Sustainable Energy, Mining & Resources

  • High temperature sensor

    Researcher in protective suit

    The measurement of temperature within high temperature furnaces poses significant challenges, since sensors are exposed to high and varying temperatures and often highly corrosive environments. Accurate temperature sensing inside a furnace during a full cycle will allow a reduction of overall energy use resulting in lower operating costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

    IPAS researchers have developed a high temperature sensor based on optical fibre technology that offers numerous advantages for measuring high temperatures: multipoint sensing, immunity to electromagnetic interference, corrosion resistance, small size, and the ability to sense in difficult locations. The sensor, based on fibre Bragg gratings within microstructured optical fibres, overcomes a key limitation of traditional fibre Bragg gratings, which do not work above 250°C. The patented sensors are made from pure silica microstructured optical fibre, which is fabricated at the University of Adelaide. We then modify these fibres with a femtosecond laser machining technique to produce the Bragg grating. As the thermometers are made of a single material that has been physically modified, they will operate successfully up to 1300°C.

    The sensor has been developed in partnership with a 100-year-old South Australian engineering company, SJ Cheesman, located next to the Nyrstar multi-metals recovery plant in Port Pirie. SJ Cheesman, with their vast experience in the smelter industry identified a number of critical locations that would greatly benefit from this newly developed optical fibre temperature sensor technology. An initial program of work was carried out via a South Australian Government co-sponsored pilot study (Photonics Catalyst Grant), which allowed the sensors to be successfully developed and demonstrated within the smelter. An ARC linkage project followed, allowing further development of this critical technology. Incorporating the sensor into the zinc smelter enabled Nyrstar to understand the temperature of this critical operation for the first time in its 50 years of operation. This will inform future best practices in terms of energy consumption with direct potential economic and environmental impacts.

    In 2017, giant industrial engineering and manufacturing company, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, has signed a series of collaborative research contracts for IPAS to develop unique optical fibre based ultra-high, multipoint temperature sensors that will enhance the efficiency of their power generation systems. Mitsubishi came to Adelaide looking for global research partners and decided the Institute’s ultra-high temperature optical fibre sensors would provide a unique opportunity to better understand and improve their world leading power generation systems.

    This new collaboration represents international recognition for the quality of IPAS’ research and development, and the difference these emerging disruptive technologies like photonics can make to businesses’ bottom lines. Temperature readings can help other companies improve energy efficiency, reduced emissions, and improvement in the design and lifespan of components, resulting in an overall enhanced competitiveness.

  • Atom Trap Trace Analysis

    Dr Rohan Glover and the ATTA apparatus

    Measuring the ultra-low concentrations of these radioactive noble gases allows researchers to understand the age, origin and interconnectivity of the groundwater and how it has moved underground through space and time. This is the first Atom Trap Trace Analysis facility in the Southern Hemisphere and, combined with our partner CSIRO’s complementary Noble Gas Facility at the Waite campus in Adelaide, gives Australia one of the most comprehensive noble gas analysis capabilities in the world.
    Australia relies on its groundwater for 30% of its water supply for human consumption, stock watering, irrigation and mining. With climate change and periods of prolonged drought, surface water is becoming increasingly more unreliable and the use of groundwater is rising. We need to make sure it’s sustainable.
    Because noble gases don’t easily react chemically, they are the gold standard for environmental tracers to track groundwater movements. Before this new facility, researchers wanting to measure these ultra-low concentrations of noble gases had to rely on a very small number of overseas laboratories which can’t meet demand for their services.
    ATTA’s analytic capability will also allow researchers to look further into the past of Antarctica’s climate, building understanding of global environmental change. This allows us to understand the sources of water, where it comes from and what the recharge rates are, which then allows us to make decisions about sustainable extraction. This is critical where development of any kind might use or impact groundwater systems – from urban development where groundwater systems are used to supply communities, to agricultural and mining development.
    Energy, mining and resources is a key industry engagement priority for IPAS and the University of Adelaide and environmental sustainability is a research focus.

    A video explaining the facility can be seen here .

  • IPAS Node of the ARC Copper-Uranium Transformation Research Hub

    Radionuclide analyst in the lab

    The Hub, led by the Institute for Mineral and Energy Resources at the University of Adelaide, is enhancing the value of Australian copper resources by developing and testing new, cost-effective ways to remove nontarget metals from copper ores in South Australia and internationally; in partnership with researchers from the University of Queensland, Monash University, Flinders University, BHP, OZ Minerals, Defence Science and Technology Group and the Department of State Development.

    IPAS member Prof David Ottaway is leading the Hub node dedicated to ‘Analysing the Rocks’, aiming to develop new scanning technologies to locate and quantify nontarget metals, including in real-time.

    The IPAS team is developing solid state and liquid based radiation sensors for detecting natural radiation fields in copper ore. Within solid state sensing the group has created a revolutionary process to spatially locate alpha producing minerals to microscale resolution. This process will help quantify and understand mineral distribution within the ore. Liquid sensing utilises optical fibres to detect extremely low concentrations of non-target metals in real time at the mine site. Real time liquid sensing allows for rapid processing turnaround that can support a constantly operating mineral processing plant.

    The Cu-U Hub has also leveraged over $1 million of additional funding to establish a Radiation Sensing Capability to evaluate mineral processing ore samples at different stages within the plant. The University of Adelaide based capability resides in the Braggs building.


  • Airborne measurement of fugitive methane emissions

    students working on laser set-up

    The release of methane is the second biggest driver of anthropogenic climate change after CO2. Methane is released from agriculture, natural gas delivery (leaking pipelines) and waste in landfills. In collaboration with Aerometrex Corp, a world’s leading provider of aerial spatial mapping services for large constructions, infrastructure and natural resources, a team at IPAS is developing an airborne platform for detecting leaks over a broad area leading to a reduction of emissions in an economically efficient way. The new airborne methane sensor will enable methane leaks to be located and captured leading to improved environmental outcomes and improved efficiencies for natural gas companies.

  • High-Resolution Pipeline Condition Assessment Using Hydraulic Transients

    water pipelines

    Prof Martin Lambert's project, funded under a $499,000 ARC Discovery Project, aims to develop urgently needed non-invasive methods to assess the fine detail of a pipe’s condition and allow ‘just in time’ predictive repair. Water distribution networks are society’s most important infrastructure asset. They consist of buried pipes that are often old and deteriorating, and maintenance overhead exceeds $1 Billion per year in Australia alone.

    The project will develop cost-effective powerful tools to identify faults, such as pipe wall corrosion and blockages, while allowing operational continuity. The expected outcome is high-resolution images of wall condition of pipes using high-frequency pressure transients and sophisticated fibre optic sensor arrays.

  • Developing portable, highly sensitive gold detection

    laser beam shines through cuvette

    Prof Heike Ebendorff-Heidepriem was awarded a further $200k from the DET CRC in 2016 to expand the project, building on the team’s excellent initial results.

    This project will focus on the pre-concentration of heavy minerals, including gold, to facilitate its detection at low levels and directly from rock at the drilling site. Both chemical and physical methods will be tested.

  • ARC Research Hub for Graphene Enabled Industry Transformation

    graphene structure

    On 6 May 2016, the Australian Research Council announced $2.6 Million in federal funding to establish the ARC Research Hub for Graphene Enabled Industry Transformation, led by IPAS SMC member, Professor Dusan Losic.

    The hub will develop advanced materials; provide fit-for-purpose products and innovative solutions to a range of industries, such as advanced manufacturing, mining and minerals technology and services, medical technologies and pharmaceuticals, and defence.

    The aim is that its research will transform industry and support Australian businesses to embrace cutting-edge innovation and technologies that deliver high-value returns.


  • Next generation laser-based mineralogy sensing technology

     laser shines through optical fibres

    IPAS researchers received $1,300,000 from the CRC ORE towards developing a new, laser-based technology for detecting and quantifying mineral species in real-time for coarse particles.

    The project is led by Professors Nigel Spooner and David Ottaway.

    The proposed technology is expected to be less sensitive to the known limitations of existing techniques such as laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) and laserinduced fluorescence (LIF).

  • Next-Generation Photonic Magnetic Sensing for Geophysical Exploration

    two researchers in the pmg lab

    Magnetic Sensing has been used as a key technology for energy and minerals exploration since the 19th century. The depth, nature and size of mineral deposit determines the magnitude and direction of the magnetic response that needs to be detected by the sensor. The sensitivity limit of typical commercial sensors is such that economically valuable deposits can be missed in conventional explorations. More sensitive solutions exist but they are rarely applied due to high costs, bulk size and fragility.

    A secondary issue associated with geophysical exploration is the fluctuations of the earth’s geomagnetic field which contaminate the desired measurements.
    The ideal way to reject these fluctuations is the use of a network of magnetometers – this approach also offers a path to localisation of the deposit.

    Designed to have sensitivity at least an order of magnitude better than conventional geophysical magnetometers, this network only needs a simple and robust optical fibre connection to each sensor. This project, in close collaboration with industrial partner ElectroMagnetic Imaging Technology (EMIT), will allow the design and packaging of the sensors into a deployable array and demonstrate its operation in-field.