The University of Newcastle, Australia

Research themes

At the forefront of developing state-of-the-art and cost-effective technologies, GICAN is developing advanced nanostructures for various applications across the extensive energy, environment and health sectors.

The nanomaterials created by the Centre include 0D, 1D, 2D and 3D nanostructures that are both with and without ordered porosity along with tunable electronic, catalytic, sensing, magnetic and textural properties. These materials can be used in various applications including carbon capture and conversion, H2 generation, catalysis, energy generation, conversion and energy storage devices such as supercapacitor, battery, solar cells, along with toxic molecule sensing, wastewater treatment and soil remediation, targeted drug delivery and cancer research. The Centre is working in collaboration with leading researchers across the globe along with renowned universities, institutions and key industry players to solve some of the greatest challenges in the following research areas:

Advanced Materials

Mesoporous Materials

One of the significant research priorities of the Centre is to develop new multi-dimensional (0D, 1D and 2D) advanced functional mesoporous materials. This includes materials constructed from mesoporous nitrides including carbon nitrides with different stoichiometry and variable nitrogen content, BN, BCN, AlN, GaN, InN, TiN, mesoporous carbons, mesoporous fullerenes, mesoporous polymers, porous conducting polymers, and porous carbons derived from biomass waste, mesoporous metal chalcogenides, mesoporous metals, mesoporous alloys and nanoparticles.

These materials comprise different metal compositions, sizes and shapes and feature halloysite templated porous carbon materials and a host of new porous hybrid nanomaterials. When tested, these materials have multiple functionalities and applications in the area of energy generation and storage devices such as batteries, supercapacitors, fuel cells, carbon capture and conversion, and biomedical applications including drug delivery, nanomedicine and cancer treatments. These innovative mesoporous materials developed by GICAN researchers can be characterised using an array of the Centre’s highly sophisticated instruments and facilities which are able to deliver experimental findings to substantiate by theoretical calculations and simulations.

Low Dimensional Hybrid Materials

In addition to the research on mesoporous materials, Centre researchers are focused on developing 0D/1D/2D/3D nano-hybrid materials. This dimension of nanomaterials is often less than 10nm, which is sufficient to create novel physicochemical properties of nano-hybrid materials from a synergistic coupling between the components.

The development of these nano-hybrid materials is aided by the extensive infrastructure housed within the Centre, enabling researchers to characterise the unique properties of nano-hybrid materials and explore their advanced functionality to expand the scope of application in the areas of energy and environment research.

Energy

Energy Generation & Heterogeneous Catalysis

The Centre is working to develop new heterogeneous catalysts that will have industrial application when utilised in conjunction with relevant chemical reactionary processes, as well as in the development of photocatalysts that can be utilised for more efficient energy generation of H2 by using a combination of water and sunlight as the only external inputs.

Expanding upon this critical heterogeneous catalysis research capacity, the Centre has developed a technique involving the application of novel metal and metal oxide mesoporous carbon as a nitride-based catalyst for the synthesis of fine chemicals and CO2 utilisation. Further to this, the Centre is undertaking solid acid catalyses research using zeolites such as hydro-treatment from long-chain alkenes for application in the petro-refining and petrochemical industries. The principles of this solid catalysis can also be applied to the environmentally benign syntheses of fine-chemical and pharmaceutical compounds. The new products obtained through these processes are analysed and quantified using the advanced gas chromatographs (GC), mass spectrometers (MS) and HPLCs facilities housed within the Centre.

Photocatalytic H2 Generation

The Centre is investigating the intricate processes of photocatalytic H2 generation utilising a range of novel functionalised photocatalysts developed by GICAN’s leading material researchers. Housing eight independently operated and custom designed water and CO2 splitting systems, the Centre’s specialised facilities and laboratory equipment is able to provide closed-loop analysis of evolved gaseous reaction products. Following this detailed analysis, researchers design novel photocatalysts in conjunction with in-depth theoretical calculations and experimental data to substantiate the theoretical predictions. The Centre’s specialised H2 generation units facilitate rapid research output which is essential for faster testing processes, as well as highlighting a pathway for commercialisation.

Energy Storage

At the forefront of developing inexpensive energy storage devices, the Centre has designed many advanced technologies such as electrode materials for creating more efficient Li, Na, Ca, K, Mg, Al-ion and Li-S batteries, supercapacitor and fuel cells. Building on these innovative research technologies, GICAN researchers are investigating how electrode materials can be manufactured using low cost and readily available raw materials such as waste biomass, discarded dairy products and soft drinks to develop sustainable energy storage devices, shifting away from fossil-fuelled energy sources.

The Centre’s research capacity in the energy storage arena is supported by the unique equipment and laboratory facilities which includes a four gloves argon glovebox, 100 channel battery cycler, potentiostats, and a fuel cell testing system for designing and analysing the performance of electrode materials, which has applications in the next generation of secondary batteries, supercapacitor and fuel cell devices.

Environment

Carbon Capture and Storage, Environmental Remediation, and Climate Change

The Centre is working to develop nanomaterial technologies that have major uses in environmental remediation. These new technologies have the potential to improve the processes for carbon capture and storage, soil remediation and wastewater treatment. In addition to developing these low-cost materials, the Centre is producing ultra-high surface area advanced functional biocarbons that have application in adsorbent material for pre and posts combustion CO2capture, soil decontamination and wastewater treatment.

GICAN researchers are also exploring pathways to develop a nanomaterial-based fertilizer delivery system that will in effect increase the productivity of soils and improve overall agriculture yield. In collaboration with wine manufacturers in the Hunter Region of NSW as well as with mining and mineral industry partners across Australia, the Centre is developing robust and economically sustainable technologies that will assist the discovery of solutions to the effects of global warming caused by greenhouse gases, water contamination and soil degradation. These new sustainable solutions will have positive flow-on effects and impacts on communities across Australia, who are significantly affected by the impacts of climate change.

Healthcare

Drug Delivery System

GICAN researchers are currently investigating how novel multifunctional nanomaterials can be used in imaging processes associated with various cancer detection and treatment techniques. This novel technology utilises functionalised core-shell silica nanoparticles for precise delivery of drug treatments, as well as acts as a tool for early screening and identification of potential cancer cells. In addition to this, the extensive infrastructure and facilities within the Centre allow researchers to undertake in-vivo and in-vitro studies and has laboratory capacity to grow stem cells in a controlled environment