Making Fuel Cells for a Fraction of the Cost

It is the third announcement in less than one week for a major improvment in the making of fuel cells.

In the competition between Lithium-Ion batteries (e.g. Tesla cars), and hydrogen fuel cells (see picture of Nexo from Hyundai) that power electric cars, it is difficult to predict which one will be the winner at the end.

Fuel cells have the potential to be a clean and efficient way to run cars, computers, and power stations, but the cost of producing them is limiting their use. That’s because a key component of the most common fuel cells is a catalyst made from the precious metal platinum.

In a paper published in Small, researchers at the University of California, Riverside (UCR), describe the development of an inexpensive, efficient catalyst material for a type of fuel cell called a polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell (PEMFC), which turns the chemical energy of hydrogen into electricity and is among the most promising fuel cell types to power cars and electronics.

The catalyst developed at UCR is made of porous carbon nanofibers embedded with a compound made from a relatively abundant metal such as cobalt, which is more than 100 times less expensive than platinum. The research was led by David Kisailus, the Winston Chung Endowed Professor in Energy Innovation in UCR’s Marlan and Rosemary Bourns College of Engineering.

Fuel cells, which are already being used by some carmakers, offer advantages over conventional combustion technologies, including higher efficiency, quieter operation and lower emissions. Hydrogen fuel cells emit only water.

Like batteries, fuel cells are electrochemical devices that comprise a positive and negative electrode sandwiching an electrolyte. When a hydrogen fuel is injected onto the anode, a catalyst separates the hydrogen molecules into positively charged particles called protons and negatively charged particles called electrons. The electrons are directed through an external circuit, where they do useful work, such as powering an electric motor, before rejoining the positively charged hydrogen ions and oxygen to form water.

A critical barrier to fuel cell adoption is the cost of platinum, making the development of alternative catalyst materials a key driver for their mass implementation.

Using a technique called electrospinning, the UCR researchers made paper-thin sheets of carbon nanofibers that contained metal ions — either cobalt, iron or nickel. Kisailus and his team, collaborating with scientists at Stanford University, determined that the new materials performed as good as the industry standard platinum-carbon systems, but at a fraction of the cost. “The key to the high performance of the materials we created is the combination of the chemistry and fiber processing conditions,” Kisailus said


Nobel Prize Nanotechnologist Launches His Own Anti-Aging Cosmetic Line

In 2016, J. Fraser Stoddart won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his part in designing a molecular machine. Now as chief technology officer and cofounder of nanotechnology firm PanaceaNano, he has introduced the “Noble” line of antiaging cosmetics, including a $524 formula described as an “anti-wrinkle repair” night cream. The firm says the cream contains Nobel Prize-winning “organic nano-cubes” loaded with ingredients that reverse skin damage and reduce the appearance of wrinkles. Other prize-winning chemists have founded companies, but Stoddart’s backing of the antiaging cosmetic line takes the promotion of a new company by an award-winning scientist to the next level.

The nano-cubes are made of carbohydrate molecules known as cyclodextrins. The cubes, of various sizes and shapes, release ingredients such as vitamins and peptides onto the skin “at predefined times with molecular precision,” according to the Noble skin care website. PanaceaNano cofounder Youssry Botros, former nanotechnology research director at Intel, contends that the metering technology makes the product line “far superior to comparable products in the market today.” However, the nanocubes aren’t molecular machines, for which Stoddart won his Nobel prize.

While acknowledging the product line trades on his Nobel prize, Stoddart points out that “we’re not spelling our product name, Noble, the way the Swedish Nobel Foundation does.Ethicist Michael Kalichman has a different perspective. Use of the word Noble, even though spelled differently than the prize, is “unseemly but not illegal,” he says. Kalichman, who is director of the Research Ethics Program at the University of California, San Diego, adds, “If his goal is to make money, this may work. But if his goal is to retain credibility and pursue other more laudable goals, maybe he should stay focused on those goals.”

Botros says PanaceaNano is also developing nanotechnology materials for markets including hydrogen storage, flexible batteries, and molecular memory based on technology from Stoddart’s lab and licensed from Northwestern University. But PanaceaNano chose to make its first commercial product a line of cosmetics because of the high margins and the ease of market entry.


How To Fix Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have engineered a new way to deliver CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology inside cells and have demonstrated in mice that the technology can repair the mutation that causes Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a severe muscle-wasting disease. A new study shows that a single injection of CRISPR-Gold, as the new delivery system is called, into mice with Duchenne muscular dystrophy led to an 18-times-higher correction rate and a two-fold increase in a strength and agility test compared to control groups.

Since 2012, when study co-author Jennifer Doudna, a professor of molecular and cell biology and of chemistry at UC Berkeley, and colleague Emmanuelle Charpentier, of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, repurposed the Cas9 protein to create a cheap, precise and easy-to-use gene editor, researchers have hoped that therapies based on CRISPR-Cas9 would one day revolutionize the treatment of genetic diseases. Yet developing treatments for genetic diseases remains a big challenge in medicine. This is because most genetic diseases can be cured only if the disease-causing gene mutation is corrected back to the normal sequence, and this is impossible to do with conventional therapeutics.

CRISPR/Cas9, however, can correct gene mutations by cutting the mutated DNA and triggering homology-directed DNA repair. However, strategies for safely delivering the necessary components (Cas9, guide RNA that directs Cas9 to a specific gene, and donor DNA) into cells need to be developed before the potential of CRISPR-Cas9-based therapeutics can be realized. A common technique to deliver CRISPR-Cas9 into cells employs viruses, but that technique has a number of complications. CRISPR-Gold does not need viruses.

In the new study, research lead by the laboratories of Berkeley bioengineering professors Niren Murthy and Irina Conboy demonstrated that their novel approach, called CRISPR-Gold because gold nanoparticles are a key component, can deliver Cas9 – the protein that binds and cuts DNA – along with guide RNA and donor DNA into the cells of a living organism to fix a gene mutation.

CRISPR-Gold is the first example of a delivery vehicle that can deliver all of the CRISPR components needed to correct gene mutations, without the use of viruses,” Murthy said.

The study was published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.


New Brain Death Pathway In Alzheimer’s Identified

Findings of team led by the Arizona State University (ASU) scientists offer hope for therapies targeting cell loss in the brain, an inevitable and devastating outcome of Alzheimer’s progression
Alzheimer’s disease tragically ravages the brains, memories and, ultimately, personalities of its victims. Now affecting 5 million Americans, Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., and a cure for Alzheimer’s remains elusive, as the exact biological events that trigger it are still unknown.

In a new study, Arizona State University-Banner Health neuroscientist Salvatore Oddo and his colleagues from Phoenix’s Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) — as well as the University of California, Irvine, and Mount Sinai in New York — have identified a new way for brain cells to become fated to die during Alzheimer’s disease. The research team has found the first evidence that the activation of a biological pathway called necroptosis, which causes neuronal loss, is closely linked with Alzheimer’s severity, cognitive decline and extreme loss of tissue and brain weight that are all advanced hallmarks of the disease.

We anticipate that our findings will spur a new area of Alzheimer’s disease research focused on further detailing the role of necroptosis and developing new therapeutic strategies aimed at blocking it,” said Oddo, the lead author of this study, and scientist at the ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center at the Biodesign Institute and associate professor in the School of Life Sciences.

Necroptosis, which causes cells to burst from the inside out and die, is triggered by a triad of proteins. It has been shown to play a central role in multiple sclerosis and Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS), and now for the first time, also in Alzheimer’s disease.

There is no doubt that the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease have fewer neurons,” explained Oddo. “The brain is much smaller and weighs less; it shrinks because neurons are dying. That has been known for 100 years, but until now, the mechanism wasn’t understood.
The findings appear in the advanced online edition of Nature Neuroscience.


Nano Printing Heralds NanoComputers Era

A new technique using liquid metals to create integrated circuits that are just atoms thick could lead to the next big advance for electronics. The process opens the way for the production of large wafers around 1.5 nanometres in depth (a sheet of paper, by comparison, is 100,000nm thick). Other techniques have proven unreliable in terms of quality, difficult to scale up and function only at very high temperatures – 550 degrees or more.

Professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh, from RMIT’s School of Engineering in Australia , led the project with  colleagues from RMIT and researchers from CSIRO, Monash University, North Carolina State University and the the University of California, He observed that the electronics industry had “hit a barrier.

nano printing

The fundamental technology of car engines has not progressed since 1920 and now the same is happening to electronics. Mobile phones and computers are no more powerful than five years ago. That is why this new 2D printing technique is so important – creating many layers of incredibly thin electronic chips on the same surface dramatically increases processing power and reduces costsIt will allow for the next revolution in electronics.

Benjamin Carey, a researcher with RMIT and the CSIRO, said creating electronic wafers just atoms thick could overcome the limitations of current chip production. It could also produce materials that were extremely bendable, paving the way for flexible electronics. “However, none of the current technologies are able to create homogenous surfaces of atomically thin semiconductors on large surface areas that are useful for the industrial scale fabrication of chips.  Our solution is to use the metals gallium and indium, which have a low melting point.  These metals produce an atomically thin layer of oxide on their surface that naturally protects them. It is this thin oxide which we use in our fabrication method,”  explains Carey.

By rolling the liquid metal, the oxide layer can be transferred on to an electronic wafer, which is then sulphurised. The surface of the wafer can be pre-treated to form individual transistors.  We have used this novel method to create transistors and photo-detectors of very high gain and very high fabrication reliability in large scale,” he adds.

The paper outlining the new technique has been published in the journal Nature Communications.


Electronics: How To Dissipate Heat in A Nanocomputer

Controlling the flow of heat through semiconductor materials is an important challenge in developing smaller and faster computer chips, high-performance solar panels, and better lasers and biomedical devices. For the first time, an international team of scientists led by a researcher at the University of California, Riverside has modified the energy spectrum of acoustic phononselemental excitations, also referred to as quasi-particles, that spread heat through crystalline materials like a wave—by confining them to nanometer-scale semiconductor structures. The results have important implications in the thermal management of electronic devices. Led by Alexander Balandin, Professor of Electrical and Computing Engineering and UC Presidential Chair Professor in UCR’s Bourns College of Engineering, the research is described in a paper published in the journal Nature Communications.


The team used semiconductor nanowires from Gallium Arsenide (GaAs), synthesized by researchers in Finland, and an imaging technique called Brillouin-Mandelstam light scattering spectroscopy (BMS) to study the movement of phonons through the crystalline nanostructures. By changing the size and the shape of the GaAs nanostructures, the researchers were able to alter the energy spectrum, or dispersion, of acoustic phonons. The BMS instrument used for this study was built at UCR’s Phonon Optimized Engineered Materials (POEM) Center, which is directed by Balandin.

Controlling phonon dispersion is crucial for improving heat removal from nanoscale electronic devices, which has become the major roadblock in allowing engineers to continue to reduce their size. It can also be used to improve the efficiency of thermoelectric energy generation, Balandin said. In that case, decreasing thermal conductivity by phonons is beneficial for thermoelectric devices that generate energy by applying a temperature gradient to semiconductors.

For years, the only envisioned method of changing the thermal conductivity of nanostructures was via acoustic phonon scattering with nanostructure boundaries and interfaces. We demonstrated experimentally that by spatially confining acoustic phonons in nanowires one can change their velocity, and the way they interact with electrons, magnons, and how they carry heat. Our work creates new opportunities for tuning thermal and electronic properties of semiconductor materials,” Balandin said.


Stem Cells May Heal Horse Injuries

Researchers are fine-tuning the use of adult stem cells to treat horse injuries. Bomaneer thrives on competition. But now the 10-year-old Dutch warmblood’s dreams of dressage glory are in limbo. “We think he may have gotten his hoof stuck in a fence and pulling it out may have sustained the injury“, says Eizabeth Thierot, owner of Bonameer DG.
The injury is a meniscus tear – and it could mean Bonameer‘s competition days are over. But both his owner and his doctor think Bonameer‘s chances of a full recovery are pretty good – thanks in part to a stem cell therapy treatment. Two weeks ago mesenchymal stem cells were drawn out of Bonameer‘s bone marrow and then cultured in a lab. These types of adult stem cells have the ability to rapidly divide and generate tissue cells….. and that is what doctors hope will happen when they are injected back into the location of Bonameer‘s injury.


So the hope is that the cells will go into that environment wherever the injury is and whatever that environment dictates, if there are dying cells, it will help rescue those. If there is damaged meniscus, it will help generate that. So based on the environment and the function, what’s going on in that structure, whether it be a joint tendon or ligament those cells will help heal that. Ultimately that’s the goal, to restore function“, says Dr. Larry Galuppo, Professor of Equine Surgery, University of California, Davis.

Guided by an ultrasound scan – the stem cells are injected into Bonameer. The results of the treatment will take time. And even if Bonameer doesn’t heal completely, Hess still playing an important role towards figuring out what the future of stem cell therapy will be for horses.  “We’re still in that clinical trial phase where we are still learning about what is the right dose, how many times we should treat, what injury respond best. So we are just in the beginning in trying to figure out what are the benefits of stem cell therapy.” Elizabeth Thieriot thinks Bonameer will heal and she is willing to give him as much time as he needs.”Our bond is more than just he is my competition horse. Its a life long journey for both of us“, she comments… A journey that will hopefully see Elizabeth and Bonameer back in competition soon.


Ocean: NanoMotors Remove Ninety Percent Of The Carbon Dioxide

Machines that are much smaller than the width of a human hair could one day help clean up carbon dioxide pollution in the oceans. Nanoengineers at the University of California, San Diego have designed enzyme-functionalized micromotors that rapidly zoom around in water, remove carbon dioxide and convert it into a usable solid form. The proof of concept study represents a promising route to mitigate the buildup of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas in the environment, said researchers.

nanomotorsNanoengineers have invented tiny tube-shaped micromotors that zoom around in water and efficiently remove carbon dioxide. The surfaces of the micromotors are functionalized with the enzyme carbonic anhydrase, which enables the motors to help rapidly convert carbon dioxide to calcium carbonate

We’re excited about the possibility of using these micromotors to combat ocean acidification and global warming,” said Virendra V. Singh, a postdoctoral scientist in Wang’s research group and a co-first author of this study. In their experiments, nanoengineers demonstrated that the micromotors rapidly decarbonated water solutions that were saturated with carbon dioxide. Within five minutes, the micromotors removed 90 percent of the carbon dioxide from a solution of deionized water. The micromotors were just as effective in a sea water solution and removed 88 percent of the carbon dioxide in the same timeframe.

In the future, we could potentially use these micromotors as part of a water treatment system, like a water decarbonation plant,” said Kevin Kaufmann, an undergraduate researcher in Wang’s lab and a co-author of the study.

The team, led by nanoengineering professor Joseph Wang, has published the work this month in the journal Angewandte Chemie.


3D Printed Nano Fish Remove Toxins From Your Body

Nanoengineers at the University of California, San Diego used an innovative 3D printing technology they developed to manufacture multipurpose fish-shaped microrobots — called microfish — that swim around efficiently in liquids, are chemically powered by hydrogen peroxide and magnetically controlled. These proof-of-concept synthetic microfish will inspire a new generation of “smartmicrorobots that have diverse capabilities such as detoxification, sensing and directed drug delivery, researchers said.

3D nanofish3D-printed microfish contain functional nanoparticles that enable them to be self-propelled, chemically powered and magnetically steered. The microfish are also capable of removing and sensing toxins.
The technique used to fabricate the microfish provides numerous improvements over other methods traditionally employed to create microrobots with various locomotion mechanisms, such as microjet engines, microdrillers and microrockets. Most of these microrobots are incapable of performing more sophisticated tasks because they feature simple designs — such as spherical or cylindrical structures — and are made of homogeneous inorganic materials. In this new study, researchers demonstrated a simple way to create more complex microrobots.

By combining Professor Shaochen Chen’s 3D printing technology with Joseph Wang’s expertise in microrobots, the team from the NanoEngineering Department at the UC San Diego was able to custom-build microfish that can do more than simply swim around when placed in a solution containing hydrogen peroxide. Nanoengineers were able to easily add functional nanoparticles into certain parts of the microfish bodies. They installed platinum nanoparticles in the tails, which react with hydrogen peroxide to propel the microfish forward, and magnetic iron oxide nanoparticles in the heads, which allowed them to be steered with magnets.Schematic illustration of the process of functionalizing the microfish. Platinum nanoparticles are first loaded into the tail of the fish for propulsion via reaction with hydrogen peroxide. Next, iron oxide nanoparticles are loaded into the head of the fish for magnetic control.

We have developed an entirely new method to engineer nature-inspired microscopic swimmers that have complex geometric structures and are smaller than the width of a human hair. With this method, we can easily integrate different functions inside these tiny robotic swimmers for a broad spectrum of applications,” said the co-first author Wei Zhu, a nanoengineering Ph.D. student in Chen’s research group at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego.
The research, led by Professors Shaochen Chen and Joseph Wang of the NanoEngineering Department at the UC San Diego, was published in the journal Advanced Materials.


How To Make Solar Energy Conversion More Efficient

When it comes to installing solar cells, labor cost and the cost of the land to house them constitute the bulk of the expense.  The solar cells – made often of silicon or cadmium telluride – rarely cost more than 20 percent of the total costSolar energy could be made cheaper if less land had to be purchased to accommodate solar panels, best achieved if each solar cell could be coaxed to generate more power.

A huge gain in this direction has now been made by a team of chemists at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) that has found an ingenious way to make solar energy conversion more efficientThe researchers report in Nano Letters that by combining inorganic semiconductor nanocrystals with organic molecules, they have succeeded in “upconvertingphotons in the visible and near-infrared regions of the solar spectrum.


Solar-panels UCRChemists at the University of California, Riverside have found an ingenious way to make solar energy conversion more efficient

The infrared region of the solar spectrum passes right through the photovoltaic materials that make up today’s solar cells,” explained Christopher Bardeen, a professor of chemistry. The research was a collaborative effort between him and Ming Lee Tang, an assistant professor of chemistry. “This is energy lost, no matter how good your solar cell.  The hybrid material we have come up with first captures two infrared photons that would normally pass right through a solar cell without being converted to electricity, then adds their energies together to make one higher energy photon.  This upconverted photon is readily absorbed by photovoltaic cells, generating electricity from light that normally would be wasted.”


Remote-Controlled Cyborg Beetles

Hard-wiring beetles for radio-controlled flight turns out to be a fitting way to learn more about their biology. Cyborg insect research led by engineers at UC Berkeley and Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is enabling new revelations about a muscle used by beetles for finely graded turns.

Research video showing remote-controlled steering of a giant flower beetle flying untethered. By strapping nanocomputers and wireless radios onto the backs of giant flower beetles and recording neuromuscular data as the bugs flew untethered, scientists determined that a muscle known for controlling the folding of wings was also critical to steering. The researchers then used that information to improve the precision of the beetles’ remote-controlled turns.

This study, published in the journal Current Biology, showcases the potential of wireless sensors in biological research. Research in this field could also lead to applications such as tools to aid search-and-rescue operations in areas too dangerous for humans.
cyborg beetle
What things would you have to strip out in terms of genes or in terms neurosystems to be left with a chassis that is effectively a flyable chassis. Why is an insect not a flying robot, because it has stuff in there that you would like to knock out and then get yourself a chassis“, says Michele Maharbiz, an associate professor in UC Berkeley’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences and the study’s principal investigator.. A chassis like you would find in a car. But while cars were designed with the sole purpose of driving, evolution has hardwired beetles for multiple functions, like mating and eating. All of these need to taken into account when developing a remote controlled beetle. The researchers have made much progress over the years. They have proven they can control the beetles with stimulation to both the brain and muscles. Maharbiz thinks a combination of both techniques will probably be needed to create an ideal cyborg beetle. “At a short term practical level I think that we could stand to build controlled flyers at very small scales this way, in other words using the best of electronics and the best of the natural world,“, adds Maharbiz.

Smart Bandage

Engineers at UC Berkeley are developing a new type of bandage that does far more than stanch the bleeding from a paper cut or scraped knee.

Associate professor Michel Maharbiz explains how the smart bandage works to detect bedsores. (UC Berkeley video by Roxanne Makasdjian and Phil Ebiner)
Thanks to advances in flexible electronics, the researchers, in collaboration with colleagues at UC San Francisco, have created a new “smart bandage” that uses electrical currents to detect early tissue damage from pressure ulcers, or bedsores, before they can be seen by human eyes – and while recovery is still possible.
The researchers exploited the electrical changes that occur when a healthy cell starts dying. They tested the thin, non-invasive bandage on the skin of rats and found that the device was able to detect varying degrees of tissue damage consistently across multiple animals.

smartbandage The smart bandage is fabricated by printing gold electrodes onto a thin piece of plastic. This flexible sensor uses impedance spectroscopy to detect bedsores that are invisible to the naked eye
We set out to create a type of bandage that could detect bedsores as they are forming, before the damage reaches the surface of the skin,” said Michel Maharbiz, a UC Berkeley associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences and head of the smart-bandage project. “We can imagine this being carried by a nurse for spot-checking target areas on a patient, or it could be incorporated into a wound dressing to regularly monitor how it’s healing.
The findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, could provide a major boost to efforts to stem a health problem that affects an estimated 2.5 million U.S. residents at an annual cost of $11 billion.