Researcher spotlight: Fibres for a circular economy

Dr Dylan Hegh - ANFF research engineer and Manager of Research Initiatives assisting with the development and promotion of IFM's circular economy research.

A serendipitous opportunity led Dr Dylan Hegh from biological and medicinal chemistry to the Institute for Frontier Materials where he now plays a key role in the research and development of fibres for a circular economy.

“Previously, I was in the fields of biological and medicinal chemistry,” Dr Hegh says. “I followed my partner to Australia who took up a position in the textile space and then I was offered a post-doctorate investigating applications of coarse wool, specifically the production of advanced fibres generated from wool protein.

“From there, the skills and the advantage of being a generalist with an engineering background, naturally led me to helping other researchers produce fibres, leading to my current role as the Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF) Research Engineer.”

Now at IFM, Dr Hegh specialises in advanced functional fibre and textiles with a particular focus on the development and production of advanced functional fibres, and fibres for a circular economy (CE).

“My role involves assisting other academics and industry clients with overcoming their current challenges regarding the production of fibres from a diverse range of materials such as carbon fibre precursors, 2D nanomaterials – for example, MXene and boron nitride, nanoparticle impregnated polypropylene, and Kevlar, to wool, silk, biopolymers, cotton, and waste cellulose for CE. This can apply to diverse applications ranging from conductive batteries, concrete reinforcing, stretchy conductive fibres, sensors, thermal insulation, and textile coatings.”

In 2022, Dr Hegh will take on a new joint role between ANFF and IFM’s Research Initiatives, assisting with the development and promotion of circular economy research at IFM.

“I consider it a privilege and rare opportunity to work on fundamental research problems that push the bounds of discovery and science, as well as problem solve with industry on real-world tangible challenges,” he says.

“As a Research Engineer in materials science, which sits at the intersection of engineering, chemistry, physics and biology, the sheer diversity of projects and disciplines I get to interact with means that I am lucky enough to work on new challenges daily in widely varying fields.

“The strong intersection between industry and academic research at IFM means my contribution can lead to real-world impact on society.”

 

What is your current focus?

My current focus is on advancing and promoting circular economy research in fibres and textiles for IFM. This consists of exploring and adapting new research in the design of new products. This includes process development of waste cotton wet-spinning for a fibre-to-fibre lifecycle, as well as repurposing waste cellulose for thermal and acoustic lining in buildings and developing sustainable biopolymers to replace petrochemical-based textile coatings.

 

Why is your research important and how will it make a difference?

The research I’m doing has a broad focus from fundamental academic research projects, through upscaling, to direct translational research with industry partners stretching from advanced functional materials to the circular economy. I believe the most immediate and significant difference is my translational work with industry, particularly on textiles for a circular economy, leading to the innovation of new environmentally friendly processes, real-world products and the reduction of waste, which imparts direct tangible benefits to business, people, and society as a whole.

 

What are some of your career highlights?

My first role at IFM, I was tasked with investigating new applications for coarse wool waste for an industry partner. This resulted in the development and scale-up of a novel spinning technology from which I was able to produce a textile demonstrator. This has led to the company constructing a pilot-scale wet spinning facility for further commercial evaluation.

In 2020, I worked on upscaling research by A/Prof Nolene Byne to produce a textile demonstrator scarf (inspired by Doctor Who) to showcase the capabilities at IFM. This has led to much textile industry interest and my appointment to a new position in 2022 in Research Initiatives where I will assist with the development and promotion of circular economy research undertaken at IFM.

In 2021 I was awarded an IMCRC-Activate grant of $450,000 to investigate sustainable durable water repellent coatings to replace current durable water repellent coatings, which are often made from fluorinated petrochemicals. This project is the culmination of two years of discussions with a start-up company HumbleBee Bio, which is producing recombinant biopolymers in bioreactors derived from the genome of a solitary native bee that uses it as a material to line its nest.