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Brisbane company to unveil "world-changing'' tech breakthrough

Business

In the matter of “a few weeks’’ Brisbane could be the centre of a significant technical breakthrough.

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Around that time technology, Brisbane-based commercialisation company PPK and its partner Deakin University will know if the university’s scientists have met the first milestones for their lithium sulphur (Li-s) battery project.

“We believe we have solved the issues that have kept lithium-ion at the front and Li-s behind it, but we believe we are only a couple of weeks away from an outcome with the Li-s research,’’ PPK executive chairman Robin Levison said.

“If it’s a yes, it will be world-changing. It is pretty exciting.’’

The hope is that the Li-s battery will be superior to lithium-ion batteries currently used by companies like Tesla, Mercedes and Porsche.

“We believe that in every way you measure an electric vehicle battery – energy, density, recharge time, mileage, we think the Li-s will be at least three times superior,’’ Levison said.

But he stressed that it is still waiting for verification. The claims by PPK led to a big jump in its share price today of 12 per cent.

A crucial ingredient is boron nitrate nanotubes or BNNT, a material discovered in 1994 that is 10,000 times thinner than a human hair but 1000 times stronger than steel and a sixth of its weight. It can also withstand incredible temperatures and protect against radiation.

In batteries it is used as a nano insulator.

“There is an untested theory that you can have a BNNT thread the same width as the cotton you used to patch a hole in our shirt with and you could hang your car off it,’’ he said.

But it’s difficult to produce.

Everyone from NASA to oncologists to dental technicians is excited about it and and Deakin University and PPK claim they are leading the way in producing the material which sells for $US900 ($A1155) a gram.

Levison said PPK had refined the process where one of its modules can produce about $US13 million worth BNNT a year.

The furnace module used to produce it costs about $700,000.

NASA sees the material as ideal for radiation protection in space and as a heat shield for re-entry or in aeronautics and engines. Its senior scientist Catherine Fay has done a TED talk on the multiple uses of the product and its ability to help NASA and its Mars missions.

“We were always interested in the technology in the mining business and we were wondering how we could parlay them into wider interest in technology,’’ Levison said.

“That TED talk was what got the PPK board so excited about the potential opportunities.’’

Fay expounded on BNNT as a game-changer that had wide applications and could also be applied to water desalination and as a heat sink, used in technology products to prolong life and even in getting humanity to Mars because of its ability to absorb heat and protect against radiation by absorbing neutrons.

Fay said NASA tested BNNT at Mach 5 and it survived with barely a scratch. She said it had potential uses in fabrics and in treating and diagnosing cancer.

“It’s an enormous market and there are no really good products,’’ Levison said.

“Nobody has been able to manufacture BNNT in any quantity and secondly in any quality so that the attributes known about it could be blended into things like aluminium or batteries,’’ Levison said.

“In partnership with Deakin we have been able to commercialise a process that Deakin invented and patented where we are able to make commercial quantities of BNNT at low temperatures.’’

PPK used to be a mining services company, but Levison said a few years ago its board realised “the world was changing and we needed to change with it.’’

So while it still has its mining services division, it has evolved into a commercialisation company.

It also owns Craig International Ballistics which supplies body armour to the Australian Defence Force and police forces, and has teamed up with Advanced Mobility Analytics and several universities to develop artificial intelligence for managing traffic.

Last year it also entered into joint venture research agreement with Deakin and Amaero Alloys to develop a super strength aluminium alloy which included the BNNT. Amaero announced this week that it would be working with Rio Tinto on developing a supply chain for the product.

If its battery project with Deakin is successful Levison said it will be floated through an initial public offering on the ASX.

It is also in the process of either floating or selling its mining services division which would continue with the PPK name while the ASX-listed commercialisation company rebrands.

 

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