Research facility focused on value-adding Queensland resources

A QUT research and industry partnership that will build Queensland’s capacity in producing critical minerals for battery and renewable energy systems marked a milestone this week with construction underway on the $3 million Redlands Research Facility.

QUT Vice-Chancellor Professor Margaret Sheil AO, Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner and Lava Blue managing director Michael McCann welcomed the construction phase of the new research facility at DAF’s Redlands research site.

“Reaching this milestone in the partnership between QUT, Lava Blue and the Innovative Manufacturing CRC (IMCRC) shows the importance of connecting research and industry to produce real-world impact,” Professor Sheil said.

“One of the things that QUT has always done is taken our research further along the translation pathways than universities traditionally do.

“It’s very important at QUT that our research gets to where it’s needed, whether it’s the research-driven project of creating virus-filtering masks from material made from sugar cane waste, or whether it’s the development of pilot plants for future resources such as high-purity alumina (HPA) – the benefit around research commercialization is actually ensuring that it reaches the end user.”

Lava Blue QUT project
From left: Lava Blue Managing Director Michael McCann, Associate Professor Sara Couperthwaite, QUT Vice-Chancellor Professor Margaret Sheil, Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner and Lava Blue partner Sylvia Tulloch.

The recently released Federal Government paper University Research Commercialisation identified research collaboration between business and universities at the heart of Australia’s post-COVID recovery.

QUT’s project leader Associate Professor Sara Couperthwaite said the research project would provide the platform for Lava Blue to translate fundamental research for manufacturing high purity alumina at pre-commercial scales.

The work performed to date under the IMCRC funded research project has provided confidence for this next level of manufacturing research infrastructure investment by Lava Blue and QUT.

The Redlands facility is the result of a project involving Professor Couperthwaite and Lava Blue which demonstrated that kaolin clay could be used as a source of HPA which is used to make LEDs and separators for lithium-ion batteries.

Lava Blue has a large resource of kaolin suitable for refining into 99.99 per cent pure HPA on its Lava Plains mineral permits in North Queensland.

Mr McCann said Lava Blue was a science-led resource development company focused on the high-value minerals required by the new energy economy.

“Through our partnership with QUT and with support from IMCRC we have already demonstrated a system for producing high-value HPA from low-quality kaolin, a resource which has no other commercial value,” Mr McCann said

Over the next 12 months the continued matched funding support from IMCRC and Lava Blue will enable further advancements in manufacturing HPA to be made by the QUT research team at the Redlands research facility before Lava Blue proceeds to a full-scale commercial plant.

“This is about value-adding to a Queensland natural resource in a project that will deliver the jobs of the future.”

The commissioning of the first commercial plant in North Queensland would deliver dozens of full-time jobs to regional Queensland in the first stage of production. Lava Blue plans to ultimately produce 5000 tonnes of HPA per annum which is expected to result in more than 100 full time jobs.

Professor Couperthwaite said the research facility would be a demonstration of Industry 4.0, which uses transformative technologies to connect the physical world with the digital world, on a full mineral processing operation to optimise inputs and outputs to ensure the most sustainable practices were used in producing high purity alumina.

“A coordinated approach to research and commercialisation will maximise our national resources, investments and talent to achieve economic resilience,” Professor Couperthwaite said.

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