Lava Blue

Value adding Australian minerals: advanced manufacturing of high purity alumina for batteries, sapphire glass and LEDs

Research partner
QUT

Total Project Value (AUD)
$10,461,003

IMCRC Funding (AUD)
$1,454,785

Start date
23/09/2019

Duration
2.5 years

As global demand for the chemically inert ceramic material, high purity alumina (HPA) rises, Lava Blue is using machine learning and automated manufacturing techniques to transform the way it is produced.

The high-value material is critical for the production of many household technology items such as LED lighting, electronic displays, semiconductors, lithium ion and aluminium batteries.

In collaboration with Queensland University of Technology (QUT), and with the support of IMCRC funding, Lava Blue’s research is focused on developing a resilient, agile and highly competitive manufacturing process to transform kaolin, an aluminium-bearing clay, into HPA.

Having worked with universities and other research organisations on other projects, Michael McCann, Managing Director of Lava Blue, has found his first experience working with a cooperative research centre to be a positive one.

“When you’re conducting research, you need to be flexible so you can update, refine and redirect resources and change the shape of the program as needed to achieve a better outcome. Originally, there were concerns that the constraints of reporting, management requirements and legal arrangements around using Commonwealth funds in combination with private money would impact on our flexibility. However, IMCRC has been completely open to redesign based on discovery and have also been willing to allow us to do what we see best.

This approach has been not only supportive but has also allowed the team to be aggressively risk taking in the research directions and frank and fearless in reporting. As a result the project partners have been extraordinarily productive in opening avenues for investigation and been ready close down dead ends while focussing on the discoveries of relevance.”

McCann notes one of the most valuable aspects of the collaboration has been the opportunity to work with a world-class research partner. He believes sharing knowledge and resources with QUT has catalysed true innovation.

“The best outcome of this project so far has been the skilled cohort of young researchers that we had access to through QUT. The team of analytical, industrial and process chemists are some of the best in the world in this field. The additional IMCRC funding has allowed us to pursue two and half years of fundamental research, which is very rare. We’ve been able to make some tremendous breakthroughs.”

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This project has allowed us to focus on fundamental research and explore things that have never been done. The results have the potential to catalyse a billion-dollar industry in Australia over the next decade.

Michael McCann
Managing Director of Lava Blue