Converting waste rubber to steels wins Inventor prize

Professor Veena Sahajwalla
Friday, 24 April, 2009
Dan Gaffney

Professor Veena Sahajwalla has won the Science and Engineering category of the 2009 NewSouth Innovations Inventor of the Year awards announced last night at a gala event attended by 120 leaders from business and research organisations.

Professor Sahajwalla heads the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology in the UNSW Science Faculty. Her polymer injection technology helps removes used tyres and plastic from waste streams and is cutting energy, costs and gas emissions associated with steelmaking.

The Australian steelmaker OneSteel has licensed the technology from NewSouth Innovations - UNSW's commercialisation company - and successfully trialled it at its Sydney and Melbourne electric arc furnace steelmaking plants.

OneSteel estimates that its use of the technology has the potential to divert 300,000 car tyres from landfill.

The company has slashed its power use by millions of kilowatts per year, cut its use of coking coal by between 12 and 16 percent, and is reducing emissions of nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide. The technology could massively cut power use and carbon emissions by the world's 300 electric-arc furnace steelmaking plants, which account for 30 percent of crude-steel output globally.

The NSI Inventor of the Year awards carry a total prize pool of $20,000 and reward innovative technologies of UNSW researchers and students that benefit the community and the environment. Eleven UNSW inventors were short-listed as finalists across four inventor award categories - biomedicine, science and engineering, the environment, and information and communication technology.

The winners of each award category were nominees for the overall Inventor of the Year award, which was won by solar cell inventor, Scientia Professor Stuart Wenham.

Professor Wenham is a world-leading solar cell inventor who heads UNSW's ARC Photovoltaic Centre of Excellence. In a career spanning more than a quarter century, he has invented or co-invented eight suites of solar cell technologies that have been licensed to solar cell makers around the world. Companies that have licensed UNSW solar technology include world leading solar makers such as Suntech-Power, BP Solar, and Samsung. These companies have annual production volumes valued at hundreds of millions of dollars in an industry that is now the world's fastest-growing energy sector.

In June Professor Wenham will head to the US to receive the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' William Cherry Award for outstanding contributions to the advancement of photovoltaic science and technology. In addition to the Inventor of the Year award, Professor Wenham also won the Environment inventor award.

Other finalists in the environment category were Dr Obada Kayali (UNSW at ADFA), the inventor of a technology that is recycling fly ash from coal-fired power stations into strong, light weight building products, and Professor Brett Neilan (Science), the inventor of a test that differentiates lethal and non-lethal toxins in blue green algal blooms.

UNSW Professor Philip Hogg won the Biomedicine inventor award for devising a drug that could stop tumours by "starving" them to death. Known as GSAO, it stops cancer cells from proliferating by preventing the growth of new blood vessels. The drug is in clinical trials with Cancer Research UK.

Professor Hogg has also pioneered a test that reveals whether conventional chemotherapy is effective by telling, within a day or two of the commencement of therapy, whether cancer cells are dying. This is much faster than current methods, which can take weeks or months to tell whether therapy is effective. The drug is being developed by Covidien Limited. Professor Hogg heads the UNSW Cancer Research Centre in the Faculty of Medicine.

Professor David Taubman won the Information and communication technology inventor award for his image and video compression software. Known as KakaduTM the program permits the rapid transfer of massive image and video files. The capture and transfer of massive image and video files is pushing the capacity of platforms such as 3G phones, cameras, computers and the Internet. Before long, the growth of digital image and video data will overwhelm our ability to benefit from it.

Kakadu software solves this challenge by letting users view an entire low-quality image or video while downloading a tiny fraction of the file. By selecting a specific item of interest, such as a tumour, a user can generate a high quality image by progressively downloading more data bits from the source. NewSouth Innovations has licensed Kakadu software to hundreds of companies around the world, including Google, Disney and Warner Bros. Professor Taubman heads the Telecommunications Research Group at UNSW's Faculty of Engineering.

Media contact, Dan Gaffney, NewSouth innovations, 0411 156 015