24 Sep 2016
“I try to guide my research by … asking myself the question, ‘What can we do today that will have a lasting impact and be conducive to a sustainable human civilization?’” says Rohit Karnik, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. Photo: Ken Richardson
Engineer’s designs may help purify water, diagnose disease in remote regions of world.
In Rohit Karnik’s lab, researchers are searching for tiny solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges.
In one of his many projects, Karnik, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, is developing a new microfluidic technology that can quickly and simply sorts cells from small samples of blood. The surface of a microfluidic channel is patterned to direct certain cells to roll toward a reservoir for further analysis, while allowing the rest of the blood sample to pass through. With this design, Karnik envisions developing portable, disposable devices that doctors may use, even in remote regions of the world, to quickly diagnose conditions ranging from malaria to sepsis.
Karnik’s group is also tackling issues of water purification. The researchers are designing filters from single layers of graphene, which are atom-thin sheets of carbon known for their exceptional strength. Karnik has devised a way to control the size and concentration of pores in graphene, and is tailoring single layers to filter out miniscule and otherwise evasive contaminants. The group has also successfully filtered salts using the technique and hopes to develop efficient graphene filters for water purification and other applications.
In looking for water-purifying solutions, Karnik’s group also identified a surprisingly low-tech option: the simple tree branch. Karnik found that the pores within a pine branch that normally help to transport water up the plant are ideal for filtering bacteria from water. The group has shown that a peeled pine branch can filter out up to 99.00 percent of E. coli from contaminated water. Karnik’s group is building up on this work to explore the potential for simple and affordable wood-based water purification systems. (continued below)
These Are the World’s Most ‘Sustainable’ Cities [From the World Economic Forum]
What does it mean to be a ‘sustainable city’, and which cities around the world are best at it? A new index sets out to find the most successful from a list of 100 cities.
The ranking from Arcadis, a design and consultancy firm, and the Centre for Economic and Business Research, assesses the sustainability of cities based on three dimensions. The ranking also highlights the pressure cities are under – from population growth to natural disasters.
“Balancing the immediate needs of today without compromising the needs of tomorrow is at the heart of being a sustainable city,” the authors write.
(continued from above) “I try to guide my research by long-term sustainability, in a specific sense, by asking myself the question, ‘What can we do today that will have a lasting impact and be conducive to a sustainable human civilization?’ Karnik says. “I try to align myself with that goal.”
From stargazer to tinkerer
Karnik was born and raised in Pune, India, which was then a relatively quiet city 100 miles east of Mumbai. Karnik describes himself while growing up as shy, yet curious about the way the world worked. He would often set up simple experiments in his backyard, seeing, for instance, how transplanting ants from one colony to another would change the ants’ behavior. (The short answer: They fought, sometimes to the death.) He developed an interest in astronomy early on and often explored the night sky with a small telescope, from the roof of his family’s home.
“I used to take my telescope up to the terrace in the middle of the night, which required three different trips up six or seven flights of stairs,” Karnik says. “I’d set the alarm for 3 a.m., go up, and do quite a bit of stargazing.”
That telescope would soon serve another use, as Karnik eventually found that, by inverting it and adding another lens, he could repurpose the telescope as a microscope.
“I built a little setup so I could look at different things, and I used to collect stuff from around the house, like onion peels or fungus growing on trees, to look at their cells,” Karnik says.
When it came time to decide on a path of study, Karnik was inspired by his uncle, a mechanical engineer who built custom machines “that did all kinds of things, from making concrete bricks, to winding up springs,” Karnik says. “What I saw in mechanical engineering was the ability to building something that integrates across different disciplines.”
Seeking balance and insight
As an entering student at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Karnik chose to study mechanical engineering over electrical engineering, which was the more popular choice among students at the time. For his thesis, he looked for new ways to model three-dimensional cracks in materials such as steel beams.
Casting around for a direction after graduating, Karnik landed on the fast-growing field of nanotechnology. Arun Majumdar, an IIT alum and professor at the University of California at Berkeley, was studying energy conversion and biosensing in nanoscale systems. Karnik joined the professor’s lab as a graduate student, moving to California in 2002. For his graduate work, Karnik helped to develop a microfluidic platform to rapidly mix the contents of and test reactions occurring within droplets. He followed this work up with a PhD thesis in which he explored how fluid, flowing through tiny, nanometer-sized channels, can be controlled to sense and direct ions and molecules.
Toward the end of his graduate work, Karnik interviewed for and ultimately accepted a faculty position at MIT. However, he was still completing his PhD thesis at Berkeley and had less than 4 years of experience beyond his bachelor’s degree. To help ease the transition, MIT offered Karnik an interim postdoc position in the lab of Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor and a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.
“It was an insightful experience,” Karnik remembers. “For a mechanical engineer who’s never been outside mechanical engineering, I basically had little experience how to do things in biology. It opened up possibilities for working with the biomedical community.”
When Karnik finally assumed his position as assistant professor of mechanical engineering in 2007, he experienced a tidal wave of deadlines, demands, and responsibilities — a common initiation for first-time faculty.
“By its nature the job is overwhelming,” Karnik says. “The trick is how to maintain balance and sanity and do the things you like, without being distracted by the busyness around you, in some sense.”
He says several things have helped him to handle and even do away with stress: walks, which he takes each day to work and around campus, as well as yoga and meditation.
“If you can see things the way they are, by clearing away the filters your mind puts in place, you can get a clear perspective, and there are a lot of insights that come through,” Karnik says.
24 Sep 2016
In a discovery that could have profound implications for future energy policy, Columbia scientists have demonstrated it is possible to manufacture solar cells that are far more efficient than existing silicon energy cells by using a new kind of material, a development that could help reduce fossil fuel consumption.
The team, led by Xiaoyang Zhu, a professor of Chemistry at Columbia University, focused its efforts on a new class of solar cell ingredients known as Hybrid Organic Inorganic Perovskites (HOIPs).
Their results, reported in the prestigious journal Science, also explain why these new materials are so much more efficient than traditional solar cells—solving a mystery that will likely prompt scientists and engineers to begin inventing new solar materials with similar properties in the years ahead.
“The need for renewable energy has motivated extensive research into solar cell technologies that are economically competitive with burning fossil fuel,” Zhu says.
“Among the materials being explored for next generation solar cells, HOIPs have emerged a superstar. Until now no one has been able to explain why they work so well, and how much better we might make them. We now know it’s possible to make HOIP-based solar cells even more efficient than anyone thought possible.”
Solar cells are what turn sunlight into electricity. Also known as photovoltaic cells, these semiconductors are most frequently made from thin layers of silicon that transmit energy across its structure, turning it into DC current.
Silicon panels, which currently dominate the market for solar panels, must have a purity of 99.999 percent and are notoriously fragile and expensive to manufacture. Even a microscopic defect—such as misplaced, missing or extra ions—in this crystalline structure can exert a powerful pull on the charges the cells generate when they absorb sunlight, dissipating those charges before they can be transformed into electrical current.
In 2009, Japanese scientists demonstrated it was possible to build solar cells out of HOIPs, and that these cells could harvest energy from sunlight even when the crystals had a significant number of defects. Because they don’t need to be pristine, HOIPs can be produced on a large scale and at low cost. The Columbia team has been investigating HOIPs since 2014. Their findings could help boost the use of solar power, a priority in the age of global warming.
Over the last seven years, scientists have managed to increase the efficiency with which HOIPs can convert solar energy into electricity, to 22 percent from 4 percent. By contrast, it took researchers more than six decades to create silicon cells and bring them to their current level, and even now silicon cells can convert no more than about 25 percent of the sun’s energy into electrical current.
This discovery, Zhu said, meant that “scientists have only just begun to tap the potential of HOIPs to convert the sun’s energy into electricity.”
Theorists long ago demonstrated that the maximum efficiency silicon solar cells might ever reach— the percentage of energy in sunlight that might be converted to electricity we can use—is roughly 33 percent. It takes hundreds of nanoseconds for energized electrons to move from the part of a solar cell that infuses them with the sun’s energy, to the part of the cell that harvests the energy and converts it into electricity that can ultimately be fed into a power grid. During this migration across the solar cell, the energized electrons quickly dissipate their excess energy.
But those calculations assume a specific rate of energy loss.
The Columbia team discovered that the rate of energy loss is slowed down by over three-orders of magnitude in HOIPs – making it possible for the harvesting of excess electronic energy to increase the efficiency of solar cells.
“We’re talking about potentially doubling the efficiency of solar cells,” says Prakriti P. Joshi, a Ph.D. student in Zhu’s lab who is a coauthor on the paper. “That’s really exciting because it opens up a big, big field in engineering.” Adds Zhu, “This shows we can push the efficiencies of solar cells much higher than many people thought possible.”
After demonstrating this, the team then turned to the next question: what is it about the molecular structure of HOIPs that gives them their unique properties? How do electrons avoid defects? They discovered that the same mechanism that slows down the cooling of electron energy also protects the electrons from bumping into defects.
This “protection” makes the HOIPs turn a blind eye to the ubiquitous defects in a material developed from room-temperature and solution processing, thus allowing an imperfect material to behave like a perfect semiconductor.
HOIPs contain lead, and are also water soluble, meaning the solar cells could begin to dissolve and leach lead into the environment around them if not carefully protected from the elements.
With the explanation of the mysterious mechanisms that give HOIPs their remarkable efficiencies, Zhu knew, material scientists would likely be able to mimic them with more environmentally-friendly materials.
“Now we can go back and design materials which are environmentally benign and really solve this problem everybody is worried about,” Zhu says. “This principle will allow people to start to design new materials for solar energy.”
Explore further: New plastic solar cell minimizes loss of photon energy
More information: H. Zhu et al. Screening in crystalline liquids protects energetic carriers in hybrid perovskites, Science (2016). DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf9570
Journal reference: Science
Provided by: Columbia University
24 Sep 2016
Tesla has been selected to provide a 20 MW/80 MWh Powerpack energy storage system at Southern California Edison’s Mira Loma substation.
Tesla says that when completed, the installation will be the largest lithium ion battery storage project in the world.
“When fully charged, this system will hold enough energy to power more than 2,500 households for a day or charge 1,000 Tesla vehicles,” states the company.
One of the very attractive aspects of battery based energy storage is how fast it can be implemented. Tesla states it will have the utility scale solution operational by the end of the year.
The Powerpack system will be charged using electricity from the mains grid during off-peak hours.
During peak hours, it will provide electricity to help maintain the stability and reliability of Southern California Edison’s (SCE’s) electrical infrastructure. (Tesla Continued Below)
Also Read About: A New Nano-Enabled Energy Storage Company that Builds High Energy-Dense, Thin-Flexible- Form with Rapid Charge-Recharge … Super Capacitors and Batteries!
(Tesla Continued) The energy storage solution will reduce the need for gas-fired electricity generation and further SCE’s efforts in enhancing and modernising its grid.
SCE has previously worked with Tesla on two demonstration projects; one involving residential SCE customers and the other focusing on commercial and industrial customers..
As Powerwall did with home battery storage in Australia, the launch of Tesla Powerpack signified the beginning of Australia’s commercial energy storage revolution.
Tesla Powerpack installation
The Powerpack battery system can be used in a variety of commercial scenarios and is scalable; from 100kWh to 100MWh+ configurations in 250kWh increments.
Each Powerpack contains 16 individual battery pods, a thermal control system and a vast array of sensors monitoring and reporting on cell level performance.
Tesla Powerpack can help businesses exercise greater control over their energy costs and make the most of their commercial solar power system installations.
In related news and closer to home, ABC Rural reports Tesla’s Nick Carter told farmers at an Agribusiness Australia event in Melbourne yesterday that battery storage technology could help move them into the energy production business.
“If there is land available, then use it for essentially mining or growing energy and if you’re grid-connected you could end up in the future when the rules change, selling it back as another revenue stream,” said Mr Carter.
Genesis Nanotechnology, Inc.
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24 Sep 2016
Scientists have shown they can teleport matter across a city, a development that has been hailed as “a technological breakthrough”.
However, do not expect to see something akin to the Star Trek crew beaming from the planet’s surface to the Starship Enterprise.
Instead, in the two studies, published today in Nature Photonics, separate research groups have used quantum teleportation to send photons to new locations using fibre-optic communications networks in the cities of Hefei in China and Calgary in Canada.
Quantum teleportation is the ability to transfer information such as the properties or the quantum state of an atom — its energy, spin, motion, magnetic field and other physical properties — to another location without travelling in the space between.
- Two experiments demonstrate teleportation of particles across real optical fibre networks for first time
- Chinese experiment transports two photons per hour across seven kilometres
- Canadian experiment transports 17 photons per minute across 6.2 kilometres
While it was first demonstrated in 1997, today’s studies are the first to show the process is technologically possible via a mainstream communications network.
The development could lead to future city-scale quantum technologies and communications networks, such as a quantum internet and improved security of internet-based information.
Dr. Ben Buchler, Associate Professor with the Centre for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology at the Australian National University, said the technical achievement of completing the experiments in a “non-ideal environment” was “pretty profound”.
“People have known how to do this experiment since the early 2000s, but until these papers it hasn’t been performed in fibre communication networks, in situ, in cities,” said Dr. Buchler, who was not involved in the research.
“It’s seriously difficult to do what they have done.”
Watch the YouTube Video: “The Metaphysics of Teleportation” – Dr. Michio Kaku
A cornerstone of quantum teleportation is quantum entanglement, where two particles are intimately linked to each other in such a way that a change in one will affect the other.
Dr. Buchler said quantum teleportation involved mixing a photon with one branch of the entanglement and this joint element was then measured. The other branch of the entanglement was sent to the receiving party or new location.
This original ‘joint’ measurement is sent to the receiver, who can then use that information to manipulate the other branch of the entanglement.
“The thing that pops out is the original photon, in a sense it has indistinguishable characteristics from the one you put in,” Dr Buchler said.
Overcoming technical barriers
He said both teams had successfully overcome technical barriers to ensure the precise timing of photon arrival and accurate polarisation within the fibres.
The Chinese team teleported single protons using the standard telecommunications wavelength across a distance of seven kilometres, whiled the Canadian team teleported single photons up to 6.2 kilometres.
But work remained to increase the speed of the system with the Chinese group teleporting just two photons per hour and the Canadians a faster rate of 17 photons per minute.
Dr. Buchler said the speeds meant the development had little immediate practical value, but “this kind of teleportation is part of the protocol people imagine will be able to extend the range of quantum key distribution” — a technique used to send secure encrypted messages.
In the future scientists envision the evolution of a quantum internet that would allow the communication of quantum information between quantum computers.
Quantum computers on their own would allow fast computation, but networked quantum computers would be more powerful still.
Dr. Buchler said today’s studies were a foundation stone toward that vision as it showed it was possible to move quantum information from one location to another within mainstream networks without destroying it.
Yes … a LOT more work has to be done however before we “Warp” and “Beam” … but to put it into the words of ‘The Good Doctor’ …
“Damit Jim, I’m ONLY a doctor!” (Highly Logical) “Live long and Prosper!”
Since 2010’s tragic events, which saw BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster desecrate the Gulf of Mexico, oil safety has been on the forefront of the environmental debate and media outrage.
In line with the mounting concerns continuing to pique public attention, at the end of this month, Hollywood will release its own biopic of the event. As can be expected, more questions will be raised about what exactly went wrong, in addition to fresh criticism aimed at the entire industry.
One question that is likely to emerge is how do we prevent such a calamity from ever happening again? Fortunately, some of the brightest minds in science have been preparing for such an answer.
One team that has been focusing on this dilemma is Alberta-based, multi-disciplinary research initiative Ingenuity Lab. The institution has just secured $1.7m in project funding for developing a highly advanced system for recovering oil from oil spills. This injection of capital will enable Ingenuity Lab to conduct new research and develop commercial production processes for recovering heavy oil spills in marine environments.
Oil is a common pollutant in our oceans; more than three million metric tonnes contaminate the sea each year. When crude oil is accidentally released into a body of water by an oil tanker, refinery, storage facility, underwater pipeline or offshore oil-drilling rig, it is an environmental emergency of the most urgent kind.
Depending on the location, oil spills can be highly hazardous, as well as environmentally destructive. Consequently, a timely clean up is absolutely crucial in order to protect the integrity of the water, the shoreline and the numerous creatures that depend on these habitats.
Due to increased scrutiny of the oil industry with regard to its unseemly environmental track record, attention must be focused on the development of new materials and technologies for removing organic contaminants from waterways. Simply put, existing methods are not sufficiently robust.
Fortuitously, however, nanotechnology has opened the door for the development of sophisticated new tools that use specifically designed materials with properties that are ideally suited to enable complex separations, including the separation of crude oil from water.
When the time comes for scale up production for this technology, Ingenuity Lab will work closely with industry trendsetters, Tortech Nanofibers.
Source: Ingenuity Lab
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“Great Things from Small Things”
Over the past few years, the Internet of Things (IoT) has been the white-hot center of a flurry of activity. Startups that create embedded sensors for physical things have been snapped up by larger companies at a rapid pace, with deals for IoT startups totaling more than $30 billion in the past four years.
The IoT may well be The Next Big Thing, but maybe the attention around sensors is misplaced…
What if we didn’t even need Pembedded sensors to allow things to gather data about their surrounding environment? What if material could be a sensor in and of itself?
Sentient materials might sound like the stuff of sci-fi, but it’s quickly becoming a reality. A new generation of materials is being developed that can sense temperature, pressure, impact and other variables — completely removing the need for sensors.
Not only can these materials capture and relay data to the cloud, they also can reconfigure themselves on-the-fly to react to changing environmental conditions.
It’s as if materials are becoming not just smart, but “alive” — and it will change the way things are designed and used in startling ways.
Out of the isotropic age
How did we arrive here? Design and engineering used to focus on materials that behaved isotropically — which is to say, uniformly and predictably. In the isotropic age, you would create a design and then assign a material to carry out a specific role in that design.
What if, however, you allowed materials to determine design, rather than vice versa? We see this in nature all the time. A seed, for example, works together with a specific environment to create a tree.
It’s as if materials are becoming not just smart, but “alive.”
This is an example of anisotropic materials in action. Unlike isotropic materials, their behavior isn’t predetermined, so their performance can be tailored to their environment.
Welcome to the anisotropic age of design. A transformation for transportation.
Imagine an airplane skin that self-heals to remove dings and dents, thereby maintaining optimal aerodynamics. In the isotropic age that’d be virtually impossible to design — but in the anisotropic age, it becomes a possibility.
Here’s how it would work: An airplane component (like the wing) is made out of a composite material that has been coated with a thin layer of nanosensors.
This coating serves as a “nervous system,” allowing the component to “sense” everything that is happening around it — pressure, temperature and so on.
When the wing’s nervous system senses damage, it sends a signal to microspheres of uncured material within the nanocrystal coating.
This signal instructs the microspheres to release their contents in the damaged area and then start curing, much like putting glue on a crack and letting it harden.
Airbus is already doing important research in this area at the University of Bristol’s National Composites Centre, moving us closer to an aviation industry shaped by smart materials.
The automotive industry, meanwhile, can use smart materials to manufacture cars that not only sense damage and self-heal, but also collect data about performance that can be fed back into the design and engineering process.
The Hack Rod project — which brings technology partners together with a team of automotive enthusiasts in Southern California — is out to design the first car in history built with smart materials and engineered using artificial intelligence.
These materials have an increasingly important role to play in shaping the world around us.
In another example, Paulo Gameiro, coordinator of the EU-funded HARKEN project and R&D manager for the Portuguese automotive textiles supplier Borgstena, is developing a prototype seat and seatbelt that uses smart textiles with built-in sensors to detect a driver’s heart and breathing rates, so it can alert drivers to tell-tale signs of drowsiness.
Infrastructure maintenance made easy
Beyond transportation, more opportunities await in the construction and civil engineering fields, where smart materials can greatly assist with structural health monitoring.
Today, the world has hundreds of roads, bridges and other pieces of infrastructure that are slowly falling apart because of wear and tear and exposure to the elements.
More often than not, we don’t even know which items need our attention most urgently.
But what if you could build these structures out of “smart concrete”?
The “nervous system” within the concrete could constantly monitor and assess the status of the infrastructure and initiate self-repair as soon as any damage was sustained.
There is a major project currently underway at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), called ZERO+, that aims to reshape the construction industry with exactly these types of advanced composite materials.
The researchers at MIT are also hard at work at the newly formed Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA) Institute.
Their goal is to come up with a new generation of fabrics and fibers that will have the ability to see, hear and sense their surroundings; communicate; store and convert energy; monitor health; control temperature; and change their color.
This is no Hollywood movie — this is reality.
These functional fabrics mean that clothes won’t necessarily just be clothes anymore. They can be agents of health and well-being, serving as noninvasive ways to monitor body temperature or to analyze sweat for the presence of various elements.
They can be portable power sources, capturing energy from outside sources like the sun and retaining that energy. They even can be used by soldiers to adapt to different environments more quickly and efficiently. (Story Continued Below)
They build Super Capacitors and Batteries based on aNanoporous- Nickle Technology developed by Rice University that can:
- Double current “time aloft times” for Drones
- Become embedded into Wearable Electronics
- Enhance Flexible Functionality for Medical Devices and Sensors
- They are High-Density Energy; Flexible Thin-Form (33mm); Rapid Charge-Recharge Capability
(Continued) And if you accidentally rip a hole in your garment? Naturally, the nanosensors within the fabric will engage a self-repair process to patch things up — in the exact same way the airplane wing and the smart concrete healed themselves.
Living in the material world
This is no Hollywood movie — this is reality, and a clear indicator of how quickly smart materials are coming along.
These materials have an increasingly important role to play in shaping the world around us — whether that’s airplanes and infrastructure or the clothes on our backs.
By creating things that can not only capture data about their environment, but also adjust their performance based on that data, materials are starting to play an active role in design.
This is the potential of smart materials, and it’s one of the keys to creating a better-designed world around us.
Genesis Nanotechnology ~ “Great Things from Small Things”
Occasionally, some of your v
24 Sep 2016
Read the ‘Tenka Story’ and Watch the Video after our story on:
Can you define nanotechnology? Although the term has circulated since the 1980s, there are still several misconceptions about the field and what it entails.
Perhaps that’s because how we define nanotechnology has evolved over the years and there’s still no widespread agreement.
In fact, the inaugural issue of Nature Nanotechnology, published in 2006, includeda feature in which numerous researchers attempted to map the subject’s parameters. One participant even predicted that the term would fall out of use within the decade!
But here we are, ten years later—and the term remains very much in play. As for the question of how to define nanotechnology? That’s still up for debate too.
A Standard Definition
Researchers can agree on some things: nanotechnology involves structures, devices or materials that are both manmade and very, very small. (“Great Things from Small Things”) But that’s where the consensus ends.
Most experts consider ‘very, very small’ to in this case refer to materials shorter than 100 nanometers (nm) in length. For context, a single strand of human hair is 80,000 nm wide.
Some scientists, however, find such a hard and fast definition unhelpful. They argue that a strict one to 100 nm range excludes several materials, particularly pharmaceutical ones, that rightfully fall within the nanotechnology realm. These materials still have special properties that result specifically from their nanoscale—such as increased magnetism or conductivity.
In fact, that’s the key to defining nanotechnology. Matter takes on different properties at nanoscale than it does in its other forms or sizes—and that allows researchers to manipulate or engineer it in unprecedented ways.
When it comes to a working definition, the American National Nanotechnology Initiative says it best. According to their website,“Nanotechnology is the understanding and control of matter at the nanoscale, at dimensions betweenapproximately 1 and 100 nanometers, where unique phenomena enable novel applications.”
A Big Impact for Life Science
But thinking in nanometers doesn’t necessarily mean thinking small. Despite the scale of the materials, nanotechnology can and does have a big impact—particularly when it comes to its applications in life science.
Perhaps that’s why companies like Merck (NYSE:MRK) continue to invest in nanotechnology. Emend, Merck’s anti-nausea drug for chemotherapy patients, is formulated as NanoCrystal drug particles.
Meanwhile, Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) recently bought the assets of Bind Therapeutics, a nanotech drug company. The Wall Street Journalreportedthat Pfizer will continue Bind Therapeutics’ work developing nanoparticle oncology drugs.
Nanotechnology has applications beyond pharmaceuticals, too. Several medical devices, including burn dressings, surgical mesh and a laparoscopic vessel fusion system all use nanotechnology. And over in the biotech space, it can even be used to engineer tissue.
Nanotechnology has more life science applications on the horizon. Nanorobots might one day detect the presence of cancerous cells, or seek out bacteria in the bloodstream. Nanoparticles could be used in drug delivery, targeting treatments to affected cells.
It may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but nanotechnology is making such developments possible. Indeed, its applications in healthcare are a major reason why the nanotechnology market is growing. Areportfrom Global Industry Analysts projects the global nanotech market to reach US$7.8 billion by 2020—just four short years from now.
With that timeline in mind, life science investors may consider investigating nanotechnology now. After all, such securities are usually a long term investment—and for the patient, savvy investor, the potential pay-offs could be huge.
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24 Sep 2016
A Rice University laboratory has improved its method to turn plain asphalt into a porous material that can capture greenhouse gases from natural gas. In research detailed this month in Advanced Energy Materials(“Ultra-High Surface Area Activated Porous Asphalt for CO2 Capture through Competitive Adsorption at High Pressures”), Rice researchers showed that a new form of the material can sequester 154 percent of its weight in carbon dioxide at high pressures that are common at gas wellheads.
|Raw natural gas typically contains between 2 and 10 percent carbon dioxide and other impurities, which must be removed before the gas can be sold. The cleanup process is complicated and expensive and most often involves flowing the gas through fluids called amines that can soak up and remove about 15 percent of their own weight in carbon dioxide. The amine process also requires a great deal of energy to recycle the fluids for further use.|
|“It’s a big energy sink,” said Rice chemist James Tour, whose lab developed a technique last year to turn asphalt into a tough, sponge-like substance that could be used in place of amines to remove carbon dioxide from natural gas as it was pumped from ocean wellheads.
|Rice University scientists have improved their asphalt-derived porous carbon’s ability to capture carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from natural gas. The capture material derived from untreated Gilsonite asphalt has a surface area of 4,200 square meters per gram. (Image: Almaz Jalilov/Rice University)
Initial field tests in 2015 found that pressure at the wellhead made it possible for that asphalt material to adsorb, or soak up, 114 percent of its weight in carbon at ambient temperatures.
|Tour said the new, improved asphalt sorbent is made in two steps from a less expensive form of asphalt, which makes it more practical for industry.|
|“This shows we can take the least expensive form of asphalt and make it into this very high surface area material to capture carbon dioxide,” Tour said. “Before, we could only use a very expensive form of asphalt that was not readily available.”
|A scanning electron microscope image shows micropores in carbon capture material derived from common asphalt. The material created at Rice University sequesters 154 percent of its weight in carbon dioxide at 54 bar pressure, a common pressure at wellheads. (Image: Tour Group/Rice University)|
|The lab heated a common type asphalt known as Gilsonite at ambient pressure to eliminate unneeded organic molecules, and then heated it again in the presence of potassium hydroxide for about 20 minutes to synthesize oxygen-enhanced porous carbon with a surface area of 4,200 square meters per gram, much higher than that of the previous material.|
|The Rice lab’s initial asphalt-based porous carbon collected carbon dioxide from gas streams under pressure at the wellhead and released it when the pressure was released. The carbon dioxide could then be repurposed or pumped back underground while the porous carbon could be reused immediately.|
|In the latest tests with its new material, Tours group showed its new sorbent could remove carbon dioxide at 54 bar pressure. One bar is roughly equal to atmospheric pressure at sea level, and the 54 bar measure in the latest experiments is characteristic of the pressure levels typically found at natural gas wellheads, Tour said.|
|Source: Rice University|
25 Jul 2016
Harvesting renewable ‘blue energy’ from salt concentration gradients, such as those that occur at river mouths where fresh water mixes with salty sea water, just got a boost. An osmotic nanogenerator made from atom thick molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) has been created that can turn much more of this chemical energy into electricity than ever before.1
The molybdenum disulfide nanopore membrane (blue and yellow) uses salinity gradients to generate electricity © Nature Publishing Group
With the potential to be a considerable source of energy, osmotic power has gained ground in recent years with several pilot power plants around the world.
It’s estimated that a total of around two terawatts of clean energy – the equivalent of around 2000 nuclear reactors – could be harvested worldwide from locations where salt concentration gradients occur.
Two main membrane technologies exist to harness osmotic power from solutions with differing salt concentrations. One is pressure retarded osmosis (PRO) which uses membranes to exploit pressure differences and drive a turbine, while the other is called reverse electrodialysis (RED) which involves ion exchange across a charged membrane. However, both methods have been limited by the efficiency and power density of materials that have only been able to generate a few watts per square metre of membrane.
However, the world’s first prototype PRO osmotic power plant, which was opened by Statkraft in Norway in 2009, was deemed uneconomical and shelved in 2013.
Better materials have been developed though, including boron nitride nanotubes which French researchers showed could produce 1000 watts per square meter in 2013, leading to a patent and a spin-off.
Now, Swiss and US researchers have discovered something even better – a MoS2 membrane punctured with pores that has an estimated power generation two to three orders of magnitude greater than boron nitride nanotubes, and could be as much as a million times greater than traditional RED osmotic power membranes.
‘This is the thinnest membrane for this purpose,’ explains Jiandong Feng who led the work at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology at Lausanne (EPFL). ‘As transport through a membrane scales inversely with membrane thickness, our single layer MoS2 nanopore, produced substantial power density.’
The new RED-based osmotic nanogenerator has a 0.65nm thick MoS2 membrane with a single nanopore that separates two reservoirs containing potassium chloride solutions of different concentrations.
A chemical potential gradient forms at the pore where the two solutions can mix and this drives potassium and chloride ions over the pore. Since the pore’s surface is negatively charged, it acts as a screen to usher through many more positive than negative ions which produces a current.
The team showed off the nanogenerator’s capabilities by connecting two sheets together to power a MoS2 transistor. Although the team only demonstrated this small scale application, Feng says the nanogenerators have potential for scaling up for sea water power generation.
‘This shows that new materials, with a diverted use from nanoelectronics towards fluid transport, can make a breakthrough in this field,’ comments Lydéric Bocquet at France’s National Center for Scientific Research in Paris who was behind the boron nitride nanotube research.2
However, he suggests that making metre square MoS2 membranes, which to his knowledge has never been achieved, could limit large-scale power production. But he adds it is still worth a try.
Even if it’s possible to make large MoS2 sheets, this natural power source may still be out of reach, suggests Ngai Yin Yip who studies membrane technologies at Columbia University in New York, US. ‘
There are other practical and technical obstacles in accessing the energy of natural salinity gradients on a large scale, such as the presence of naturally-occurring foulants in river water and seawater clogging up nanopores,’ he explains.
However, both Bocquet and Yip think the nanogenerators could find use in low energy, small-scale niche applications. ‘If the system can be further developed to draw from two separate reservoirs of different salinity with minimal energy consumption using innovative techniques, the nanogenarator system can be perpetually self-powered,’ says Yip. ‘These nanogenerators could be deployed in remote locations without having to be recharged or have batteries replaced, to power devices such as nanosensors.”
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