The aim of this stream is to help the manufacturing industry reduce its carbon footprint by optimising existing processes, developing new processes that significantly lower fossil fuel usage and evaluating how to use renewable energy in processes.

Our expertise in thermodynamics, extractive metallurgy, fluid dynamics, heat and mass transfer, chemical kinetics, catalysis, electrochemistry and techno-economics will assist with this aim. 

Our research focus areas

Within this theme there are four research focus areas:

Research focus 1: Carbon reduction in ore processing

Low carbon solar thermal processing of monazite ores for processing and recovery of rare earth compounds

Due to a scarcity of existing REE supply, it is essential for Australia to secure a suitable technology with low carbon footprint that can effectively extract the value REE oxides from monazite. In partnership with CSIRO Minerals and KIGAM, we are developing a novel thermal pre-treatment utilising low carbon solar thermal energy to thermally dissociate and de-phosphorise monazite.

Green processing of monazite concentrates using solar thermal technology is expected to produce beneficiated, chemically reactive rare earth oxides, which will then be used to develop a more efficient and economical process than the comparable conventional chemical digestion methods currently employed to process monazite and value add.

Reduction of carbon usage in processing iron ore

In partnership with CSIRO Minerals, we’ve developed a new process for forming lime magnetite pellets that require far less carbon in the blast furnace but are still readily reduced. Magnetite iron ores are currently oxidised during pelletisation to make the feed material compatible for blast furnace ironmaking technology.

This ensures that the feed material is easily reduced to metallic iron in the process. We’ve lodged international patent applications and are now seeking industrial partners to develop the concept to a commercial level.

Until recently, the disordered cousins of metal oxide phases were overlooked for industrial applications, as they were not thought to be distinct from the ordered metal oxide phases. Recently it’s been demonstrated that the thermodynamic properties of the disordered metal oxide phases are fundamentally different from their standard ordered cousins.

Our research is focused on synthesising an array of disordered iron and cobalt oxides and evaluating their use in a range of industrial applications, including coatings and metal refining.

In partnership with CSIRO Minerals, we’re investigating methods of processing iron ore using solar thermal power. Solar thermal processing has great potential for lowering the carbon footprint of the steel industry. By using this energy source close to Australian iron ore mines, the industry can produce an iron product that can be sold as a commodity. 

The basic chemistry of the process has been explored through experimental work in Swinburne’s 42 kW solar thermal simulator and a preliminary techno-economic study has been undertaken to evaluate the potential for further investment. Critical issues around capital cost of solar thermal systems will be addressed as the concept is developed with industry partners and upscaling is explored.

In partnership with BRIN and the University of Indonesia, we’re investigating the use of solar processing of laterite and ilmenite ores. With the decline of the ores’ quality around the world, more lower-grade and weathered ores are being processed to meet demand.

In our project, low-grade laterite (nickel) and ilmenite (titanium) ores are processed through carbothermal reduction assisted by heating using concentrated solar energy. We’ll use our 42 kW solar thermal simulator in this study to investigate the detailed phase transformation and kinetics of the process and compare it to the regular process using a regular heat source.

Research focus 2: Hydrogen based processing of materials

Silicon production using hydrogen

Silicon is one of the critical “metals” and plays an important role in the human civilisation. It is used for making alloys such as aluminum-silicon and ferro-silicon for many mechanical and metallurgical applications, for construction materials, as well as being used in electronics (transistors, computer chips and solar cells).

In collaboration with Victorian Hydrogen Hub (VH2), Upala and CSIRO Minerals, we are developing the major options for decarbonising silicon production processes including possible technology development using plasma.

Development of hydrogen ironmaking route for Australian ores

Hydrogen ironmaking has great potential for lowering the carbon footprint of the steel industry. In Europe and North America, existing shaft ironmaking technologies have been adapted to utilise hydrogen, but there’s been no evaluation of Australian ores to date.

Our research is focused on evaluating the chemical kinetic aspects of using hydrogen in this process, as well the techno-economics in an Australian context. Critical issues concerning the effect of impurities on the process and the cost of hydrogen generation will be also addressed with industry partners.

Development and monitoring of hydrogen electrolyser systems

Many new methods have been established to make hydrogen, but problems occur in industrial applications when catalysts degrade or break down. This project is developing new approaches to understanding hydrogen evolution catalysts and to investigate real-time industrial monitoring of electrolysers.

Research focus 3: Decarburising existing industrial processes

Hydrogen secondary copper smelting for e-waste processing 

Secondary copper smelting, such as black copper smelting, plays a vital role in the processing of end-of-life electronics (e-waste). This route is commonly used in industry to extract valuable metals from urban resources. We are systematically evaluating the integration of hydrogen as a reductant and fuel into the process.

The effect of the use of hydrogen on the heat balance, mass balance, behaviour of the valuable elements, slag composition and copper purity are investigated. Optimum process parameters, such as temperature, oxygen partial pressure, Cu scrap/e-waste ratio for low overall carbon emission are to be identified.

Optimising energy in oxygen steelmaking

In partnership with Tata Steel (Europe), this project aims to develop sophisticated heat transfer models for oxygen steelmaking models to optimise the steelmaking process. Multi-zone models that predict heat flows with time as a function of process parameters will allow detailed investigation of the play off between scrap melting and the utilisation of off-gases as a fuel.

Plant data will be used to validate key aspects of the models, which will build on previously successful chemical kinetic models developed by our team in collaboration with the steel industry.

In partnership with InfraBuild (Liberty GFG), we’re investigating the acoustic optimisation and control of gas injection in metallurgy.

Gas injection is used to deliver oxygen and fuel to pyrometallurgical processes, forming bubbles in pyrometallurgical vessels. Control of existing carbon-based processes could deliver energy and hence emissions savings.

Our research is focused on acoustic measurements that have the potential to provide valuable data on processes inside the vessel that are otherwise invisible, since the injected bubbles emit sounds that are easily measured.

In partnership with Infrabuild (Liberty GFG), we’re investigating the optimisation of reheat furnaces in steelmaking. 

Reheat furnaces play a final role in controlling the quality of steel product, but also consume significant quantities of natural gas. A preliminary study of the Laverton re-heat furnace identified that significant savings could be made by optimising burners, refractories and control systems.

Work is ongoing to evaluate and make improvements to the furnace, with computational fluid dynamics being used to study various options using virtual tools to evaluate key parameters.

In partnership with Umicore-Belgium, we’re developing new experimental techniques for studying the kinetics of the reduction reaction of slag by coke, as well as studying the reduction of lead blast furnace slag using alternative carbon sources. 

The lead blast furnace smelting process is used to produce lead and is also part of a process route for recycling electronic waste through integrated copper-lead smelting. In the lead blast furnace, slag is reduced using coke, but the detailed mechanism of the reduction reaction is not fully understood.

Our research is tracking the phase formation at the interfaces and microstructure evolution during the reaction to provide a detailed reaction mechanism. Our research is also analysing the reduction of lead blast furnace slag using alternative carbon sources such as those from urban ores (electronic waste or waste printed circuit boards).

We will specifically examine the reduction reaction mechanism of lead slag by waste printed circuit boards and other alternative carbon sources and compare them with reduction with metallurgical coke. We’re also measuring the partitioning of the valuable metals between the lead, the slag and the gaseous phase at relevant conditions.

In partnership with Grimshaw Architecture, we’re developing piezoelectric-based energy harvesters that can potentially be incorporated into panelling and cladding and collect energy from wind and water currents. 

Carbon reduction of many processes will come from ‘optimised control’, which can only be implemented when processes can be measured via sensors, and the data from these measurements collected and assessed. Complex processes will need many inter-connected sensors – this is often referred to as the Industrial Internet of Things.

Our research in this area is essential because the sensors and network that will need to be established to achieve this control also need to be powered and are often located where mains electricity is not available and access to replacement batteries is difficult. 

Research focus 4: Next generation materials

Graphene-reinforced smart composites

Imagine Intelligent Materials (Imagine) identified graphene as a material that could be used to create smart composites that sense and report real-time dimensional changes in composites. Working with Imagine, we’re utilising our unique expertise in composite manufacturing and sensor technologies to develop graphene-reinforced smart composites. 

Graphene certification

In 2017, the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centre Projects scheme funded a $943,937 project to develop an Australian graphene characterisation and certification capability. We’re leading this project with four key industry partners:

Graphene is the lightest, strongest and most electrically conductive material known to exist, but to date, unreliable quality and poor manufacturing reproducibility have prevented the development of an industrial graphene market. Producing reliably high-quality graphene in replicable manufacturing circumstances will enable the generation of revolutionary new products across all industry sectors.

Certification will enable volume manufacturing of graphene by supporting replicability and quality. It will also connect Australian industry with global advanced manufacturing supply chains that use graphene and the development of Industry 4.0 capability internationally.

  • Solar-powered research takes out top prize

    Suneeti Purohit from Swinburne University of Technology has won the 2019 AMP Amplify Ignite competition for her initiative to revolutionise the steel processing industry with solar power.

Contact the Manufacturing Futures Research Institute

If your organisation would like to collaborate with us to solve a complex problem, or you simply want to contact our team, get in touch by calling +61 3 9214 5177 or emailing

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