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Published: 12 September 2011

CSIRO scientists win Eureka Prizes for innovation

CSIRO’s Dr Wojciech Gutowski has won the award for most outstanding commercialisation of innovation at the 2011 national Eureka Prizes. His team’s award-winning technology has led to a more sustainable way of painting cars – the second-biggest environmental hazard associated with cars after exhaust fumes.

Dr Gutowski’s technology will dramatically reduce the environmental hazard associated with spray painting vehicles.
Credit: James Porteous/ScienceImage

Dr Gutowski – whose research on adhesives, bonding and sealants has earned him a string of other awards and resulted in 62 patents – leads CSIRO’s research on petro-based polymer composites and nanocomposites within the organisation’s Materials Science and Engineering unit (CMSE).

His team has developed an environmentally friendly technology that eliminates the need to use harmful and costly wet paint on cars.

Applying solvent-based spray paint to cars is a major environmental hazard. One-quarter of the paint solids end up in landfill, while the solvents are released as volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere.

The high waste stream is largely due to the fact that only about 35 per cent of the wet spray paint adheres to a car’s plastic surfaces.

The CSIRO breakthrough improves the ‘stickability' of electrostatic powder coating via a solvent-free resin that allows powder coatings, paints and inks to better adhere to plastics.

‘Professor Gutowski has developed the first true zero-waste coating technologies that completely eliminate solid and liquid waste, volatile organic chemicals and the use of water in a range of industries that need to powder-coat products,’ comments Frank Howarth, Director of the Australian Museum, which initiated the Eureka Awards in 1990.

‘This goes well beyond car production and has the potential to transform manufacturing industries that make painted plastic components for cars, aircraft, furniture and buildings.’

Already in use in the automotive industry in Australia and overseas, the technology can be applied for coating of exterior and interior components of a vehicle. The estimated saving to the Australian industry alone courtesy of the substitution of wet paints is about $100 million per year.

The technology is based on engineering an interface on the surface of non-conductive material, such as plastic, to adhere in a similar way to metal when electrostatic powder-coating is applied. The end result is 100 per cent transfer efficiency (no waste) of a solvent-less coating (not harmful to human health or the environment) with excellent adhesion (it stays on).

Surface modification technologies developed by Professor Gutowski can be used with polymers, composites, ceramics and organic materials such as wood and natural fibres. His technologies are presently being employed by major international companies such as General Motors, Ford and Boeing.

Another CMSE scientist, Dr John Arkwright, won the 2011 Eureka Prize for most innovative use of technology, along with collaborator Dr Philip Dinning from Flinders University.

They developed a revolutionary fibre-optic catheter that can record pressures deep within the human colon, and will enable new insights into our understanding of diseases of the gut.

Source: Eureka Prizes/CSIRO

Published: 26 September 2011

Renewable energy sector to benefit from wind-speed research

Craig Macaulay

While some recent international studies have shown a decrease in wind speeds in several parts of the globe, including Australia, more recent results from CSIRO show that Australia’s average wind speed is actually increasing.

The ability to accurately quantify long-term variations in wind speeds is essential to the viability of Australia’s wind power sector.
The ability to accurately quantify long-term variations in wind speeds is essential to the viability of Australia’s wind power sector.
Credit: Gregory Heath

CSIRO scientists have analysed wind speed observations to understand the causes of variations in near-ground-level wind and explore long-term wind speed trends.

Accurate estimates of long-term trends provide a useful indicator for circulation changes in the atmosphere and are invaluable for the planning and financing of sectors such as wind energy, which need to map risk management under a changing climate.

‘We have a good picture of wind energy availability across Australia from previous CSIRO wind mapping and, with the growth of wind farms, there is an emerging need to understand how climate change can affect the wind resource,’ says Dr Alberto Troccoli, lead author of a recent paper published in Journal of Climate. 1

‘Wind power production is expected to increase greatly over the coming years and the associated electricity system will be subject to variations of several hundred megawatts – depending on wind availability.

‘The ability to quantify with accuracy these long-term variations is essential to the sector from an economic point of view.’

Dr Troccoli said that, averaged across Australia over 1989–2006, wind speeds measured at a height of 10 metres had increased by 0.69 per cent per annum, compared to a decline of 0.36 per cent per annum for wind speeds measured at 2m height.

‘The potential for increasing the efficiency of energy operations by using quality weather and climate information is therefore apparent and one of the first steps is the standardisation of wind recording stations.

‘Wind observations, like other meteorological variables, are sensitive to the conditions in which they are observed – for example, where the instrumentation sits relative to topographical features, vegetation and urban developments.’

The team found that the wind speed trends over Australia are sensitive to the height of the station, with winds measured at 10m displaying an opposite and positive trend to those reported by a previous study, which analysed only winds measured at 2m.

Light winds measured at 10m, a height that represents better the free atmospheric flow, tend to increase more rapidly than the average, whereas strong winds increase less rapidly than the average winds. Light and strong wind measured at a height of 2m tend to vary in line with the average winds.

‘Our work shows a number of challenges with the consistency of the observations during their period of operation and between sites across Australia,’ adds Dr Troccoli.

‘The quality of future wind observational datasets will depend on having consistency between sites, particularly with respect to measurement procedure, maintenance of instrumentation, and detailed records of the site history.’

He said the work has implications for a variety of sectors beyond wind energy including building construction, coastal erosion, and evaporation rates.

The conjunction of energy and meteorology is the central theme of the International Conference Energy & Meteorology on the Gold Coast in November.

Read Dr Troccoli’s thoughts on What’s the energy forecast? Bringing meteorology and generation together in the online forum, The Conversation.

1 A. Troccoli, K. Muller, P. Coppin, R. Davy, C. Russell and A. Hirsch (2011) Long-term wind speed trends over Australia. Journal of Climate, doi: 10.1175/2011JCLI4198.1

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