Great things from small things

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Archive for: February



*** Note to Readers: With the installation of this first article (from the Financial Times) we will begin a series of articles addressing not only California’s “Water Disaster”, but the impact the lack of access to Clean, Abundant, Affordable WATER is having on our world – PLANET EARTH.

More importantly, we will address how we believe Nanotechnology with its ‘cross disciplines’ across many Scientific Fields “holds the KEY” to solving the World’s Water Crisis. We believe that Nanotechnology and the need for water will also create commercial opportunities and the “Opportunity to Do Well … by Doing Good”.  –  Team GNT 1-World Water Scarcityfig1

Next Week: “Nanotechnology and Desalinization – “An Answer to World’s Thirst for Water?”

(Story from the Financial Times: By Pilita Clark)

With his military fatigues and the holstered gun at his hip, Lieutenant John Nores Jr. is a slightly unnerving sight as he slips through the woody foothills overlooking the southern edge of California’s Silicon Valley. But what the 45-year-old game warden has come to look at is more alarming.

Here in the late summer heat, not far from the sleek headquarters of technology giants Apple and Google, he leads the way to a carefully hidden patch of terraced ground pockmarked with hundreds of shallow holes that until very recently contained towering marijuana plants.

1-CA MJ aeecf23a-5943-11e4-9546-00144feab7deThere were about 2,000 plants here,” says Lt Nores as he explains how he and his colleagues from California’s fish and wildlife department recently launched an early morning raid on the plantation, ripping out a crop worth about $6m to the Mexican drug cartel that grew it”

In deep trouble

California pioneered laws allowing marijuana use for medical reasons. But it has yet to follow states such as Colorado that permit recreational use and, in any case, this crop was on public land, making it illegal and dangerous to eliminate – Lt. Nores has witnessed several shoot-outs over the past decade.

He estimates that each of the state’s 2,000-odd cartel pot farms contains an average of 5,000 plants, and that each one sucks up between eight and 11 gallons of water a day, depending on the time of year. That means at least 80m gallons of water – enough for more than 120 Olympic-size swimming pools – is probably being stolen daily in a state that in some parts is running dry as a three-year-old drought shrinks reservoirs, leaves fields fallow and dries wells to the point that some 1,300 people have had no tap water in their homes for months.

Jerry Brown, California’s governor, declared a state of emergency in January after the driest year on record in 2013, but as the annual wet season beckons, the prospect of a complete drought recovery this winter is highly unlikely, government officials say.

“Marijuana cultivation is the biggest drought-related crime we’re facing right now,” says Lt Nores as he pokes at a heap of plastic piping the growers used to divert water from a dried-up creek near the plantation.

But California’s drought is exposing a series of problems in the US’s most populous state that are a reminder of an adage popularized by Michael Kinsley, the columnist: the scandal is often not what is illegal but what is legal.

Growing competition

The theft of 80m gallons of water a day by heavily armed marijuana cartels is undoubtedly a serious concern, not least when the entire state is affected by drought and 58 per cent is categorized as being in “exceptional drought”, as defined by the government-funded US Drought Monitor.

However, this is a tiny fraction of the water used legally every day in a state that, like so many other parts of the world, has a swelling population driving rising competition for more heavily regulated supplies that have long been taken for granted and may face added risks as the climate changes.

California has always been a dry state. For almost six months of the year many of its citizens get little rain. There have been at least nine statewide droughts since 1900, not counting the latest one.

The state’s history is littered with water wars, among them the conflicts surrounding Los Angeles’s move to siphon off most of the Owens river last century that inspired the classic 1974 film, Chinatown . That dispute was over just one part of a vast system of canals and reservoirs built in the last 100-odd years that are the reason California is sometimes called the most hydro-logically altered landmass on the planet.

The system channels water from wetter to drier spots, using rivers and streams that in a normal year fill with melted snow from mountain ranges ringing the state, supplying about a third of California’s farms and cities.

1-CA short_of_water_caThe crisis is more severe because a decline in snowfall has compounded problems caused by the lack of rain. The state’s mountain snowpack was just 18 per cent of its average earlier this year, a situation scientists say could be repeated as the climate warms.

As a result eight major reservoirs were last week holding less than half their average storage for this time of year. Reservoir levels sank worryingly when a bad drought hit California in 1976-77, but there were fewer than 22m people in the state then, compared with 38.3m now.

There were also fewer laws such as those protecting creatures such as the endangered Delta smelt, a finger-sized fish that can be affected by the management of the canal system, prompting restrictions on pumping the water used by a farming sector that accounts for nearly 80 per cent of the state’s human water use. Those laws regularly inflame debate between conservationists and farmers during droughts – and are doing so again today.

The farmer’s story

“I farm in a very environmentally conscious manner, but these regulations have made it much worse for the farmers,” says Barat Bisabri, a citrus and almond farmer whose property lies in the Central Valley, one of the regions worst hit by the drought.

This flat, fertile strip runs south for about 450 miles from the northern reaches of the Sacramento Valley through the heart of the state and grows a lot of what America eats. Nearly half the fruit and nuts grown in the US come from California, including 80 per cent of the world’s almonds.

An investigation into how businesses are having to adapt to rising water costs around the world

Much of that produce comes from the Central Valley, where farming is carried out on an industrial scale. Crops and orchards grow up to the edge of people’s houses. Driving down the valley’s long, straight roads, it is striking to see an orchard of dead, brown trees next to another with puddles of water around healthy ones.

This may partly be a symptom of a century-old water rights system that critics say is so weak and archaic it makes it hard for regulators to tell whose supplies should be cut during a drought.

Mr. Bisabri’s grim predicament shows why one study estimates the drought will cost the state $2.2bn in 2014.

From the windows of the roomy farmhouse that overlooks row upon row of the property’s citrus trees, Mr Bisabri points to two of California’s main waterways, the Delta-Mendota Canal and the California Aqueduct. Both run straight through his farm but because of the drought, authorities have sharply limited the amount of water many users can take from them.

“Unfortunately we cannot get water from either of them this year,” says Mr Bisabri, as he explains how, a few weeks earlier, he used bulldozers to rip out 85 acres of healthy mandarin, orange and grapefruit trees that would have used so much water it would have made the rest of the crop far less valuable.

“I had to make a decision to kill some so the other ones could survive,” he says, as he drives to the bare patch where the trees once stood. “Had I not made that decision and kept all the citrus that we had, then I would have run out of water in the middle of August.” It is a dilemma facing farmers across the Central Valley, many of whom have shifted from crops such as tomatoes or peppers to more valuable almonds or other trees that cannot be left unwatered in a dry year.

Perennial crops such as nuts and grapes accounted for 32 per cent of the state’s irrigated crop acreage in 2010, up from 27 per cent in 1998. The shift has been even more marked in the southern Central Valley, so when drought hits, farmers face difficult choices.

A few miles down the road from his farm, Mr Bisabri stops at a jaw-dropping sight by an almond orchard of withered trees: a huge earthmoving machine is scooping up several at a time and feeding them into another machine that grinds them with an ear-splitting roar into great mounds of woodchip.

“That is exactly the same machine that we used on my farm,” he says.

Mr Bisabri has had to bring in water from other sources this year, but he says the price was almost $1.2m, 10 times what it was the previous year.

That does not include the $250,000 he spent on digging new wells to try to get supplies from the one source farmers and communities have always turned to in times of drought: groundwater.

In a normal year, aquifers supply about a third of the state’s water. In a drought, that can rise to as much as 60 per cent. But one of the most alarming aspects of this drought is that groundwater levels are plummeting.

“Water levels are dropping at an incredibly rapid rate in some places, like 100ft a year,” says Michelle Sneed, a hydrologist with the US Geological Survey who monitors groundwater in the Central Valley. “It is very extreme. Ordinarily, talking with hydrologists, if you would talk about a well dropping 10ft a year that would really get somebody’s attention, like wow! Really? Ten feet? And now we’re 10 times that.”

The depletion of this vital resource is not just a concern because it is so difficult to refill some aquifers when drought eventually subsides. It is also creating extraordinary rates of subsidence because as the groundwater disappears the land above it can sink. In one part of the valley, land has been subsiding by almost a foot a year, which Ms Sneed says is among the fastest rates anywhere in the world.

This is damaging the very canal system California built to reduce reliance on groundwater, she says, because these waterways depend on gravity for a steady flow and when parts of a canal start sinking it creates a depression that needs more water to fill it before flows can resume.

‘We ran out of water in June’

Two hours’ drive south from Mr. Bisabri’s farm, the town of East Porterville has more pressing groundwater worries. At least 1,300 people in the town rely for drinking and bathing water on wells that have gone dry as the drought has deepened.

“We ran out of water in June,” says Donna Johnson, a 72-year-old retired counsellor who delivers water to dozens of dry households from the back of her pick-up truck. Ms Johnson depends on a hose running to her home from a neighbor whose well is still working.

Until now, California has been notable among dry, western states for a pump-as-you-please approach to groundwater. A powerful agricultural lobby resisted repeated attempts at reform.

But the severity of this drought finally led to a package of measures signed into law in September requiring local agencies to monitor and manage wells, or face state intervention. Some critics say it is too little too late: many local agencies will have five to seven years to come up with plans, and until 2040 to implement them. Still, it is a lot better than nothing, say others.

“It’s a giant step for California,” says Robert Glennon, a law professor at the University of Arizona and the author of Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It . “You cannot manage what you don’t measure, full stop.”

The crisis may also encourage approval of another measure to be voted on in November allowing billions of dollars to be borrowed for new reservoirs and other steps to strengthen drought resilience.

None of this will help farmers such as Mr. Bisabri or the residents of East Porterville this year. Still, it is one more example of how the state often responds to a serious drought, says Jay Lund, a water expert at the University of California, Davis.

“Every drought brings a new innovation where we say, ‘Oh, here’s something we haven’t been doing that would really be helpful’,” says Prof Lund, pointing to irrigation systems, reservoirs and water markets rolled out after past dry spells.

“In this drought, it’s groundwater regulation so far,” he says. And will it eventually work? “It opens the door.”

That is small comfort when the latest outlook from the US Climate Prediction Center suggests the drought “will likely persist or intensify in large parts of the state” this winter.

1-World water-shortage“If there’s no water for people to live, and you don’t have the basic necessities of life, your population is going to leave,” says Andrew Lockman, the emergency services manager responsible for East Porterville. “Our primary economic driver is agriculture. If there’s no water to water crops, we’re not going to have any agriculture business, so you could see the economy of this area just decimated.”

Next Week: “Nanotechnology and Desalinization – “An Answer to World’s Thirst for Water?”

1-World Water Scarcityfig1

WEF KSC_fish2__

*** Author: Professor Klaus Schwab is the Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.

It is time to stop looking backwards. In the years that followed the 2008 financial crisis, we spent a lot of time looking for ways to get back to the days of fast economic expansion. We were living in what I call a “post-crisis world”, certain that the challenges we faced were temporary blips in the system, hopeful that things would soon go back to the way they had been.

But now it has become clear that we have entered a new era – we are living in the “post-post crisis” world. What does this mean?

It means that almost everything we once knew is changing. For the foreseeable future, we will have to get used to slower growth rates. In the new world, it is not the big fish which eats the small fish, it’s the fast fish which eats the slow fish.

One of the defining features of this new era is the rapid pace of technological change. It is so fast that people are even referring to it as a technological revolution. This revolution is unlike any previous one in history, and it will affect us all in ways we cannot even begin to imagine.

A different kind of revolution

The first thing that sets this revolution apart from others is how disruptive it is. In the past we had revolutions – perhaps they would be better described as evolutions – that came at a relatively slow pace, like long waves in the ocean. The impact of the first Industrial Revolution, which began in Britain in the 1780s did not fully begin to be felt until the 1830s and 1840s. Today technological change happens like a tsunami. You see small signs at the shore, and suddenly the wave sweeps in.Surfer at Peahi Bay on Maui, Hawaii

The second thing that explains the different nature of this revolution is just how interconnected everything is. Technology, security, economic growth, sustainability. Technological change is never an isolated phenomenon. This revolution takes place inside a complex eco-system which comprises business, governmental and societal dimensions. To make a country fit for the new type of innovation driven competition the whole ecosystem has to be considered.

So if one thing changes – or is changing constantly, as in the case of technology – the whole system needs to change to keep up.

Everyone will feel the effects

We often hear people talk about the concept of ‘uberization’, where a new technology completely turns an industry on its head and forces us to rethink the way things have always been done. No industry will remain untouched by these forces.

Speaking recently to a CEO from one of the world’s largest aluminium manufacturers, I commented on how lucky his company was not to be affected by this revolution. As he was quick to point out, technologies such as 3D printing will completely transform his industry’s supply chain, with knock-on effects we probably have not even considered.

And the revolution will not just affect industries – it will also affect people. Many of the consequences will be positive. For example, medical research and technological innovations mean that in places like Switzerland, one in two babies born today will live beyond 100.

But whatever the changes, almost all of them will present a challenge. As new technologies make old jobs obsolete, for example, every person will have to make sure they are equipped with the skills needed for this new era of ‘talentism’ – where human imagination and innovation are the driving forces behind economies, as opposed to capital or natural resources.

Governments will also feel the impact of these changes. In the future, people will not be satisfied with ordering only their taxis through an easy-to-use application. They will also want to access public services in a similar way. More than any other sector, governments can also shape the consequences of the technological revolution, ensuring that the challenges are managed and the opportunities seized.

For example, although innovation and creativity tend to be driven by the private sector, governments create the environment that allows these things to flourish. They also have a large role to play in ensuring citizens are equipped to make the most of these tranformations.

Change can be frightening and the temptation is often to resist it. But change almost always provides opportunities – to learn new things, to rethink tired processes and to improve the way we work. The technological revolution has only just begun, and the transformations it will bring are a cause not just for excitement, but for hope.

From Team GNT™

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“The winds and the waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators.”  – Edward Gibbon

Carbon Ice Age -126760907_YaleNews


New techniques are allowing scientists to understand how carbon dioxide, released from the deep ocean, helped to end the last ice age and create our current climate.

An international team, including Yale paleoclimatologist Michael Henehan, studied the shells of ancient marine organisms that lived in surface waters of the southern Atlantic and eastern equatorial Pacific oceans thousands of years ago. The researchers determined that high concentrations of dissolved carbon dioxide in those waters coincided with rises in atmospheric carbon dioxide and global temperatures at the end of the last ice age.

The findings give scientists valuable insights into how the ocean can affect the carbon cycle and climate change, say the researchers.

A study describing the research appears in Nature. Joint lead authors of the study are Miguel Martínez-Botí of the Univ. of Southampton and Gianluca Marino of the Australian National Univ. The Univ. of Southampton led the effort.

“This is an exciting time for research into past climates,” said Henehan, who is a postdoctoral associate in the Dept. of Geology and Geophysics. “Advances in technologies and improvements in our methods have allowed us in this study to show just how critical carbon dioxide release from the oceans was in kicking the Earth out of the last ice age and into the climate state we have today.”

Henehan said Yale scientists are using the same technique to look even further back in time, investigating whether changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide played a role in the mass extinction of species at the end of the Cretaceous period.

Source: Yale Univ.

X Ray Solar id37265When Natcore experiences a material event, we are required to disseminate that information in the form of a news release.  Our scientific team’s achievement of the first all-back-contact solar cell created with a low-temperature laser process was certainly a material event. In fact, it is transformational not only for Natcore, but for the industry at large….

Scientists working with Natcore Technology Inc. (TSX-V: NXT; NTCXF.PK) in the Rice University laboratories of Prof. Andrew Barron, a Natcore co-founder, have successfully formed a heterojunction solar cell using germanium quantum dots on an ordinary n-type silicon wafer.

Individual germanium quantum dots were coated with silicon dioxide (silica), doped to make them p-type, and then deposited, using Natcore’s liquid phase deposition (LPD) process, on a commercial-grade silicon wafer. The LPD process was developed at Rice and is licensed exclusively to Natcore.

“Very simply put, we used our proprietary process to ‘dope’ silica-coated germanium quantum dots and arrange them in a silica film atop a commercial silicon wafer. We then put contacts on the coated wafer to create a cell, and exposed it to light. We obtained a net power out of the device,” says Dr. Dennis Flood, Natcore’s Chief Technology Officer and also a company co-founder.

Quantum-dot solar cells have the potential to be transformational for terrestrial solar energy, with efficiencies far above anything available commercially today.Rice logo_rice3

The advantage lies in the fact that by carefully controlling the size of the quantum dots, the cell can be “tuned” to capture energy from a specific spectrum of light. The portion of the spectrum not captured passes to the next layer below, where it can then be captured by either a specifically tuned lower quantum-dot cell or even an ordinary silicon cell.

Rice Graphene Stackable id38690

Thus, using “multijunction” or “tandem” cells with two or more layers of quantum-dot cells, much more of the solar spectrum can be converted to energy. In contrast, current single junction solar cells are most efficient for only a limited portion of the solar spectrum.

“To our knowledge, no one else has been able to successfully dope and arrange silicon or germanium quantum dots into layers using a process such as Natcore’s, which appears to be ideal for mass production,” notes Flood.

Tandem solar cells are a proven technology in space applications. The major issue preventing their broad use in earth-based applications has been the need to use exotic semiconducting materials for the upper layers.

The cell created in Dr. Barron’s laboratory for Natcore uses relatively abundant and inexpensive germanium, with the coated quantum dot having been characterized as a “p-type” material.

This heterojunction cell, with p-type quantum dots on an n-type silicon wafer, is an important step toward a cell in which quantum dots are used to form both the p-type and n-type materials. Once this next step is achieved, it will open the door to potential ultra-high-efficiency, multi-junction solar cells.


“This is a truly exciting time for Natcore and our shareholders,” says Chuck Provini, Natcore’s president and CEO. “We are one step away — n-type quantum dots — from our ultimate goal in our quantum dot solar cell program.

About Natcore Technology

Natcore Technology is focused on using its proprietary nanotechnology discoveries to enable a variety of compelling applications in the solar industry. Specifically, the company is advancing applications in laser processing, black silicon and quantum-dot solar cells to significantly lower the costs and improve the power output of solar cells. With 64 patents (21 granted and 43 pending) Natcore is on the leading edge of solar research.

For more information, please visit :

The company states that the ultimate goal is water desalination, but more feasible and immediate uses can be found in the oil and gas industry, where the requirements in terms of the quality of the graphene and hole sizes are less challenging.

Lockheed simulated-nanoporous-graphene-filtering-salt-ionsLockheed Martin is working with two firms in the oil and gas industry to assess the feasibility of using Perforene filters to clean drilling wastewater. The aim is not the total elimination of contaminants but targeting the worst of them, making the problem more manageable. This goal only requires 50-100 nanometer sized holes, compared to 1 nanometer holes required for desalination.

The company claims that commercialization of Perforene filters could begin in the next five years, possibly with some sort of medical device that would only require small amounts. Finding a way to produce graphene with single nanometer-sized holes on a commercial scale for desalination would probably take five or more years. The company has tested it only on a small scale, but the results were promising.

Lockheed is not ready to commercialize this technology yet. They are still refining the process for making the holes in graphene, and also the production process of the graphene itself. They had expected to have a prototype filter by the end of 2013. This prototype will be a drop-in replacement for current filters used in reverse osmosis (RO) plants. They hope to commercialize this technology by 2014-2015 and are looking for partners in the filter manufacturing arena.

This is not the first time we hear of water desalination using graphene membranes. In June 2012 MIT scientists have shown (in simulations) that nanoporous graphene can filter salt from water at a rate that is 2-3 orders of magnitude faster than today’s best commercial RO desalination technology. Back in October 2010 researchers from Australia and Shanghai have developed a Capacitive Deionization (CDI) application that uses graphene-like nanoflakes as electrodes (CDI is a relatively new way to purify water). Earlier in 2010 Korean researchers have made a new type of composite material made from reduced graphene oxide and magnetite that could effectively remove arsenic from drinking water.

In 2013, Lockheed Martin developed a water desalination technology with nanometer-sized holes, with hopes of commercialization around 2014-2015.

Source: reuters

Hugo Sailing Yacht hugo%20boss%20racing%20yacht%20haydale%20graphene-img_assist-300x200Haydale announced its intention to enter a collaborative agreement with Alex Thomson Racing the HUGO BOSS sponsored extreme sailing team. Haydale, through its newly acquired subsidiary EPL Composite Solutions Limited, will work with ATR to incorporate graphene enhanced materials in their Research and Development program to improve overall strength and stiffness of a number of key structures within the ATR boat. Through incorporating new graphene enhanced materials in their future boat designs – ATR are seeking to keep their vessel light to ensure optimum speed without compromising on strength.

The initial work will include an immediate review to ascertain weight saving opportunities. In particular the parties are keen to make use of the recent work done by Haydale in adding their functionalised HDPlas® Graphene Nano Platelets (GNPs) into both Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastic (“CFRP”) and epoxy resins.

Outside of the obvious opportunity to improve overall strength and stiffness the teams plan a review of bearings and friction points plus critical areas such as delamination of materials and thermal heat management. Under the terms of this agreement Haydale will seek project funding for longer term assignments such as the inclusion of Haydale graphenes into barrier films and coatings and to investigate how these coatings could improve the ATR boat performance.

1-magneticnanoMagnetic nanoparticles can increase the performance of solar cells made from polymers – provided the mix is right. This is the result of an X-ray study at DESY’s synchrotron radiation source PETRA III.

Adding about one per cent of such nanoparticles by weight makes the solar cells more efficient, according to the findings of a team of scientists headed by Prof. Peter Müller-Buschbaum from the Technical University of Munich. They are presenting their study in one of the upcoming issues of the journal Advanced Energy Materials (published online in advance).

Polymer, or organic, solar cells offer tremendous potential: They are inexpensive, flexible and extremely versatile. Their drawback compared with established is their lower efficiency. Typically, they only convert a few per cent of the incident light into electrical power. Nevertheless, organic solar cells are already economically viable in many situations, and scientists are looking for new ways to increase their efficiency.

One promising method is the addition of nanoparticles. It has been shown, for example, that absorb additional sunlight, which in turn produces additional electrical charge carriers when the energy is released again by the gold particles.

Müller-Buschbaum’s team has been pursuing a different approach, however. “The light creates pairs of charge carriers in the solar cell, consisting of a negatively charged electron and a positively charged hole, which is a site where an electron is missing,” explains the main author of the current study, Daniel Moseguí González from Müller-Buschbaum’s group. “The art of making an organic solar cell is to separate this electron-hole pair before they can recombine. If they did, the charge produced would be lost. We were looking for ways of extending the life of the electron-hole pair, which would allow us to separate more of them and direct them to opposite electrodes.”

Crystalline structures within polymer solar cells cause characteristic diffraction patterns in experiments with synchrotron radiation. Credit: Credit: TU München

This strategy makes use of a quantum physical principle which states that electrons have a kind of internal rotation, known as spin. According to the laws of quantum physics, this spin has a value of 1/2. The positively charged hole also has a spin of 1/2. The two spins can either add up, if they are in the same direction, or cancel each other out if they are in opposite directions. The electron-hole pair can therefore have an overall spin of 0 or 1. Pairs with a spin of 1 exist for longer than those with an overall spin of 0.

The researchers set out to find a material that was able to convert the spin 0 state into a spin 1 state. This required nanoparticles of heavy elements, which flip the of the electron or the hole so that the spins of the two particles are aligned in the same direction. The iron oxide magnetite (Fe3O4) is in fact able to do just this. “In our experiment, adding magnetite nanoparticles to the substrate increased the efficiency of the solar cells by up to 11 per cent,” reports Moseguí González. The lifetime of the electron-hole pair is significantly prolonged.

Adding nanoparticles is a routine procedure which can easily be carried out in the course of the various methods for manufacturing organic solar cells. It is important, however, not to add too many nanoparticles to the solar cell, because the internal structure of organic solar cells is finely adjusted to optimise the distance between the light-collecting, active materials, so that the pairs of charge carriers can be separated as efficiently as possible. These structures lie in the range of 10 to 100 nanometres.

“The X-ray investigation shows that if you mix a large number of nanoparticles into the material used to make the solar cell, you change its structure”, explains co-author Dr. Stephan Roth, head of DESY’s beam line P03 at PETRA III, where the experiments were conducted. “The solar cell we looked at will tolerate magnetite nanoparticle doping levels of up to one per cent by mass without changing their structure.”

The scientists observed the largest effect when they doped the substrate with 0.6 per cent nanoparticles by weight. This caused the efficiency of the polymer solar cell examined to increase from 3.05 to 3.37 per cent. “An 11 percent increase in energy yield can be crucial in making a material economically viable for a particular application,” emphasises Müller-Buschbaum.

The researchers believe it will also be possible to increase the efficiency of other by doping them with nanoparticles. “The combination of high-performance polymers with holds the promise of further increases in the efficiency of organic in the future. However, without a detailed examination, such as that using the X-rays emitted by a synchrotron, it would be impossible to gain a fundamental understanding of the underlying processes involved,” concludes Müller-Buschbaum.

 Explore further: New technique helps probe performance of organic solar cell materials

More information: Advanced Energy Materials, 2015; DOI: 10.1002/aenm.201401770

A Breakthrough Technology

HyperSolar  ( has developed a breakthrough technology to make renewable hydrogen using sunlight and any source of water. Renewable hydrogen, the cleanest and greenest of all fuels, can be used as direct replacement for traditional hydrogen, which is usually produced by reforming CO2 emitting natural gas.

Inspired By Photosynthesis

By optimizing the science of water electrolysis, our low cost photoelectrochemical process efficiently uses sunlight to separate hydrogen from any source of water to produce clean and environmentally friendly renewable hydrogen. Our innovative solar hydrogen generator eliminates the need for conventional electrolyzers, which are expensive and energy intensive. We believe that our solution will produce the lowest cost renewable hydrogen available in the market today.

The Next Great Renewable Fuel

Hydrogen is the most abundant element and cleanest fuel in the universe. Unlike hydrocarbon fuels, that produce harmful emissions, hydrogen fuel produces pure water as the only byproduct. Using our low cost method to produce renewable hydrogen, we intend to enable a world of distributed hydrogen production for renewable electricity and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Hydrogen expert to join R&D team focused on increasing the water-splitting voltage of proprietary hydrogen technology

SANTA BARBARA, CA – February 18, 2015 HyperSolar, Inc. (OTCQB: HYSR), the developer of a breakthrough technology to produce renewable hydrogen using sunlight and water, today announced that Dr. Wei Cheng, a post-doctoral researcher who has extensive experience in developing hydrogen production applications and previously served the Company during his time as visiting scholar at the University of California, Santa Barbara, will be joining HyperSolar’s research and development team at the University of Iowa.

Dr. Cheng focuses on developing a low-cost way to make photo-electrochemical devices for producing hydrogen in wastewater. Dr. Cheng received his bachelor’s degree in Materials Science and Technology from Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, his master’s degree and PhD in Materials Physics and Chemistry from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China. He is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Iowa. His previous works include producing hydrogen using low voltage electro-oxidation of organic wastewater and preparing non-toxic metal sulfide semiconductors with low-cost materials such as tin monosulfide (SnS) and Cu2ZnSnS4.

As HyperSolar’s technology progresses, the market for hydrogen fuel continues to build momentum. Just recently, the “big 3” auto manufacturers in Japan – Nissan, Toyota, and Honda – jointly announced their goal of “working together to help accelerate the development of hydrogen station infrastructure for fuel cell vehicles (FCVs).” Among several topics, hydrogen fuel infrastructure with respect to fueling stations was emphasized throughout the announcement as being of utmost importance. HyperSolar believes that its hydrogen producing technology, which uses a completely renewable process capable of being implemented at or near the point of distribution, will support fueling infrastructure upon commercialization.

“We are thrilled that Dr. Cheng will be joining our University of Iowa team to focus on increasing the water-splitting voltage required for commercialization of real-world systems,” said Tim Young, CEO of HyperSolar. “Dr. Cheng’s background in producing hydrogen, along with his familiarity with HyperSolar technology, makes him an integral part of our research and development team. As hydrogen fuel solutions continue to garner attention from major corporations around the world, we are confident that our technology will serve many applications within both consumer and commercial industries.”

HyperSolar’s technology is based on the concept of developing a low-cost, submersible hydrogen production particle that can split water molecules using sunlight without any other external systems or resources – acting as artificial photosynthesis. A video of an early proof-of-concept prototype can be viewed at

Date: Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Treating Cancer with nanotechnologiesScientists at the Univ. of Sheffield have succeeded in using a 3-D printed guide to help nerves damaged in traumatic incidents repair themselves.

The team used the device to repair nerve damage in animal models and say the method could help treat many types of traumatic injury.


The device, called a nerve guidance conduit (NGC), is a framework of tiny tubes, which guide the damaged nerve ends towards each other so that they can repair naturally.

Patients with nerve injuries can suffer complete loss of sensation in the damaged area, which can be extremely debilitating. Current methods of repairing nerve damage require surgery to suture or graft the nerve endings, a practice which often yields imperfect results.

Although some NGCs are currently used in surgery, they can only be made using a limited range of materials and designs, making them suitable only for certain types of injury.

The technique, developed in Sheffield’s Faculty of Engineering, uses computer aided design (CAD) to design the devices, which are then fabricated using laser direct writing, a form of 3-D printing. The advantage of this is that it can be adapted for any type of nerve damage or even tailored to an individual patient.

Researchers used the 3-D printed guides to repair nerve injuries using a novel mouse model developed in Sheffield’s Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health to measure nerve regrowth. They were able to demonstrate successful repair over an injury gap of 3 mm, in a 21-day period.

“The advantage of 3-D printing is that NGCs can be made to the precise shapes required by clinicians,” says John Haycock, professor of bioengineering at Sheffield. “We’ve shown that this works in animal models, so the next step is to take this technique towards the clinic”.

The Sheffield team used a material called polyethylene glycol, which is already cleared for clinical use and is also suitable for use in 3-D printing. “Further work is already underway to investigate device manufacture using biodegradable materials, and also making devices that can work across larger injuries,” says Dr. Frederik Claeyssens, senior lecturer in biomaterials at Sheffield.

“Now we need to confirm that the devices work over larger gaps and address the regulatory requirements,” says Fiona Boissonade, professor of neuroscience at Sheffield.

Source: Univ. of Sheffield

Prof D. Nocera df12556_79822


March 27, 2009 – At the Aspen Environment Forum today, MIT professor Dan Nocera gave a revolutionary picture of the new energy economy with an assertion that our homes will be our power plants and our fuel stations, powered by sunlight and water. And it’s not science fiction.

Nocera stated that even if we put all available acreage into fuel crops, all available acreage in wind power, and build a new nuclear power plant every 1.5 days, and we save 100% of our current energy use (yes, you read that correctly), we will still come up short by 2050. His estimate is that we will need 16 TW of energy production by then, and with our current methods, we won’t get there.

But there is a solution. And we don’t need to invent anything new to get from here to there.

Nocera said that MIT will announce its patent next week of a cheap, efficient, manufacturable electrolyzer made from cobalt and potassium phosphate. This technology, powered by a 6 meter by 5 meter photovoltaic array on the roof, is capable of powering an entire house’s power needs plus a fuel cell good for 500 km of travel, with just 5 liters of water.

The new electrolyzer works at room temperature (“It would work in this water glass right here”) to efficiently produce hydrogen and oxygen gases from water in a simple manner, which will enable a return to using sunlight for our primary energy source.

This technology will decentralize power production and provide true energy independence. The details of implementation still need to be worked out, but Nocera says that fears of hydrogen technology (safety) are unfounded, as companies that work with these gases have the capability to safely store and use them.  “It’s safer than natural gas. You burn that in your house with an open flame. Now that’s dangerous.”

*** Team GNT Writes: In 2009 – Professor Nocera’s announcement was, well … “stunning” to the Renewable Energy community to say the least. So what has become of Professor Nocera’s research?

Where Are We TODAY? – The Artificial Leaf

Prof D. Nocera df12556_79822

“Nocera’s critics—and there are many—want people to know that, in their view, the artificial leaf is virtually a nonstarter in today’s renewable energy landscape: The technology doesn’t plug into the existing power infrastructure (the “grid”), it’s not that cheap or efficient, and hydrogen as a fuel is no safer than other combustible fuels.

Mike Lyons, a chemist at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, told Chemistry World magazine last year, “Dan’s a great story teller. But that has its inherent dangers.” Other critics point out that Nocera’s own start-up company, Sun Catalytix of Cambridge, Massachusetts, quietly shelved development of the artificial leaf technology a few years ago.

*** From a Special Report: National Geographic “Innovators” Series ***

As usual, Daniel Nocera came in by the back door.

On a rainy night in April, as the trees on the Boston College campus were sending out their first tentative shoots of spring, Nocera arrived (slightly late) as the keynote speaker for a meeting of the American Physical Society, where he was about to discuss a decidedly inorganic variation on a vernal theme: the “artificial leaf,” his invention that uses sunlight to generate an alternative form of energy.

Nocera made his way across a parking lot, went in the “Employees Only” entrance to the banquet hall, asked a bemused janitor for directions, and found himself in an elevator that deposited him right in the middle of the kitchen. “I’m the speaker tonight,” he told an equally bemused maître d’. “Do you know how to get there?”

“You’re in the right place,” the maître d’ announced. “Follow me!” And the man proceeded to lead Nocera out to the dining room.

“Whaddarewe having tonight?” Nocera asked in his rapid, exuberant New York patois, as he passed line cooks preparing roast beef, chicken, and vegetarian lasagna. Because he sees everything through the lens of photosynthesis, the meal becomes material for the talk he was about to give.

To save the planet from the dire consequences of its hydrocarbon addiction, we are going to have to overhaul our entire energy system.

Life on Earth has converted energy from the sun for at least three billion years, and the sun may be the answer to our energy needs in the future, he begins. He tells the audience that even the food they are starting to digest is unleashing energy from chemical bonds originally forged by the sun.

Nocera, 56, is a professor of energy at Harvard University, and a bit of a celebrity innovator in renewable energy circles, but he never forgets (and never lets you forget) that he has always taken the hard way, the less-traveled way, and certainly the less conventional way—from his second-grade excommunication from parochial school, to his defiant rejection of the immigrant values of his Italian American family, to his serial desertions from high school to follow his favorite rock band. It was almost inevitable that his scientific career would also follow a quixotic path.

Saving the Planet From Hydrocarbon Addiction

Nocera rarely passes up an opportunity to explain the artificial leaf. He estimates that he gave a hundred invited talks last year, and almost all the rubber-chicken sermons dwell on sustainability and renewable energy. Of all his provocative assertions, however, perhaps the most radical is not scientific but socioeconomic: To save the planet from the dire consequences of its hydrocarbon addiction, we are going to have to overhaul our entire energy system, and the only way to do that, he says, is to “take care of the poor.” They will be the early adopters of the artificial leaf, he believes, and they will lead the way to an era Nocera echoes Bryan Furnass in calling the “Sustainocene.”

It’s not a particularly popular, or even feasible, message at the moment, and the frequent talks are also a reminder that sometimes the hardest part of innovation comes after you make the discovery.

Daniel Nocera, a professor at Harvard University, is a bit of a celebrity innovator in renewable energy circles. PHOTOGRAPH BY DEANNE FITZMAURICE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

It takes a special temperament to want to be the kind of messenger that everyone wants to shoot; if not born to the part, Nocera has certainly warmed to the task. Mischievous child, rebellious teenager, long-haired counterculture scientist—they’re all on his resume. And although in photographs he projects an ascetic, almost clerically severe demeanor, he turns out in person to be a gregarious provocateur, charmingly pugnacious and as ebullient as the bubbles in the beaker of his most famous invention.

“Because I Was an American. I Had to Succeed.”

Nocera first became interested in science as a kind of buffer against the almost yearly relocations his family made—Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey—to accommodate his father’s frequent work transfers (he was a retail buyer for Sears and later J. C. Penney). “The most defining point of my young life was when I was having breakfast one morning and I found out our house had been sold,” he says. “People ask, ‘Why did you become a scientist?’ Because when you’re waking up and you lose your friends every morning because you’re moving again, you start focusing on things you can control. I really turned to science because I could carry it with me.” The things he carried included a microscope and radio he built himself, assembled with the 1960s version of do-it-yourself science kit.

“In and Out” of School

One of his earliest experiments, alas, was throwing a “really chalky” eraser at a nun at his parochial school because he was curious to see what kind of mark it would leave on a black habit; the result was “spectacular,” but he was invited to leave. He embraced the rough-and-tumble of public schooling, even as he rejected his family. “I didn’t like my parents,” he says bluntly. “They always drove me so hard.” To get even, the teenaged Nocera became a member of an Orthodox synagogue in Tenafly, the northern New Jersey town where the family finally settled. “To annoy my Catholic mother,” he says, “I decided to join a temple. I became the best Jew.”

His academic career was spotty, too—he attended Bergenfield High School in northern New Jersey, but only intermittently (“in and out” is how he puts it). “I was the kid with the long hair that all the parents would tell all the other kids, ‘Stay away from him!'” By the time he was in high school, he started disappearing for weeks at a time to follow the Grateful Dead at concerts. “I really went to the Grateful Dead because I needed a family of people,” he says, “and the Grateful Dead is about family.” (The computer in his spare, corner office at Harvard contains 111 gigabytes of Grateful Dead music, to which he listens while writing scientific papers.)

I really turned to science because I could carry it with me.

Given that background, Nocera was not exactly a Westinghouse Science Talent Search kind of kid. He attended Rutgers University and initially planned to pursue biology, until everyone in his family told him he should be a doctor, at which point he switched to chemistry. After graduating in 1979, he entered the Ph.D. program at one of the world’s citadels of hard science: California Institute of Technology.

His adviser at Caltech, Harry Gray, had done pioneering work in photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert sunlight into usable energy. Alternative energy was much in the air because of the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s, and Nocera became captivated by the idea of using sunlight like a leaf does, to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. “I went to graduate school to do that,” he says, and spent the next 30 years trying to get the idea to work. But an innovative idea in energy, he learned, isn’t enough; the idea has to be cheap enough to compete “against the cold, hard facts of a real economic system.”

In 1995, a special issue of the journal Accounts of Chemical Research asked leading chemists to describe “holy grail” projects in the field; one of the essays, by Allen J. Bard and Marye Anne Fox, then at the University of Texas at Austin, described the process of splitting water using sunlight. The sheer simplicity of the process conceals its chemical elegance—it takes energy to break chemical bonds, such as the bonds that hold hydrogen atoms to oxygen in a molecule of water, and plants use the energy of sunlight to break those bonds. The result is hydrogen and oxygen. Plants release oxygen into the air and repurpose the hydrogen to make food, in the form of carbohydrates. But hydrogen on its own, as a gas, is a clean and storable form of energy known as a chemical fuel; it can be stored for later use, and that’s what Nocera was after.

Meet the Artificial Leaf

The idea is simple and elegant, but not easy and especially not easy without considerable cost. (John Turner of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado had in fact achieved a version of water-splitting years earlier, but the process used prohibitively expensive materials.) Nocera began working on a cheap and simple approach during his grad school days at Caltech, continued after he took a job as a professor at Michigan State University in 1984, and finally declared success in a splashy 2011 paper in Science as a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he moved in 1997.

Nocera’s artificial leaf can split oxygen from hydrogen—mimicking the natural process of plants. PHOTOGRAPH BY DEANNE FITZMAURICE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

What does an artificial leaf look like?

“We can go in the lab,” Nocera says, rising from his desk. “I’ll just turn on a fake sun, and we can look at it. I mean, right now! Just to prove how easy it is. And you’ll see, like, bubbles coming … smooooosh!” Snapping his fingers, he adds, “It will be that fast.”

In reality, the artificial leaf—at least the demonstration version a graduate student fetched out of a lab drawer—looks more like a sawed-off postage stamp than an appendage on any self-respecting tree. It’s not green; it’s not leaf-shaped; and it doesn’t convert water and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates, as plant leaves do. But after a few minutes of setup, the graduate student placed the “leaf” in a little beaker of water and focused light on it. Within moments, a steady stream of miniscule bubbles scrambled off the leaf, like a rat race of effervescence.

The leaf is actually a thin sandwich of inorganic materials that uses the energy of sunlight to break the chemical bonds holding hydrogen and oxygen atoms together in ordinary H2O. The leaf works because the middle of the sandwich is what’s called a photovoltaic wafer, which converts sunlight into wireless electricity, and that electricity is then channeled to the outer layer of the “leaf,” which is coated with different chemical catalysts on either side. One accelerates the formation of hydrogen gas, the other oxygen.

The artificial leaf mimics the natural process of photosynthesis. PHOTOGRAPH BY DEANNE FITZMAURICE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Renewable Energy Celebrity

Armed with this basic invention, Nocera leaped ahead—too far and too fast, according to some of his critics—to a radical vision of how the artificial leaf would revolutionize the world. In a scenario he often shares in talks, he sees artificial leaves on the roof of every house, using sunlight to convert ordinary tap water into hydrogen and oxygen; the photovoltaic cells could provide electricity during daylight hours, and the hydrogen could be stored and later converted in a fuel cell to electricity overnight. Your house would become your personal power plant and your gas station, fueling the hydrogen-powered cars that Nocera says are already on the way. And, as he likes to say, “You can buy all this stuff on Google today.”

In 2011, when Nocera first described the artificial leaf at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society, the immediate reaction was huge. MIT issued a big press release. Nocera formed a start-up company, Sun Catalytix, to commercialize the invention. There were YouTube videos; Nocera became a renewable energy go-to celebrity, invited to events like the Mountain Film Festival in Telluride, Colorado. And when he decided to move his research group to Harvard in 2012, online chemistry blogs dissected the transfer as if it were a superstar trade in baseball. “Nocera to Harvard!” ChemBark reported.

But not all the attention has been positive, not least because of the term “artificial leaf.” Many scientists thought it was a grandiose, attention-getting name. “Oh, they hate me!” Nocera confirms. “It’s like sport to come after me. But you can see with my retiring personality that it’s very upsetting to me,” he adds with a smile. Indeed, it brings out the combative public school persona in him. “It’s like being outside the boys’ room and getting into fights,” he says. “I did that a lot of times in my life, so I’m pretty good at this.”

“Frugal Innovation”

Despite the criticism, Nocera notes that the artificial leaf incorporates several key innovations. One is the discovery of a special kind of catalyst (created by then-lab member Matthew Kanan in 2008) that basically accelerates the formation of oxygen without depleting itself; in other words, the cobalt-phosphate coating on one side of the leaf acts as a middleman-facilitator to the chemical splitting of water without either using itself up or charging a minimal fee (in terms of energy). Another is that the basic architecture of the leaf is simple, modular, and relatively inexpensive, satisfying Nocera’s desire for what he calls “frugal innovation.”

Nocera wakes up every morning thinking about how to make the artificial leaf technology cheaper, more efficient, and simpler so that it will be impossible to resist the frugality of its innovation.

The company had “really tough discussions” in the fall of 2011, Nocera admits, about whether to proceed with a pilot project to test the artificial leaf idea in a developing country, and decided to “backburner” the technology until it could be done more cheaply. As Nocera puts it, “I did a holy grail of science. Great! That doesn’t mean I did a holy grail of technology. And that’s what scientists and professors don’t get.”

Sun Catalytix has shifted its focus to another technology—one that plugs into the existing infrastructure, but still advances the cause of renewable energy; it’s called a flow battery, and Nocera believes it will provide a cheap, innovative way to store energy on the grid. Meanwhile, Nocera insists, the company “has not given up on the artificial leaf” and still plans to field-test the idea, but only when the technology is less expensive. “So what are we talking about?” he says. “Innovation to reduce cost.”

A fuel cell can turn the split oxygen and hydrogen from the artifical leaf into energy. PHOTOGRAPH BY DEANNE FITZMAURICE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Revolution in Renewable Energy

Nocera is a self-confessed workaholic. He says he works up to 14 hours a day, seven days a week, and he wakes up every morning thinking about how to make the artificial leaf technology cheaper, more efficient, and simpler so that it will be impossible to resist the frugality of its innovation.

But he’s also chastened by the challenge ahead. On the one hand, he sees a projected world population of nine billion people by 2050, who will need an estimated 30 terawatts—30 trillion watts—of energy; building 200 new nuclear power plants a year for 40 years, he tells the Boston College audience, wouldn’t satisfy the demand. On the other hand, traditional venture capitalism in the developed world doesn’t have the patience or vision, he says, to invest in the massive changes necessary to create an alternative energy system.

In the developed world, Nocera points out, venture capitalists want a return on their investment in two to five years—”and five is really generous,” he says. Setting up an alternative, photosynthetic-based energy system will never satisfy the appetite for a quick return on investment. “What’s the VC community good at?” he says. “An app that a kid can do in a college dorm—which many have done at Harvard. And it gives them their success stories, and makes them all rich. But these are apps. We’re not talking about high-end [innovation]. With energy, we’re talking about changing a massive infrastructure. There’s nothing a kid in his college room dorm is going to do that’s going to change a massive infrastructure.”

How massive? There’s no firm, agreed-upon figure on America’s historical investment in the current power infrastructure—the power plants, the coal mines, the oil rigs and fracking wells, the refineries, the railroads and ships that transport fuels, the wires that bring electricity to virtually every home. Nocera estimates the number at $150 trillion since the mid-19th century, and it is the $150 trillion gorilla in the energy debate.

“There’s nobody in a Harvard lab or at MIT who’s going to make a discovery—one discovery—that’s going to change an infrastructure that this country built over 150 years,” he says. “You’re at hundreds of trillions of dollars. So what is one person with a bunch of students in a lab going to do?”

That is why he believes the revolution in renewable energy will happen not in the developed world, with its entrenched infrastructure and its impatient venture capitalists, but in places like Africa and India, where there is no existing infrastructure to block the way. And don’t mistake Nocera’s interest in the poor for altruism; it’s pure practicality.

“People say, ‘Oh, it’s so nice that Nocera is doing something for the poor.’ It makes my blood curdle! I’m not helping the poor. I’m a jerk! The poor are helping me. They don’t have an infrastructure, so they’ll walk you to a renewable energy future.”

Given his unconventional past, this future makes perfect sense to Nocera. “I can start looking back over my life, and I can see how my immigrant family and being poor Italians and following the Grateful Dead—it all fits in some way,” he says, face brightening. “The whole energy project. I mean, and then you share it, and it’s distributed! The Grateful Dead!”

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