Leading the way in carbon fibre research

A FORMER Camperdown man is helping research innovative ways to use lightweight but strong fibres at a new $34 million research facility at Deakin University. 

Tristan Alexander is one of 37 people working at the Carbon Nexus centre at the university’s Geelong campus which was officially launched last week. 

The researchers and technicians are exploring how carbon fibre can be used to create low-cost but high-performing materials that would be lighter, stronger, cheaper and faster to produce. 

Carbon Nexus houses laboratories, a pilot scale carbon fibre line capable of producing up to 55 tonnes of aerospace grade carbon fibre each year and a smaller single-tow research line. 

Mr Alexander is part of the team developing composite armour for personal protection. 

“We’ve been doing research for the defence force for the past six years, mainly looking at standard issue soft armour,” he said. 

“We’ve also been developing a new style of combat helmet that is about 30 per cent lighter than the current helmets, but as strong if not stronger.” 

Mr Alexander said his work was split into thee categories — armour systems, drug delivery systems and ultralight composite components. 

He has just finished his thesis in the use of polymer nanofibres as a drug delivery system, creating patches that could be dissolved both within the body and as a transdermal patch. 

“This system of drug release has been extensively researched as it can enable significant reductions in side effects experienced from current drugs. However, no one has ever been able to show linear or controllable drug release,” Mr Alexander said.  

“I was able to show the first linear drug release from a nanofibre system. This has the potential to completely change post-surgery drug usage as well as long-term drug usage, because there would be no need to take drugs post-surgery due to the nanofibres releasing a controlled dose directly into the blood stream.” His work in ultralight composite components has focused on the replacement of steels and iron in cars with carbon fibre. 

“Components made from carbon fibre and other lightweight fibres have the potential for application in nearly every industry.” 

Mr Alexander said the centre also provided the opportunity to help retrenched automotive workers upskill in carbon manufacturing. 

“Deakin is uniquely positioned to teach companies how to manufacture premium carbon fibre and to re-skill ex-Ford, Holden and Alcoa workers into a new and expanding field,” he said. 

“The facility has the ability to work as a lighthouse to other companies in the hope of attracting them to start manufacturing carbon. It’s a very exciting thing to be involved in and it’s great to see carbon and other lightweight materials being used to their potential.” 

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