Category Archives: nanotechnology

Legos, geckos (van der Waals force), and single-atom sheets at the University of Kansas (US)

A Nov. 25, 2014 news item on Nanowerk describes the achievement,

Physicists at the University of Kansas have fabricated an innovative substance from two different atomic sheets that interlock much like Lego toy bricks. The researchers said the new material — made of a layer of graphene and a layer of tungsten disulfide — could be used in solar cells and flexible electronics. …

Hsin-Ying Chiu, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, and graduate student Matt Bellus fabricated the new material using “layer-by-layer assembly” as a versatile bottom-up nanofabrication technique. Then, Jiaqi He, a visiting student from China, and Nardeep Kumar, a graduate student who now has moved to Intel Corp., investigated how electrons move between the two layers through ultrafast laser spectroscopy in KU’s Ultrafast Laser Lab, supervised by Hui Zhao, associate professor of physics and astronomy.

“To build artificial materials with synergistic functionality has been a long journey of discovery,” Chiu said. “A new class of materials, made of the layered materials, has attracted extensive attention ever since the rapid development of graphene technology. One of the most promising aspects of this research is the potential to devise next-generation materials via atomic layer-level control over its electronic structure.”

A Nov. 25, 2014 University of Kansas news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the problems and the new technique in more detail,

According to the researchers, the approach is to design synergistic materials by combining two single-atom thick sheets, for example, acting as a photovoltaic cell as well as a light-emitting diode, converting energy between electricity and radiation. However, combining layers of atomically thin material is a thorny task that has flummoxed researchers for years.

“A big challenge of this approach is that, most materials don’t connect together because of their different atomic arrangements at the interface — the arrangement of the atoms cannot follow the two different sets of rules at the same time,” Chiu said. “This is like playing with Legos of different sizes made by different manufacturers. As a consequence, new materials can only be made from materials with very similar atomic arrangements, which often have similar properties, too. Even then, arrangement of atoms at the interface is irregular, which often results in poor qualities.”

Layered materials such as those developed by the KU researchers provide a solution for this problem. Unlike conventional materials formed by atoms that are strongly bound in all directions, the new material features two layers where each atomic sheet is composed of atoms bound strongly with their neighbors — but the two atomic sheets are themselves only weakly linked to each other by the so-called van der Waals force, the same attractive phenomenon between molecules that allows geckos to stick to walls and ceilings.

“There exist about 100 different types of layered crystals — graphite is a well-known example,” Bellus said. “Because of the weak interlayer connection, one can choose any two types of atomic sheets and put one on top of the other without any problem. It’s like playing Legos with a flat bottom. There is no restriction. This approach can potentially product a large number of new materials with combined novel properties and transform the material science.”

Chiu and Bellus created the new carbon and tungsten disulfide material with the aim of developing novel materials for efficient solar cells. The single sheet of carbon atoms, known as graphene, excels at moving electrons around, while a single-layer of tungsten disulfide atoms is good at absorbing sunlight and converting it to electricity. By combining the two, this innovative material can potentially perform both tasks well.

The team used scotch tape to lift a single layer of tungsten disulfide atoms from a crystal and apply it to a silicon substrate. Next, they used the same procedure to remove a single layer of carbon atoms from a graphite crystal. With a microscope, they precisely laid the graphene on top of the tungsten disulfide layer. To remove any glue between the two atomic layers that are unintentionally introduced during the process, the material was heated at about 500 degrees Fahrenheit for a half-hour. This allowed the force between the two layers to squeeze out the glue, resulting in a sample of two atomically thin layers with a clean interface.

Doctoral students He and Kumar tested the new material in KU’s Ultrafast Laser Lab. The researchers used a laser pulse to excite the tungsten disulfide layer.

“We found that nearly 100 percent of the electrons that absorbed the energy from the laser pulse move from tungsten disulfide to graphene within one picosecond, or one-millionth of one-millionth second,” Zhao said. “This proves that the new material indeed combines the good properties of each component layer.”

The research groups led by Chiu and Zhao are trying to apply this Lego approach to other materials. For example, by combining two materials that absorb light of different colors, they can make materials that react to diverse parts of the solar spectrum.

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

Electron transfer and coupling in graphene–​tungsten disulfide van der Waals heterostructures by Jiaqi He, Nardeep Kumar, Matthew Z. Bellus,     Hsin-Ying Chiu, Dawei He, Yongsheng Wang, & Hui Zhao. Nature Communications 5, Article number: 5622 doi:10.1038/ncomms6622 Published 25 November 2014

This paper is behind a paywall but there is a few preview available through ReadCube Access.

Flexible electronics and Inorganic-based Laser Lift-off (ILLO) in Korea

Korean scientists are trying to make the process of creating flexible electronics easier according to a Nov. 25, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

Flexible electronics have been touted as the next generation in electronics in various areas, ranging from consumer electronics to bio-integrated medical devices. In spite of their merits, insufficient performance of organic materials arising from inherent material properties and processing limitations in scalability have posed big challenges to developing all-in-one flexible electronics systems in which display, processor, memory, and energy devices are integrated. The high temperature processes, essential for high performance electronic devices, have severely restricted the development of flexible electronics because of the fundamental thermal instabilities of polymer materials.

A research team headed by Professor Keon Jae Lee of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at KAIST provides an easier methodology to realize high performance flexible electronics by using the Inorganic-based Laser Lift-off (ILLO).

The process is described in a Nov. 26, 2014 KAIST news release on ResearchSEA, which originated the news item (despite the confusion of the date, probably due to timezone differentials), provides more detail about the technique for ILLO,

The ILLO process involves depositing a laser-reactive exfoliation layer on rigid substrates, and then fabricating ultrathin inorganic electronic devices, e.g., high density crossbar memristive memory on top of the exfoliation layer. By laser irradiation through the back of the substrate, only the ultrathin inorganic device layers are exfoliated from the substrate as a result of the reaction between laser and exfoliation layer, and then subsequently transferred onto any kind of receiver substrate such as plastic, paper, and even fabric.

This ILLO process can enable not only nanoscale processes for high density flexible devices but also the high temperature process that was previously difficult to achieve on plastic substrates. The transferred device successfully demonstrates fully-functional random access memory operation on flexible substrates even under severe bending.

Professor Lee said, “By selecting an optimized set of inorganic exfoliation layer and substrate, a nanoscale process at a high temperature of over 1000 °C can be utilized for high performance flexible electronics. The ILLO process can be applied to diverse flexible electronics, such as driving circuits for displays and inorganic-based energy devices such as battery, solar cell, and self-powered devices that require high temperature processes.”

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

Flexible Crossbar-Structured Resistive Memory Arrays on Plastic Substrates via Inorganic-Based Laser Lift-Off by Seungjun Kim, Jung Hwan Son, Seung Hyun Lee, Byoung Kuk You, Kwi-Il Park, Hwan Keon Lee, Myunghwan Byun and Keon Jae Lee. Advanced Materials Volume 26, Issue 44, pages 7480–7487, November 26, 2014 Article first published online: 8 SEP 2014 DOI: 10.1002/adma.201402472

© 2014 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

Here’s an image the researchers have made available,

This photo shows the flexible RRAM device on a plastic substrate. Courtesy: KAIST

This photo shows the flexible RRAM device on a plastic substrate. Courtesy: KAIST

Finally, the research paper is behind a paywall.

US Food and Drug Administration approval for next generation spinal interbody fusion implant

For the first time, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a nanotechnology-enabled interbody spinal fusion implant, according to a Nov. 12, 2014 news item on Azonano,

Titan Spine, a medical device surface technology company focused on developing innovative spinal interbody fusion implants, today announced that it has received 510(k) clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to market its Endoskeleton® line of interbody fusion implants featuring its next-generation nanoLOCKTM surface technology.

This clearance marks Titan’s line of Endoskeleton® spinal implants as the first FDA-approved interbody fusion devices to feature nanotechnology.

A Nov. 22, 2014 news item on Today’s Medical Developments.com provides more detail about the implants,

Titan’s new nanoLOCK surface technology enhances the company’s line of Endoskeleton devices with an increased amount of nano-scaled textures to up-regulate a statistically significant greater amount of the osteogenic and angiogenic growth factors that are critical for bone growth and fusion when compared to PEEK and the company’s current surface.

Barbara Boyan, Ph.D., dean of the School of Engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University, and an investigator in various Titan Spine studies, said, “This new surface technology further enhances Titan’s current surface and is the result of extensive research in how to create a significantly greater amount of nano-scaled textures that we have shown to be important for the osteogenic response necessary for fusion. The nanoLOCK surface topography is far different than what is found on titanium-coated PEEK implants. In addition, the nanoLOCK surface is not created by applying a coating, but rather is formed by a reductive process of the titanium itself. This eliminates the potential for delamination, which is a concern for products with a PEEK-titanium interface. My team is proud to collaborate with Titan Spine to help develop such a differentiated technology that is truly designed to benefit both patients and surgeons.”

Titan’s nanoLOCK surface is a significant advancement of the company’s first-generation surface. The patented nanoLOCK manufacturing process creates additional textures at the critical nano level. However, there are no changes to the device indications for use, design, dimensions, or materials. Additionally, mechanical testing demonstrated that the strength of the company’s line of Endoskeletonimplants are unaffected by the new surface treatment.

Earlier this year Titan Spine announced the first surgery using one of its Endoskeleton implants. From a July 14, 2014 Titan Spine press release,

Titan Spine, a medical device surface technology company focused on developing innovative spinal interbody fusion implants, today announced that it has received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to commercially release its Endoskeleton® TL system, a spinal fusion system utilizing a lateral approach. The Endoskeleton® TL represents the first lateral fusion device to feature surface technology that is designed to participate in the fusion process by creating an osteogenic response to the implant’s topography.

The Endoskeleton® TL device utilizes Titan’s proprietary roughened titanium surface technology which has been shown to upregulate the production of osteogenic and angiogenic factors that are critical for bone growth and fusion. In addition, the design of the TL device incorporates large windows and large internal volumes to allow for significant bone graft packing, clear CT and MRI imaging, desired bone graft loading, and the ability to pack additional bone graft material within the device following implantation. Members of the TL design team include Kade Huntsman, M.D., Orthopedic Spine Surgeon with the Salt Lake Orthopaedic Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah; Andy Kranenburg, M.D., Co-Medical Director of the Providence Medford Medical Center Spine Institute in Medford, OR; Axel Reinhardt, M.D., Head of the Department of Spinal Surgery at the Specialized Orthopaedic Hospital in Potsdam, Germany; and Paul Slosar, M.D., Chief Medical Officer for Titan Spine.

Dr. Huntsman performed the first surgeries utilizing the Endoskeleton® TL on July 9th, 2014 at St. Mark’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. …

“The Endoskeleton® TL device is the first application of surface technology to the lateral approach,” commented Dr. Slosar. “The ability to orchestrate cellular behavior and promote bone growth in response to an interbody device has not been in the lateral surgeon’s armamentarium until now. The TL is the byproduct of a unique collaboration between academic biomaterial scientists, spine surgeons, and industry experts to create a truly differentiated lateral interbody device that is designed to benefit both patients and surgeons. With the addition of the TL device, Titan Spine now offers its surface technology and complete line of titanium devices for virtually all interbody fusion spine surgery procedures in the cervical and lumbar spine.”

The full line of Endoskeleton® devices features Titan Spine’s proprietary implant surface technology, consisting of a unique combination of roughened topographies at the macro, micro, and cellular levels. [emphasis mine] This combination of surface topographies is designed to create an optimal host-bone response and actively participate in the fusion process by promoting new bone growth, encouraging natural production of bone morphogenetic proteins (BMP’s) and creating the potential for a faster and more robust fusion.

It would seem the implant used in the July 2014 surgery is not nanotechnology-enabled, which suggests nanoLOCK is a next-generation implant being marketed only a few months after the first generation was made available. Unfortunately, the Titan Spine website is still partially (‘surface technology’ tab) under construction so I was not able to find more details about the technology. In any event, that’s quite a development pace.

Remotely controlling bone regeneration with metallic nanoparticles

A Nov. 24, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily heralds some bone regeneration research which was published back in Sept. 2014,

Researchers in bone tissue regeneration believe they have made a significant breakthrough for sufferers of bone trauma, disease or defects such as osteoporosis.

Medical researchers from Keele University and Nottingham University have found that magnetic nanoparticles coated with targeting proteins can stimulate stem cells to regenerate bone. Researchers were also able to deliver the cells directly to the injured area, remotely controlling the nanoparticles to generate mechanical forces and maintain the regeneration process through staged releases of a protein growth stimulant.

A Nov. 17, 2014 Keele University (UK) press release, which originated the news item, describes the issues the researchers are addressing and their research approach,

The current method for repairing bone that can’t heal itself is through a graft taken from the patient. Unfortunately, this can be a painful, invasive procedure, and when the area that needs repair is too large or the patient has a skeletal disorder such as there can sometimes be a lack of healthy bone for grafting.

For this reason, spurring the growth of new bone through injected stem cells is an area of great interest to medical researchers. Much progress has been made, but a major hurdle remains – finding an appropriate means to stimulate the differentiation of the stem cells so they become the quality of bone tissue needed in a quantity large enough to treat patients effectively.

James Henstock, Ph.D. led the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)-funded study, alongside Alicia El Haj, Ph.D., and colleagues at Keele University’s Institute for Science and Technology in Medicine, as well as Kevin Shakesheff, Ph.D., from the University of Nottingham’s School of Pharmacy.

James Henstock said: “Injectable therapies for regenerative medicine show great potential as a minimally invasive route for introducing therapeutic stem cells, drug delivery vehicles and biomaterials efficiently to wound sites.”

“In our investigation we coated magnetic nanoparticles with specific targeting proteins then controlled them remotely with an external magnetic field to simulate exercise. We wanted to learn how this might affect the injected stem cells and their ability to restore functional bone.”

The team of researchers conducted their test using two models: chicken foetal femurs and tissue-engineered collagen hydrogels. In both instances the results showed an increase in bone formation and density without causing any mechanical stress to the construct or surrounding tissue.

“This work demonstrates that providing the appropriate mechanical cues in conjunction with controlled release of growth factors to these injectable cell therapies can have a significant impact on improving bone growth. It also could potentially improve tissue engineering approaches for translational medicine” Dr. Henstock said.

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

Remotely Activated Mechanotransduction via Magnetic Nanoparticles Promotes Mineralization Synergistically With Bone Morphogenetic Protein 2: Applications for Injectable Cell Therapy by James R. Henstock, Michael Rotherham, Hassan Rashidi, Kevin M. Shakesheff, and Alicia J. El Haja. Stem Cells Trans Med September 2014 sctm.2014-0017  (First Published Online September 22, 2014 doi: 10.5966/sctm.2014-0017)

This paper is open access but you do need to sign up for a free registration for access to the website.

European Union’s close-up on nanotechnology

A Nov. 21, 2014 news item on Nanowerk features a special issue of the research*eu magazine,

When it first earned public recognition in the early 2000s, nanotechnology was mostly a niche market. It started out with a few applications such as cosmetics, food products, textiles and automotive bumpers, but quickly expanded to other sectors. Recently, the growing market reached the frantic pace of 3 or 4 new products being released each week.

Decision-makers worldwide were quick to acknowledge this tremendous potential — although not without apprehension. In 2004, right after the US Congress came up with its ‘21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act’, the European Commission adopted its communication ‘Towards a European Strategy for Nanotechnology’ which aimed to institutionalise R&D efforts with a coherent strategy. The document notably underlined nanotechnology’s capacity to address the challenges faced by society through novel applications for the likes of health and biology, ICT [information and communications technology], energy production and storage, manufacturing and environment protection.

The news item is from the editorial for the ‘Close-up on Nanotechnology‘ special issue November 2014 (you can download the PDF), of research*eu,

This was 10 years ago. Since then, the EU has invested some EUR 3.5 billion in nanotechnology-related projects, both to develop new products in strategic fields and to ensure all potential uses are subjected to thorough safety controls and measures. As we are now at the dawn of Horizon 2020, we decided to focus this magazine on some of the latest EU research achievements under the FP7-NMP programme. This makes for a truly horizontal ‘special’ section, with themes including art conservation, electronics, water purification, clothing, building and construction and nanosafety.

These specials include two interviews. The first is with Sabine Paulussen, who presents the outcomes of NANOPUR and its new membrane technology to improve the efficiency of water purification. Then, Prof. Piero Baglioni introduces NANOFORART, a project with ambitions to help restorers in their difficult mission to preserve ancient works of art.

The special section is followed by the usual thematic sections on biology and medicine, social sciences and humanities, energy and transport, environment, IT and telecommunications, industrial technologies and space.

Other highlights in the November 2014 issue (from the download page; you may need to scroll down to find the free issue),

  • New hope for patients suffering from rare genetic disease
  • How research can help pluralism across Europe
  • Hi-tech cooperation: the answer to effective transport security
  • Using underwater robots for a better understanding of the underwater world
  • Flying robots will go where humans can’t
  • Mass producing super-thin films that can ‘squeeze’ electricity
  • Africa–Europe Earth Observation project

Happy Reading!

Commercializing cellulosic nanomaterials—a report from the US Dept. of Agriculture

Earlier this year in an April 10, 2014 post, I announced a then upcoming ‘nano commercialization’ workshop focused on cellulose nanomaterials in particular. While the report from the workshop, held in May, seems to have been published in August, news of its existence seems to have surfaced only now. From a Nov. 24, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

The U.S. Forest Service has released a report that details the pathway to commercializing affordable, renewable, and biodegradable cellulose nanomaterials from trees. Cellulosic nanomaterials are tiny, naturally occurring structural building blocks and hold great promise for many new and improved commercial products. Commercializing these materials also has the potential to create hundreds of thousands of American jobs while helping to restore our nation’s forests.

“This report is yet another important step toward commercializing a material that can aid in restoring our nations’ forests, provide jobs, and improve products that make the lives of Americans better every day,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “The Forest Service plans to generate greater public and market awareness of the benefits and uses for these naturally-occurring nanomaterials.”

The report, titled “Cellulose Nanomaterials – A Path towards Commercialization” (pdf), is a result of a workshop held earlier this year that brought together a wide range of experts from industry, academia, and government to ensure that commercialization efforts are driven by market and user materials needs.

A Nov. 24, 2014 US Dept. of Agriculture news release (Note: The US Forest Service is a division of the US Dept. of Agriculture), which originated the news item, provides more detail about the reasons for holding the workshop (Note: A link has been removed),

Cellulose nanomaterials have the potential to add value to an array of new and improved products across a range of industries, including electronics, construction, food, energy, health care, automotive, aerospace, and defense, according to Ted Wegner, assistant director at the U.S. Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis.

“These environmentally friendly materials are extremely attractive because they have a unique combination of high strength, high stiffness, and light weight at what looks to be affordable prices,” Wegner explained. “Creating market pull for cellulose nanomaterials is critical to its commercialization.

The success of this commercialization effort is important to the U.S. Forest Service for another key reason: creating forests that are more resilient to disturbances through restorative actions. Removing excess biomass from overgrown forests and making it into higher value products like nanocellulose, is a win for the environment and for the economy.

“Finding high-value, high-volume uses for low-value materials is the key to successful forest restoration,” said Michael T. Rains, Director of the Northern Research Station and Forest Products Laboratory. “With about 400 million acres of America’s forests in need of some type of restorative action, finding markets for wood-based nanocellulose could have a huge impact on the economic viability of that work.”

The U.S. Forest Service, in collaboration with the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative, organized the workshop. Participants included over 130 stakeholders from large volume industrial users, specialty users, Federal Government agencies, academia, non-government organizations, cellulose nanomaterials manufactures and industry consultants. The workshop generated market-driven input in three areas: Opportunities for Commercialization, Barriers to Commercialization, and Research and Development Roles and Priorities. Issues identified by participants included the need for more data on materials properties, performance, and environmental, health, and safety implications and the need for a more aggressive U.S. response to opportunities for advancing and developing cellulose nanomaterial.

“The workshop was a great opportunity to get research ideas directly from the people who want to use the material,” says World Nieh, the U.S. Forest Service’s national program lead for forest products. “Getting the market perspective and finding out what barriers they have encountered is invaluable guidance for moving research in a direction that will bring cellulose nanomaterials into the marketplace for commercial use.”

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service, part U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.

The report titled, “Cellulose Nanomaterials – A Path towards Commercialization,” notes the situation from the US perspective (from p. 5 of the PDF report),

Despite great market potential, commercialization of cellulose nanomaterials in the United States is moving slowly. In contrast, foreign research, development, and deployment (RD&D) of cellulose nanomaterials has received significant governmental support through investments and coordination. [emphasis mine] U.S. RD&D activities have received much less government support and instead have relied on public-private partnerships and private sector investment. Without additional action to increase government investments and coordination, the United States could miss the window of opportunity for global leadership and end up being an “also ran” that has to import cellulose nanomaterials and products made by incorporating cellulose nanomaterials. If this happens, significant economic and social benefits would be lost. Accelerated commercialization for both the production and application of cellulose nanomaterials in a wide array of products is a critical national challenge.

I know the Canadian government has invested heavily in cellulose nanomaterials particularly in Québec (CelluForce, a DomTar and FPInnovations production facility for CNC [cellulose nanocrystals] also known as NCC [nanocrystalline cellulose]). There’s also some investment in Alberta (an unnamed CNC production facility) and Saskatchewan (Blue Goose Biorefineries). As for other countries and constituencies which come to mind and have reported on cellulose nanomaterial research, there’s Brazil, the European Union, Sweden, Finland, and Israel. I do not have details about government investments in those constituencies. I believe the report’s source supporting this contention is in Appendix E,  (from p. 41 of the PDF report),

Moon, Robert, and Colleen Walker. 2012. “Research into Cellulose
Nanomaterials Spans the Globe.” Paper360 7(3): 32–34. EBSCOhost. Accessed June 17, 2014 [behind a paywall]

Here’s a description of the barriers to commercialization (from p. 6 of the PDF report),

Clarifying the problems to be solved is a precursor to identifying solutions. The workshop identified critical barriers that are slowing commercialization. These barriers included lack of collaboration among potential producers and users; coordination of efforts among government, industry, and academia; lack of characterization and standards for cellulose nanomaterials; the need for greater market pull; and the need to overcome processing technical challenges related to cellulose nanomaterials dewatering and dispersion. While significant, these barriers are not insurmountable as long as the underlying technical challenges are properly addressed. With the right focus and sufficient resources, R&D should be able to overcome these key identified barriers.

There’s a list of potential applications (p. 7 of the PDF report).

Cellulose nanomaterials have demonstrated potential applications in a wide array of industrial sectors, including electronics, construction, packaging, food, energy, health care, automotive, and defense. Cellulose nanomaterials are projected to be less expensive than many other nanomaterials and, among other characteristics, tout an impressive strength-to-weight ratio (Erickson 2012, 26). The theoretical strength-to-weight performance offered by cellulose nanomaterials are unmatched by current technology (NIST 2008,
17). Furthermore, cellulose nanomaterials have proven to have major environmental benefits because they are recyclable, biodegradable, and produced from renewable resources.

I wonder if that strength-to-weight ratio comment is an indirect reference to carbon nanotubes which are usually the ‘strength darlings’ of the nanotech community.

More detail about potential applications is given on p. 9 of the PDF report,

All forms of cellulose nanomaterials are lightweight, strong, and stiff. CNCs possess photonic and piezoelectric properties, while CNFs can provide very stable hydrogels and aerogels. In addition, cellulose nanomaterials have low materials cost potential compared to other competing materials and, in their unmodified state, have so far shown few environmental, health, and safety (EHS) concerns (Ireland, Jones, Moon, Wegner, and Nieh 2014, 6). Currently, cellulose nanomaterials have demonstrated great potential for use in many areas, including aerogels, oil drilling additives, paints, coatings, adhesives, cement, food additives, lightweight packaging materials, paper, health care products, tissue scaffolding, lightweight vehicle armor, space technology, and automotive parts. Hence, cellulose nanomaterials have the potential to positively impact numerous industries. An important attribute of cellulose nanomaterials is that they are derived from renewable and broadly available resources (i.e., plant, animal, bacterial, and algal biomass). They are biodegradable and bring recyclability to products that contain them.

This particular passage should sound a familiar note for Canadians, from p. 11 of the PDF report,

However, commercialization of cellulose nanomaterials in the United States has been moving slowly. Since 2009, the USDA Forest Service has invested around $20 million in cellulose nanomaterials R&D, a small fraction of the $680 million spent on cellulose nanomaterials R&D by governments worldwide (Erickson 2014, 26). In order to remain globally competitive, accelerated research, development, and commercialization
of cellulose nanomaterials in the United States is imperative. Otherwise, the manufacturing of cellulose nanomaterials and cellulose nanomaterial-enabled products will be established by foreign producers, and the United States will be purchasing these materials from other countries. [emphasis mine] Establishing a large-scale production of cellulose nanomaterials in the United States is critical for creating new uses from wood—which is, in turn, vital to the future of forest management and the livelihood of landowners.

Here are some of the challenges and barriers identified in the workshop (pp. 19 – 21 of the PDF report),

Need for Characterization and Standards:
In order for a new material to be adopted for use, it must be well understood and end users must have confidence that the material is the same from one batch to the next. There is a need to better characterize cellulose nanomaterials with respect to their structure, surface properties, and performance. …

Production and Processing Methods:
Commercialization is inhibited by the lack of processing and production methods and know-how for ensuring uniform, reliable, and cost-effective production of cellulose nanomaterials, especially at large volumes. This is both a scale-up and a process control issue. …

Need for More Complete EHS Information:
Limited EHS information creates a significant barrier to commercialization because any uncertainty regarding material safety and the pending regulatory environment presents risk for early movers across all industries. …

Need for Market Pull and Cost/Benefit Performance:
As noted earlier, cellulose nanomaterials have potential applications in a wide range of areas, but there is no single need that is driving their commercial development. Stakeholders suggested several reasons, including lack of awareness of the material and its properties and a need for better market understanding. Commercialization will require market pull in order to incentivize manufacturers, yet there is no perceptible demand for cellulose nanomaterials at the moment. …

Challenge of Dewatering/Drying:
One of the most significant technical challenges identified is the dewatering of cellulose nanomaterials into a dry and usable form for incorporation into other materials. The lack of an energy-efficient, cost-effective drying process inhibits commercialization of cellulose nanomaterials, particularly for non-aqueous applications. Cellulose nanomaterials in low-concentration aqueous suspensions raise resource and transportation costs, which make them less viable commercially.

Technology Readiness:
Technology readiness is a major challenge in the adoption of cellulose nanomaterials. One obstacle in developing a market for cellulose nanomaterials is the lack of information on the basic properties of different types of cellulose nanomaterials, as noted in the characterization and standards discussion. …

The rest of the report concerns Research & Development (R&D) Roles and Priorities and the Path Forward. In total, this document is 44 pp. long and includes a number of appendices. Here’s where you can read “Cellulose Nanomaterials – A Path towards Commercialization.”

Chalmers University gears up to offer Graphene Science and Technology, an online, international course

They’ll be offering a MOOC, massive open online course, at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, on the topic of graphene starting March 23, 2015 according a Nov. 21, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

Starting in 2015, Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden will be a global disseminator of knowledge. The beginning of the year will mark the start of ChalmersX – the venture of Chalmers moocs on the platform edx.org.

Chalmers announces its membership in edx at the ongoing conference Edx Global Forum in Boston. Edx is the platform where Chalmers’ moocs will be accessible. Universities such as MIT, Harvard, UC Berkeley, the University of Tokyo and many more offer their moocs on the same platform.

“This is a new and different way for us to take on the role of knowledge disseminator in our society“, says Maria Knutson Wedel, vice president for undergraduate and master’s education at Chalmers.

With a computer and an Internet connection, course participants all over the world can watch video lectures, take part in discussions, do assignments and take exams.

“Previously, we have primarily shared knowledge on a local and national level. The technology today enables global knowledge sharing – we can reach people who need the knowledge in question no matter where they are located in the world,“ says Maria Knutson Wedel.

A Nov. 21, 2014 Chalmers University press release on mydesk.com, which seems to have originated the news item, notes that the university is the consortium lead on the European Union’s Graphene Flagship project,

The first ChalmersX mooc will be an introduction to the super-material graphene: Introduction to Graphene Science and Technology. The subject is at the forefront of research, and EU’s biggest research initiative ever – Graphene Flagship – is based at Chalmers.

The course is led by graphene researcher Jie Sun. He took the initiative to the mooc as he saw the need of large-scale education about graphene.

“I hope to give the participants of the course basic knowledge of graphene. At the end of the course, an engineer should be able to determine if graphene is suitable for the company’s products, and a student should be able to decide if the subject is of interest for continued studies”, says Jie Sun.

Moocs are a growing trend in higher education. There is a great deal of interest in the courses – each one typically attracts tens of thousands of participants.

Maria Knutson Wedel believes that moocs can be very useful as supplementary or continuing professional development for people who are already part of working life. She does not believe that the courses can completely replace a traditional campus education, however. Campus education are closely connected and designed to correspond to the expectations from industry, for example. This type of education also results in a degree and a title, something which companies consider when hiring.

“However, this probably depends in part on traditional thinking on the part of the people who do the hiring at companies. In the future, we may reach a point that knowledge, regardless of how it has been obtained, becomes more important than certificates and grades,“ says Maria Knutson Wedel.

The ChalmersX moocs will be specially adapted to their context – the recordings will not consist of traditional 45-minute lectures. The teachers who have developed the course have carefully analysed the concepts they want participants to come away with after the course. The content is then boiled down to short video clips of 5-7 minutes each.

The next mooc in line after the course on graphene will be on sustainability in everyday life, starting in May 2015.

More about: Moocs

Moocs, an abbreviation of massive open online courses, are online courses aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web. The term mooc was coined in 2008. As opposed to traditional distance learning, moocs do not have any prerequisites for admission. Exams are conducted by machine and there are platforms on which participants can get in contact with each other and discuss. The courses do not generate higher education credits, but the participants do receive a certificate for completing the course.

They do have a course prerequisite, from the Introduction to Graphene Science and Technology course,

In order to benefit fully from this course you should have an adequate knowledge of general physics and university level mathematics.

Here’s a video of Jie Sun talking about graphene and his course,

Enjoy the course!

Norway and degradable electronics

It’s a bit higgledy-piggledy but a Nov. 20, 2014 news item on Nanowerk highlights some work with degradable electronics taking place in Norway,

When the FM frequencies are removed in Norway in 2017, all old-fashioned radios will become obsolete, leaving the biggest collection of redundant electronics ever seen – a mountain of waste weighing something between 25,000 and 30,000 tonnes.

The same thing is happening with today’s mobile telephones, PCs and tablets, all of which are constantly being updated and replaced faster than the blink of an eye. The old devices end up on waste tips, and even though we in the west recover some materials for recycling, this is only a small proportion of the whole.

And nor does the future bode well with waste in mind. Technologists’ vision of the future is the “Internet of Things”. Electronics are currently printed onto plastics. All products are fitted with sensors designed to measure something, and to make it possible to talk to other devices around them. Davor Sutija is General Manager at the electronics firm Thin Film, and he predicts that in the course of a few years each of us will progress from having a single sensor to having between a hundred and a thousand. This in turn will mean that billions of devices with electronic bar codes will be released onto the market.

Researchers are now getting to grips with this problem. Their aim is to develop processes in which electronics are manufactured in such a way that their entire life cycle is controlled, including their ultimate disappearance.

A Nov. 20, 2014 article by Åse Dragland for the Gemini newsletter (also found as a Nov. 20, 2014 news release on SINTEF [Norwegian: Stiftelsen for industriell og teknisk forskning]), describes the inspiration for the work in Norway while pointing out some signficant differences from US researchers in the approach to creating a commercial application,

In New Orleans in the USA, researchers have made electronic circuits which they implant into surgical wounds following operations on rats. Each wound is sewn up and the electricity in the circuits then accelerates the healing process. After a few weeks, the electronics are dissolved by the body fluids, making it unnecessary to re-open the wound to remove them manually.

In Norway, researchers at SINTEF have now succeeded in making components containing magnesium circuits designed to transfer energy. These are soluble in water and disappear after a few hours.

“We make no secret of the fact that we are putting our faith in the research results coming out of the USA”, says Karsten Husby at SINTEF ICT. “The Americans have made amazing contributions both in relation to medical applications, and towards resolving the issue of waste. We want to try to find alternative approaches to the same problem”, he says.

The circuit containing the small components is printed on a silicon wafer. At only a few nanometres thick, the circuits are extremely thin, and this enables them to dissolve more effectively. Some of the circuit components are made of magnesium, others of silicon, and others of silicon with a magnesium additive.

But the journey to the researchers’ goal from their current position leaves them with more than enough work to do. Making the ultra-thin circuits is a challenge enough in itself, but they also have to find a “coating” or “film” which will act as a protective packaging around the circuits.

The Americans use silk as their coating material, but the Norwegians are not in favour of this. The silk used is made as part of a process which involves the substance lithium, which is banned at MiNaLab – the laboratory where the SINTEF researchers work.

“Lithium generates a technical problem for our lab”, says Geir Uri Jensen, “so we’re considering alternatives, including a variety of plastics”, he says. “In order to achieve this, we’ve brought in some materials scientists here at SINTEF who are very skilled in this field”, he says.

The nature of the coating must be tailored to the time at which the electronics are required to degrade. In some cases this is just one week – in others, four. For example, if the circuit package is designed to be used in seawater, and fitted with sensors for taking measurements from oil spills, the film must be made so that it remains in place for the weeks in which the measurements are being taken.

“When the external fluids penetrate to the “guts” inside the packaging, the circuits begin to degrade. The job must be completed before this happens”, says Karsten Husby.

Geir Uri Jensen makes a sketch and explains how the nano researchers use horizontal and vertical etching processes in the lab to deposit all the layers onto the silicon circuits. And then – how they have to etch and lift the circuit loose from the silicon wafer in order later to transfer it across to the film.

“This works well enough using sensors at full scale”, he says, “but when the wafers are as thin as this, things become more tricky”. Jensen shrugs. “Even if the angle is just a little off, the whole assembly will snap”, he says.

There’s no doubt that as the use of consumer electronics increases, so too does the need to remove obsolete electronic products. Just think of all the cheap electronics built into children’s toys which are thrown away every year.

The removal of “outdated electronics” can also be a very labour-intensive process. Every day, surgeons place implants fitted with sensors into our bodies in order to measure everything from blood pressure and pressure on the brain, to how our hip implants are working. Some weeks later they have to operate again in order to remove the electronics.

But not everyone is interested in the new technologies developing in this field. Electronics companies which manufacture circuits are more interested in selling their products than in investing in research that results in their products disappearing. And companies which rely on recycling for their revenues may regard these new ideas as a threat to their existence.
Eco-friendly electronics are on the way

“It’s important to make it clear that we’re not manufacturing a final product, but a demo that can show that an electronic component can be made with properties that make it degradable”, says Husby. “Our project is now in its second year, but we’ll need a partner active in the industry and more funding in the years ahead if we’re to meet our objectives. There’s no doubt that eco-friendly electronics is a field which will come into its own, also here in Norway. And we’ve made it our mission to reach our goals”, he says.

Here’s an image of dissolving electronic circuits made available by the researchers,

Electronic circuits can be implanted into surgical wounds and assist the healing process by accelerating wound closure. After a few weeks, the electronics are dissolved by the body fluids, making it unnecessary to re-open the wound to remove them manually. Photos: Werner Juvik/SINTEF - See more at: http://gemini.no/en/2014/11/tomorrows-degradable-electronics/#sthash.Erh1sZp2.dpuf

Electronic circuits can be implanted into surgical wounds and assist the healing process by accelerating wound closure. After a few weeks, the electronics are dissolved by the body fluids, making it unnecessary to re-open the wound to remove them manually. Photos: Werner Juvik/SINTEF – See more at: http://gemini.no/en/2014/11/tomorrows-degradable-electronics/#sthash.Erh1sZp2.dpuf

The researcher most associated with this kind of work is John Rogers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and you can read more about biodegradable/dissolving electronics in a Sept. 27, 2012 article (open access) by Katherine Bourzac for Nature magazine. You can find more information about Thin Film Electronics or Thinfilm Electronics (mentioned in the third paragraph of the news item on Nanowerk) website here.

Simon Fraser University – SCFC861Nanotechnology, The Next Big Idea: course Week 5

Week 5, (Nov. 20, 2014) of my course called, Nanotechnology: The Next Big Idea and which is part of Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Continuing Studies programme is also the penultimate week. Thankfully,, the technology worked a bit better this week although there was one notable blip. My Week Five PowerPoint slides and notes of a sort can be found after this brief description of the class,

Week 5: The Geo-political Situation

By establishing a National Nanotechnology Initiative in 2000, the US government established itself as a world leader in the field, eclipsing the UK. Some thirty governments have since followed suit, establishing their own nanotech initiatives. Canada, for better or worse, is not one of them.

Here’s the week 5 slide deck,

Week5_GeoPoliticsR

Here are my ‘notes’ for yesterday’s class consisting largely of brief heads designed to remind me of the content to be found by clicking the link directly after the head.

Week5_Geopolitics

Happy Reading!

Congratulations to Vive Crop on its new manufacturing capability

Here’s the latest news from Vive Crop (from the Nov.20, 2014 announcement,

Toronto, ON – Nov 20, 2014 – Vive Crop Protection, Inc. is pleased to announce the opening of its new manufacturing plant to enable commercial production of its advanced product formulations. These technologies leverage Vive’s patented Allosperse® delivery system, providing enhanced agronomic performance and new application opportunities for farmers.

“This plant is the result of the dedicated effort of all our employees and the support of our partners. Completion of our manufacturing plant is a momentous milestone that significantly accelerates our company’s growth,” said Vive CEO Keith Thomas. “Vive’s innovative employees are rapidly developing a strong pipeline of effective crop protection products for our partners and growers.”

Vive’s products have been commercialized from fundamental research conducted at the University of Toronto and funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC) I2I program and Ontario Centres of Excellence. Ongoing support has been provided by private investors as well as the Government of Canada through Sustainable Development Technology Canada and FedDev Ontario as well as the Government of Ontario through the Innovation Demonstration Fund and Ontario Capital Growth Corporation. Vive’s plant is located at Halltech Inc., a Canadian manufacturer of polymer emulsions.

About Vive Crop Protection: Vive Crop Protection makes products that better protect crops from pests. The company has won a number of awards and was highly commended for Best Formulation Innovation at the 2012 Agrow Awards. Vive’s patented Allosperse delivery system has the ability to coat plants more evenly, which provides better crop protection and can lead to increased yields. Vive is working with partners across the globe that share its vision of bringing safer, more effective crop protection products to growers everywhere. For more information, see www.vivecrop.com.

Congratulations to everyone at Vive Crop!

For anyone unfamiliar with the company, there’s this description from the Vive Crop website’s homepage,

At Vive, our aim is to develop effective crop protection products, giving farmers better tools to protect their crops.

We use our patented Allosperse® delivery system in formulations that have new, exciting properties that growers care about. Allosperse is a water-dispersible delivery system, meaning that our formulations are made without solvents.

We are looking for partners across the globe that share our vision of bringing effective crop protection products to growers everywhere.

Crop protection sounds like work on pesticides and insecticides to me and given that Vive Crop has won at least one ‘cleantech’ award, I assume that this is a relatively ‘green’ product. I last wrote about Vive Crop in a Dec. 31, 2013 post.

Finally, I was a little puzzled by the mention of Vive Crop’s manufacturing plant as being located at Halltech Inc., a Canadian manufacturer of polymer emulsions located in Scarborough, Ontario. Perhaps they’re sharing space? In any event, you can find Halltech here.