By Joel Scanlon
A new research alliance has been finalised between the Dow Chemical Company and University of Queensland's Australian Institute for Bioengineering Nanotechnology (AIBN) this week. The Memorandum of understanding (MoU) provides a framework for AIBN and Dow to start research with potential commercial value.
This three year contract will comprise an approximately AUD$1.74million from Dow allowing AIBN to conduct research on sustainable sources for chemicals, new-generation circuitry for electronics and improved energy storage systems.
Dow's diversified industry-leading portfolio of speciality in chemical, advanced materials, agrosciences and plastics businesses deliver a broad range of technology-based products and solutions to customers in approximately 160 countries and in high growth sectors such as electronics, water, energy, coatings and agriculture.
AIBN, at The University of Queensland, is home to world leading research at the intersection of biology, chemistry, engineering and computer modelling. Research is underway to on develop new products and processes which will significantly impact human health, the environment, and the development of sustainable renewable energy.
“Innovation is one of Dow's growth drivers and we have an aggressive pipeline of more than 500 projects with a potential value of $US30 billion and a risk-adjusted value of $US12 billion,” said Andrew Liveris, Chairman and CEO of Dow. “Collaboration with world-class research institutes such as the AIBN extends our innovation potential while providing access to top R&D talent” he added.
AIBN Director Professor Peter Gray said the institute possessed cutting edge technology being worked upon by leading researchers, advanced capabilities and a strong record of industrial collaboration, which ensured the collaboration with Dow was a good fit. “Our internationally-recognized researchers are at the forefront of emerging technologies. Their focus is on finding solutions to real-world problems,” he said. “They appreciate the importance of challenging tradition and convention so discoveries are possible and our future brings new possibilities for a better lifestyle and a cleaner world” He elaborated further.
Dow and AIBN's first research collaboration was signed three years ago in 2007 in the areas of bio-mimicry and a systems biotechnology approach to improving productivity and decreasing cost of natural pesticides.
Concerns over climate change and high oil prices have led to an ever increasing interest in sustainable energy development, such as renewable energy production from solar and wind sources, and the development of hybrid and electric vehicles with low carbon dioxide emissions. Keeping this larger goal in mind the current research is aimed at developing improved cathode materials with high energy and power densities for applications in hybrid vehicles and renewable energy storage systems. The research group led by Professor Max Lu and Dr. Denisa Jurcakova, will work towards developing high performance cathode materials based on low-cost nanocarbons. The improved nanoparticles developed will find use in batteries with potential use not only in portable devices, but for hybrid vehicles and energy storage for renewable resources such as sun and wind.
Also on the cards is yet another project, that is, research into new-generation circuitry for electronics which will be completed by Professor Andrew Whittaker's and Dr. Idriss Blakey's research group. Researchers will use organic synthesis, physical chemistry and electrical engineering to craft functional plastics and polymers for the manufacture of integrated circuits. The new generation of circuits will increase performance, decrease size and cost and have potential uses in computers, cameras, smart phones, hand-held gadgets and even fridges.
Research carried out in the third project will be led by Professor Lars Nielsen and Dr. Jens Kromer, and will use scientific advances in the biosciences to genetically reprogram bacteria to produce the chemical building blocks of the future.
AIBN's research expertise in synthetic biotechnology, and in the modelling and optimization of microbial metabolism, as well as polymer chemistry structure and function, make it an ideal fit with Dow's position at the forefront of sustainable chemistries.
The alliance is ultimately expected to deliver new materials and processes capable of producing desired molecules from renewable agricultural resources in a cost effective manner, achieving long-term benefits for the consumer.