Energy and environment research

Research focused on the areas of oil and gas processing, thermal management using phase change energy storage, biodiesel & bioethanol, thermal management of aluminium smelters, clean technologies and industrial waste treatment.

The informal Energy and Environment Group is established in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering, prompted by our department's longtime expertise on energy and the environment.

Our research

In the area of oil and gas processing, the technical focus is on the development of energy management tools for eco-efficient design, operation and control. Work in this area involves the development and implementation of the computer simulation tool VMGSim and also the application of the fundamental thermodynamic concept exergy for determining the energy efficiency and controllability of processes for sustainability. Partners in this work include the University of Calgary and Virtual Materials Group Inc. There is also scope and interest for further extending these tools to the arena of energy management in bio and food processing for application to New Zealand processes. At an economic level, we are also interested in risk based economic options for sustainable energy generation in New Zealand and collaboration exists with the Faculty of Business.

We have been working in the area of thermal management using phase change materials (PCM) for more than 25 years with a large number of publications in international journal and refereed international conferences. Strong links have been established with local companies such as Winston Wallboard Ltd and Industrial Processors Ltd to assist in developing final products to be used for improving the thermal performance of New Zealand housing. Internationally, we have been collaborating with IIT/ Chicago, Aspen System Ltd and MicroSun Ltd in the US to develop PCM products for thermal management of batteries and electronic devices. Research on this area covers both the fundamental study of heat transfer with phase change and the use of PCMs in a number of applications such as buildings, glass houses, electronics, cold stores, etc.

In biodiesel, we have successfully patented a new technology capable of converting animal and vegetable oil into biodiesel in a fast reactor and licensed the technology to Flo-Dry Engineering Ltd to commercialise it. We have been also looking into the potential of converting plastic wastes into diesel and valuable chemical through pyrolysis. In a project with AgriGenesis Bioscience Ltd, we are developing special pre-treatment of cellulose so that it can be efficiently hydrolysed and then fermented into bioethanol. Lignin will be a valuable product out of this treatment. We are also looking at membrane processing for reducing the energy requirements for the purification of bioethanol.

Current research work on thermal management in process metallurgy include the concentration and recovery of waste heat from an aluminium reduction cell, heat transfer and air flow around the outside of a smelting furnace and the optimisation of annealing in a continuous annealing furnace.

In Clean Technologies and Industrial Waste Treatment, we have three focuses: (1) The manufacture and application of membrane separations for the recovery and recycle of valuable molecules (such as pharmaceuticals and catalysts). We have expertise in microfiltration, ultrafiltration and nanofiltration in both water and solvents. We are able to manufacture our own membranes for specialised applications, (2) Improvement of waste treatment by advanced oxidation, through the use of new technologies (such as ultrasonic oxidation) and the integration of these technologies with both separation technologies and biological waste treatment, (3) Development, characterisation and application of nano-heterogenous catalysts - a new area currently being developed in collaboration with the Materials Engineering research cluster.

Collaborations and linkages

Winston Wallboard Ltd., FLODRY Engineering Ltd., AgriGenesis Bioscience Ltd., Keam Holden Associate Ltd., Comalco, Green Fuel Technology Ltd., Fonterra/ Tip Top Ice Cream, IIT/ Chicago, Aspen System Ltd. (USA), MicroSun Ltd. (USA), The New Zealand Refining Company Ltd., WaterCare Services Ltd., University of Calgary (Canada), Virtual Materials Group Inc. (Canada), and Gen-X Power Corp. (Canada).

The team has previously attracted funding from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology including number of TIF funding for the development of these innovative technologies together with industrial partners with a number of patents been filed.

Our people

Thermal management using phase change energy storage

Biodiesel and bioethanol

Thermal management of aluminium smelters

Clean technologies and industrial waste treatment