Category Archives: energy

CurTran and its plan to take over the world by replacing copper wire with LiteWire (carbon nanotubes)

This story is about carbon nanotubes and commercialization if I read Molly Ryan’s April 14, 2014 article for the Upstart Business Journal correctly,

CurTran LLC just signed its first customer contract with oilfield service Weatherford International Ltd. (NYSE: WFT) in a deal valued at more than $350 million per year.

To say the least, this is a pretty big step forward for the Houston-based nanotechnology materials company, especially since Gary Rome, CurTran’s CEO, said the entire length of the contract is valued at more than $7 billion. But when looking at the grand scheme of CurTran’s plans, this $7 billion contract is a baby step.

“We want to replace copper wire,” Rome said. “Globally, copper is used everywhere and it is a huge market. … We (have a product) that is substantially stronger than copper, and our electrical properties are in common.”

Rice University professor Richard Smalley began researching what would eventually become CurTran’s LiteWire product more than nine years ago, and CurTran officially formed in 2011.

CurTran, which is based in Houston, Texas, describes its LiteWire product this way,

Copper is a better conductor than Aluminum and Steel, and silver is too expensive to use in most applications.  So LiteWire is benchmarked against the dominant conductor in the market, copper.

So how does LiteWire match up against copper wire and cable?

Electrically, in established power transmission wiring standards and frequency, LiteWire has the same properties as copper conductors.  Resistivity, impedance, loading, sizing, etc, copper and LiteWire are the same at 60HZ.  This was intentional by our engineering department, ease adoption of LiteWire.  No need to change wire coating, cable winding, or wire processing equipment or processes, just change over to LiteWire and go.  Every electrician can work with LiteWire utilizing the same tools, standards and instruments.

So what is different between Copper Wire and LiteWire?

It’s Carbon.  LiteWire is an aligned structure double wall carbon nano-tube’s in wire form.  It is a 99.9% carbon structure that takes advantage of the free electrons available in carbon, while limiting the ability of the carbon to form new molecules, such as COx.  The outer electrons of carbon are loosely bound and easily conduced to move from atom to atom.

It is light.  LiteWire is 1/5th the weight of copper conductors.  A 40lb spool of 10ga 3-wire copper wire has 200 feet of wire.  A 40lb spool of 10ga 3-wire LiteWire has 800 feet of wire.  Aluminum wire is ½ the weight of copper, yet requires a 50% larger diameter wire for the same conductive properties, LiteWire sizing is exactly the same as copper.

It is strong.  LiteWire is stronger than steel, 20 times stronger than copper, and stronger than 8000 series Aluminum cable.  Span greater distances between towers, pull higher tension, reduce installation costs and maintenance.

It doesn’t creep.  LiteWire expands and contracts 1/3 less than copper and its aluminum equivalents.  Connection points are secure year round and year after year.  Less sagging of power lines in hot temperatures, less opportunity for grounding of power lines and power outages.

More power, less loss.  LiteWire is equal to copper wire at 60HA, and highly efficient at higher frequencies, voltages and amperes.  More electrical energy can be transmitted with lower losses in the system.  Less wasted energy in the line, means less power needs to be produced.

A longer life.  LiteWire is noncorrosive in all naturally occurring environments, from deep sea to outer space. No issue with dissimilar metals at connection points.  LiteWire is inert and does not degrade over time.

Can you hear me now.  Litewire is the perfect signal conducting wire.  LiteWire is superior at higher frequencies, losses are lower and signal clarity is greater.  Networks can carry more bandwidth and signal separation is cleaner.

Never wet.  LiteWire is hydrophobic by nature.  Water beads up and is shed, even if the water freezes, it does so in bead form and falls away.  No more powerline failures from ice buildup and breaking or shorting due to line sag.

How much does it cost.  LiteWire costs the same as copper wire of equal length and size.  As the price of copper continues to rise and as new LiteWire facilities come on line, the cost of LiteWire will decrease. Projecting out ten years, LiteWire will be half the cost of copper wire and cable.

Never fatigues.  LiteWire has a very long fatigue life, we are still looking for it.  LiteWire is not susceptible to fatigue failure.  LiteWire’s bonds are at the atomic level, when that bond is broken, the failure occurs.  Repeated cycles to near the breaking point do not degrade LiteWire’s integrity.  Metal conductors fatigue under repeated bending, reducing their load carrying capabilities and subsequent failure.

There is a table of specific technical properties on the LiteWire product webpage.

CurTran’s CEO has big plans (from the Ryan article),

With a multibillion-dollar contract under its belt only a few years after its founding, Rome intends for CurTran to have blockbuster years for the next five years. According to the company’s website, it plans to hire 3,600 new employees around the world in this time frame.

“We also plan to open a new production facility every six months for the next five years,” Rome said. “We’ve already identified the first four locations.”

For Weatherford’s perspective on this deal, there’s the company’s April 7, 2014 news release,

Weatherford International Ltd. today [April 7, 2014] announced that it has entered into an agreement with CurTran LLC to use, sell, and distribute LiteWire, the first commercial scale production of a carbon nanotube technology in wire and cable form.

“With LiteWire products, we gain exclusivity to a revolutionary technology that will greatly add value to our business,” said Dharmesh Mehta, chief operating officer for Weatherford. “The use of LiteWire products allows us to provide safer, faster, and more economic solutions for our customers.”

In addition to using LiteWire in its global operations, Weatherford will be the exclusive distributor of this product in the oil and gas industry.

Interestingly, Weatherford seems to be in a highly transitional state. From an April 3, 2014 article by Jordan Blum for Houston Business Journal (Note: Links have been removed),

Weatherford International Ltd. (NYSE: WFT) plans to move its corporate headquarters from Switzerland to Ireland largely because of changes to Swiss corporate executive laws and potential uncertainties.

Weatherford, which has its operational headquarters in Houston, is  undergoing a global downsizing as it relocates its corporate offices.

Weatherford President and CEO Bernard Duroc-Danner said the move will help the company “quickly and efficiently execute and move forward on our transformational path.”

The downsizing and move put a different complexion on Weatherford’s deal with CurTran. It seems Weatherford is taking a big gamble on its future. I’m basing that comment on the fact that there is, to my knowledge, no other deployment of a similar scope of a ‘carbon nanotube’ wire such as LightWire.

It would appear from CurTran’s Overview that LightWire’s deployment is an inevitability,

CurTran LLC was formed for one purpose.  To industrialize the production of Double Wall Carbon Nanotubes in wire form to be a direct replacement for metallic conductors in wire and cable applications.

That rhetoric is worthy of a 19th century capitalist. Of course, those guys did change the world.

There’s a bit more about the company’s history and activities from the Overview page,

CurTran was formed in 2011 by industrial manufacturing, engineering and research organizations.  An industrialization plan was defined, customer and industry partners engaged, the intellectual property consolidated and operations launched.

Operations are based in the following areas:

  • Corporate Headquarters, located in Houston Texas
  • Test Facility, located in Houston Texas and operated by NanoRidge and Rice University researchers.
  • Pilot Plant located in Eastern Europe
  • Production facilities are to be located in various global markets.  Production facilities will be fully operational in 2014 producing in excess of 50,000 tonnes per facility annually.

CurTran manufactures the LiteWire conductor in many forms.  We do not manufacture insulated products at this time.  We rely on our Joint Venture Partners to deliver a completed wire/cable product to their existing customer base.

CurTran provides engineering services to Partners and Customers that seek to optimize their products to the full capabilities of LiteWire.

CurTran supports ongoing research and development activities in applied material science, chemical/mechanical/thermo/fluid production processes, industrial equipment design, and  application sciences.

Getting back to Weatherford, I imagine there is celebration in Ireland although I can’t help wondering if the Swiss, in a last minute solution, might not find a way to keep Weatherford’s headquarters right where they are. I haven’t been able to find a date for Weatherford’s move to Ireland.

StoreDot scores a coup with bio-organic nanodots that recharge smartphone batteries in 30 secs.or less

Where can you get this magical battery? Unfortunately, when something is a prototype, it means we’re a long way from purchasing the device, which is from Israeli start-up, StoreDot (mentioned in my Dec. 3, 2012 posting about their bio-organic nanodots).

The prototype was well received at a Microsoft conference held in Tel Aviv according to an April 8, 2014 news item on BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) news online,

Israeli start-up StoreDot displayed the device – made of biological structures – at Microsoft’s Think Next Conference [held in Tel Aviv on April 8, 2014].

A Samsung S4 smartphone went from a dead battery to full power in 26 seconds in the demonstration.

The battery is currently only a prototype and the firm predicts it will take three years to become a commercially viable product.

In the demonstration, a battery pack the size of a cigarette packet was attached to a smartphone.

“We think we can integrate a battery into a smartphone within a year and have a commercially ready device in three years,” founder Dr Dorn Myersdorf told the BBC.

The bio-organic battery utilises tiny self-assembling nano-crystals that were first identified in research being done into Alzheimer’s disease at Tel Aviv University 10 years ago.

An April 8, 2014 news item on Azonano provides more technical details,

… StoreDot specializes in technology that is inspired by natural processes, cost-effective and environmentally-friendly. The company produces “nanodots” derived from bio-organic material that, due to their size, have both increased electrode capacitance and electrolyte performance, resulting in batteries that can be fully charged in minutes rather than hours.

For the more technically-minded, here’s how it actually works. Those multifunctional nanodots are chemically synthesized bio-organic peptide molecules that change the rules of mobile device capabilities. These nanocrystals are made from peptides, short chains of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Still with us? Here’s comes the really cool part.

StoreDot’s bio-organic devices such as smartphone displays, provide much more efficient power consumption, and are eco-friendly; while other nanodot and quantum-dot technologies currently in use are heavy metal based, like cadmium, and, therefore, toxic, StoreDot nanodots are biocompatible and superior to all previous discoveries in this field. StoreDot’s technology will allow them to synthesize new nanomaterials that can be used in a wide variety of applications.

Manufacturing Nanodots is also relatively inexpensive as they originate naturally, and utilize a basic biological mechanism of self-assembly. They can be made from a vast range of bio-organic raw materials that are readily available and environmentally friendly.

You can find out more about StoreDot on its website. By the way, those nanodot batteries are likely to be twice as expensive to purchase, once they come to market, as standard batteries according to the BBC news item.

Is there a supercapacitor hiding in your tree?

I gather the answer is: Yes, there is a supercapacitor in your tree as researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) have found a way to use tree cellulose as a building component for supercapacitors. From an April 7, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

Based on a fundamental chemical discovery by scientists at Oregon State University, it appears that trees may soon play a major role in making high-tech energy storage devices.

OSU chemists have found that cellulose — the most abundant organic polymer on Earth and a key component of trees — can be heated in a furnace in the presence of ammonia, and turned into the building blocks for supercapacitors.

An April 7, 2014 OSU news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item portrays great excitement (Note: Links have been removed),

These supercapacitors are extraordinary, high-power energy devices with a wide range of industrial applications, in everything from electronics to automobiles and aviation. But widespread use of them has been held back primarily by cost and the difficulty of producing high-quality carbon electrodes.

The new approach just discovered at Oregon State can produce nitrogen-doped, nanoporous carbon membranes – the electrodes of a supercapacitor – at low cost, quickly, in an environmentally benign process. The only byproduct is methane, which could be used immediately as a fuel or for other purposes.

“The ease, speed and potential of this process is really exciting,” said Xiulei (David) Ji, an assistant professor of chemistry in the OSU College of Science, and lead author on a study announcing the discovery in Nano Letters, a journal of the American Chemical Society. The research was funded by OSU.

“For the first time we’ve proven that you can react cellulose with ammonia and create these N-doped nanoporous carbon membranes,” Ji said. “It’s surprising that such a basic reaction was not reported before. Not only are there industrial applications, but this opens a whole new scientific area, studying reducing gas agents for carbon activation.

“We’re going to take cheap wood and turn it into a valuable high-tech product,” he said.

The news release includes some technical information about the carbon membranes and information about the uses to which supercapacitors are put,

These carbon membranes at the nano-scale are extraordinarily thin – a single gram of them can have a surface area of nearly 2,000 square meters. That’s part of what makes them useful in supercapacitors. And the new process used to do this is a single-step reaction that’s fast and inexpensive. It starts with something about as simple as a cellulose filter paper – conceptually similar to the disposable paper filter in a coffee maker.

The exposure to high heat and ammonia converts the cellulose to a nanoporous carbon material needed for supercapacitors, and should enable them to be produced, in mass, more cheaply than before.

A supercapacitor is a type of energy storage device, but it can be recharged much faster than a battery and has a great deal more power. They are mostly used in any type of device where rapid power storage and short, but powerful energy release is needed.

Supercapacitors can be used in computers and consumer electronics, such as the flash in a digital camera. They have applications in heavy industry, and are able to power anything from a crane to a forklift. A supercapacitor can capture energy that might otherwise be wasted, such as in braking operations. And their energy storage abilities may help “smooth out” the power flow from alternative energy systems, such as wind energy.

They can power a defibrillator, open the emergency slides on an aircraft and greatly improve the efficiency of hybrid electric automobiles.

Besides supercapacitors, nanoporous carbon materials also have applications in adsorbing gas pollutants, environmental filters, water treatment and other uses.

“There are many applications of supercapacitors around the world, but right now the field is constrained by cost,” Ji said. “If we use this very fast, simple process to make these devices much less expensive, there could be huge benefits.”

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

Pyrolysis of Cellulose under Ammonia Leads to Nitrogen-Doped Nanoporous Carbon Generated through Methane Formation by Wei Luo, Bao Wang, Christopher G. Heron, Marshall J. Allen, Jeff Morre, Claudia S. Maier, William F. Stickle, and Xiulei Ji. Nano Lett., Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/nl500859p Publication Date (Web): March 28, 2014
Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

The article is behind a paywall.

One final observation, one of the researchers, William F. Stickle is affiliated with HewLett Packard and not Oregon State University as are the others.

Good lignin, bad lignin: Florida researchers use plant waste to create lignin nanotubes while researchers in British Columbia develop trees with less lignin

An April 4, 2014 news item on Azonano describes some nanotube research at the University of Florida that reaches past carbon to a new kind of nanotube,

Researchers with the University of Florida’s [UF] Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences took what some would consider garbage and made a remarkable scientific tool, one that could someday help to correct genetic disorders or treat cancer without chemotherapy’s nasty side effects.

Wilfred Vermerris, an associate professor in UF’s department of microbiology and cell science, and Elena Ten, a postdoctoral research associate, created from plant waste a novel nanotube, one that is much more flexible than rigid carbon nanotubes currently used. The researchers say the lignin nanotubes – about 500 times smaller than a human eyelash – can deliver DNA directly into the nucleus of human cells in tissue culture, where this DNA could then correct genetic conditions. Experiments with DNA injection are currently being done with carbon nanotubes, as well.

“That was a surprising result,” Vermerris said. “If you can do this in actual human beings you could fix defective genes that cause disease symptoms and replace them with functional DNA delivered with these nanotubes.”

An April 3, 2014 University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences news release, which originated the news item, describes the lignin nanotubes (LNTs) and future applications in more detail,

The nanotube is made up of lignin from plant material obtained from a UF biofuel pilot facility in Perry, Fla. Lignin is an integral part of the secondary cell walls of plants and enables water movement from the roots to the leaves, but it is not used to make biofuels and would otherwise be burned to generate heat or electricity at the biofuel plant. The lignin nanotubes can be made from a variety of plant residues, including sorghum, poplar, loblolly pine and sugar cane. [emphasis mine]

The researchers first tested to see if the nanotubes were toxic to human cells and were surprised to find that they were less so than carbon nanotubes. Thus, they could deliver a higher dose of medicine to the human cell tissue.  Then they researched if the nanotubes could deliver plasmid DNA to the same cells and that was successful, too. A plasmid is a small DNA molecule that is physically separate from, and can replicate independently of, chromosomal DNA within a cell.

“It’s not a very smooth road because we had to try different experiments to confirm the results,” Ten said. “But it was very fruitful.”

In cases of genetic disorders, the nanotube would be loaded with a functioning copy of a gene, and injected into the body, where it would target the affected tissue, which then makes the missing protein and corrects the genetic disorder.

Although Vermerris cautioned that treatment in humans is many years away, among the conditions that these gene-carrying nanotubes could correct include cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy. But, he added, that patients would have to take the corrective DNA via nanotubes on a continuing basis.

Another application under consideration is to use the lignin nanotubes for the delivery of chemotherapy drugs in cancer patients. The nanotubes would ensure the drugs only get to the tumor without affecting healthy tissues.

Vermerris said they created different types of nanotubes, depending on the experiment. They could also adapt nanotubes to a patient’s specific needs, a process called customization.

“You can think about it as a chest of drawers and, depending on the application, you open one drawer or use materials from a different drawer to get things just right for your specific application,” he said.  “It’s not very difficult to do the customization.”

The next step in the research process is for Vermerris and Ten to begin experiments on mice. They are in the application process for those experiments, which would take several years to complete.  If those are successful, permits would need to be obtained for their medical school colleagues to conduct research on human patients, with Vermerris and Ten providing the nanotubes for that research.

“We are a long way from that point,” Vermerris said. “That’s the optimistic long-term trajectory.”

I hope they have good luck with this work. I have emphasized the plant waste the University of Florida scientists studied due to the inclusion of poplar, which is featured in the University of British Columbia research work also being mentioned in this post.

Getting back to Florida for a moment, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Lignin Nanotubes As Vehicles for Gene Delivery into Human Cells by Elena Ten, Chen Ling, Yuan Wang, Arun Srivastava, Luisa Amelia Dempere, and Wilfred Vermerris. Biomacromolecules, 2014, 15 (1), pp 327–338 DOI: 10.1021/bm401555p Publication Date (Web): December 5, 2013
Copyright © 2013 American Chemical Society

This is an open access paper.

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) are trying to limit the amount of lignin in trees (specifically poplars, which are not mentioned in this excerpt but in the next). From an April 3, 2014 UBC news release,

Researchers have genetically engineered trees that will be easier to break down to produce paper and biofuel, a breakthrough that will mean using fewer chemicals, less energy and creating fewer environmental pollutants.

“One of the largest impediments for the pulp and paper industry as well as the emerging biofuel industry is a polymer found in wood known as lignin,” says Shawn Mansfield, a professor of Wood Science at the University of British Columbia.

Lignin makes up a substantial portion of the cell wall of most plants and is a processing impediment for pulp, paper and biofuel. Currently the lignin must be removed, a process that requires significant chemicals and energy and causes undesirable waste.

Researchers used genetic engineering to modify the lignin to make it easier to break down without adversely affecting the tree’s strength.

“We’re designing trees to be processed with less energy and fewer chemicals, and ultimately recovering more wood carbohydrate than is currently possible,” says Mansfield.

Researchers had previously tried to tackle this problem by reducing the quantity of lignin in trees by suppressing genes, which often resulted in trees that are stunted in growth or were susceptible to wind, snow, pests and pathogens.

“It is truly a unique achievement to design trees for deconstruction while maintaining their growth potential and strength.”

The study, a collaboration between researchers at the University of British Columbia, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Michigan State University, is a collaboration funded by Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, was published today in Science.

Here’s more about lignin and how a decrease would free up more material for biofuels in a more environmentally sustainable fashion, from the news release,

The structure of lignin naturally contains ether bonds that are difficult to degrade. Researchers used genetic engineering to introduce ester bonds into the lignin backbone that are easier to break down chemically.

The new technique means that the lignin may be recovered more effectively and used in other applications, such as adhesives, insolation, carbon fibres and paint additives.

Genetic modification

The genetic modification strategy employed in this study could also be used on other plants like grasses to be used as a new kind of fuel to replace petroleum.

Genetic modification can be a contentious issue, but there are ways to ensure that the genes do not spread to the forest. These techniques include growing crops away from native stands so cross-pollination isn’t possible; introducing genes to make both the male and female trees or plants sterile; and harvesting trees before they reach reproductive maturity.

In the future, genetically modified trees could be planted like an agricultural crop, not in our native forests. Poplar is a potential energy crop for the biofuel industry because the tree grows quickly and on marginal farmland. [emphasis mine] Lignin makes up 20 to 25 per cent of the tree.

“We’re a petroleum reliant society,” says Mansfield. “We rely on the same resource for everything from smartphones to gasoline. We need to diversify and take the pressure off of fossil fuels. Trees and plants have enormous potential to contribute carbon to our society.”

As noted earlier, the researchers in Florida mention poplars in their paper (Note: Links have been removed),

Gymnosperms such as loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) contain lignin that is composed almost exclusively of G-residues, whereas lignin from angiosperm dicots, including poplar (Populus spp.) contains a mixture of G- and S-residues. [emphasis mine] Due to the radical-mediated addition of monolignols to the growing lignin polymer, lignin contains a variety of interunit bonds, including aryl–aryl, aryl–alkyl, and alkyl–alkyl bonds.(3) This feature, combined with the association between lignin and cell-wall polysaccharides, which involves both physical and chemical interactions, make the isolation of lignin from plant cell walls challenging. Various isolation methods exist, each relying on breaking certain types of chemical bonds within the lignin, and derivatizations to solubilize the resulting fragments.(5) Several of these methods are used on a large scale in pulp and paper mills and biorefineries, where lignin needs to be removed from woody biomass and crop residues(6) in order to use the cellulose for the production of paper, biofuels, and biobased polymers. The lignin is present in the waste stream and has limited intrinsic economic value.(7)

Since hydroxyl and carboxyl groups in lignin facilitate functionalization, its compatibility with natural and synthetic polymers for different commercial applications have been extensively studied.(8-12) One of the promising directions toward the cost reduction associated with biofuel production is the use of lignin for low-cost carbon fibers.(13) Other recent studies reported development and characterization of lignin nanocomposites for multiple value-added applications. For example, cellulose nanocrystals/lignin nanocomposites were developed for improved optical, antireflective properties(14, 15) and thermal stability of the nanocomposites.(16) [emphasis mine] Model ultrathin bicomponent films prepared from cellulose and lignin derivatives were used to monitor enzyme binding and cellulolytic reactions for sensing platform applications.(17) Enzymes/“synthetic lignin” (dehydrogenation polymer (DHP)) interactions were also investigated to understand how lignin impairs enzymatic hydrolysis during the biomass conversion processes.(18)

The synthesis of lignin nanotubes and nanowires was based on cross-linking a lignin base layer to an alumina membrane, followed by peroxidase-mediated addition of DHP and subsequent dissolution of the membrane in phosphoric acid.(1) Depending upon monomers used for the deposition of DHP, solid nanowires, or hollow nanotubes could be manufactured and easily functionalized due to the presence of many reactive groups. Due to their autofluorescence, lignin nanotubes permit label-free detection under UV radiation.(1) These features make lignin nanotubes suitable candidates for numerous biomedical applications, such as the delivery of therapeutic agents and DNA to specific cells.

The synthesis of LNTs in a sacrificial template membrane is not limited to a single source of lignin or a single lignin isolation procedure. Dimensions of the LNTs and their cytotoxicity to HeLa cells appear to be determined primarily by the lignin isolation procedure, whereas the transfection efficiency is also influenced by the source of the lignin (plant species and genotype). This means that LNTs can be tailored to the application for which they are intended. [emphasis mine] The ability to design LNTs for specific purposes will benefit from a more thorough understanding of the relationship between the structure and the MW of the lignin used to prepare the LNTs, the nanomechanical properties, and the surface characteristics.

We have shown that DNA is physically associated with the LNTs and that the LNTs enter the cytosol, and in some case the nucleus. The LNTs made from NaOH-extracted lignin are of special interest, as they were the shortest in length, substantially reduced HeLa cell viability at levels above approximately 50 mg/mL, and, in the case of pine and poplar, were the most effective in the transfection [penetrating the cell with a bacterial plasmid to leave genetic material in this case] experiments. [emphasis mine]

As I see the issues presented with these two research efforts, there are environmental and energy issues with extracting the lignin while there seem to be some very promising medical applications possible with lignin ‘waste’. These two research efforts aren’t necessarily antithetical but they do raise some very interesting issues as to how we approach our use of resources and future policies.

Carbon nanotubes burst forth (in a phallic manner) from the flames

Is this or is this not a phallic image?

Caption: This is a carbon nanotube growth. Credit: ITbM, Nagoya University

Caption: This is a carbon nanotube growth.
Credit: ITbM, Nagoya University

I suppose you could also describe it as a finger. In any event, the research associated with this image concerns a newly observed similarity between carbon nanotube (CNT) growth and hydrocarbon combustion (fuel combustion), according to an April 1, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

Professor Stephan Irle of the Institute of Transformative Bio-Molecules (WPI-ITbM) at Nagoya University and co-workers at Kyoto University, Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL), and Chinese research institutions have revealed through theoretical simulations that the molecular mechanism of carbon nanotube (CNT) growth and hydrocarbon combustion actually share many similarities. In studies using acetylene molecules (ethyne; C2H2, a molecule containing a triple bond between two carbon atoms) as feedstock, the ethynyl radical (C2H), a highly reactive molecular intermediate was found to play an important role in both processes forming CNTs and soot, which are two distinctively different structures. The study published online on January 24, 2014 in Carbon, is expected to lead to identification of new ways to control the growth of CNTs and to increase the understanding of fuel combustion processes.

A March 31, 2014 Institute of Transformative Bio-Molecules (ITbM), Nagoya University press release (also on EurekAlert but dated April 1, 2014), which originated the news item, provides some specifics about carbon nanotubes and about the research,

CNTs are molecules with a cylindrical nanostructure (nano = 10-9 m or 1 / 1,000,000,000 m [one billionth of a metre]). Arising from their unique physical and chemical properties, CNTs have found technological applications in the fields of electronics, optics and materials science. CNTs can be synthesized by a method called chemical vapor deposition, where hydrocarbon vapor molecules are deposited on transition metal catalysts under a flow of non-reactive gas at high temperatures. Current issues with this method are that the CNTs are usually produced as mixtures of nanotubes with various diameters and different sidewall structures. Theoretical simulations coordinated by Professor Irle have looked into the molecular mechanisms of CNT growth using acetylene molecules as feedstock (Figure 1). The outcome of their research provides insight into identifying new parameters that can be varied to improve the control over product distributions in the synthesis of CNTs.

High level theoretical calculations using quantum chemical molecular dynamics were performed to study the early stages of CNT growth from acetylene molecules on small iron (Fe38) clusters. Previous mechanistic studies have postulated complete breakdown of hydrocarbon source gases to atomic carbon before CNT growth. “Our simulations have shown that acetylene oligomerization and cross-linking reactions between hydrocarbon chains occur as major reaction pathways in CNT growth, along with decomposition to atomic carbon” says Professor Stephan Irle, who led the research, “this follows hydrogen-abstraction acetylene addition (HACA)-like mechanisms that are commonly observed in combustion processes” he continues.

Combustion processes are known to proceed by the hydrogen-abstraction acetylene addition (HACA)-like mechanism. Initiation of the mechanism begins with hydrogen atom abstraction from a precursor molecule followed by acetylene addition, and the repetitive cycle leads to formation of ring-structured polycylic aromatic carbons (PAHs). In this process, the highly reactive ethynyl radical (C2H) is continually being regenerated, extending the rings of PAHs and eventually forming soot. The same key reactive intermediate is observed in CNT growth and acts as an organocatalyst (a catalyst based on an organic molecule) facilitating hydrogen transfer reactions across growing hydrocarbon clusters. The simulations identify an intriguing bifurcation process by which hydrogen-rich hydrocarbon species enrich hydrogen content creating non-CNT byproducts, and hydrogen-deficient hydrocarbon species enrich carbon content leading to CNT growth … .

“We started this type of research from 2000, and long simulation time has been a great challenge to conduct full simulations across all participating molecules, due to the relatively high strength of the carbon-hydrogen bond. [emphasis mine] By establishing and using a fast method of calculation, we were able to successfully incorporate hydrogen in our calculations for the first time, which led to this new understanding revealing the similarity between CNT growth and hydrocarbon combustion processes. This finding is very intriguing in the sense that these processes were long considered to proceed by completely different mechanisms” elaborates Professor Irle.

I’m always impressed with the determination and persistence scientists demonstrate in their work and taking almost 14 years to study hydrocarbon combustion and carbon nanotube  growth in such detail is another among many, many such examples.

For the curious, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Quantum chemical simulations reveal acetylene-based growth mechanisms in the chemical vapor deposition synthesis of carbon nanotubes by Ying Wang, Xingfa Gao, Hu-Jun Qian, Yasuhito Ohta, Xiaona Wu, Gyula Eres, Keiji Morokuma, and Stephan Irle, Carbon 72, 22-37 (2014). DOI:10.1016/j.carbon.2014.01.020

This paper is behind a paywall.

New energy (nuclear) with fusion at TED 2014′s Session 3: Reshape

Michel Laberge, plasma physicist and founder and Chief Scientist of company General Fusion, describes how his company is working to change our energy sources from fossil fuels to nuclear power (I wrote about General Fusion in a Dec. 2, 2011 posting).

He and his company are currently involved in a large international collaboration, ITER (China. European Union, India, Korea, Russia, and USA as per the website tagline) in the south of France. From the ITER project page (images not included),

ITER is a large-scale scientific experiment that aims to demonstrate that it is possible to produce commercial energy from fusion.

The Q in the formula on the right symbolizes the ratio of fusion power to input power. Q ≥ 10 represents the scientific goal of the ITER project: to deliver ten times the power it consumes. From 50 MW of input power, the ITER machine is designed to produce 500 MW of fusion power—the first of all fusion experiments to produce net energy.

During its operational lifetime, ITER will test key technologies necessary for the next step: the demonstration fusion power plant that will prove that it is possible to capture fusion energy for commercial use.

The science going on at ITER—and all around the world in support of ITER—will benefit all of mankind.

We firmly believe that to harness fusion energy is the only way to reconcile huge conflicting demands which will confront humanity sooner or later.

The issue at stake is how to reconcile the imperative, constantly growing demand of the majority of the world’s population to raise their standard of living … with the enormous environmental hazards resulting from the present energy supply …

… In our opinion, the use of fusion energy is a “must” if we want to be serious about embarking on sustainable development for future generations.

Laberge is speaking very quickly and since I’m not at all familiar with his area of expertise all I can say is he’s clearly very excited about his work and its potential to shift how we produce energy. He provides more than one technical explanation and I look forward to viewing his presentation again when it’s made public.

As for other speakers in this session. they were very interesting but as I noted yesterday I am am trying to focus on speakers whose topics have been covered here in one fashion or another.

Nanomechanics and Applied Nanotechnology PhD candidate position in Norway

The application deadline is March 19, 2014. Thank you to Zhiliang Zhang  for your March 6, 2014 posting on iMechanica for this information,

NTNU Nanomechanical Lab at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) is looking for a PhD candidate within the field of Nanomechanics-nanotechnology-enabled petroleum engineering. The position is part of a knowledge-building project financed by The Research Council of Norway and industrial partners.

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim undated announcement  provides more details,

NTNU Nanomechanical Lab at the Department of Structural Engineering is looking for a PhD candidate within the field of nanotechnology-enabled petroleum engineering. Two positions are a part of a knowledge-building project financed by The Research Council of Norway, Det norske oljeselskap ASA and Wintershall Holding GmbH. The goal of the project is to design and control nanoparticles enabling interfacial wettability alteration and enhanced flow transport in confined space towards petroleum applications through multiscale experiments and simulations. The PhD candidate will work closely with other specialists involved in the project

Applications with CV, possible publications and other scientific works, certified copies of transcripts and reference letters must be submitted electronically via www.jobbnorge.no. Mark your application with ref.no. IVT-59/14.

In case of questions, please visit http://www.ntnu.no/nml and contact Assoc. Prof. Jianying He, [email protected], 73594686; Prof. Zhiliang Zhang, [email protected], 73592530; Prof. Ole Torsæter, [email protected], 73594941. No application should be sent to these email addresses

They’re asking for a three-year commitment and a master’s degree (or equivalent) in nanotechnology, material science, mechanical/structural engineering, or related fields and there’s no mention of language skills. Good luck!

I last wrote about Norway and its petroleum interests in a Jan. 22, 2014 post titled: Norwegians hoping to recover leftover oil with nanotechnology-enabled solutions.

Infusing solar cells with beauty

There is a bit of a theme emerging (if two news items some six months apart can be considered a theme) with scientists now trying to make solar cells or solar panels (as per my July 3, 2013 posting) objects of beauty. The latest project is from the University of Michigan according to a March 4, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

Colorful, see-through solar cells invented at the University of Michigan could one day be used to make stained-glass windows, decorations and even shades that turn the sun’s energy into electricity.

The cells, believed to be the first semi-transparent, colored photovoltaics, have the potential to vastly broaden the use of the energy source, says Jay Guo, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science, mechanical engineering, and macromolecular science and engineering at U-M. Guo is lead author of a paper about the work newly published online in Scientific Reports.

Here’s a video (from the University of Michigan) where Jay Guo describes his work,

For those who are too impatient to watch the video, here’s some of what was discussed along with  additional technical detail from a March 3, 2014 University of Michigan news release, which originated the news item,

“I think this offers a very different way of utilizing solar technology rather than concentrating it in a small area,” he said. “Today, solar panels are black and the only place you can put them on a building is the rooftop. And the rooftop of a typical high-rise is so tiny.

“We think we can make solar panels more beautiful—any color a designer wants. And we can vastly deploy these panels, even indoors.”

Guo envisions them on the sides of buildings, as energy-harvesting billboards and as window shades—a thin layer on homes and cities. Such an approach, he says, could be especially attractive in densely populated cities.

In a palm-sized American flag slide, the team demonstrated the technology.

“All the red stripes, the blue background and so on—they are all working solar cells,” Guo said.

The Stars and Stripes achieved 2 percent efficiency. A meter-square panel could generate enough electricity to power fluorescent light bulbs and small electronic gadgets, Guo says. State-of-the art organic cells in research labs are roughly 10 percent efficient.

The researchers are working to improve their numbers with new materials, but there will always be a tradeoff between beauty and utility in this case. Traditional black solar cells absorb all wavelengths of visible light. Guo’s cells are designed to transmit, or—in other versions—reflect certain colors, so by nature they’re kicking energy from those wavelengths back out to our eyes rather than converting it to electricity.

Unlike other color solar cells, Guo’s don’t rely on dyes or microstructures that can blur the image behind them. The cells are mechanically structured to transmit certain light wavelengths. To get different colors, they varied the thickness of the semiconductor layer of amorphous silicon in the cells. The blue regions are six nanometers thick while the red is 31 (the team also made green, but that color isn’t in the flag).

Amorphous silicon is commonly used in screens on cell phones, laptops and large LCD screens, in addition to solar cells. They sandwiched an ultrathin sheet of it between two semi-transparent electrodes that could let light in and also carry away the electrical current.

One of these so-called charge transport layers is made of an organic material. This hybrid structure, a combination of both organic and inorganic components, lets the researchers make cells that are 10 times thinner than traditional amorphous silicon solar cells. The organic layer replaces a thick ‘doped’ region that would typically controls the flow of electricity.

The ultrathin, hybrid design helps the cells hold their color and leads to a nearly 100 percent quantum efficiency. Quantum efficiency is different from overall efficiency. It refers to the percentage of light particles the device catches that lead to electrical current in that charge transport layer. Solar cells can leak current after this point, but researchers strive for a high number.

The cells’ hues don’t change based on viewing angle, which is important for several reasons. It means manufacturers could lock in color for precise pictures or patterns. It’s also a sign that the devices are soaking up the same amount of light regardless of where the sun is in the sky. Conventional solar panels pivot across the day to track rays.

“Solar energy is essentially inexhaustible, and it’s the only energy source that can sustain us long-term,” Guo said. “We have to figure out how to use as much of it as we can.”

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

Decorative power generating panels creating angle insensitive transmissive colors by Jae Yong Lee, Kyu-Tae Lee, Sungyong Seo, & L. Jay Guo. Scientific Reports 4, Article number: 4192 doi:10.1038/srep04192 Published 28 February 2014

This paper is open access.

Nano and the energy crisis, a March 25, 2014 presentation by Federico Rosei in Vancouver, Canada

ARPICO’s, Society of Italian Researchers and Professionals in Western Canada, is presenting a talk about the energy crisis and how nanoscience may help, which will be given by Federico Rosei, a nanoscientist based in Québec at the INRS (Institut national de la recherche scientifique). I don’t have much more information about the talk (from the March 4, 2014 ARPICO announcement),

Looming Energy Crisis & Possible Solutions
What is economically viable?
What is environmentally sustainable?
In the short term, in the long term…

Please join us for a presentation & lively discussion facilitated by

Federico Rosei, PhD
International award winning scientist, thinker and speaker

The exploration of the role of nanoscience in tomorrow’s energy solutions

There are more details about the speaker (from the ARPICO announcement),

Dr. Rosei’s research interests focus on the properties of nanostructured materials. Among numerous positions held, he is Canada Research Chair in Nanostructured Organic and Inorganic Materials, Professor & Director of INRS-Energy, Materials & Telecommunications, Universite du Quebec, Varennes (QC), and UNESCO Chair in Materials and Technologies for Energy Conversion, Saving and Storage. He has published over 170 articles in prestigious international journals and his publications have been cited over 4,500 times. He has received several awards, including the FQRNT Strategic Professorship, the Rutherford Memorial Medal in Chemistry from the Royal Society of Canada, and the Herzberg Medal from the Canadian Association of Physicists.

Dr. Rosei’s biographical notes have not been updat4ed as he has recently won two major awards as per my Feb. 4, 2014 posting about his E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship and my Jan. 27, 2014 posting about his 2014 Award for Research Excellence in Materials Chemistry from the Canadian Society for Chemistry.

Here are the event details,

Date & Time:      Tuesday, March 25, 2014, 7pm

Location:      Roundhouse Community Centre (Room C),
181 Roundhouse Mews, Vancouver, BC
(Yaletown-Roundhouse Sky Train Station, C21 & C23 Buses, Parking $3)

Refreshments:      Complimentary—coffee and cookies

Admission & RSVP:      Admission is free.

Registration at https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/looming-energy-crisis-possible-solutions-by-prof-federico-rosei-inrs-tickets-6582603745

I’m glad to see a talk about the energy crisis that’s geared to ways in which we might deal with it.

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.