Tuesday 16 July 2019

AMBER research centre to develop sustainable plastics, carbon dioxide converters and knee implants

The research centre has already found a solution to your mobile phone's limited battery life

Prof. Mick Morris, Director AMBER; Dr. Lorraine Byrne, Executive Director AMBER; and Ruairi Quinn, Chairperson AMBER. Pic: Naoise Culhane
Prof. Mick Morris, Director AMBER; Dr. Lorraine Byrne, Executive Director AMBER; and Ruairi Quinn, Chairperson AMBER. Pic: Naoise Culhane
Prof. Mick Morris, Director AMBER; Dr. Lorraine Byrne, Executive Director AMBER; and Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland. Pic: Naoise Culhane
Prof. Mick Morris, Director AMBER; Dr. Lorraine Byrne, Executive Director AMBER; and Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland. Pic: Naoise Culhane

Áine Kenny

AMBER, Ireland's materials science research centre, have announced the creation of 350 jobs as part of their second phase of research.

The new research positions will be created between 2019 and 2025.

This research will focus on the creation of new materials and technologies that minimize environmental impact, improve health, and build a sustainable future, according to AMBER.

AMBER stands for Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research. This new funding will give AMBER’s research a new focus: sustainabilty.

AMBER researchers mainly look for materials that can transform everyday products like mobile phones, knee implants, batteries and beer bottles.

Dr Lorraine Byrne, the Executive Director of AMBER, says that they carry out fundamental research at an academic level and collaborative research with industry.

"Material science is the 'science of stuff', it is what things are made of, for example what causes sand to be converted into integrated circuits that drive computer chips," explains Dr Byrne.

"AMBER covers the full spectrum, from investigating materials for the next generation of computing and communications technology, to health care like regenerative medicine, to polymers."

But how does this research impact our everyday lives?

"There's a lot of interest at the moment into the eradication of single use plastics, and plastics in the oceans. So, developing plastics that are made from sustainable material, or can be better recycled, or degrade, is a big part of what AMBER does," Dr Byrne says.

Dr Byrne also says energy is a big part of the centre's research, and they recently published a paper with Nokia Bell labs on batteries. "The use of nano materials can help your mobile phone battery last longer. A problem with mobile phone batteries is they heat up, and because you are charging and discharging, the battery actually cracks over time and that is what causes your battery to lose power and not last as long.

"So we have developed new nano material technology that helps with some of that cracking, which in turn helps the battery last longer," the Executive Director tells Independent.ie.

Dr Byrne says this new phase of research focuses on sustainability because it is a huge societal issue. "[There is an] energy demand... the increasing information age is putting huge demand on data centres' resources, which are hugely power hungry."

One aspect of sustainabilty AMBER will focus on include polymers derived from sources other than petroleum based products, and a collaboration with Glanbia in regenerating some of the waste materials from food processes. "It's all about the circular economy and using our raw materials more effectively to aid the environment," adds Dr Byrne.

There are some techno-sceptic environmentalists who claim the reduction, rather than advancement, of technology is the solution to stopping environmental damage, considering it was industrialisation which caused the majority of pollution. However, Dr Byrne says while we do have to be mindful of our individual consumption, society has got very used to technology.

"There is an argument for using less technology... but people aren't going to abandon technolgy. As scientists, the onus is on us to develop technology that... is more environmentally friendly."

AMBER also research molecules that can capture carbon dioxide and convert it into something diferent. "These materials, called metal organic frameworks, capture the carbon dioxide and we can then covert the carbon dioxide into methanol, or other liquid fuel type materials, which can be used as petroleum alternatives."

Medical devices are also part of AMBER's remit. As well as developing a special coating for heart stents and regenerating cardiac tissue in NUI Galway, the centre also looks at enhancing orthopedic implants. "We 3D print titanium implants, but also [research] regenerative medicine, like using biological cells that are printed into a scaffold to regenerate bone and tissue. Ultimately that will be a much better way of utilising implants, rather than putting metal into your body," explains Dr Byrne.

AMBER's new research phase is being funded by €40 million over six years from Science Foundation Ireland’s Research Centres Programme, coupled with €77 million from cash and in-kind contributions, which AMBER will raise from industry and non-exchequer sources through their international research activities.

AMBER is headquartered at Trinity College Dublin but has research facilities in NUI Galway, Royal College of Surgeons, Tyndall National Institute, University College Cork, Dublin City University and University of Limerick.

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News