News: ACT, Big Impact, Contract R&D, Industry, Innovation

A $76M Australian innovation – from ANU to Lithicon

Lithicon, formerly Digitalcore, was formed in 2009 to commercialise technology based on X-ray microtomography and data analysis of rocks to improve efficiency in the oil and gas industry. Contract research by Microscopy Australia at the Australian National University contributed to the success of this innovation.

Conventional tomography yielded poor mineralographic identification for computer modelling of petrophysical properties of reservoir rocks and coal. In order to address this issue a technique was developed for the alignment of additional 2-D mineralographic or elemental information on top of the 3-D microstructure defined by the microtomography. The researchers successfully developed methods that automatically register images of polished sections captured by a variety of techniques after the core has been tomographically scanned. These are used to improve modelling of fluid flow or mechanical properties and contribute significantly to the company’s success with its multinational clients.

Since this initial research at Microscopy Australia, Lithicon has been on a trajectory of success. In 2010 Lithicon (as Digitalcore) won the ENI Award for Frontier Technology in the Energy Industry, widely regarded as the ‘Nobel Prize for Energy’. Following this in 2012 they were awarded the Rio Tinto Eureka Prize for Commercialisation of Innovation. In 2016 they were sold for AU$76 million to Thermo Fisher Scientific (formerly FEI), putting cutting edge Australian technology on the world stage.

“The Lithicon story is one of taking world-class research from two of Australia’s best universities and turning it into a growing business. In the process we have created a whole new industry segment based on high-value, intensive, knowledge-based services. It’s exactly the sort of thing we should be doing in Australia and we need more of it.” – Lithicon General Manager Dr Victor Pantano