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Funding win for UOW energy and cybersecurity projects

Image Credits: University of Wollongong, Press Release

Two University of Wollongong (UOW) projects have been awarded funding under the Australian Research Council’s (ARC) Linkage Projects scheme, which supports collaboration between researchers, industry, governments, and community organisations.

UOW researchers will also collaborate on two other research projects funded under the scheme. The Federal Minister for Education and Youth announced the successful projects on Wednesday, 24 March 2021.

In total, $29.5 million in funding was awarded to 65 new research projects aimed at promoting national and international research partnerships to find real-world solutions to a wide array of issues.

“These projects will keep Australia at the forefront of important technological research, and they have the potential to create real-world advances in agriculture, renewable energy and space technology,” the Minister said.

One of the successful UOW projects, led by Distinguished Professor Xiaolin Wang, Director of UOW’s Institute for Superconducting and Electronic Materials (ISEM) and the node leader and theme leader of ARC Center of Excellence in Future Low Energy Electronics Technologies, will investigate ways to generate electricity from waste heat efficiently and make high-performance cooling devices.

The other, led by Senior Professor Willy Susilo, Head of UOW’s School of Computing and Information Technology, aims to develop innovative cryptographic technologies which realise efficient multi-key homomorphic encryptions (MKHE). This key technology functions to allow multiple users to supply their private input for collaboration in the cloud while keeping the user data confidential.

Distinguished Professor Shi Xue Dou from ISEM will be a key contributor to a University of Queensland-led project to develop a lightweight, easy-to-operate magnesium diboride superconducting MRI (magnetic Resonance Imaging) magnet able to obtain high-resolution images at a low-cost.

Professor Richard Fullagar, from UOW’s Centre for Archaeological Science, will contribute his expertise to a Flinders University-led project, undertaken in partnership with the River Murray and Mallee Aboriginal Corporation, which aims to explore Aboriginal rock art and rock shelter occupation deposits in the Upper Murray River Gorge, South Australia.

Converting waste heat to electricity

Professor Wang and his team – Dr Zengji Yu and Dr David Cortie from ISEM and Dr Kirrily Rule from UOW’s School of Physics – were awarded $400,551 for their project to develop materials for harvesting heat into energy, which will position Australian academics and industries at the forefront of next generation of renewable power generation and refrigeration products.

This project was based on Professor Wang’s recent ground-breaking work on the record high thermoelectric performance in nano-engineered topological materials, which has attracted extensive interest.

Thermoelectricity is one of the most promising technologies for waste heat conversion, but the biggest challenge has been to find a reliable, high performing and cost-effective thermoelectric material that can work at a broad range of temperatures.

This project’s successful implementation will provide the impetus for manufacturing, mining, renewable energy and other industries to adopt strategies for the sustainable adoption of clean energy-conversion technology.

“It is clear that the community and end-users stand to benefit greatly from the adoption of highly efficient energy-conversion technology, and one of the promising applications is the ultra-low temperature freezers for COVID19 vaccine storage,” Professor Wang said.

“At a broader level, the project will aid the national interest to meet future economic, social and climate requirements around emissions, worker safety and health while substantially improving the productivity and enabling reduced operational costs.”

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation is one of the partner organisations on the projects along with two tech firms.

Keeping user data confidential in the cloud

Professor Susilo and his team – Associate Professor Guomin Yang, Dr Dung Duong, Dr Fuchun Guo and Dr Jie Yang, all from the School of Computing and Information Technology – were awarded $331,898 for their project to develop encryption technology to allow multiple users to collaborate in the cloud while keeping their user data confidential.

“Cheap cloud computing and cloud storage have fundamentally changed how businesses and individuals use and manage their data.” Professor Susilo said.

“Traditional encryption methods are extremely fast and allow data to be stored conveniently in encrypted form. However, to perform even simple analytics on the encrypted data, either the cloud server needs access to the secret key, which leads to security concerns, or the owner of the data needs to download, decrypt, and operate on the data locally, which can be costly and create a logistic challenge.”

Homomorphic encryption (HE) aims to solve this issue but is restricted to a single user, which limits the collaboration of many organisations in joining their data for analysis while keeping their data confidential. Multi-key HE (MKHE) promises a perfect solution but is very challenging to realise.

The project aims to solve this challenge and to place Australia at the forefront of efforts to enable efficient MKHE – hence, enabling efficient cloud adoption for secure collaboration by industry in practice. It will provide direct economic benefits to the Australian industry through the enablement of advanced technologies and low-cost business solutions which are developed in Australia. The team is partnering with a global investment firm and an Australian design firm.

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