Read about groundbreaking engineering research from across the country in our monthly news round-up. This month: breakthroughs that could lead to smaller semiconductors, more environmentally friendly farming, greener plastics, and better autonomous vehicles.
New material could mean smaller semiconductors
Semiconductors are set to get even smaller, thanks to researchers at UNSW Sydney.
The team, from the Materials and Manufacturing Futures Institute (MMFI), has created a new component for transistors that could pave the way for smaller semiconductors. According to the researchers, this breakthrough technology will unlock a new generation of electronic devices, including wearables, displays and augmented reality applications.
The new transparent, flexible material can be used as a novel dielectric (insulator) component in transistors, and offers many advantages over opaque, rigid silicone. It has the potential to allow large-scale production of a 2D field-effect transistor.
“Not only does it pave a critical pathway to overcome the fundamental limit of the current silicon semiconductor industry in miniaturisation, but it also fills a gap in semiconductor applications due to silicon’s opaque and rigid nature,” says Professor Sean Li, UNSW Materials and MMFI Director and principal investigator on the research. “Simultaneously, the elastic and slim nature could enable the accomplishment of flexible and transparent 2D electronics.”
The team have published their findings in Nature.
Poultry farming is about to get a lot greener
Researchers at the University of Melbourne have collaborated with two geothermal companies to develop a heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system based on geothermal and solar technology, specifically for the poultry farming industry.
The new system could significantly reduce energy bills for many Australian farms, as well as being good for the environment.
Even with a 15-20% adoption rate across the country, the team estimates that the new HVAC system could reduce industry emissions by around 160,000 tonnes of CO2. On top of that, farms that implement the system could save up to 90% on energy bills, and could see a reduction in chick mortality, thanks to improved humidity conditions achieved by ditching gas-based heating.
If a 100% adoption rate can be reached, the team estimates the new system could reduce the sector’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions by around one million tonnes (CO2-e) from 1.8 million tonnes to 0.8 million tonnes.
Working with Ground Source Systems and Fourth Element Energy, University of Melbourne Professor Guillermo Narsilio says “Australia is in an ideal position to lead the development of this technology and reap the benefits in several intensive farming sectors.”
The project is funded through a $318,000 grant from the Federal Government’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).
‘Green’ plastic research centre opened in Queensland
The University of Queensland has opened a brand new training centre, dedicated to research into ‘green’ plastic.
Centre director Associate Professor Steven Platt says, “it’s an exciting prospect to work toward manufacturing a commercially-available plastic with exceptional properties but without the legacy of accumulation in the environment.”
Platt and his team are taking aim at the more than 10 million tonnes of plastic that leaks into our oceans every year, by developing bio-derived and biodegradable plastics that have a minimal environmental impact.
The training centre also aims to foster the next generation of researchers in chemical and materials engineering, polymer chemistry, and environmental science.
The $13 million training centre is a partnership between the University of Queensland and the Queensland University of Technology, alongside the Queensland Government, Kimberly-Clark Australia, Plantic Technologies, Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation, Minderoo Foundation and City of Gold Coast.
Helping autonomous vehicles better understand the world around them
A team of researchers at Queensland University of Technology have developed a way to tell autonomous vehicles which cameras to use when navigating.
Professor Michael Milford, Joint Director of the QUT Centre for Robotics, said the research comes from a project looking at how cameras and LIDAR sensors, commonly used in autonomous vehicles, can better understand the world around them.
“The key idea here is to learn which cameras to use at different locations in the world, based on previous experience at that location”, says Milford.
“For example, the system might learn that a particular camera is very useful for tracking the position of the vehicle on a particular stretch of road, and choose to use that camera on subsequent visits to that section of road.”
The team’s research has been published in the IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters journal.
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