How To Turn Nitrates Into Water And Air

Engineers at Rice University’s Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment (NEWT) Center have found a catalyst that cleans toxic nitrates from drinking water by converting them into air and water.

Nitrates come mainly from agricultural runoff, which affects farming communities all over the world,” said Rice chemical engineer Michael Wong, the lead scientist on the study. “Nitrates are both an environmental problem and health problem because they’re toxic. There are ion-exchange filters that can remove them from water, but these need to be flushed every few months to reuse them, and when that happens, the flushed water just returns a concentrated dose of nitrates right back into the water supply.”

Wong’s lab specializes in developing nanoparticle-based catalysts, submicroscopic bits of metal that speed up chemical reactions. In 2013, his group showed that tiny gold spheres dotted with specks of palladium could break apart nitrites, the more toxic chemical cousins of nitrates.

Nitrates are molecules that have one nitrogen atom and three oxygen atoms,” Wong explained. “Nitrates turn into nitrites if they lose an oxygen, but nitrites are even more toxic than nitrates, so you don’t want to stop with nitrites. Moreover, nitrates are the more prevalent problem. Ultimately, the best way to remove nitrates is a catalytic process that breaks them completely apart into nitrogen and oxygen, or in our case, nitrogen and water because we add a little hydrogen, he said”. “More than 75 percent of Earth’s atmosphere is gaseous nitrogen, so we’re really turning nitrates into air and water.

Nitrates are toxic to infants and pregnant women and may also be carcinogenic. Nitrate pollution is common in agricultural communities, especially in the U.S. Corn Belt and California’s Central Valley, where fertilizers are heavily used, and some studies have shown that nitrate pollution is on the rise due to changing land-use patterns.

Both nitrates and nitrites are regulated by theEnvironmental Protection Agency, which sets allowable limits for safe drinking water. In communities with polluted wells and lakes, that typically means pretreating drinking water with ion-exchange resins that trap and remove nitrates and nitrites without destroying them.

The research is available online in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Catalysis.


Wood Mixed With Nanoparticles Filters Toxic Water

Engineers at the University of Maryland have developed a new use for wood: to filter water. Liangbing Hu of the Energy Research Center and his colleagues added nanoparticles to wood, then used it to filter toxic dyes from water.

The team started with a block of linden wood, which they then soaked in palladium – a metal used in cars’ catalytic converters to remove pollutants from the exhaust. In this new filter, the palladium bonds to particles of dye. The wood’s natural channels, that once moved water and nutrients between the leaves and roots, now allow the water to flow past the nanoparticles for efficient removal of the toxic dye particles. The water, tinted with methylene blue, slowly drips through the wood and comes out clear.

VIDEO: Wood filter removes toxic dye from water

This could be used in areas where wastewater contains toxic dye particles,” said Amy Gong, a materials science graduate student, and co-first author of the research paper.

The purpose of the study was to analyze wood via an engineering lens. The researchers did not compare the filter to other types of filters; rather, they wanted to prove that wood can be used to remove impurities.

We are currently working on using a wood filter to remove heavy metals, such as lead and copper, from water,’ said Liangbing Hu, the lead researcher on the project. “We are also interested in scaling up the technology for real industry applications.” Hu is a professor of materials science and a member of the University of Maryland’s Energy Research Center.



A team of scientists led by Associate Professor Yang Hyunsoo from the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Faculty of Engineering has invented a novel ultra-thin multilayer film which could harness the properties of tiny magnetic whirls, known as skyrmions, as information carriers for storing and processing data (nanocomputer) on magnetic media. The nano-sized thin film, which was developed in collaboration with researchers from Brookhaven National Laboratory, Stony Brook University, and Louisiana State University, is a critical step towards the design of data storage devices that use less power and work faster than existing memory technologies.

The digital transformation has resulted in ever-increasing demands for better processing and storing of large amounts of data, as well as improvements in hard drive technology. Since their discovery in magnetic materials in 2009, skyrmions, which are tiny swirling magnetic textures only a few nanometres in size, have been extensively studied as possible information carriers in next-generation data storage and logic devices.

Skyrmions have been shown to exist in layered systems, with a heavy metal placed beneath a ferromagnetic material. Due to the interaction between the different materials, an interfacial symmetry breaking interaction, known as the Dzyaloshinskii-Moriya interaction (DMI), is formed, and this helps to stabilise a skyrmion. However, without an out-of-plane magnetic field present, the stability of the skyrmion is compromised. In addition, due to its tiny size, it is difficult to image the nano-sized materials. The NUS team found that a large DMI could be maintained in multilayer films composed of cobalt and palladium, and this is large enough to stabilise skyrmion spin textures.

skyrmionsThis experiment not only demonstrates the usefulness of L-TEM in studying these systems, but also opens up a completely new material in which skyrmions can be created. Without the need for a biasing field, the design and implementation of skyrmion based devices are significantly simplified. The small size of the skyrmions, combined with the incredible stability generated here, could be potentially useful for the design of next-generation spintronic devices that are energy efficient and can outperform current memory technologies,” explains Professor Yang .

The invention was reported in the journal Nature Communications.


Electric Car: Hydrogen Fuel Cells 40 Times Cheaper

Researchers from Umea University – Sweden – and chinese collegues show how a unique nano-alloy composed of palladium nano-islands embedded in tungsten nanoparticles creates a new type of catalysts for highly efficient oxygen reduction, the most important reaction in hydrogen fuel cells. Fuel cell systems represent a promising alternative for low carbon emission energy production. Traditional fuel cells are however limited by the need of efficient catalysts to drive the chemical reactions involved in the fuel cell. Historically, platinum and its alloys have frequently been used as anodic and cathodic catalysts in fuel cells, but the high cost of platinum, due to its low abundance, motivates researchers to find efficient catalysts based on earth-abundant elements. The explanation for the very high efficiency is the unique morphology of the alloy. It is neither a homogeneous alloy, nor a fully segregated two-phase system, but rather something in between.

hydrogen fuel cellsCaption: A schematic model of the unique morphology of the alloy. The Pd-islands (light-brown spheres) are embedded in an environment of tungsten (blue spheres). Oxygen are represented by red spheres, and hydrogen by white spheres.

In our study we report a unique novel alloy with a palladium (Pd) and tungsten (W) ratio of only one to eight, which still has similar efficiency as a pure platinum catalyst. Considering the cost, it would be 40 times lower,” says Thomas Wågberg, Senior lecturer at Department of Physics, Umeå University.
The unique formation of the material is based on a synthesis method, which can be performed in an ordinary kitchen micro-wave oven purchased at the local supermarket. If we were not using argon as protective inert gas, it would be fully possible to synthesize this advanced catalyst in my own kitchen! ,” says Thomas Wågberg.
The findings are published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.