Watch Associate Research Professor and Eureka Prize winner Frank Bruno, speak about his sustainable energy research and award-winning energy storage system.
As part of our ITEE Research Award series, we speak to Frank Bruno, Associate Research Professor at the Barbara Hardy Institute.
Frank leads the Institute’s Thermal Energy Group, and just this week, he was one of two professors from the University of South Australia to win a Eureka Prize from the Australian Museum. Frank and his team received the ANSTO Eureka Prize for Innovative Use of Technology for developing a new system of low-cost energy storage. The system has applications for refrigeration and air-conditioning energy storage in homes and will make it cheaper and more effective.
We speak to Frank about his current research interests, where it’s heading in the future, and opportunities for those considering a career in sustainable energy research.
Tell us about your research interests.
One of my areas of research interests is low cost energy storage and that’s using phase change materials to store thermal energy, which is heating and cooling. So it not only involves the development of these materials, the phase changing materials, but also the system which contains the materials and also which takes the heats in and out of these materials.
Another area [I’m interested in] is energy and buildings, actually reducing the energy associated with air-conditioning the buildings.
Tell us about some of your current projects and how they can be practically applied.
Frank Bruno with the award-winning
energy storage plant.
Photo: TOM HUNTLEY
So with thermal storage, we have developed the technology applicable for refrigeration and air-conditioning systems. These thermal storage systems can be incorporated with conventional refrigeration and air-conditioning systems. They can be charged up during the night when the electricity is generally cheaper and more available, and then during the day the cooling can be used. Also thermal storage can be used in solar power plants and that’s subject to future research.
We have [also] developed a number of low cost materials for storing heating and cooling at low temperatures, and we have developed the thermal storage systems which contain these materials. We developed a new concept known as Dynamic Melting, which both extends the life of these phase change materials, which stores the energy, and also enhances the responsiveness of these systems. This system has been commercialised by an Australian company, Quick-Cool Cooling Technologies, and the first commercial plant in now in operation on a farm on the outskirts of Adelaide. It utilises over 300,000kg of phase change materials, which is under license from the University of South Australia.
In regards to buildings, we have been involved in developing guidelines for Australia’s leading national green village, which is Lochiel Park located in Adelaide. We’ve made recommendations on how energy can be reduced in the homes and the use of energy efficient appliances and the sizing of solar PV systems.
I’ve also led the national testing programme for Seeley International to test their climate wizard, which is a dry evaporative cooling system. This system delivers dry, cool air and I showed that in certain situations, it’s more efficient than the conventional refrigeration systems. Seeley International now manufactures this system in Adelaide.
I have also been involved in numerous air-conditioning monitoring projects. One of the recent ones has been in collaboration with MS Australia (Multiple Sclerosis), where we proved that people with MS require more cooling as a consequence of their medical condition. These results will used for future policy work to help these people and to give them support in the future.
What’s next for your research? What do you think will be the key developments in your area of research?
Our future focus will be to develop [our] phase change materials for higher temperature applications, namely for solar power plants. In regards to buildings, I see us heading towards positive energy homes, which are homes that actually generate more energy than they consume. In the future, we need to reduce the cost of thermal storage. Though this could be done by using novel materials and novel techniques in thermal storage systems, we also need to develop new phase change materials to store the heating and cooling at other temperatures such as for air-conditioning, which is the biggest energy consumer.
With regard to buildings, we need better development of insulation so that it performs better once it’s been installed. We also need to integrate renewable energy devices into buildings and we need further improvements in the efficiency of air-conditioning systems.
What would you advise people who are considering following a path in sustainable energy research?
For those people considering following the path of sustainable energy research, I can say that this is a growing and very exciting area of research. Within 10 years, we’ll be seeing a big shift from energy sources from the conventional fuels to clean energy sources being obtained from renewable energy sources, being obtained from solar and wind. There’ll be many jobs created in this field and I’m sure we’ll see many new inventions and innovations.