up to. Apparently they are going into the movie business to highlight the impact of climate change on our seas.

“Will the marine environment come alive on the big screen for the new movie blockbuster Blueback was made possible with the help of ECU marine scientists and the first-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 fictional community of Longboat Bay, but the ecological messages of the film’s 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 help realistically portray how science is done 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 theater near you.

CleanTechnica plans to present university rounds as part of its ongoing reporting in scientific fields. Let me know what you think in the comments section.




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