Australia has a lot of sand – much of it rich with titanium. Over the past 34 years Ian Grey has solved some of the mineral sand industry’s toughest processing problems. Now he’s finding new uses for titanium oxide for renewable production of hydrogen as the clean fuel of the future.
As a crystallographer, Ian Grey knew little about mineral sands when he joined CSIRO in 1970. But at the time the organisation was working to improve the Becher process for mineral sands processing, in which ilmenite sands are cooked to remove iron and create rutile, a feedstock for white pigment production, and a rich source of titanium for aerospace and other high technology applications.
So Ian set about studying the fundamental chemical processes at work and contributed the first of a series of practical solutions to the problems of mineral sand processing. His research provided the understanding needed to be able to process a wide range of ilmenite types and to achieve high-grade products. He went on to lead teams which dealt with many ilmenite processing issues including manganese contamination and radioactivity, and evaluated the potential of mineral sand deposits in the Murray basin.
Ian has more than 10 patents to his name and has provided Australia with an unrivalled knowledge of the weathering and processing of mineral sands. His work has contributed substantially to the profitability of Australia’s $2.3 billion mineral titanium export industry.
Now Ian is using his fundamental understanding of titanium oxides in a CSIRO Flagship Program to catalyse hydrogen production from water as a pollution free energy source for the future.
Mal Crozier has invented a rocket that hovers. When launched from a ship it dashes away, stops, hovers, and decoys incoming missiles. After 30 years of development Nulka is protecting US, Canadian and Australian ships. Mal is now investigating non-military applications for his idea.
In 1969 an Egyptian radar-guided missile sank an Israeli destroyer. It was a wake up call for navies around the world. Mal Crozier and his colleagues at the Government Aircraft Factories put their minds to the challenge of developing a defence – something that could quickly be deployed to seduce an incoming missile away from its target.
Their idea was a hovering rocket. Higher management didn’t believe the concept was viable. But Mal and the team persevered – creating a flight simulation model, and then Nulka – the world’s only hovering solid fuel rocket.
When a ship is threatened by cruise missile attack Nulka launches, flies into position and hovers regardless of the weather conditions. In this way, it provides a stable flight platform for an electronic decoy system.
Manufactured in Australia by BAE Systems Australia, Nulka is now in service as the primary ship self-defence system with the US, Canadian and Australian navies. The technology already has annual sales of more than $500 million, and sales are expected to grow substantially in coming years.
Mal has guided the project from its inception, overcoming scepticism and early failures. On the journey he has contributed to the education and development of about 100 young engineers.
As well as working to keep Nulka ahead of the threat from a new generation of anti-ship missiles, Mal is investigating non-military applications for the hovering rocket – in agriculture, mining and remote sensing.
Robert Evans is adding millions of dollars to the value of Australia’s timber plantations through the invention and commercialisation of SilviScan – a system that can tell you which plantation trees will make the best timber, furniture or paper.
Wood is a complex material. Its strength, stiffness and shrinkage all influence its suitability for particular applications such as paper production or construction. And these characteristics are the result of some 20 physical properties of wood. So, predicting the performance of wood using conventional techniques is time consuming and difficult.
Variation in wood quality accounts for 30 percent or more of the variation in paper properties so, in 1988 the Australian pulp and paper industry challenged CSIRO to improve wood quality in Australian plantations. The planned breeding and silvicultural trials would generate thousands of samples for analysis but each sample would take weeks to assess using the then available techniques. Rob envisioned a machine that would work at least 100 times faster. By 1992 he had invented SilviScan-1 – the world’s first system for rapid, automatic measurement of wood quality. Using equipment begged, borrowed and scrounged, the system used x-ray densitometry, x-ray diffractometry, and image analysis.
Today SilviScan-2 is processing thousands of samples. It’s helping plantation operators to fine tune farming practices, and then to accurately determine the best use of each tree. The next generation system – SilviScan-3 will be commissioned in Sweden and Australia this year.
Australia’s plantation industries are set to more than double in the next 20 years. One of the keys to profitability will be the accurate specification of the right wood for the right job. Rob is now working with geneticists to extend SilviScan into an even faster system that will predict the felled wood quality from seedlings – and hence revolutionise tree breeding.