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BioGEMS and Boral join forces

The BioGEMS research group is primarily concerned with solving environmental engineering problems through the examination of biogeochemical processes in natural and engineered water systems, but their highly applicable biogeochemical knowledge base means it’s not unusual to get requests from interesting quarters.

“A couple of years ago, Boral – a building and construction materials supplier who has significant ties with the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CVEN) – expressed an interest in working with us,” says Professor David Waite, who leads the Biogeochemical Engineering Management (BioGEM) group. “They wanted to undertake a project to look at the behaviour of a low carbon footprint cement at the molecular scale,” he continues.

Waite immediately recognised an opportunity to bridge the work that’s been done at the molecular scale at places like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with the bulk scale strengths of CVEN.

“The best structural engineering research groups internationally, especially at places like MIT and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, are coupling the molecular-scale to the bulk scale. CVEN’s structural engineers have done great things for many years; but they have tended to work just at the large scale. I think where the School is missing out has been an examination of materials at the molecular scale.”

Waite says the project was initially conceived with the intention of improving the performance of a particular Boral product and two short-term projects were funded by Boral for this purpose, but in 2016, this was supplemented by a successful Australian Research Council Linkage Project grant which has allowed them to broaden the scope.

The BioGEMS team now has $850,000 to undertake quite a large piece of work with Boral. This will not only build the knowledge base and lead to sustainable product innovations, but will have the additional benefit of enabling CVEN to make up lost ground in their ability to couple molecular-scale knowledge with the bulk properties of materials.

In a project like this Waite says it is

It's the fusion of science and engineering that is most exciting, the challenge of understanding the phenomena, then working out how it relates to the application.

Scientia Professor T David Waite

. “It’s the chance to unravel some of the underlying molecular processes that are often incredibly complex, but that have implications at the bulk scale. It’s the challenge of understanding the phenomena, then working out how it relates to the application,” he says.

“It is also satisfying to help Boral create more sustainable products. Cement is a major contributor to Boral’s carbon footprint and if the company can create better products that have less impact on the environment at a cost that’s more acceptable, it’s win-win-win: Boral can grow as a company, there are more jobs and there is less harm to the environment,” he continues.

“At Boral, we recognise that sustainability is fundamental to our future success and this includes minimising our environmental impacts,” says Dr Louise Keyte, Boral Australia’s National R&D Manager. “We are proud of the work we have done to develop Envisia® low carbon concrete with excellent performance and sustainability benefits and we are excited about the partnership with UNSW to further advance this technology.”


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