Environment

Flinders University is a hub of environmental research and education with regional, national and international reach. Our researchers are engaged in a variety of projects, both multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary, that aim to protect, preserve and restore the Earth’s most precious resources.. Flinders University is home to the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training, and is a node for the National Centre of Excellence in Desalination.

 

Water Treatment

Water research within molecular technologies primarily focuses on methods and effects of water treatment. There are a number of significant projects being currently undertaken in this area including:

  • New Desalination Membranes

 

  • Novel Nano-Filtration Technology

 

  • Environmentally Friendly Corrosion and Anti-Fouling Protection

 

  • Desalination brine Discharge Water Monitoring

 

  • Polymeric coagulents for water treatment

 

  • Monitoring Diatoms and observing their changes as an effect of climate change and desalination

 

  • Seagrass project, working with SA water to restore seagrass
 



Molecular technologies researchers are providing the technology and research expertise in a major reverse-osmosis membranes collaboration that aims to lower desalination energy requirements and improve the quality of current membranes used for desalination in Australia and around the world. The new desalination membranes being developed at Flinders have specifically designed coatings with superior antifouling properties which deliver the targeted properties.

The Australian government has provided significant funding to this project through its ARC Linkage program. The $2.4 million research project brings Flinders together with Wind Prospect, which is one of Australia's most significant companies building major renewable energy projects.

Molecular technologies researchers are part of $0.7 million collaborative project monitoring diatoms (a major group of algae), which are commonly found in the marine environment adjacent to seawater desalination plants. Partly funded by the National Centre of Excellence in Desalination, this project also includes researchers from the South Australian Research and Development Institute, as well as SA Water.

The project will combine ecological, chemical and molecular expertise as well as creating a unique synergy between cutting edge in-field and experimental approaches, to understand the impact of brine discharge from desalination plants on marine communities.

Research into novel "nano-filtration" technology is also currently underway funded by an Australian government ARC Discovery grant.
This project could revolutionise the way we filter liquids in the future, and could significantly reduce the energy requirements for desalination. Recently these researchers have developed the unique capability to chemically attach single-walled carbon nanotubes directly onto silicon substrates (See article).

Bio-fouling is caused by the attachment of microorganisms to membrane surfaces and the subsequent growth of colonies on the surface. The microorganisms and their secretions of adhesins, exopolysaccharides and proteins form a biofilm that is stabilized by weak physico-chemical interactions including electrostatic, hydrophobic and van der Waal’s interactions. Biofilms lead to negative effects, such as a reduction in water flux, and the need for intensive cleaning processes and degradation of the membrane surface. Indeed, mature biofilms have been shown to be resistant to harsh antimicrobial treatments, and therefore it is more desirable to seek approaches that mitigate biofilm formation.

Image showing the buildup of bacteria on a membrane surface
 

 

This work at the CNST centres on improving the bio-fouling resistance of water filtration membranes.  This is done by first primering the surface of the membranes using a bioinspired material related to the adhesive material secreted by mussels.   This then provides a platform from which we can grow bio-fouling resistant polymeric coatings.  The aim of this work is to improve the biological fouling resistance properties of the membranes while still maintaining the important separation properties of the membranes.

Polymer end capped with POSS nano particles
 
 

State-of-the-art membranes are an integrated composite comprising 2-4 polymeric layers, with each layer being an integral component of the whole system, and therefore, modifications to any layers of the membrane must be complementary to the whole system in order for real technological advancement to be realised.  The focus of this work is to engineer nanocomposite materials, which will enhance the performance of membranes used for water purification processes.  By using nanocomposite materials the aim is to realise a material that combines the processability and property tuning of polymers with the added features of a reinforcing phase.  In order to achieve this we are developing new additives for membrane materials that comprise polymers end-capped with Polyhedral Oligomeric Silsesquioxane (POSS) nanoparticles.  This should result in better performing porous, polymer-nanocomposite support layers with increased mechanical properties.