Category Archives: water

Your plant feeling stressed? Have we got a nanosensor for you!

An April 15, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily features an intriguing application for nansensors on plants that may have an important impact as we deal with the problems associated with droughts. This work comes from the University of California at San Diego (UCSD),

Biologists have succeeded in visualizing the movement within plants of a key hormone responsible for growth and resistance to drought. The achievement will allow researchers to conduct further studies to determine how the hormone helps plants respond to drought and other environmental stresses driven by the continuing increase in the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide, or CO2, concentration.

The April 15, 2014 UCSD news release by Kim McDonald, which originated the news item, describes the plant hormone being tracked and the tracking tool developed by the researchers,

The plant hormone the biologists directly tracked is abscisic acid, or ABA, which plays a major role in activating drought resistance responses of plants and in regulating plant growth under environmental stress conditions. The ABA stress hormone also controls the closing of stomata, the pores within leaves through which plants lose 95 percent of their water while taking in CO2 for growth.

Scientists already know the general role that ABA plays within plants, but by directly visualizing the hormone they can now better understand the complex interactions involving ABA when a plant is subjected to drought or other stress.

“Understanding the dynamic distribution of ABA in plants in response to environmental stimuli is of particular importance in elucidating the action of this important plant hormone,” says Julian Schroeder, a professor of biology at UC San Diego who headed the research effort. “For example, we can now investigate whether an increase in the leaf CO2 concentration that occurs every night due to respiration in leaves affects the ABA concentration in stomatal cells.”

The researchers developed what they call a “genetically-encoded reporter” in order to directly and instantaneously observe the movements of ABA within the mustard plant Arabidopsis. These reporters, called “ABAleons,” contain two differentially colored fluorescent proteins attached to an ABA-binding sensor protein. Once bound to ABA, the ABAleons change their fluorescence emission, which can be analyzed using a microscope. The researchers showed that ABA concentration changes and waves of ABA movement could be monitored in diverse tissues and individual cells over time and in response to stress.

“Using this reporter, we directly observed long distance ABA movements from the stem of a germinating seedling to the leaves and roots of the growing plant and, for the first time, we were able to determine the rate of ABA movement within the growing plant,” says Schroeder.

“Using this tool, we now can detect ABA in live plants and see how it is distributed,” says Rainer Waadt, a postdoctoral associate in Schroeder’s laboratory and the first author of the paper. “We are also able to directly see that environmental stress causes an increase in the ABA concentration in the stomatal guard cells that surround each stomatal pore. In the future, our sensors can be used to study ABA distribution in response to different stresses, including CO2 elevations, and to identify other molecules and proteins that affect the distribution of this hormone. We can also learn how fast plants respond to stresses and which tissues are important for the response.”

The researchers demonstrated that their new ABA nanosensors also function effectively as isolated proteins. This means that the sensors could be directly employed using state-of-the-art high-throughput screening platforms to screen for chemicals that could activate or enhance a drought resistance response. The scientists say such chemicals could become useful in the future for enhancing a drought resistance response, when crops experience a severe drought, like the one that occurred in the Midwest in the summer of 2012.

The scientists have provided a 1 min. 30 sec. (roughly) video where you can watch a vastly speeded up version of the process (Courtesy: UCSD),

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

FRET-based reporters for the direct visualization of abscisic acid concentration changes and distribution in Arabidopsis by Rainer Waadt, Kenichi Hitomi, Noriyuki Nishimura, Chiharu Hitomi, Stephen R Adams, Elizabeth D Getzoff, & Julian I Schroeder. eLife 2014;3:e01739 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.01739 Published April 15, 2014

This paper is open access.

Canadian government funding announced for nanotechnology research in Saskatchewan and Alberta

Canada’s Western Economic Diversification and Canada Research Chairs (CRC) programmes both made nanotechnology funding announcements late last week on March 28, 2014.

From a March 28, 2014 news item on CJME radio online,

Funding for nanotechnology was announced at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) on Friday [March 28, 2014].

Researchers will work on developing nanostructured coatings for parts of artificial joints and even mining equipment.

The $183,946 investment from the Western Economic Diversification Canada will go towards purchasing tailor-made equipment that will help apply the coating.

A March 29, 2014 article by Scott Larson for the Leader-Post provides more details,

In the near future when someone has a hip replacement, the new joint might actually last a lifetime thanks to cutting edge nanotechnology research being done by Qiaoqin Yang and her team. Yang, Canada Research Chair in nanoengineering coating technologies and professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Saskatchewan, has received $183,946 from Western Economic Diversification (WD) to purchase specially made equipment for nanotechnology research.

The equipment will help in developing and testing nanostructured coatings to increase the durability of hard-to-reach industrial and medical components.

“The diamond-based coating is biocompatible and has high wear resistance,” Yang said of the coating material.

There will be four industry-specific coating prototypes tested for projects such as solar energy systems, artificial joints, and mining and oilsands equipment.

Yang said artificial joints usually only last 10-20 years.

I have written about hip and knee replacements and issues with the materials most recently in a Feb. 5, 2013 posting.

As for the CRC announcement about the University of Alberta, here’s more from the March 28, 2014 article by Catherine Griwkowsky for the Edmonton Sun,

The Canadian Research Chairs funding announcement means 11 chair appointments, renewals and tier advancements, part of the 100 faculty who are chair holders at the university.

Carlo Montemagno, Canada Research Chair in Intelligent Nanosystems, said the funding will usher in the next generation in nanotechnology.

“It’s not just the money, it’s the recognition and the visibility that comes with the title,” Montemagno said. “That provides an opportunity for me to be more effective recruiting talent into my laboratory.”

He said the chair position at the University of Alberta allows him to go after riskier projects with a higher impact.

“It provides a nucleating force that allows us to gravitationally pull in talent and resources to position ourselves as global leaders,” Montemagno said.

Previously, he had worked at Cornell University, department head at University of California Los Angeles and dean of engineering at the University of Cincinnati.

Minister of State for Science and Technology Ed Holder said the $88 million will help with Canada’s economic prosperity and will attract more researchers to the country from around the world. …

“I think it’s a huge compliment to what the government of Canada is doing in terms of research and I think it’s a great, great credit to those Canadians who say I can do the best and the greatest research right here in Canada.

He said the success is attracting Canadians back.

Holder, who took over as science boss just over a week ago, said the government has received acknowledgment from granting councils. …

Holder said the proposed budget has an additional $1.5 billion in new money in the budget for research.

Upcoming research projects from the National Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Alberta:

Artificially engineered system that incorporates the process of photosynthesis in a non-living thing with living elements to convert CO2 emissions to a sellable commodity like rare earth and precious metals.
Extracting minerals and chemicals in waste treatment such as tailings ponds, to clean up polluted water and take out valuable resources.
Cleaning and purifying water with an engineered variant of a molecule 100 times more efficient than current technology, opening land for agricultural development, or industrial plants.

Montemagno has an intriguing turn of phrase “a nucleating force that allows us to gravitationally pull in talent and resources” which I think could be summed up as “money lets us buy what we want with regard to researchers and equipment.” (I first mentioned Montegmagno in a Nov. 19, 2013 post about Alberta’s nanotechnology-focused Ingenuity Lab which he heads.) Holder’s comments are ‘on message’ as they say these days or, as old-timers would say, his comments follow the government’s script.

The listing of the National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT) projects in Griwkowsky’s article seems a bit enigmatic since there’s no explanation offered as to why these are being included in the newspaper article. The confusion can be cleared up by reading the March 28, 2014 University of Alberta news release,

“Our work is about harnessing the power of ‘n’—nature, nanotechnology and networks,” said Montemagno, one of 11 U of A faculty members who received CRC appointments, renewals or tier advancements. “We use living systems in nature as the inspiration; we use nanotechnology, the ability to manipulate matter at its smallest scale; and we build systems in the understanding that we have to make these small elements work together in complex networks.”

The physical home of this work is Ingenuity Lab, a collaboration between the U of A, the National Institute for Nanotechnology and Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures. Montemagno is the director, and he has assembled a team of top scientists with backgrounds in biochemistry, organic chemistry, neurobiology, molecular biology, physics, computer science, engineering and material science.

Turning CO2 in something valuable

Reducing greenhouse gases is one of the challenges his team is working to address, by capturing carbon dioxide emissions and converting them into high-value chemicals.

Montemagno said the process involves mimicking photosynthesis, using engineered molecules to create a structure that metabolizes CO2. Unlike fermentation and other processes used to convert chemicals, this method is far more energy-efficient, he said.

“You make something that has the same sort of features that are associated with a living process that you want to emulate.”

In another project, Montemagno’s team has turned to cells, viruses and bacteria and how they identify chemicals to react to their environment, with the aim of developing “an exquisite molecular recognition technology” that can find rare precious metals in dilute quantities for extraction. This type of bio-mining is being explored to transform waste from a copper mine into a valuable product, and ultimately could benefit oilsands operations as well.

“The idea is converting waste into a resource and doing it in a way in which you provide more economic opportunity while you’re being a stronger steward of our natural resources.”

Congratulations to the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Alberta!

(A University of British Columbia CRC founding announcement was mentioned in my March 31, 2014 posting about Ed Holder, the new Minister of State (Science and Technology).

Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and the University of Waterloo (Canada) together at last

A March 18, 2014 University of Waterloo news release describes a new agreement signed at a joint Technion-Israel Institute of Technology-University of Waterloo conference held in Israel.

“As two of the world’s top innovation universities, the University of Waterloo and Technion are natural partners,” said Feridun Hamdullahpur, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Waterloo. “This partnership positions both Waterloo and Technion for accelerated progress in the key areas of quantum information science, nanotechnology, and water. [emphasis mine] These disciplines will help to shape the future of communities, industries, and everyday life.”

The conference to mark the start of the new partnership, and a reciprocal event in Waterloo planned for later in 2014, is funded by a donation to the University of Waterloo from The Gerald Schwartz & Heather Reisman Foundation.

“The agreement between the University of Waterloo and Technion will lead to joint research projects between Israeli and Canadian scientists in areas crucial for making our world a better place,” said Peretz Lavie, president of Technion. “I could not think of a better partner for such projects than the University of Waterloo.”

The new partnership agreement will connect students and faculty from both institutions with global markets through technology transfer and commercialization opportunities with industrial partners in Canada and in Israel.

“This partnership between two global innovation leaders puts in place the conditions to support research breakthroughs and new opportunities for commercialization on an international scale,” said George Dixon, vice-president of research at Waterloo. “University of Waterloo and Technion have a history of research collaboration going back almost 20 years.”

Which one of these items does not fit on the list “quantum information science, nanotechnology, and water?” I pick water. I think they mean water remediation or water desalination or, perhaps, water research.

Given the issues with the lack of potable water in that region the interest in water is eminently understandable. (My Feb. 24, 2014 posting mentions the situation in the Middle East in the context of water desalination research at a new nanotechnology at Oman’s Sultan Qaboos University.)

Canadian nanobusiness news bitlets: NanoStruck and Lomiko Metals

The two items or ‘news bitlets’ about Canadian nano business don’t amount to much; one concerns a letter of intent and the other, an offer of warrants (like stock options) which likely expired today (March 13, 2014).

It seems NanoStruck Technologies is continuing to make headway in Mexico (as per my Feb. 19, 2014 posting about the company’s LOI and gold mine tailings in Zacatecas state) as the company has signed another letter of intent (LOI), this time, to treat wastewater in the region of Cabo Corrientes. From a March 11, 2014 news item on Azonano,

NanoStruck Technologies Inc. (the “Company” or “NanoStruck”) announces the signing of a Letter of Intent (LOI) with the town of El Tuito to use the Company’s NanoPure technology to treat wastewater from the municipality of Cabo Corrientes in Mexico.

The parties are in dialogue for the treatment of household residual water, which contains food, biodegradable matter, kitchen waste and organic materials. The Company’s NanoPure solution uses chemical-free processes and proprietary nano powders that can be customised to remove such contaminants.

The March 10, 2014 NanoStruck Technologies news release (which originated the news item) link on the company website leads to the full text here on heraldonline.com (Note: Links have been removed),

Homero Romero Amaral, President of the Municipality of Cabo Corrientes said: “NanoStruck’s NanoPure technology is a proven solution for the treatment of residual water in an environmentally friendly way. Its low energy consumption means it also maintains a low carbon footprint.”

Bundeep Singh Rangar, Interim CEO and Chairman of the Board said: “We are privileged to be given the opportunity to work with the Cabo Corrientes municipality to create a long-term residual wastewater treatment solution.”

El Tuito is the capital of Cabo Corrientes, a cape on the Pacific coast of the Mexican state of Jalisco. It marks the southernmost point of the Bahía de Banderas (Bay of Flags), where the port and resort city of Puerto Vallarta is situated.

The Municipality and NanoStruck have commenced negotiation of a definitive agreement regarding the use of the NanoPure technology and hope to complete a binding agreement within 90 days.

My next bitlet concerns, Lomiko Metals and its short form prospectus and offering. From the company’s March 7, 2014 news release (also available on MarketWired),

LOMIKO METALS INC. (TSX VENTURE:LMR) (the “Company” or “Lomiko”) is pleased to announce that it has obtained a final receipt for its short form prospectus (the “Prospectus”) in each of the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, which qualifies the distribution (the “Public Offering”) of (i) a minimum of 6,818,182 units (the “Units”) and a maximum of 27,272,727 Units of the Company at a price of $0.11 per Unit, and (ii) a maximum of 7,692,308 flow-through units (the “Flow-Through Units”) of the Company at a price of $0.13 per Flow-Through Unit, for minimum total gross proceeds of $750,000 and maximum total gross proceeds of $4,000,000.

Each Unit consists of one common share of the Company (each, a “Common Share”) and one-half of one common share purchase warrant (each whole warrant being a “Unit Warrant”). Each Flow-Through Unit consists of one Common Share to be issued on a “flow-through” basis within the meaning of the Income Tax Act (Canada) (each a “Flow-Through Share”) and one-half of one common share purchase warrant (each whole warrant being a “Flow-Through Unit Warrant”).

Each Unit Warrant will entitle the holder thereof to purchase one common share of the Company (the “Unit Warrant Shares”) at a price of $0.15 per Unit Warrant Share at at any time before the date that is 18 months following the closing date of the Public Offering. Each Flow-Through Unit Warrant will entitle the holder thereof to purchase one common share of the Company (the “Flow-Through Unit Warrant Shares”) at a price of $0.20 per Flow-Through Unit Warrant Share at at any time before the date that is 18 months following the closing date of the Public Offering. The Public Offering will be conducted on a “best effort” agency basis through Secutor Capital Management Corporation (the “Agent”), pursuant to an agency agreement dated March 6, 2014 (the “Agency Agreement”) between the Company and the Agent in respect of the Public Offering.

Pursuant to the Agency Agreement, the Company has also granted an over-allotment option to the Agent, exercisable for a period of 30 days following the closing of the Public Offering, in whole or in part, to purchase additional Units and Flow-Through Units in a maximum number equal to up to 15% of the number of Units and Flow-Through Units respectively sold pursuant to the Public Offering. In connection with the Public Offering, the Company will pay the Agent a cash commission equal to 8% of the gross proceeds of the Public Offering and grant compensation options to the Agent entitling it to purchase that number of common shares of the Company equal to 6% of the aggregate number of Units and Flow-Through Units issued and sold under the Public Offering (including the over-allotment option) for a period of 18 months following the closing date of the Public Offering, at a price of $0.11 per common share.

The Company is also pleased to announce it has received conditional approval from the TSX Venture Exchange for its previously announced concurrent non-brokered offering of up to 15,346,231 flow-through units (the “Private Placement Units”) for additional gross proceeds of $2,000,000 (the “Private Placement”). The securities underlying the Private Placement Units will be issued on the same terms as the securities underlying the Flow-Through Units to be issued under the Public Offering. The Company has agreed to pay to Secutor Capital Management Corporation a finder’s fee of 8% in cash and the issuance of a warrant to purchase the number of common shares of the Company equal to 6%, exercisable at $0.13 per share for 18 months from the date of issuance. The securities to be issued under the Private Placement will be subject to a four-month hold period from the closing date of the Private Placement.

The net proceeds from the Public Offering and the Private Placement will be used by Lomiko primarily in connection with the exploration program on the Quatre-Milles East and West mineral properties (Quebec), for business development and for working capital and general corporate purposes. In particular, the proceeds of the flow-through shares under the Public Offering and the Private Placement will be used by the Company to incur eligible Canadian Exploration Expenses as defined by the Income Tax Act (Canada).

Closing of the Public Offering and of the Private Placement is expected to occur on or about March 13, 2014, or such other date as the Agent and the Company may determine. The TSX Venture Exchange has conditionally approved the listing of the securities to be issued pursuant to the Public Offering and the Private Placement. The Public Offering and the Private Placement are subject to customary conditions and the final approval of the TSX Venture Exchange.

The Units, the Flow-Through Units and the Private Placement Units have not been, nor will they be, registered under the United States Securities Act of 1933, as amended (the “1933 Act”), and may not be offered, sold or delivered, directly or indirectly, within the United States, or to or for the account or benefit of U.S. persons unless the Units, the Flow-Through Units and the Private Placement Units are registered under the 1933 Act or pursuant to an applicable exemption from the registration requirements of the 1933 Act. This press release does not constitute an offer to sell, nor it is a solicitation of an offer of securities, nor shall there be any sale of securities in any state of the United States in which such offer, solicitation or sale would be unlawful.

You’re on your own with regard to determining how good an investment this company might be. The company’s March 10, 2014 newsletter does point to two analyses (although, again, you’re on your own as to whether or not these are reputable analysts), The first analyst is Gary Anderson (self-described as a Investor, trader, researcher, and writer- exclusively in 3D Printing Stocks.). He writes this in a Dec. 27, 2013 posting on 3DPrintingStocks.com,

I spend a great deal of time looking for what I believe are legitimate, undiscovered stocks in the 3D printing space because I believe that’s where the major gains will be over a 3-6 month period as they undergo discovery by the broader market.

The little-known penny stock [Lomiko Metals] I’m introducing today has legitimate upside potential for 3D printing investors based on four factors:

  1. The market for their product
  2. Current and potential future value of existing assets
  3. Supply and demand imbalance predicted
  4. Entrance into 3D printing materials market with an established leader

….

3D printing investors looking for a materials supplier as part of their 3D printing portfolio may want to consider Lomiko Metals.  I believe there is limited downside risk at current levels due to the intrinsic value of the company’s hard assets in their Quatre Milles graphite property, and potential for significant share price appreciation due to the four factors discussed above.

Graphene has extraordinary potential as a game-changing material for 3D printing.  Early movers like Lomiko Metals in partnership with Graphene Labs could become the beneficiaries of this amazing material’s potential as it becomes commercialized and utilized in 3D printed components and products that contain revolutionary properties.

Disclosure:    I am long shares of Lomiko Metals.  I received no compensation from Lomiko Metals or any third party for this article.

Water desalination by graphene and water purification by sapwood

I have two items about water. The first concerns a new technique from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) for desalination using graphene. From a Feb. 25, 2014 news release by David Chandler on EurekAlert,

Researchers have devised a way of making tiny holes of controllable size in sheets of graphene, a development that could lead to ultrathin filters for improved desalination or water purification.

The team of researchers at MIT, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and in Saudi Arabia succeeded in creating subnanoscale pores in a sheet of the one-atom-thick material, which is one of the strongest materials known. …

The concept of using graphene, perforated by nanoscale pores, as a filter in desalination has been proposed and analyzed by other MIT researchers. The new work, led by graduate student Sean O’Hern and associate professor of mechanical engineering Rohit Karnik, is the first step toward actual production of such a graphene filter.

Making these minuscule holes in graphene — a hexagonal array of carbon atoms, like atomic-scale chicken wire — occurs in a two-stage process. First, the graphene is bombarded with gallium ions, which disrupt the carbon bonds. Then, the graphene is etched with an oxidizing solution that reacts strongly with the disrupted bonds — producing a hole at each spot where the gallium ions struck. By controlling how long the graphene sheet is left in the oxidizing solution, the MIT researchers can control the average size of the pores.

A big limitation in existing nanofiltration and reverse-osmosis desalination plants, which use filters to separate salt from seawater, is their low permeability: Water flows very slowly through them. The graphene filters, being much thinner, yet very strong, can sustain a much higher flow. “We’ve developed the first membrane that consists of a high density of subnanometer-scale pores in an atomically thin, single sheet of graphene,” O’Hern says.

For efficient desalination, a membrane must demonstrate “a high rejection rate of salt, yet a high flow rate of water,” he adds. One way of doing that is decreasing the membrane’s thickness, but this quickly renders conventional polymer-based membranes too weak to sustain the water pressure, or too ineffective at rejecting salt, he explains.

With graphene membranes, it becomes simply a matter of controlling the size of the pores, making them “larger than water molecules, but smaller than everything else,” O’Hern says — whether salt, impurities, or particular kinds of biochemical molecules.

The permeability of such graphene filters, according to computer simulations, could be 50 times greater than that of conventional membranes, as demonstrated earlier by a team of MIT researchers led by graduate student David Cohen-Tanugi of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. But producing such filters with controlled pore sizes has remained a challenge. The new work, O’Hern says, demonstrates a method for actually producing such material with dense concentrations of nanometer-scale holes over large areas.

“We bombard the graphene with gallium ions at high energy,” O’Hern says. “That creates defects in the graphene structure, and these defects are more chemically reactive.” When the material is bathed in a reactive oxidant solution, the oxidant “preferentially attacks the defects,” and etches away many holes of roughly similar size. O’Hern and his co-authors were able to produce a membrane with 5 trillion pores per square centimeter, well suited to use for filtration. “To better understand how small and dense these graphene pores are, if our graphene membrane were to be magnified about a million times, the pores would be less than 1 millimeter in size, spaced about 4 millimeters apart, and span over 38 square miles, an area roughly half the size of Boston,” O’Hern says.

With this technique, the researchers were able to control the filtration properties of a single, centimeter-sized sheet of graphene: Without etching, no salt flowed through the defects formed by gallium ions. With just a little etching, the membranes started allowing positive salt ions to flow through. With further etching, the membranes allowed both positive and negative salt ions to flow through, but blocked the flow of larger organic molecules. With even more etching, the pores were large enough to allow everything to go through.

Scaling up the process to produce useful sheets of the permeable graphene, while maintaining control over the pore sizes, will require further research, O’Hern says.

Karnik says that such membranes, depending on their pore size, could find various applications. Desalination and nanofiltration may be the most demanding, since the membranes required for these plants would be very large. But for other purposes, such as selective filtration of molecules — for example, removal of unreacted reagents from DNA — even the very small filters produced so far might be useful.

“For biofiltration, size or cost are not as critical,” Karnik says. “For those applications, the current scale is suitable.”

Dexter Johnson in a Feb. 26,2014 posting provides some context for and insight into the work (from the Nanoclast blog on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers]), Note: Links have been removed,

About 18 months ago, I wrote about an MIT project in which computer models demonstrated that graphene could act as a filter in the desalination of water through the reverse osmosis (RO) method. RO is slightly less energy intensive than the predominantly used multi-stage-flash process. The hope was that the nanopores of the graphene material would make the RO method even less energy intensive than current versions by making it easier to push the water through the filter membrane.

The models were promising, but other researchers in the field said at the time it was going to be a long road to translate a computer model to a real product.

It would seem that the MIT researchers agreed it was worth the effort and accepted the challenge to go from computer model to a real device as they announced this week that they had developed a method for creating selective pores in graphene that make it suitable for water desalination.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Selective Ionic Transport through Tunable Subnanometer Pores in Single-Layer Graphene Membranes by Sean C. O’Hern, Michael S. H. Boutilier, Juan-Carlos Idrobo, Yi Song, Jing Kong, Tahar Laoui, Muataz Atieh, and Rohit Karnik. Nano Lett., Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/nl404118f Publication Date (Web): February 3, 2014

Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

This article is behind a paywall.

The second item is also from MIT and concerns a low-tech means of purifying water. From a Feb. 27, 2014 news item on Azonano,

If you’ve run out of drinking water during a lakeside camping trip, there’s a simple solution: Break off a branch from the nearest pine tree, peel away the bark, and slowly pour lake water through the stick. The improvised filter should trap any bacteria, producing fresh, uncontaminated water.

In fact, an MIT team has discovered that this low-tech filtration system can produce up to four liters of drinking water a day — enough to quench the thirst of a typical person.

In a paper published this week in the journal PLoS ONE, the researchers demonstrate that a small piece of sapwood can filter out more than 99 percent of the bacteria E. coli from water. They say the size of the pores in sapwood — which contains xylem tissue evolved to transport sap up the length of a tree — also allows water through while blocking most types of bacteria.

Co-author Rohit Karnik, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, says sapwood is a promising, low-cost, and efficient material for water filtration, particularly for rural communities where more advanced filtration systems are not readily accessible.

“Today’s filtration membranes have nanoscale pores that are not something you can manufacture in a garage very easily,” Karnik says. “The idea here is that we don’t need to fabricate a membrane, because it’s easily available. You can just take a piece of wood and make a filter out of it.”

The Feb. 26, 2014 news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, describes current filtration techniques and the advantages associated with this new low-tech approach,

There are a number of water-purification technologies on the market today, although many come with drawbacks: Systems that rely on chlorine treatment work well at large scales, but are expensive. Boiling water to remove contaminants requires a great deal of fuel to heat the water. Membrane-based filters, while able to remove microbes, are expensive, require a pump, and can become easily clogged.

Sapwood may offer a low-cost, small-scale alternative. The wood is comprised of xylem, porous tissue that conducts sap from a tree’s roots to its crown through a system of vessels and pores. Each vessel wall is pockmarked with tiny pores called pit membranes, through which sap can essentially hopscotch, flowing from one vessel to another as it feeds structures along a tree’s length. The pores also limit cavitation, a process by which air bubbles can grow and spread in xylem, eventually killing a tree. The xylem’s tiny pores can trap bubbles, preventing them from spreading in the wood.

“Plants have had to figure out how to filter out bubbles but allow easy flow of sap,” Karnik observes. “It’s the same problem with water filtration where we want to filter out microbes but maintain a high flow rate. So it’s a nice coincidence that the problems are similar.”

The news release also describes the experimental procedure the scientists followed (from the news release),

To study sapwood’s water-filtering potential, the researchers collected branches of white pine and stripped off the outer bark. They cut small sections of sapwood measuring about an inch long and half an inch wide, and mounted each in plastic tubing, sealed with epoxy and secured with clamps.

Before experimenting with contaminated water, the group used water mixed with red ink particles ranging from 70 to 500 nanometers in size. After all the liquid passed through, the researchers sliced the sapwood in half lengthwise, and observed that much of the red dye was contained within the very top layers of the wood, while the filtrate, or filtered water, was clear. This experiment showed that sapwood is naturally able to filter out particles bigger than about 70 nanometers.

However, in another experiment, the team found that sapwood was unable to separate out 20-nanometer particles from water, suggesting that there is a limit to the size of particles coniferous sapwood can filter.

Finally, the team flowed inactivated, E. coli-contaminated water through the wood filter. When they examined the xylem under a fluorescent microscope, they saw that bacteria had accumulated around pit membranes in the first few millimeters of the wood. Counting the bacterial cells in the filtered water, the researchers found that the sapwood was able to filter out more than 99 percent of E. coli from water.

Karnik says sapwood likely can filter most types of bacteria, the smallest of which measure about 200 nanometers. However, the filter probably cannot trap most viruses, which are much smaller in size.

The researchers have future plans (from the news release),

Karnik says his group now plans to evaluate the filtering potential of other types of sapwood. In general, flowering trees have smaller pores than coniferous trees, suggesting that they may be able to filter out even smaller particles. However, vessels in flowering trees tend to be much longer, which may be less practical for designing a compact water filter.

Designers interested in using sapwood as a filtering material will also have to find ways to keep the wood damp, or to dry it while retaining the xylem function. In other experiments with dried sapwood, Karnik found that water either did not flow through well, or flowed through cracks, but did not filter out contaminants.

“There’s huge variation between plants,” Karnik says. “There could be much better plants out there that are suitable for this process. Ideally, a filter would be a thin slice of wood you could use for a few days, then throw it away and replace at almost no cost. It’s orders of magnitude cheaper than the high-end membranes on the market today.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Water Filtration Using Plant Xylem by Michael S. H. Boutilier, Jongho Lee, Valerie Chambers, Varsha Venkatesh, & Rohit Karnik. PLOS One Published: February 26, 2014 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0089934

This paper is open access.

One final observation, two of the researchers listed as authors on the graphene/water desalination paper are also listed on the low-tech sapwood paper (Michael S. H. Boutilier & Rohit Karnik).

Silver ions in the environment

Earlier this week (Feb. 24, 2014), I published a post featuring Dr. Andrew Maynard, Director of the University of Michigan’s Risk Science Center in an introductory video describing seven surprising facts about silver nanoparticles. For those who want to delve more deeply, there’s a Feb. 25, 2014 news item on Nanowerk describing some Swiss research into silver nanoparticles and ions in aquatic environments,

It has long been known that, in the form of free ions, silver particles can be highly toxic to aquatic organisms. Yet to this day, there is a lack of detailed knowledge about the doses required to trigger a response and how the organisms deal with this kind of stress. To learn more about the cellular processes that occur in the cells, scientists from the Aquatic Research Institute, Eawag [Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology], subjected algae to a range of silver concentrations.

In the past, silver mostly found its way into the environment in the vicinity of silver mines or via wastewater [emphasis mine] emanating from the photo industry. More recently, silver nanoparticles have become commonplace in many applications – as ingredients in cosmetics, food packaging, disinfectants, and functional clothing. Though a recent study conducted by the Swiss National Science Foundation revealed that the bulk of silver nanoparticles is retained in wastewater treatment plants, only little is known about the persistence and the impact of the residual nano-silver in the environment.

The Feb. 25, 2014 Eawag media release, which originated the news item, describes the research in further detail,

Smitha Pillai from the Eawag Department of Environmental Toxicology and her colleagues from EPF Lausanne and ETH Zürich studied the impact of various concentrations of waterborne silver ions on the cells of the green algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Silver is chemically very similar to copper, an essential metal due to its importance in several enzymes. Because of that, silver can exploit the cells’ copper transport mechanisms and sneak into them undercover. This explains why, already after a short time, concentrations of silver in the intracellular fluid can reach up to one thousand times those in the surrounding environment.

A prompt response

Because silver damages key enzymes involved in energy metabolism, even low concentrations can cut photosynthesis and growth rates by a half in just 15 minutes. Over the same time period, the researchers also detected changes in the activity of about 1000 other genes and proteins, which they interpreted as a response to the stressor – an attempt to repair silver-induced damage. At low concentrations, the cells’ photosynthesis apparatus recovered within five hours, and recovery mechanisms were sufficient to deal with all but the highest concentrations tested.

A number of unanswered questions

At first glance, the results are reassuring because the silver concentrations that the algae are subject to in the environment are rarely as high as those applied in the lab, which allows them to recover quickly – at least externally. But the experiments also showed that even low silver concentrations have a significant effect on intracellular processes and that the algae divert their energy to repairing damage incurred. This can pose a problem when other stressors act in parallel, such as increased UV-radiation or other chemical compounds. Moreover, it remains unknown to this day whether the cells have an active mechanism to shuttle out the silver. Lacking such a mechanism, the silver could have adverse effects on higher organisms, given that algae are at the bottom of the food chain.

You can find the researchers’ paper here,

Linking toxicity and adaptive responses across the transcriptome, proteome, and phenotype of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii exposed to silver by Smitha Pillai, Renata Behra, Holger Nestler, Marc J.-F. Suter, Laura Sigg, and Kristin Schirmer. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) – early edition 18.February 2014, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1319388111

The paper is available through the PNAS open access option.

I have published a number of pieces about aquatic enviornments and wastewater and nanotechnology-enabled products as useful for remediation efforts and as a source of pollution. Here’s a Feb. 28, 2013 posting where I contrasted two pieces of research on silver nanoparticles. The first was research in an aquatic environment and the other concerned wastewater.

Tracking gas, oil, and, possibly, water in wells

A Feb. 24, 2014 Rice University news release (also on EurekAlert) and on Azonano as a Feb. 25, 2014 news item) describes a technique tracks which wells are producing oil or gas in fracking operations,

A tabletop device invented at Rice University can tell how efficiently a nanoparticle would travel through a well and may provide a wealth of information for oil and gas producers.

The device gathers data on how tracers – microscopic particles that can be pumped into and recovered from wells – move through deep rock formations that have been opened by hydraulic fracturing [fracking].

Here’s an image of two Rice scientists playing around with a prototype of their tabletop device,

Rice University chemist Andrew Barron and graduate student Brittany Oliva-Chatelain investigate the prototype of a device that allows for rapid testing of nanotracers for the evaluation of wells subject to hydraulic fracturing. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

Rice University chemist Andrew Barron and graduate student Brittany Oliva-Chatelain investigate the prototype of a device that allows for rapid testing of nanotracers for the evaluation of wells subject to hydraulic fracturing. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

The news release goes on to describe the fracking process and explain why the companies don’t know which well is actually producing (Note: Links have been removed),

Drilling companies use fracturing to pump oil and gas from previously unreachable reservoirs. Fluids are pumped into a wellbore under high pressure to fracture rocks, and materials called “proppants,” like sand or ceramic, hold the fractures open. “They’re basically making a crack in the rock and filling it with little beads,” said Rice chemist Andrew Barron, whose lab produced the device detailed in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Environmental Science Processes and Impacts.

But the companies struggle to know which insertion wells — where fluids are pumped in — are connected to the production wells where oil and gas are pumped out. “They may be pumping down three wells and producing from six, but they have very little idea of which well is connected to which,” he said.

Tracer or sensor particles added to fracturing fluids help solve that problem, but there’s plenty of room for optimization, especially in minimizing the volume of nanoparticles used now, he said. “Ideally, we would take a very small amount of a particle that does not interact with proppant, rock or the gunk that’s been pumped downhole, inject it in one well and collect it at the production well. The time it takes to go from one to the other will tell you about the connectivity underground.”

Barron explained the proppant itself accounts for most of the surface area the nanoparticles encounter, so it’s important to tune the tracers to the type of proppant used.

He said the industry lacks a uniform method to test and optimize custom-designed nanoparticles for particular formations and fluids. The ultimate goal  is to optimize the particles so they don’t clump together or stick to the rock or proppant and can be reliably identified when they exit the production well.

Here’s how the tracers work (from the news release),

The automated device by Barron, Rice alumnus Samuel Maguire-Boyle and their colleagues allows them to run nanotracers through a small model of a geological formation and quickly analyze what comes out the other side.

The device sends a tiny amount of silver nanoparticle tracers in rapid pulses through a solid column, simulating the much longer path the particles would travel in a well. That gives the researchers an accurate look at both how sticky and how robust the particles are.

“We chose silver nanoparticles for their plasmon resonance,” Barron said. “They’re very easy to see (with a spectroscope) making for high-quality data.” He said silver nanoparticles would be impractical in a real well, but because they’re easy to modify with other useful chemicals, they are good models for custom nanoparticles.

“The process is simple enough that our undergraduates make different nanoparticles and very quickly test them to find out how they behave,” Barron said.

The method also shows promise for tracking water from source to destination, which could be valuable for government agencies that want to understand how aquifers are linked or want to trace the flow of elements like pollutants in a water supply, he said.

Barron said the Rice lab won’t oversee production of the test rig, but it doesn’t have to. “We just published the paper, but if companies want to make their own, it includes the instructions. The supplementary material is basically a manual for how to do this,” he said.

You can find the paper with this link and/or citation,

Automated method for determining the flow of surface functionalized nanoparticles through a hydraulically fractured mineral formation using plasmonic silver nanoparticles by Samuel J. Maguire-Boyle, David J. Garner, Jessica E. Heimann, Lucy Gao, Alvin W. Orbaek, and Andrew R. Barron. Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts, 2014,16, 220-231 DOI: 10.1039/C3EM00718A First published online 07 Jan 2014

This paper has been published in one of the Royal Society’s open access journals.

My final note, one of my more recent posts about fracking highlights some research that was taking place in Texas (Rice University’s home state) at Texas A&M University, see my July 29, 2013 posting.

Water desalination to be researched at Oman’s newly opened Nanotechnology Laboratory at Sultan Qaboos University

Before getting to the news, here’s some information (for those who may not be familiar with the country) about the Sultanate of Oman and why this water desalination project is very important. From the Oman Wikipedia essay (Note: Links have been removed),

Oman (Listeni/oʊˈmɑːn/ oh-MAAN; Arabic: عمان‎ ʻUmān), officially called the Sultanate of Oman (Arabic: سلطنة عُمان‎ Salṭanat ʻUmān), is an Arab state in southwest Asia on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula. It has a strategically important position at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. It is bordered by the United Arab Emirates to the northwest, Saudi Arabia to the west, and Yemen to the southwest and also shares a marine border with Iran. The coast is formed by the Arabian Sea on the southeast and the Gulf of Oman on the northeast. The Madha and Musandam exclaves are surrounded by the UAE on their land borders, with the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman forming Musandam’s coastal boundaries.

From the 17th century, Oman had its own empire, and vied with Portugal and Britain for influence in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. At its peak in the 19th century, Omani influence or control extended across the Strait of Hormuz to Iran, and modern-day Pakistan, and as far south as Zanzibar.[7] As its power declined in the 20th century, the sultanate came under heavy influence from the United Kingdom, though Oman was never formally part of the British Empire, or a British protectorate.

Oman has a hot climate and very little rainfall. Annual rainfall in Muscat averages 100 mm (3.9 in), falling mostly in January. The Dhofar Mountains area receives seasonal rainfall (from late June to late September) as a result of the monsoon winds from the Indian Ocean saturated with cool moisture and heavy fog.[39] The mountain areas receive more plentiful rainfall, and annual rainfall on the higher parts of the Jabal Akhdar probably exceeds 400 mm (15.7 in).[40] Some parts of the coast, particularly near the island of Masirah, sometimes receive no rain at all within the course of a year. The climate generally is very hot, with temperatures reaching around 50 °C (122.0 °F) (peak) in the hot season, from May to September.

The Sultanate of Oman’s Ministry of Information’s Omanet.om website offers this about water (from the Water webpage),

Oman is in the world’s arid belt and depends on groundwater and its limited rainfall . The demand for water continues to rise.   A national water resources conservation plan has been drawn up to further rationalise and improve water consumption practices and explore for new groundwater reserves. The Sultanate now has a complete, up-to-date and properly documented database covering all the country’s available and potential water resources, together with details of their status and conditions. Studies on new ways of rationalising water consumption are ongoing.

 Water Resources Management

The approach here is the emphasis on making judicious use of available water resources and reducing waste.

The management plan includes:

Reduction of water loss to the sea or desert

Providing potable water in communities

Developing and improving aflaj systems

Intensification of studies

Changing land use in some regions

Increasing recovery rates of water loss

Implementation of awareness programs

The fact that there is a Middle East Desalination Research Center (MEDRC)suggests an important problem especially in this region. (If you know of any collaborative water projects for other regions, please do let me know about them in the Comments.) From the MEDRC homepage,

MEDRC is a Center of Excellence in Desalination and Water  Reuse Technology established in Muscat, Sultanate of Oman, December 1996.

MEDRC Mission Statement

The mission of MEDRC is to contribute to the achievement of peace and stability in the Middle East and North Africa by promoting and supporting the use of desalination to satisfy the needs of the people of this region for available, affordable, clean fresh water for human use and economic development. This is done through the advancement of desalination technology, education in the technology and training in its use, technology transfer, technical assistance, and building cooperation between nations to form the joint projects and international relationships necessary to meet the needs for fresh water.

The Peace Process to resolve the issues of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority that have troubled the Middle East for almost a century included the establishment of MEDRC to assist in meeting the fresh water needs of the parties involved. This is still the first priority of MEDRC. However, MEDRC’s activities extend to and benefit the entire region and beyond. MEDRC is advancing the use of desalination and waste water reuse thru regional and international cooperation to overcome current and future world water supply deficiencies.

The MEDRC also has a 6 pp. PDF titled: Overview on Desalinated Water in the Sultanate of Oman. So this news about a nanotechnology lab opening in Oman which is focused on water desalination is big news, from the Feb. 19, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

The Nanotechnology laboratory at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat, Oman, as a part of The Research Council (TRC ) Chair in Nanotechnology for Water Desalination, was officially opened yesterday under the patronage of Dr Hilal bin Ali al Hinai, Secretary-General of TRC. The state-of-the-art laboratory of the TRC Chair, contains wet-chemistry facilities and analytical equipment rooms, and has been built in a single workspace on the College of Engineering premises. Talking about the activities of the Chair in terms of research and related activities, Prof Joydeep Dutta, the Chair Professor, said that research and development focused on the application of nanoparticles, nanomaterials and desalination processes.

A Feb. 18, 2014 news item in the Oman Observer provides additional detail,

“The Chair aims at innovative research suited to the region, education and training of highly qualified personnel and in increasing public and industrial awareness of nanotechnology, amongst others. The current research group is involved in developing applications that address the needs of those who are without — clean drinking water, cheap energy, unspoiled food and the other necessities required to provide for a decent living. The Chair is focusing on dedicated research and development issues addressing water desalination-both of seawater as well as brackish water”, he said. At present, a few broad themes for research were identified in consultation with the technical committee and work is continuing along these themes. The research themes are “Designer metal-oxide nanostructures”, “Capacitive desalination with functionalised nanostructures”, “Condensation induced renewable desalting”, and “Functionalised micro or nano membranes”.

The unifying concept in the laboratory is to make use of inexpensive wet-chemical methods to fabricate innovative materials and futuristic device components with an eye on its application in water desalination and water treatment. …

Although dated Feb. 19, 2014, a news release on the Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) website appears to have originated the news item on the Nanowerk website and on the Osman Observer website.

I have previously written about water in the Middle East within the context of a June 25, 2013 post regarding a research collaboration between the University of Chicago and Ben Gurion University in Israel. I managed to include a bit about Palestine and its very serious water problem (the Gaza’s sole aquifer may be unusable by 2016) in that post, about 3/4 of the way down.

A closer look at the interface between water and solid surfaces sparks memories of the water/air interface

Researchers at China’s Peking University have developed a technique for taking the closest look possible at the interface  between water and solid surfaces according to a Jan. 10, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

The interaction of water with the surfaces of solid materials is ubiquitous. Many remarkable physical and chemical properties of water/solid interfaces are governed by H-bonding interaction between water molecules. As a result, the accurate description of H-bonding configuration and directionality is one of the most important fundamental issues in water science. Ideally, attacking this problem requires the access to the internal degrees of freedom of water molecules, i.e. the O-H directionality. However, resolving the internal structure of water has not been possible so far despite massive efforts in the last decades due to the light mass and small size of hydrogen.

Recently, the teams led by Professor Ying Jiang and Professor Enge Wang of International Center for Quantum Materials (ICQM) of Peking University succeeded to achieve submolecular-resolution imaging of individual water monomers and tetramers adsorbed on a Au [gold]-supported NaCl [sodium chloride](001) film at 5 K, using a cryogenic scanning tunneling microscope (STM).

The Jan. 9, 2014 University of Peking news release, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

… They first decoupled electronically the water molecule from the metal substrate by inserting an insulating NaCl layer and then employed the STM tip as a top gate to tune controllably the molecular density of states of water around the Fermi level. These key steps enabled them to image the frontier molecular orbitals which are spatially locked together with the geometric structures of water molecules. Notably, they were able to discriminate in real space the orientation of water monomers and the H-bonding directionality of water tetramers based on the submolecular-resolution orbital images.

This work opens up the possibility of determining the detailed topology of H-bonded networks at water/solid interfaces with atomic precision, which is only possible through theoretical simulations in the past. The ability to resolve the O-H directionality of water provides further opportunities for probing the dynamics of H-bonded networks at atomic scale such as H-atom transfer and bond rearrangement. In addition, the novel orbital-imaging technique developed in this work reveals new understanding of STM experiments and may be applicable to a broad range of molecular systems and materials.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Real-space imaging of interfacial water with submolecular resolution by Jing Guo, Xiangzhi Meng, Ji Chen, Jinbo Peng, Jiming Sheng, Xin-Zheng Li, Limei Xu, Jun-Ren Shi, Enge Wang, & Ying Jiang. Nature Materials (2014) doi:10.1038/nmat3848 Published online 05 January 2014

This paper is behind a paywall although you can get a preview via ReadCube Access.

As noted in the headline, this work sparked a memory of research conducted on the water/air interface and the discovery that the boundary between water and air is not as distinct as was believed. (I have a longstanding interest in boundaries, which often have an arbitrary nature.) From the 2011 (?) news item on Softpedia,

The question of where water stops and where air begins is a very old, and difficult-to-answer one. Experts have been trying to do so for years, and now it would appear that they finally have an answer. The layer separating the two is as thin as the distance between two atoms in a hydrogen molecules.

At the topmost layer of water, in an ocean for example, water (H2O) molecules are having a real problem – they cannot really decided whether to exist as gas or liquid. As such, one of the two hydrogen atoms remains in the water, while the second ones pokes out into the air.

Physicists now call this the layer of molecular ambiguity, and say that it has little to no effect on the way water below this level behaves. …

Interestingly, just one molecule beneath this first layer of H2O molecules, the rest of the water behaves as if nothing is going on in the layers above. This discovery is critically important for many fields of research, including for example atmospheric chemistry.

“In some ways this is a negative result. Sometimes a negative result can be very positive,” says Pavel Jungwirth, a scientist at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, in Prague. …

With the new data, says University of Victoria [located in British Columbia, Canada] physical chemist Dennis Hore, scientists will be able to refine models seeking to explain how water interacts with other chemicals within living cells. …

There’s a link to and a citation for the 2011 paper,

Hydrogen bonding at the water surface revealed by isotopic dilution spectroscopy by Igor V. Stiopkin, Champika Weeraman, Piotr A. Pieniazek, Fadel Y. Shalhout, James L. Skinner, & Alexander V. Benderskii. Nature 474, 192–195 (09 June 2011) doi:10.1038/nature10173 Published online 08 June 2011

This paper is behind a paywall although you can get a preview via ReadCube Access.

Naimor: innovative nanostructured material for water remediation and oil recovery (crowdfunding project)

The NAIMOR crowdfunding project on indiegogo might be of particular interest to those of us on the West Coast of Canada where there is much talk about a project to create twin pipelines (Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines) between the provinces of  Alberta and British Columbia to export oil and import natural gas. The oil will be shipped to Asia by tanker and presumably so will the natural gas. In all the discussion about possible environmental disasters, I haven’t seen any substantive mention of remediation efforts or research to improve the technologies associated with environmental cleanups (remediation of water, soil, and/or air). At any rate, all this talk about the pipelines and oil tankers along Canada’s West Coast brought to mind the BP oil spill, aka the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, from the Wikipedia essay (Note: Links have been removed),

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill (also referred to as the BP oil spill, the BP oil disaster, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and the Macondo blowout) began on 20 April 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico on the BP-operated Macondo Prospect. It claimed eleven lives[5][6][7][8] and is considered the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, an estimated 8% to 31% larger in volume than the previously largest, the Ixtoc I oil spill. Following the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, a sea-floor oil gusher flowed for 87 days, until it was capped on 15 July 2010.[7][9] The total discharge has been estimated at 4.9 million barrels (210 million US gal; 780,000 m3).[3]

A massive response ensued to protect beaches, wetlands and estuaries from the spreading oil utilizing skimmer ships, floating booms, controlled burns and 1.84 million US gallons (7,000 m3) of Corexit oil dispersant.[10] After several failed efforts to contain the flow, the well was declared sealed on 19 September 2010.[11] Some reports indicate the well site continues to leak.[12][13] Due to the months-long spill, along with adverse effects from the response and cleanup activities, extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats, fishing and tourism industries, and human health problems have continued through 2013.[14][15] Three years after the spill, tar balls could still be found on the Mississippi coast.[16] In July 2013, the discovery of a 40,000 pound tar mat near East Grand Terre, Louisiana prompted the closure of waters to commercial fishing.[17][18]

While Canada’s Northern Gateway project does not include any plans for ocean oil rigs, there is still the potential for massive spills either from the tankers or the pipelines. For those old enough to remember or those interested in history, this latest project raises the spectre of the Exxon Valdes oil spill, from the Wikipedia essay (Note: Links have been removed),

The Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in Prince William Sound, Alaska, on March 24, 1989, when Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker bound for Long Beach, California, struck Prince William Sound’s Bligh Reef at 12:04 a.m.[1] local time and spilled 260,000 to 750,000 barrels (41,000 to 119,000 m3) of crude oil[2][3] over the next few days. It is considered to be one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters.[4] The Valdez spill was the largest ever in US waters until the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, in terms of volume released.[5]  [emphasis mine] However, Prince William Sound’s remote location, accessible only by helicopter, plane, or boat, made government and industry response efforts difficult and severely taxed existing plans for response. The region is a habitat for salmon, sea otters, seals and seabirds. The oil, originally extracted at the Prudhoe Bay oil field, eventually covered 1,300 miles (2,100 km) of coastline,[6] and 11,000 square miles (28,000 km2) of ocean.[7] Exxon’s CEO, Lawrence Rawl, shaped the company’s response.[8]

Some of that ‘difficult to reach’ coastline and habitat was Canadian (province of British Columbia). Astonishingly, given the 20 year gap between the Exxon Valdes spill and the Deepwater Horizon spill, the technology for remediation and cleanup had not changed much, although it seems that the measure used to stop the oil spill were even older, from my June 4, 2010 posting,

I found a couple more comments relating to the BP oil spill  in the Gulf. Pasco Phronesis offers this May 30, 2010 blog post, Cleaning With Old Technology, where the blogger, Dave Bruggeman, asks why there haven’t been any substantive improvements to the technology used for clean up,

The relatively ineffective measures have changed little since the last major Gulf of Mexico spill, the Ixtoc spill in 1979. While BP has solicited for other solutions to the problem (Ixtoc was eventually sealed with cement and relief wells after nine months), they appear to have been slow to use them.

It is a bit puzzling to me why extraction technology has improved but cleanup technology has not.

An excellent question.

I commented a while back (here) about another piece of nano reporting form Andrew Schneider. Since then, Dexter Johnson at Nanoclast has offered some additional thoughts (independent of reading Andrew Maynard’s 2020 Science post) about the Schneider report regarding ‘nanodispersants’ in the Gulf. From Dexter’s post,

Now as to the efficacy or dangers of the dispersant, I have to concur that it [nanodispersant] has not been tested. But it seems that the studies on the 118 oil-controlling products that have been approved for use by the EPA are lacking in some details as well. These chemicals were approved so long ago in some cases that the EPA has not been able to verify the accuracy of their toxicity data, and so far BP has dropped over a million gallons of this stuff into the Gulf.

Point well taken.

In looking at this website: gatewayfacts.ca, it seems the proponents for the Enbridge Northern Gateway project have supplied some additional information. Here’s what they’ve supplied regarding the project’s spill response (from the Gateway Facts environmental-responsibility/marine-protection page),

A spill response capacity 3x better than required

Emergency response equipment, crews and training staff will be stationed at key points and communities along the marine routes.

I did find a bit more on the website’s What if? page,

Marine response in action

Our spill response capacity will be more than 3x the current Canadian regulation. In addition, tanker escort tugs will carry emergency response and firefighting equipment to be able to respond immediately.

I don’t feel that any real concerns have been addressed by this minimalist approach to communication. Here are some of my questions,

  • What does 3x the current Canadian regulation mean in practical terms and how does this compare with the best safety regulations from an international perspective? Will there be efforts at continuous improvement?
  • Are there going to be any audits by outside parties of the company’s emergency response during the life of the project?
  • How will those audits be conducted? i.e., Will there be notice or are inspectors likely to spring the occasional surprise inspection?
  • What technologies are the proponents planning to use for the cleanup?
  • Is there any research being conducted on new remediation and cleanup technologies?
  • How much money is being devoted to this research and where is it being conducted (university labs, company labs, which countries)?

In light of concerns about environmental remediation technologies, it’s heartening to see this project on indiegogo which according to a Dec. 27, 2013 news item on Nanowerk focuses on an improved approach to remediation for water contaminated by oil,,

Environmental oil spill disasters such as BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico have enormous environmental consequences, leading to the killing of marine creatures and contamination of natural water streams, storm water systems or even drinking water supplies. Emergency management organizations must be ready to confront such turbulences with effective and eco-friendly solutions to minimize the short term or long term issues.

There are many ineffective and costly conventional technologies for the remedy of oil spills like using of dispersants, oil skimmers, sand barrier berms, oil containment booms, by controlled burning of surface oil, bioremediation and natural degradation.

NAIMOR® – NAnostructure Innovative Material for Oil Recovery – is a three dimensional, nanostructure carbon material that can be produced in different shapes, dimensions. It is highly hydrophobic and can absorb a quantity of oil around 150 times its weight. Light, strong, and flexible, the material can be reused many times without losing its absorption capacity.

I’m not familiar with the researcher who’s making this proposal so I can’t comment on the legitimacy of the project but this does look promising (I have heard of other similar research using carbon-based materials), from the Naimor campaign on indiegogo,

Ivano Aglietto, an Italian engineer with a PhD in Environmental Engineering has devoted his profession for the production of most advanced and innovative nanostructure carbon materials and the industrial development of their proper use in applications for the environmental remediation.

His first invention was RECAM® (REactive Carbon Material), a revolutionary solution for oil spill recovery which had shown extraordinary results but with limitations of usage.

RECAM® is inert, non toxic, regenerable, reusable, eco friendly material and can absorb oil 90 times its weight. It is ferromagnetic in nature and can be recovered from water using magnetic field. The hydrocarbons absorbed can be burnt inorder to reuse the material and no toxic gases are released because of its inert and non-flammable nature. Their is also possibility of extracting the absorbed oil by squeezing the material or by vacuum filtration. Oil recovered does not contain any water because of the hydrophobic behaviour of RECAM®. Recovered oil can be reused as resource and the RECAM® for recovering oil. RECAM® is used for oil spill remediation and successfully passed the Artemia test.

RECAM® is being replaced with his new innovative nanostructure material, NAIMOR®.

NAIMOR® (NAnostructure Innovative Material for Oil Recovery) is a nanostructure material that can be produced in different shapes and dimensions with an incredible efficiency for oil recovery.

Main Characteristics and Properties

Can absorb quantity of oil 150 times its weight.
Inert, made of pure carbon, environmental friendly and no chemicals involved.
Highly hydrophobic and the absorbed oil does not contain any water.
Regenerable and can be used several times without producing any wastes.
It is a three dimensional nanostructure and can be produced in different shapes, dimensions [carpets, booms, sheets'.
Capable of recovering gallons of oil depending on the shape and dimensions of the carpet.

This indiegogo campaign is almost the antithesis of the gatewayfacts.ca website offering a wealth of information and detail including a discussion about the weaknesses associated with the various cleanup technologies that represent the 'state of the art'. Here's an image from the Naimor campaign page,

[downloaded from http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/naimor-nanostructure-innovative-material-for-oil-recovery]

[downloaded from http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/naimor-nanostructure-innovative-material-for-oil-recovery]

I believe this is a pelican somewhere on the Gulf of Mexico coastline where it was affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. As for Aglietto’s project, you can find the NAIMOR website here.