Category Archives: environment

Earth Day, Water Day, and every day

I’m blaming my confusion on the American Chemical Society (ACS) which seemed to be celebrating Earth Day on April 15, 2014 as per its news release highlighting their “Chemists Celebrate Earth Day” video series  while in Vancouver, Canada, we’re celebrating it on April 26, 2014 and elsewhere it seems to be on April 20, this year. Regardless, here’s more about how chemist’s are celebrating from the ACS news release,

Water is arguably the most important resource on the planet. In celebration of Earth Day, the American Chemical Society (ACS) is showcasing three scientists whose research keeps water safe, clean and available for future generations. Geared toward elementary and middle school students, the “Chemists Celebrate Earth Day” series highlights the important work that chemists and chemical engineers do every day. The videos are available at http://bit.ly/CCED2014.

The series focuses on the following subjects:

  • Transforming Tech Toys- Featuring Aydogan Ozcan, Ph.D., of UCLA: Ozcan takes everyday gadgets and turns them into powerful mobile laboratories. He’s made a cell phone into a blood analyzer and a bacteria detector, and now he’s built a device that turns a cell phone into a water tester. It can detect very harmful mercury even at very low levels.
  • All About Droughts - Featuring Collins Balcombe of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation: Balcombe’s job is to keep your drinking water safe and to find new ways to re-use the water that we flush away everyday so that it doesn’t go to waste, especially in areas that don’t get much rain.
  • Cleaning Up Our Water – Featuring Anne Morrissey, Ph.D., of Dublin City University: We all take medicines, but did you know that sometimes the medicine doesn’t stay in our bodies? It’s up to Anne Morrissey to figure out how to get potentially harmful pharmaceuticals out of the water supply, and she’s doing it using one of the most plentiful things on the planet: sunlight.

Sadly, I missed marking World Water Day which according to a March 21, 2014 news release I received was being celebrated on Saturday, March 22, 2014 with worldwide events and the release of a new UN report,

World Water Day: UN Stresses Water and Energy Issues 

Tokyo Leads Public Celebrations Around the World

Tokyo — March 21 — The deep-rooted relationships between water and energy were highlighted today during main global celebrations in Tokyo marking the United Nations’ annual World Water Day.

“Water and energy are among the world’s most pre-eminent challenges. This year’s focus of World Water Day brings these issues to the attention of the world,” said Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization and Chair of UN-Water, which coordinates World Water Day and freshwater-related efforts UN system-wide.

The UN predicts that by 2030 the global population will need 35% more food, 40% more water and 50% more energy. Already today 768 million people lack access to improved water sources, 2.5 billion people have no improved sanitation and 1.3 billion people cannot access electricity.

“These issues need urgent attention – both now and in the post-2015 development discussions. The situation is unacceptable. It is often the same people who lack access to water and sanitation who also lack access to energy, ” said Mr. Jarraud.

The 2014 World Water Development Report (WWDR) – a UN-Water flagship report, produced and coordinated by the World Water Assessment Programme, which is hosted and led by UNESCO – is released on World Water Day as an authoritative status report on global freshwater resources. It highlights the need for policies and regulatory frameworks that recognize and integrate approaches to water and energy priorities.

WWDR, a triennial report from 2003 to 2012, this year becomes an annual edition, responding to the international community’s expression of interest in a concise, evidence-based and yearly publication with a specific thematic focus and recommendations.

WWDR 2014 underlines how water-related issues and choices impact energy and vice versa. For example: drought diminishes energy production, while lack of access to electricity limits irrigation possibilities.

The report notes that roughly 75% of all industrial water withdrawals are used for energy production. Tariffs also illustrate this interdependence: if water is subsidized to sell below cost (as is often the case), energy producers – major water consumers – are less likely to conserve it.  Energy subsidies, in turn, drive up water usage.

The report stresses the imperative of coordinating political governance and ensuring that water and energy prices reflect real costs and environmental impacts.

“Energy and water are at the top of the global development agenda,” said the Rector of United Nations University, David Malone, this year’s coordinator of World Water Day on behalf of UN-Water together with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

“Significant policy gaps exist in this nexus at present, and the UN plays an instrumental role in providing evidence and policy-relevant guidance. Through this day, we seek to inform decision-makers, stakeholders and practitioners about the interlinkages, potential synergies and trade-offs, and highlight the need for appropriate responses and regulatory frameworks that account for both water and energy priorities. From UNU’s perspective, it is essential that we stimulate more debate and interactive dialogue around possible solutions to our energy and water challenges.”

UNIDO Director-General LI Yong, emphasized the importance of water and energy for inclusive and sustainable industrial development.

“There is a strong call today for integrating the economic dimension, and the role of industry and manufacturing in particular, into the global post-2015 development priorities. Experience shows that environmentally sound interventions in manufacturing industries can be highly effective and can significantly reduce environmental degradation. I am convinced that inclusive and sustainable industrial development will be a key driver for the successful integration of the economic, social and environmental dimensions,” said Mr. LI.

Rather unusually, Michael Bergerrecently published two Nanowerk Spotlight articles about water (is there theme, anyone?) within 24 hours of each other. In his March 26, 2014 Spotlight article, Michael Berger focuses on graphene and water remediation (Note: Links have been removed),

The unique properties of nanomaterials are beneficial in applications to remove pollutants from the environment. The extremely small size of nanomaterial particles creates a large surface area in relation to their volume, which makes them highly reactive, compared to non-nano forms of the same materials.

The potential impact areas for nanotechnology in water applications are divided into three categories: treatment and remediation; sensing and detection: and pollution prevention (read more: “Nanotechnology and water treatment”).

Silver, iron, gold, titanium oxides and iron oxides are some of the commonly used nanoscale metals and metal oxides cited by the researchers that can be used in environmental remediation (read more: “Overview of nanomaterials for cleaning up the environment”).

A more recent entrant into this nanomaterial arsenal is graphene. Individual graphene sheets and their functionalized derivatives have been used to remove metal ions and organic pollutants from water. These graphene-based nanomaterials show quite high adsorption performance as adsorbents. However they also cause additional cost because the removal of these adsorbent materials after usage is difficult and there is the risk of secondary environmental pollution unless the nanomaterials are collected completely after usage.

One solution to this problem would be the assembly of individual sheets into three-dimensional (3D) macroscopic structures which would preserve the unique properties of individual graphene sheets, and offer easy collecting and recycling after water remediation.

The March 27, 2014 Nanowerk Spotlight article was written by someone at Alberta’s (Canada) Ingenuity Lab and focuses on their ‘nanobiological’ approach to water remediation (Note: Links have been removed),

At Ingenuity Lab in Edmonton, Alberta, Dr. Carlo Montemagno and a team of world-class researchers have been investigating plausible solutions to existing water purification challenges. They are building on Dr. Montemagno’s earlier patented discoveries by using a naturally-existing water channel protein as the functional unit in water purification membranes [4].

Aquaporins are water-transport proteins that play an important osmoregulation role in living organisms [5]. These proteins boast exceptionally high water permeability (~ 1010 water molecules/s), high selectivity for pure water molecules, and a low energy cost, which make aquaporin-embedded membrane well suited as an alternative to conventional RO membranes.

Unlike synthetic polymeric membranes, which are driven by the high pressure-induced diffusion of water through size selective pores, this technology utilizes the biological osmosis mechanism to control the flow of water in cellular systems at low energy. In nature, the direction of osmotic water flow is determined by the osmotic pressure difference between compartments, i.e. water flows toward higher osmotic pressure compartment (salty solution or contaminated water). This direction can however be reversed by applying a pressure to the salty solution (i.e., RO).

The principle of RO is based on the semipermeable characteristics of the separating membrane, which allows the transport of only water molecules depending on the direction of osmotic gradient. Therefore, as envisioned in the recent publication (“Recent Progress in Advanced Nanobiological Materials for Energy and Environmental Applications”), the core of Ingenuity Lab’s approach is to control the direction of water flow through aquaporin channels with a minimum level of pressure and to use aquaporin-embedded biomimetic membranes as an alternative to conventional RO membranes.

Here’s a link to and a citation for Montemagno’s and his colleague’s paper,

Recent Progress in Advanced Nanobiological Materials for Energy and Environmental Applications by Hyo-Jick Choi and Carlo D. Montemagno. Materials 2013, 6(12), 5821-5856; doi:10.3390/ma6125821

This paper is open access.

Returning to where I started, here’s a water video featuring graphene from the ACS celebration of Earth Day 2014,

Happy Earth Day!

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.

Canadian government funding announced for nanotechnology research in Saskatchewan and Alberta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He said the success is attracting Canadians back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turning CO2 in something valuable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NANoReg invites you to April 11, 2014 workshop in Athens, Greece

For anyone interested in nanomaterials and/or attending an EHS-themed (environment, health, and safety) event in Athens, Greece, NANoREG is holding an April 2014 workshop at the Industrial Technologies 2014 conference (April 9 – 11, 2014). From a March 14, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Some links have been removed),

NANoREG will identify EHS [environment, health, and safety] aspects that are most relevant from a regulatory point of view. It will provide tools for testing the EHS aspects and the assessment and management of the risks to the regulators and other stakeholders.

To assure that the final results of the project can be implemented in an efficient and effective way, Industry and Regulators are strongly involved in the project.
We kindly invite you to attend the NANoREG workshop and to give your opinion on the regulatory testing of nanomaterials, as a valuable contribution to future economic success of nanotechnology!

The workshop will take place on Friday, April 11, 2014 from 11:15 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in Athens, Greece, as part of the Industrial Technologies 2014 event. For registration please use the offi cial registration portal: www.naturalway.gr/industrial_technologies

Here’s more about the workshop from the NANoREG workshop page on the Industrial Technologies 2014 website,

1. The NANoREG approach: Answers from Science to the questions/needs of Industry and the Regulation Authorities.
2. First entrypoints, the regulatory questions and needs, an overview, matching of needs
3. NANoREG results: Materials, SOPs and the advancement of Regulatory Risk Assessment and Testing.
4.Overview of the NANoREG projects.
5. Whe window for industry participation, keeping pace with innovation.
6. Modes of collaboartion [sic] for industry.
7. Outlook

A joint workshops of EU FP7 Projects SANOWORK, nanoMICEX and Scaffold funded under the topic NMP.2011.1.3-2 “Worker Protection and exposure risk management strategies for nanomaterials production, use and disposal”, will focus on the main achievements of the three Projects in the related area. All three projects are committed to support the needs of companies and aim to provide a practical overview of the results of current research in the field of management of exposure to nanomaterials.

Here are links to the other three projects collaborating on the NANoREG workshop  SANOWORKnanoMICEX, and Scaffold.

Canadian nanobusiness news bitlets: NanoStruck and Lomiko Metals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

….

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

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

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

Nanochemistry research fellowhip in Portugal (deadline: March 12, 2014)

Here are details about a research fellowship in Portugal for a nanochemist (with an interest in water purification if I read the announcement correctly). From a March 7, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

Applications are open for the allocation of one research fellowship, under the project “Nanomaterials for the uptake of pollutant metal ions: efficiency, selectivity and recyclability” PTDC/CTM-NAN/120668/2010, from the Associate Laboratories CICECO and CESAM of the University of Aveiro. The project was funded by national funding of FCT/MEC (PIDDAC) and co-funded by FEDER (Fundo Europeu de Desenvolvimento Regional) through COMPETE (Programa Operacional Factores de Competitividade –POFC).

Requirements

The candidate should hold a University Master degree in Chemistry or other related formation (Biochemistry, Biotechnology, Chemical Engineering, etc) at the time of starting activity.

Purpose of Activity

The research work will be devoted to the synthesis, characterization and analytical performance of magnetic nanocomposites for the uptake of pollutants (e.g. heavy metal ions) from water. The work will involve the synthesis of the magnetic nanoparticles and their surface modification in order to efficiently capture the pollutants. The materials will be then characterized by diverse techniques to relate the performance of the nanomaterials and their chemical surface modification. The research will be developed in collaboration with co-workers from the Analytical Chemistry (CESAM) and Nanomagnetism (CICECO) teams.

The March 5, 2014 University of Aveiro announcement, which originated the news item, provides details about duration, remuneration, supervision, etc.,

Place of work and Scientific Orientation: The work will be carried out mainly at the University of Aveiro, but short visits to laboratories abroad are also possible. Research will be supervised by Professor Tito Trindade.

Duration of Activity: The fellowship has the duration of 12 months, scheduled to start in March 2014.

Remuneration:The value of the scholarship follows the Tables announced by FCT: 980 € per month (http://alfa.fct.mctes.pt/apoios/bolsas/valores). The periodicity of the fellowship’s payment is monthly and via bank transfer.

Criteria for evaluation of the candidates: Applications will be screened on the basis of:

- Classification of the academic degrees held by the applicant (average Licenciatura+Mestrado);

- Demonstrated scientific experience required by the research plan;

- Eventual interview of the candidate.

Jury: The panel responsible for selection will be composed of the following members:

- Professor Tito Trindade

- Professor Eduarda Pereira

- Doctor Ana Luísa Daniel-da-Silva

Notification of results: The selected candidate will be notified by e-mail.

Opening date and deadline for applications: Applications must be submitted from the 27th of February to the 12th of March, 2014.

Documents of application: The application must contain the following documents:

-Detailed Curriculum Vitae, dated and signed

-Motivation letter with full contacts of the applicant and two reference contacts

-Copies of certificates or documents confirming the academic degrees/classifications.

Applications should be sent by post mail to:

Tito Trindade
Departamento de Química-CICECO
Universidade de Aveiro
3810-193 Aveiro
Portugal

For those not familiar with the University of Aveiro, here’s more from their Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

The University of Aveiro (Universidade de Aveiro) is a Portuguese public university, headquartered in Aveiro since its 1973 creation. It also provides polytechnic education

Administratively, the teaching and research activities are distributed by Departments and Autonomous Sections, both with specialized faculties.

The University has more than 12,500 students distributed across 58 graduate courses, over 40 MSc courses and 25 PhD programs.

Its main campus is near the centre of Aveiro, including a nearby Administration and Accounting Institute. The university also has external regional campuses in Águeda, Higher Education Technological and Management School of Águeda, and Oliveira de Azeméis Higher Education School of North Aveiro.

It is an R&D university, having a research units developing programmes in fundamental and applied mathematics, physics, chemistry, telecommunications, robotics, bioinformatics, sea sciences, materials, design, business administration and industrial engineering.

One observation, I didn’t see anything about required  language skills in the announcement. In any event, good luck!

Silver ions in the environment

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

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

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

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

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

A prompt response

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

A number of unanswered questions

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

You can find the researchers’ paper here,

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

The paper is available through the PNAS open access option.

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

Cleaning up oils spills with cellulose nanofibril aerogels

Given the ever-expanding scope of oil and gas production as previously impossible to reach sources are breached and previously unusable contaminated sources are purified for use while major pipelines and mega tankers are being built to transport all this product, it’s good to see that research into cleaning up oil spills is taking place. A Feb. 26, 2014 news item on Azonano features a project at the University of Wisconsin–Madison,

Cleaning up oil spills and metal contaminates in a low-impact, sustainable and inexpensive manner remains a challenge for companies and governments globally.

But a group of researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison is examining alternative materials that can be modified to absorb oil and chemicals without absorbing water. If further developed, the technology may offer a cheaper and “greener” method to absorb oil and heavy metals from water and other surfaces.

Shaoqin “Sarah” Gong, a researcher at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (WID) and associate professor of biomedical engineering, graduate student Qifeng Zheng, and Zhiyong Cai, a project leader at the USDA Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, have recently created and patented the new aerogel technology.

The Feb. 25, 2014 University of Wisconsin–Madison news release, which originated the news item, explains a little bit about aergels and about what makes these cellulose nanofibril-based aerogels special,

Aerogels, which are highly porous materials and the lightest solids in existence, are already used in a variety of applications, ranging from insulation and aerospace materials to thickening agents in paints. The aerogel prepared in Gong’s lab is made of cellulose nanofibrils (sustainable wood-based materials) and an environmentally friendly polymer. Furthermore, these cellulose-based aerogels are made using an environmentally friendly freeze-drying process without the use of organic solvents.

It’s the combination of this “greener” material and its high performance that got Gong’s attention.

“For this material, one unique property is that it has superior absorbing ability for organic solvents — up to nearly 100 times its own weight,” she says. “It also has strong absorbing ability for metal ions.”

Treating the cellulose-based aerogel with specific types of silane after it is made through the freeze-drying process is a key step that gives the aerogel its water-repelling and oil-absorbing properties.

The researchers have produced a video showing their aerogel in operation,

For those who don’t have the time for a video, the news release describes some of the action taking place,

“So if you had an oil spill, for example, the idea is you could throw this aerogel sheet in the water and it would start to absorb the oil very quickly and efficiently,” she says. “Once it’s fully saturated, you can take it out and squeeze out all the oil. Although its absorbing capacity reduces after each use, it can be reused for a couple of cycles.”

In addition, this cellulose-based aerogel exhibits excellent flexibility as demonstrated by compression mechanical testing.

Though much work needs to be done before the aerogel can be mass-produced, Gong says she’s eager to share the technology’s potential benefits beyond the scientific community.

“We are living in a time where pollution is a serious problem — especially for human health and for animals in the ocean,” she says. “We are passionate to develop technology to make a positive societal impact.”

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

Green synthesis of polyvinyl alcohol (PVA)–cellulose nanofibril (CNF) hybrid aerogels and their use as superabsorbents by Qifeng Zheng, Zhiyong Cai, and Shaoqin Gong.  J. Mater. Chem. A, 2014,2, 3110-3118 DOI: 10.1039/C3TA14642A First published online 16 Dec 2013

This paper is behind a paywall. I last wrote about oil-absorbing nanosponges in an April 17, 2012 posting. Those sponges were based on carbon nanotubes (CNTs).

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.