Aboriginal Environments Research Centre

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Nasim Amiralian

Thesis & Topic: 

Exploring Spinifex biomass as renewable building blocks

Nasim’s PhD research effort is focused on the unconventional utilization of ‘Spinifex’ an Australian native arid grass specifically as a source of cellulose with the aim of developing new materials for industrial applications from bio-resources.

Recently she has discovered a unique, very high grade of cellulose nanocrystal and nanofibril from spinifex, through the use of simpler, cost effective, and more environmentally friendly chemical and mechanical methods.

The other part of her project is about determining the optimum extraction and heat treatment regime for spinifex resin and comparing with indigenous traditional methods and knowledge. Study on spinifex resin resulted in a discovery of effective application of extracted resin as a termiticide.

Nasim Amiralian

This PhD project forms part of a larger ARC project involving a multidisciplinary team of researchers from anthropology, architecture, botany and materials science disciplines that aims to combine Aboriginal traditional knowledge with modern themes of biomimetic and nanotechnology science to explore the sustainable application of spinifex as an abundant and renewable bio-resource.

Spinifex grasses have been largely ignored as a sustainable resource, despite their widespread distribution throughout Australia, and unique biology that has evolved within harsh environments. As spinifex has had to adapt to extremely poor soils, high levels of UV radiation and low rainfall, it is likely that the resultant adaptation of these unique plants has necessitated the production of unusual physical structures or organic compounds.

Spinifex resin is traditionally used by Australian Aborigines for hafting tools and repairing damaged equipment, the grasses are also used as cladding in shelter construction. However, before this thesis, no systematic and scientific research had been undertaken into the potential application of spinifex for modern use; therefore, our knowledge was limited to nature and aboriginal people’s traditional knowledge.

The research effort presented in this thesis is focused on the replacement of petroleum-based compounds, plastics and composites with more environmentally friendly materials. In addition to investigating a renewable polymeric plant resin and the isolation of novel nanoscale cellulose particles, both derived from native Australian Triodia pungens grass, this project is the first materials science investigation of spinifex-based materials, which also takes anthropological information into consideration. I explored and identified some properties of spinifex plant compounds or building blocks that allow me to prepare renewable based functional or structural materials of scientific interest. Significantly, this enhanced detailed understanding of spinifex composition, structure, refining and processing, in a materials science sense, formed the foundation of a provisional patent, “Nanocellulose”, which was lodged on the 22nd of November 2013.