Professor Ian Mackinnon

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Centre Director and Program Lead - Future energy systems / Applied superconductivity

PhD (James Cook Uni. of North Qld)

Professor Mackinnon is the founder and former Executive Director of the Institute for Future Environments (IFE) at QUT; an initiative that supports transdisciplinary RD&D directed at solving the grand challenge of our time: to sustainably live in, and adapt to, a resource-constrained world that is undergoing rapid and complex change on a global scale. Professor Mackinnon was previously a senior executive at the Australian Research Council (ARC), one of Australia’s leading research funding agencies. At the ARC, he was Executive Director for Engineering and Environmental Sciences and directed the Linkage Projects Scheme – a program providing strong support for outcome-focused, collaborative research between universities and industry. He also managed the portfolios of the Physics, Chemistry and Geosciences panel and the Maths, Information and Computing Sciences panel for significant periods during his tenure at the ARC. In these roles, Professor Mackinnon was responsible for the critical assessment of proposals and entities that delivered more than $300 million of taxpayer funds per year to the Australian research community. Professor Mackinnon has more than ten years experience in technology transfer including direct involvement with two start-up companies. He was founder and executive director of NanoChem Pty Ltd which developed environmentally friendly new materials for the chemicals and wastewater-treatment industries. He has served as board member or shareholder representative for four Cooperative Research Centres affiliated with QUT. Professor Mackinnon began his career at James Cook University and was among its first cohort of graduates and post-graduates in both chemistry and geology. He undertook post-graduate research in crystallography and mineralogy at James Cook and at ANSTO, Lucas Heights, through an AINSE Fellowship. Professor Mackinnon has held appointments at Arizona State University, NASA Johnson Space Centre and The University of New Mexico in the USA. He returned to Australia to establish the Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis (CMM) at The University of Queensland as Foundation Director and then with promotion to Professor in 1995. The CMM at the University of Queensland is now an internationally renowned key node of the Australian Microscopy and Microanalysis Research Facility – a major platform of the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme. At that time, Professor Mackinnon also served as Director of Advanced Ceramics Development, UniQuest Pty Ltd, driving contract and commercial R&D in materials at The University of Queensland. Throughout his career, Professor Mackinnon has developed infrastructure and tools for cutting-edge research or technology demonstration; much of this achieved in Queensland. He has built or had oversight of more than eight different pilot plants, responsibility for installation of more than 25 electron-optical columns and facilitated development of a new technology for the minerals industry that is now installed in more than 50 sites worldwide. Professor Mackinnon was deeply involved in the team that delivered QUT’s Science and Engineering Centre and, since 2009, has been instrumental in the collaborations to establish the IFE, the Cube, CARF, Banyo Pilot Plant Precinct and other research infrastructure for the STEM disciplines at QUT. These facilities, and research groups established by Professor Mackinnon, have been fertile avenues for training and mentoring younger scientists and engineers. Professor Mackinnon's current RD&D interests are focused on the synthesis, characterization and modeling of high performance materials for use in the energy, transport and environmental sectors. These materials include boron-based compounds, perovskites, zeolites and clays.

Projects (Chief investigator)


Additional information

Professor Mackinnon has a wide range of research experience in the science and technology of materials, their early origins and their use in industry. This experience has also encompassed senior management roles in the private, public and university sectors. In the early part of his career while in the USA, Professor Mackinnon studied extraterrestrial materials – meteorites, moon rocks and cosmic dust – to learn more about the early origins of our solar system. This work included seminal observations of carbonaceous chondrite matrix mineralogy using high resolution TEM, discovery and identification of unusual ordered layer structures in CM meteorites and subsequent identification as tochilinite, curation and documentation of the in situ mineralogy of cometary particles and of stratospheric particles such as rocket fuel debris and volcanic ash (e.g. El Chichon eruption). In Australia, Professor Mackinnon pursued mineralogical research on clay minerals and their provenance(s) including in hydrocarbon reservoir rocks, coals and laterites. An interest in ceramics led to major industry-funded projects in high temperature superconductors (HTS) with bulk productions of YBCO, BSSCO and other oxide powders and their incorporation into wires, magnets and other electrical devices. Commercial research in this field led to the development of a semi-automated prototype for YBCO or BSSCO production and bulk export sales of superconducting powders. Professor Mackinnon also focused on kaolin minerals and their transformation to zeolitic forms for industrial use. This work resulted in five patent families and commercial production of a new synthetic zeolite – zeolite N – that has highly selective exchange properties for ammonium. This material is used commercially to treat mature landfill leachate and other ammonium-rich wastewaters. To deliver these commercial outcomes, Professor Mackinnon designed and developed with third-party contractors, the manufacture of zeolite N from laboratory to full-scale batch processes (tonnes) in Germany and Korea. This experience with RD&D in science and engineering for industrial uses has led to executive management roles in the private, public and university sectors including as founder and executive director of a start-up company. Professor Mackinnon has also served on a number of national and international advisory/selection panels related to centers of excellence, infrastructure and research performance.
Academic Honours, Prestigious Awards or Prizes
Reference year
Outstanding Alumni
Cost Effective Renewable Hydrogen through Materials, Modelling and Process Innovation
Primary fund type
CAT 1 - Australian Competitive Grant
Project ID
Start year
Battery and Solar Power; Hydrogen Production; Microgrid Integration; Renewable Energy; Water Electrolysis