In our PhD Profiles series, we speak to Dr Daniel Grasser whose PhD at IFM led him to develop wear resistant composites for mining applications that have the potential to lessen the mining industry’s impact on the environment and save money in the process.
After completing a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in Germany and starting his Masters, which he completed in Hong Kong, Dr Grasser headed to Australia where he started applying for PhD scholarships.
‘The first impression I got during my face-to-face interview at IFM was great; I met Matthew Barnett and Peter Lynch, two people with such a positive and welcoming attitude I did not experience before in academia.’
It is coming up to five years now since Dr Grasser began his PhD with the Institute for Frontier Materials. At the completion of his PhD he became an Associate Research Fellow in Modelling and Mechanical Design at IFM and took over an administrative role at the mineAlloy Industrial Transformation Training Centre, which operates out of IFM.
‘Mining plays a major role in society by providing raw materials for a wide range of applications ranging from civil engineering to the development of the latest generation of efficient batteries,’ Dr Grasser says.
‘Unfortunately, global mining activities cause 6.2 per cent of the energy consumption worldwide. 17.4 per cent of the consumed energy in mineral mining is used to remanufacture and replace parts needed due to wear failures.
‘My research has shown that with a smart design of wear resistant composites the service-life of mining equipment can be prolonged by the order of a magnitude. This will reduce material waste, financial costs and energy consumption otherwise required to replace the worn parts.’
What is the best piece of advice you have received?
This is more an experience I want to share rather than advice I received; dealing with feedback in a constructive and pro-active way can really sharpen your skillset, so never be discouraged.
What makes you passionate about this area?
I guess breaking a complex problem into its fundamental mechanisms interests me most. Moreover, efficient mining techniques become increasingly important; less material waste during the mining process is important, especially, I believe that we are going to need more of particular raw materials in the near future to build new generations of electric vehicles.
What area of research do you specialise in?
I am working on the development of wear resistant composites. The goal is to increase the service life of mining equipment. To do this I am doing experimental research and also using a simulation technique (Discrete Element Modelling (DEM)) to understand the flow behaviour of the rocks.
What are your biggest career highlights?
I just started my post-doc at Deakin several months ago, so it’s probably a bit early to talk about career highlights. However, my area of research appears very interesting, challenging and offers a good perspective for future employment both in academia and industry. I feel like I am on a good track for my career, that’s something I appreciate, and this is my personal highlight.
What motivates you in your research?
I like the daily challenge and it’s never boring.
What is your current research focus?
Understanding the interaction at the surface between the abrasive particles (“rocks”) and the wear material using Discrete Element Modelling (DEM). Moreover, understanding the wear behaviour of different metals under sliding conditions at elevated temperatures (up to 950 ⁰C).
What are some of the key findings of this research?
The smart combination of different materials (i.e. composites) can improve the wear resistance of mining applications by up to a factor of 10x, when compared to a traditional approach using monolithic materials. These composites can be tailored in respect to the occurring wear system; only when the context of the wear system is understood the optimum composite can be developed. From this, I derived design principles for wear resistant composites in the mining industry.
What real-world impact will this research make?
It is anticipated that mining equipment such as an ore chute will have a significantly improved service life. Hence, material waste is reduced, energy otherwise required to manufacture new parts is saved and the maintenance intervals are shortened, which can often be dangerous for the maintenance crews.