Posts belonging to Category Materials

Liquid Storage Of The Sun’s Power

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have demonstrated efficient solar energy storage in a chemical liquid. The stored energy can be transported and then released as heat whenever needed. ​Many consider the sun the energy source of the future. But one challenge is that it is difficult to store solar energy and deliver the energy ‘on demand’.

The research team from Chalmers University has shown that it is possible to convert the solar energy directly into energy stored in the bonds of a chemical fluid – a so-called molecular solar thermal system. The liquid chemical makes it possible to store and transport the solar energy and release it on demand, with full recovery of the storage medium. The process is based on the organic compound norbornadiene that upon exposure to light converts into quadricyclane.

The technique means that we can store the solar energy in chemical bonds and release the energy as heat whenever we need it,’ says Professor Kasper Moth-Poulsen, who is leading the research team. ‘Combining the chemical energy storage with water heating solar panels enables a conversion of more than 80 percent of the incoming sunlight.’

The research project was initiated at Chalmers more than six years ago and the research team contributed in 2013 to a first conceptual demonstration. At the time, the solar energy conversion efficiency was 0.01 percent and the expensive element ruthenium played a major role in the compound. Now, four years later, the system stores 1.1 percent of the incoming sunlight as latent chemical energy – an improvement of a factor of 100. Also, ruthenium has been replaced by much cheaper carbon-based elements.

We saw an opportunity to develop molecules that make the process much more efficient,’ says Moth-Poulsen. ‘At the same time, we are demonstrating a robust system that can sustain more than 140 energy storage and release cycles with negligible degradation.’

The research is presented on the cover of the scientific journal Energy & Environmental Science.


How To Detect Nuclear Device

How to keep U.S. ports of entry safe and secure by detecting and interdicting illicit radioactive or nuclear materials? A team led by Northeastern’s Swastik Kar and Yung Joon Jung has developed a technology that could go a long way toward achieving that goal.

nuclear radiation

Our detector could dramatically change the manner and accuracy with which we are able to detect nuclear threats at home or abroad,” says Kar, associate professor in the Department of Physics. It could also help streamline radio-medicine, including radiation therapies and scanning diagnostics, boost the effectiveness of unmanned radiation monitoring vehicles in mapping and monitoring contaminated areas following disasters, and revolutionize radiometric imaging in space exploration. Made of graphene and carbon nanotubes, the researchers’ detector far outpaces any existing one in its ultrasensitivity to charged particles, minuscule size, low-power requirements, and low cost.

All radiation, of course, is not harmful, and even the type that may be depends on dosage and length of exposure. The word “radiation” refers simply to the emission and propagation of energy in the form of waves or particles. It has many sources, including the sun, electronic devices such as microwaves and cellphones, visible light, X-rays, gamma waves, cosmic waves, and nuclear fission, which is what produces power in nuclear reactors. Most of the harmful radiations are “ionizing radiations”—they have sufficient energy to remove electrons from the orbits of surrounding atoms, causing them to become charged, or “ionized.” It is those charged particles, or ions, that the detectors pick up and quantify, revealing the intensity of the radiation. Most current detectors, however, are not only bulky, power hungry, and expensive, they also cannot pick up very low levels of ions. Kar and Yung Joon’s detector, on the other hand, is so sensitive it can pick up just a single charged particle.

Our detectors are many orders of magnitude more sensitive in terms of how small a signal they can detect,” says Yung Joon, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. “Ours can detect one ion, the fundamental limit. If you can detect a single ion, then you can detect everything larger than that.”


How To Harness Heat To Power Computers

One of the biggest problems with computers, dating to the invention of the first one, has been finding ways to keep them cool so that they don’t overheat or shut down. Instead of combating the heat, two University of Nebraska–Lincoln engineers have embraced it as an alternative energy source that would allow computing at ultra-high temperatures. Sidy Ndao, assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering, said his research group’s development of a nano-thermal-mechanical device, or thermal diode, came after flipping around the question of how to better cool computers.

thermal diode

If you think about it, whatever you do with electricity you should (also) be able to do with heat, because they are similar in many ways,” Ndao said. “In principle, they are both energy carriers. If you could control heat, you could use it to do computing and avoid the problem of overheating.”

A paper Ndao co-authored with Mahmoud Elzouka, a graduate student in mechanical and materials engineering, was published in the March edition of Scientific Reports. In it, they documented their device working in temperatures that approached 630 degrees Fahrenheit (332 degrees Celsius).


Clean Hydrogen Produced From Biomass

A team of scientists at the University of Cambridge has developed a way of using solar power to generate a fuel that is both sustainable and relatively cheap to produce. It’s using natural light to generate hydrogen from biomass. One of the challenges facing modern society is what it does with its waste products. As natural resources decline in abundance, using waste for energy is becoming more pressing for both governments and business. Biomass has been a source of heat and energy since the beginning of recorded history.  The planet’s oil reserves are derived from ancient biomass which has been subjected to high pressures and temperatures over millions of years. Lignocellulose is the main component of plant biomass and up to now its conversion into hydrogen has only been achieved through a gasification process which uses high temperatures to decompose it fully.

biomass can produce hydrogen

Lignocellulose is nature’s equivalent to armoured concrete. It consists of strong, highly crystalline cellulose fibres, that are interwoven with lignin and hemicellulose which act as a glue. This rigid structure has evolved to give plants and trees mechanical stability and protect them from degradation, and makes chemical utilisation of lignocellulose so challenging,” says  Dr Moritz Kuehnel, from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge and co-author of the research.

The new technology relies on a simple photocatalytic conversion process. Catalytic nanoparticles are added to alkaline water in which the biomass is suspended. This is then placed in front of a light in the lab which mimics solar light. The solution is ideal for absorbing this light and converting the biomass into gaseous hydrogen which can then be collected from the headspace. The hydrogen is free of fuel-cell inhibitors, such as carbon monoxide, which allows it to be used for power.

The findings have been  published in Nature Energy.


Artificial Intelligence Tracks In Real Time Everybody In The Crowd

Artificial Intelligence that can pick you out in a crowd and then track your every move. Japanese firm Hitachi‘s new imaging system locks on to at least 100 different characteristics of an individual … including gender, age, hair style, clothes, and mannerisms. Hitachi says it provides real-time tracking and monitoring of crowded areas.


Until now, we need a lot of security guards and people to review security camera footage. We developed this AI software in the hopes it would help them do just that,” says Tomokazu Murakami, Hitachi researcher.

The system can help spot a suspicious individual or find a missing child, the makers say. So, an eyewitness could provide a limited description, with the AI software quickly scanning its database for a match.
In Japan, the demand for such technology is increasing because of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, but for us we’re developing it in a way so that it can be utilized in many different places such as train stations, stadiums, and even shopping malls,” comments Tomokazu Murakami.

High-speed tracking of individuals such as this will undoubtedly have its critics. But as Japan prepares to host the 2020 Olympics, Hitachi insists its system can contribute to public safety and security.


How To Capture Quickly Cancer Markers

A nanoscale product of human cells that was once considered junk is now known to play an important role in intercellular communication and in many disease processes, including cancer metastasis. Researchers at Penn State have developed nanoprobes to rapidly isolate these rare markers, called extracellular vesicles (EVs), for potential development of precision cancer diagnoses and personalized anticancer treatments.

Lipid nanoprobes

Most cells generate and secrete extracellular vesicles,” says Siyang Zheng, associate professor of biomedical engineering and electrical engineering. “But they are difficult for us to study. They are sub-micrometer particles, so we really need an electron microscope to see them. There are many technical challenges in the isolation of nanoscale EVs that we are trying to overcome for point-of-care cancer diagnostics.”

At one time, researchers believed that EVs were little more than garbage bags that were tossed out by cells. More recently, they have come to understand that these tiny fat-enclosed sacks — lipids — contain double-stranded DNA, RNA and proteins that are responsible for communicating between cells and can carry markers for their origin cells, including tumor cells. In the case of cancer, at least one function for EVs is to prepare distant tissue for metastasis.

The team’s initial challenge was to develop a method to isolate and purify EVs in blood samples that contain multiple other components. The use of liquid biopsy, or blood testing, for cancer diagnosis is a recent development that offers benefits over traditional biopsy, which requires removing a tumor or sticking a needle into a tumor to extract cancer cells. For lung cancer or brain cancers, such invasive techniques are difficult, expensive and can be painful.

Noninvasive techniques such as liquid biopsy are preferable for not only detection and discovery, but also for monitoring treatment,” explains Chandra Belani, professor of medicine and deputy director of the Cancer Institute,Penn State College of Medicine, and clinical collaborator on the study.

We invented a system of two micro/nano materials,” adds Zheng. “One is a labeling probe with two lipid tails that spontaneously insert into the lipid surface of the extracellular vesicle. At the other end of the probe we have a biotin molecule that will be recognized by an avidin molecule we have attached to a magnetic bead.”


Ultrafast Flexible Electronic Memory

Engineering experts from the University of Exeter (UK) have developed innovative new memory using a hybrid of graphene oxide and titanium oxide. Their devices are low cost and eco-friendly to produce, are also perfectly suited for use in flexible electronic devices such as ‘bendablemobile phone, computer and television screens, and even ‘intelligentclothing.
. Crucially, these devices may also have the potential to offer a cheaper and more adaptable alternative to ‘flash memory’, which is currently used in many common devices such as memory cards, graphics cards and USB computer drives. The research team insist that these innovative new devices have the potential to revolutionise not only how data is stored, but also take flexible electronics to a new age in terms of speed, efficiency and power.

bendable mobile phone

Using graphene oxide to produce memory devices has been reported before, but they were typically very large, slow, and aimed at the ‘cheap and cheerful’ end of the electronics goods market”, said Professor David Wright, an Electronic Engineering expert from the University of Exeter.

Our hybrid graphene oxide-titanium oxide memory is, in contrast, just 50 nanometres long and 8 nanometres thick and can be written to and read from in less than five nanoseconds – with one nanometre being one billionth of a metre and one nanosecond a billionth of a second.”

The research is published in the scientific journal ACS Nano.


Graphene And Fractals Boost The Solar Power Storage By 3000%

Inspired by an American fern, researchers have developed a groundbreaking prototype that could be the answer to the storage challenge still holding solar back as a total energy solution. The new type of electrode created by RMIT University (Australia) researchers could boost the capacity of existing integrable storage technologies by 3000 per cent. But the graphene-based prototype also opens a new path to the development of flexible thin film all-in-one solar capture and storage, bringing us one step closer to self-powering smart phones, laptops, cars and buildings. The new electrode is designed to work with supercapacitors, which can charge and discharge power much faster than conventional batteries. Supercapacitors have been combined with solar, but their wider use as a storage solution is restricted because of their limited capacity.

RMIT’s Professor Min Gu said the new design drew on nature’s own genius solution to the challenge of filling a space in the most efficient way possible – through intricate self-repeating patterns known as “fractals”.

The leaves of the western swordfern are densely crammed with veins, making them extremely efficient for storing energy and transporting water around the plant,” said Gu, Leader of the Laboratory of Artificial Intelligence Nanophotonics at RMIT.

mimicking fern

Our electrode is based on these fractal shapes – which are self-replicating, like the mini structures within snowflakes – and we’ve used this naturally-efficient design to improve solar energy storage at a nano level. “The immediate application is combining this electrode with supercapacitors, as our experiments have shown our prototype can radically increase their storage capacity30 times more than current capacity limits.   “Capacity-boosted supercapacitors would offer both long-term reliability and quick-burst energy release – for when someone wants to use solar energy on a cloudy day for example – making them ideal alternatives for solar power storage.”  Combined with supercapacitors, the fractal-enabled laser-reduced graphene electrodes can hold the stored charge for longer, with minimal leakage.


Smart Printed Electronics

Researchers in AMBER, the materials science research centre hosted in Trinity College Dublin, have fabricated printed transistors consisting entirely of 2-dimensional nanomaterials for the first time. These 2D materials combine exciting electronic properties with the potential for low-cost production. This breakthrough could unlock the potential for applications such as food packaging that displays a digital countdown to warn you of spoiling, wine labels that alert you when your white wine is at its optimum temperature, or even a window pane that shows the day’s forecast

This discovery opens the path for industry, such as ICT and pharmaceutical, to cheaply print a host of electronic devices from solar cells to LEDs with applications from interactive smart food and drug labels to next-generation banknote security and e-passports.

printed transistor

Prof Jonathan Coleman, who is an investigator in AMBER and Trinity’s School of Physics, said, “In the future, printed devices will be incorporated into even the most mundane objects such as labels, posters and packaging.
Printed electronic circuitry (constructed from the devices we have created) will allow consumer products to gather, process, display and transmit information: for example, milk cartons could send messages to your phone warning that the milk is about to go out-of-date.

We believe that 2D nanomaterials can compete with the materials currently used for printed electronics. Compared to other materials employed in this field, our 2D nanomaterials have the capability to yield more cost effective and higher performance printed devices. However, while the last decade has underlined the potential of 2D materials for a range of electronic applications, only the first steps have been taken to demonstrate their worth in printed electronics. This publication is important because it shows that conducting, semiconducting and insulating 2D nanomaterials can be combined together in complex devices. We felt that it was critically important to focus on printing transistors as they are the electric switches at the heart of modern computing. We believe this work opens the way to print a whole host of devices solely from 2D nanosheets.”
Led by Prof Coleman, in collaboration with the groups of Prof Georg Duesberg (AMBER) and Prof. Laurens Siebbeles (TU Delft, Netherlands), the team used standard printing techniques to combine graphene nanosheets as the electrodes with two other nanomaterials, tungsten diselenide and boron nitride as the channel and separator (two important parts of a transistor) to form an all-printed, all-nanosheet, working transistor.

The AMBER team’s findings have been published today in the journal Science*.


Carbon Nanotubes Self-Assemble Into Tiny Transistors

Carbon nanotubes can be used to make very small electronic devices, but they are difficult to handle. University of Groningen (Netherlands) scientists, together with colleagues from the University of Wuppertal and IBM Zurich, have developed a method to select semiconducting nanotubes from a solution and make them self-assemble on a circuit of gold electrodes. The results look deceptively simple: a self-assembled transistor with nearly 100 percent purity and very high electron mobility. But it took ten years to get there. University of Groningen Professor of Photophysics and Optoelectronics Maria Antonietta Loi designed polymers which wrap themselves around specific carbon nanotubes in a solution of mixed tubes. Thiol side chains on the polymer bind the tubes to the gold electrodes, creating the resultant transistor.

polymer wrapped nanotube

In our previous work, we learned a lot about how polymers attach to specific carbon nanotubes, Loi explains. These nanotubes can be depicted as a rolled sheet of graphene, the two-dimensional form of carbon. ‘Depending on the way the sheets are rolled up, they have properties ranging from semiconductor to semi-metallic to metallic.’ Only the semiconductor tubes can be used to fabricate transistors, but the production process always results in a mixture.

We had the idea of using polymers with thiol side chains some time ago‘, says Loi. The idea was that as sulphur binds to metals, it will direct polymer-wrapped nanotubes towards gold electrodes. While Loi was working on the problem, IBM even patented the concept. ‘But there was a big problem in the IBM work: the polymers with thiols also attached to metallic nanotubes and included them in the transistors, which ruined them.’

Loi’s solution was to reduce the thiol content of the polymers, with the assistance of polymer chemists from the University of Wuppertal. ‘What we have now shown is that this concept of bottom-up assembly works: by using polymers with a low concentration of thiols, we can selectively bring semiconducting nanotubes from a solution onto a circuit.’ The sulphur-gold bond is strong, so the nanotubes are firmly fixed: enough even to stay there after sonication of the transistor in organic solvents.

Over the last years, we have created a library of polymers that select semiconducting nanotubes and developed a better understanding of how the structure and composition of the polymers influences which carbon nanotubes they select’, says Loi. The result is a cheap and scalable production method for nanotube electronics. So what is the future for this technology? Loi: ‘It is difficult to predict whether the industry will develop this idea, but we are working on improvements, and this will eventually bring the idea closer to the market.’

The results were published in the journal Advanced Materials on 5 April.

‘Spray-On’ Memory for Paper, Fabric, Plastic

USB flash drives are already common accessories in offices and college campuses. But thanks to the rise in printable electronics, digital storage devices like these may soon be everywhere – including on our groceries, pill bottles and even clothingDuke University researchers have brought us closer to a future of low-cost, flexible electronics by creating a new “spray-on digital memory device using only an aerosol jet printer and nanoparticle inks. The device, which is analogous to a 4-bit flash drive, is the first fully-printed digital memory that would be suitable for practical use in simple electronics such as environmental sensors or RFID tags. And because it is jet-printed at relatively low temperatures, it could be used to build programmable electronic devices on bendable materials like paper, plastic or fabric.


Duke University researchers have developed a new “spray-on” digital memory (upper left) that could be used to build programmable electronics on flexible materials like paper, plastic or fabric. They used LEDS to demonstrate a simple application.

We have all of the parameters that would allow this to be used for a practical application, and we’ve even done our own little demonstration using LEDs,” said Duke graduate student Matthew Catenacci, who describes the device in a paper published online in the Journal of Electronic Materials. At the core of the new device, which is about the size of a postage stamp, is a new copper-nanowire-based printable material that is capable of storing digital information.

Memory is kind of an abstract thing, but essentially it is a series of ones and zeros which you can use to encode information,” said Benjamin Wiley, an associate professor of chemistry at Duke and an author on the paper.


NanoCar Race

The NanoCar Race is an event in which molecular machines compete on a nano-sized racetrack. These “NanoCars” or molecule-cars can have real wheels, an actual chassis…and are propelled by the energy of electric pulses! Nothing is visible to the naked eye, however a unique microscope located in Toulouse (France) will make it possible to follow the race. A genuine scientific prowess and international human adventure, the race is a one-off event, and will be broadcast live on the web, as well as at the Quai des Savoirs, science center in Toulouse.


The NanoCar race takes place on a very small scale, that of molecules and atoms: the nano scale…as in nanometer! A nanometer is a billionth of a meter, or 0.000000001 meters or 10 -9 m. In short, it is 500,000 times thinner then a line drawn by a ball point pen; 30,000 times thinner than the width of a hair; 100 times smaller than a DNA molecule; 4 atoms of silicon lined up next to one another.

A very powerful microscope is necessary to observe molecules and atoms: the scanning tunneling microscope (STM) makes this possible, and it is also responsible for propelling the NanoCars. The scanning tunneling microscope was invented in 1981 by Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer, and earned them the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1986. The tunnel effect is a phenomenon in quantum mechanics: using a tip and an electric current, the microscope will use this phenomenon to determine the electric conductance between the tip and the surface, in other words the amount of current that is passing through.

nanocar in movement Screening provides an electronic map of the surface and of each atom or molecule placed on it.At the CNRS‘s Centre d’élaboration de matériaux et d’études structurales (CEMES) in Toulouse, it is the one of a kind STM microscope that makes the race possible: the equivalent of four scanning tunneling microscopes, this device is the only one able to simultaneously and independently map four sections of the track in real time, thanks to its four tungsten tips.