Nature’s tiny particles hold the key to a cleaner environment
Scientists have used tiny structures found in clay as a ‘template’ to create a remarkable new material capable of capturing carbon dioxide emissions or decontaminating water.
Pioneered by a team at The University of Newcastle, the process uses Australian Kaolin clay, which contains tiny tubular structures called Halloysite nanotubes (HNT). Due to their unique structure HNT have amazing properties, making them ideal for binding to a range of molecules and effectively ‘cleaning’ by absorbing.
Lead Researcher, and Director of the Global Innovative Centre for Advanced Nanomaterials, Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment, Professor Ajayan Vinu said his team had developed unique ‘nanotemplating’ skills that enabled the HNT nanotubular framework to act as a kind of mould, which could then be coated with carbon-based materials to create a ‘super material’.
“By taking high performance materials such as carbon nitride and the structure of HNT we create ‘HNT-carbon hybrids’, which we’re investigating as a new solution for removal of carbon dioxide from air and purification of water from heavy metals, Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), dyes, pharmaceuticals and pesticides,” said Professor Vinu.
Over the next three years, this project will move to producing trial quantities of HNT-carbon for commercial testing. This will assess the benefits to potential end-users like wastewater treatment and carbon dioxide capture industries.
Professor Vinu said these two industry sectors represented major current and upcoming global commercial opportunities.
“We will build a pilot production plant to refine the process so that our partner companies - Andromeda Metals, Minotaur Exploration and their joint R&D company Natural Nanotech can explore moving into large-scale production of HNT-carbon,” said Professor Vinu.
The pilot production plant will be built thanks to $1.5 million in funding from the partner companies.
The University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Innovation), Professor Janet Nelson said Professor Vinu’s research to find innovative solutions for air and water purification aligned with the University’s commitment to partner with industry to help solve local, national and global problems.
“With the dual benefits of boosting the Australian economy and cleaning up the environment, I am looking forward to seeing the impact this project will have in our region and on a broader national scale,” said Professor Nelson.