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Chemical Engineering Research Group

Staff in the Chemical Engineering Research Group are engaged in cutting-edge research in several important fields, including solar energy conversion, environmental nanotechnology, mining and mineral processing, and hydrocarbon synthesis from methane and carbon dioxide. While our research activities are contributing to the advance of scientific knowledge in these fields, we are particularly keen to undertake projects that are directly beneficial to the industries in Western Australia. We encourage enquiries from prospective postgraduate students wishing to join our Group. We also welcome enquiries from the industry seeking solutions or collaborations.

Research Themes

Solar Energy Conversion and Utilization

The Sun is a clean and sustainableenergy resource and has attracted worldwide interest owing to the enormous120,000 TW outputs annually to our planet without any environmental contaminations. Photocatalysisbears the promises for solar energy conversion and utilization, and hasdemonstrated to be a green, feasible, and powerful technology. Our group isstudying innovative technologies for integrating photocatalysis,electrocatalysis and photovoltaics to significantly improve the efficiency of solarenergy utilization, so that solar fuels, solar cells and solar-assistedenvironmental remediation can be achieved on the basis of our nano-architecturedesign for advanced catalyst materials.

Environmental Nanotechnology

A wide variety of conventional technologies, such as adsorption,filtration, membrane separation, extraction, advanced oxidation processes(AOPs) and bio-processes have been employed to remediate pollutants in the air,water and soil. However, many existing technologies have experiencedlow-efficiency, or failure, for emerging contaminants, such as pharmaceuticalsand personal care products (PPCPs). Our group is devoted to developingcutting-edge environmental nanotechnology for removing emerging contaminantsfrom the environment. To this end, rational design has been conducted todeliver tailored metal oxides or metal-free nanocarbons with shape-control,selected crystal- and micro-structures, preferred facet exposure and tunedsurface features for enhanced remediation performances. The remediationprocesses are also monitored for elucidating the surface sorption, radicals’generation and evolution, degradation pathways with intermediate identifications,and reaction kinetics.

Mineral Processing

Australia’s export performance is largelyunderpinned by minerals production. Thousands of tons of mineral deposits aremined in Australia, and processed every day as aqueous slurries. Being able tounderstand and control the flow properties of such pulps is a major factor ofsuccessful operations. Unpredictable and/or out of control variations in flowproperties of mineral pulps not only make the whole operation inefficient, theycan also have a negative impact on chemical and physicochemical reactionkinetics (e.g., slower diffusion, ineffective particle-particle orparticle-bubble collisions and interactions, etc.). Different large-scale plantoperations such as flotation, leaching, solid-liquid separation, dewatering,solvent extraction and neutralization, which involve processing of variousslurries/solutions, can be seriously hampered due to enhanced pulp/solutionviscosity.

We are studying the role of feedparticles’ mineralogy, crystal structure and chemical composition onpulp/solution chemistry, surface/interfacial chemistry and particleinteractions in various mineral processing operations. Our research in thisarea is making a significant contribution to the understanding of rheologicalbehaviours of aqueous pulps. Taking into account the fluctuations in keycommodity prices and drastic increase of operation costs in Australia, the needfor research in cost-effective and optimized mineral processing will continuein the foreseeable future. Our research in this area aims to bring directbenefits to the mineral processing and hydrometallurgical plants in WesternAustralia.

Hydrocarbon Synthesis

Efficient, cost-effective, and selectivesynthesis of hydrocarbons from natural gas and carbon dioxide can potentiallybring significant benefits to the petroleum industries and the environment. Ourgroup is carrying out feasibility studies and experiment design of CH4conversion to syngas and CO2 conversion to C1 buildingblocks (such as methanol) in microreactors. We are in an early stage ofdeveloping research in this area; combining our expertise in CH4 andCO2 conversions, photocatalysis, and micromanipulation for preciseexperiment operation, monitoring and characterization. We aim to understand howdifferent reactor designs, catalysts, and operating conditions affect thereaction processes and product selectivity, so that the technologies can beused on offshore gas production platforms to convert CH4 and CO2to valuable products.

Contact

If you are interested in applying to ECU and want to discuss a specific project proposal in the Chemical Engineering Research Group, please contact:

Associate Professor Guangzhi Sun
T: (61 8) 6304 5423     E: g.sun@ecu.edu.au

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