Category Archives: environment

Green nanotechnology centre (meaningful science for helping humanity) launched in South Africa

On July 14, 2014, South Africa’s University of the Western Cape (UWC) launched its Centre for Green Nanotechnology. A July 23, 2014 news item on Nanowerk makes readers feel as if they were present,

The establishment of University of the Western Cape (UWC)’s Centre for Green Nanotechnology was made a reality through a positive partnership between the University of Missouri (UM) and UWC that has spanned approximately 30 years.

[Speakers at the launch of the Centre included Prof Brian O’Connell, Rector of UWC; Prof Richard Bowen Loftin, Chancellor of UM; Prof Ken Dean, Provost of UM; and Prof Ramesh Bharuthram, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of UWC.]

Green nanotechnology is a relatively new science which aims to create environmentally friendly technologies in an effort to tackle real problems. Nanotechnology has improved the design and performance of products in various areas such as electronics, medicine and medical devices, food and agriculture, cosmetics, chemicals, materials, coatings, energy and so forth. According to Prof Bharuthram, “Green nanotechnology provides an opportunity to combine the strengths of nanobioscience, nanochemistry and nanophysics towards innovative solutions for societal benefit.”

Another keynote speaker at the launch included Professor Kattesh Katti, who has been hailed as the “father of green nanotechnology” and cited as one of the 25 most influential scientists in molecular imaging in the world. Prof Katti will divide his time between the University of Missouri (where he heads up their Green Nanotechnology Centre) and UWC, where he will spend approximately 3-6 months of the year.

Prof Katti noted that nanotechnology involves various role players – including scientists, biologists and chemists – working together. During his lecture, he focused on the use of green nanotechnologies to treat cancer. While the treatment of cancer utilising green nanotechnologies is still at experimental stages, he illustrated how the use of nanotechnologies could be the treatment of the future. He explained that current drugs used to treat cancers don’t always have the desired effect as the drugs don’t always penetrate tumours effectively due to their large size and approximately 60% of drugs go away from the intended target (tumour). Nanotechnology particles, due to their small size and their functioning, have the ability to penetrate tumours much more effectively.

A July 14, 2014 UWC news release, which originated the news item, provides background about events leading to the inception of this new centre and provides insight into its purpose,

The establishment of the Centre for Green Nanotechnology started in 2008/09 when UWC embarked on developing a five-year institutional strategic plan for 2010-2014. The Institutional Operational Plan (IOP) identified eight institutional goals, which included: Goal 2 – Teaching & Learning; and Goal 3 – Research & Innovation. Prof Bharuthram explained, “The IOP articulated the need for UWC to identify emerging and established research niche areas that will not only contribute to high output in the form of research publications and graduating masters and doctoral students, but equally importantly give the University a set of distinctions that will set UWC apart from the other higher education institutions – a calculated move towards becoming a research intensive university. It is indeed fascinating that at the time UWC was engaged in this exercise, the University of Missouri was undertaking a similar comprehensive initiative which resulted in the identification and development of the five MIZZOU Advantage thematic areas. These two parallel undertakings helped to elevate the partnership between UWC and UM to hitherto unknown heights.”

UWC’s Centre for Green Nanotechnology aims to promote:

·    The development of fundamental sciences as they relate to chemistry, physics and biomedical and alternative energy aspects of green nanotechnology.

·   Research and application on indigenous phyto-chemicals and phyto-mediated technologies for the production of green nanotechnologies with applications in medicine, energy and allied disciplines.

· New green nanotechnological synthetic processes and their feasibilities at laboratory levels, pilot scale and industrial scale for mass manufacturing.

·    Green nanoparticles and green nanotechnologies in the design and development of new medical diagnostic/therapeutic agents, biological sensors, chemical sensors, smart electronic materials, nanoscale robots, environmentally benign breathing devices.

Furthermore the Centre aims to provide formal training to students at the undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral levels in all aspects of green nanotechnology from blue sky to applied, including impact on socioeconomic development, policy development and revision.

UWC is exceptionally excited about this new venture and is proud that it continues to show great developmental strides in all academic spheres. At the launch of the Centre, Prof O’Connell said, “When there is robust engagement there is change. Knowledge and change goes together. The more ways of knowing is a more efficient way to tackle problems.”

There was a general consensus that education is the key factor in shaping our future. Prof Loftin, Chancellor of UM said, “We think of resources in terms of tangible things, but the most precious resource is human capital.

The strides that UM and UWC have made in staying current with regard to offering course studies that are new illustrates that these institutions are investing heavily in human capital and are committed to providing solutions for future challenges.

​As Prof O’Connell noted, “UWC is a metaphor for Africa. Despite being excluded and coming from a disadvantaged past, we are here to show that we can use our brain to push the boundaries.”

I wish them all the best.

Laundry detergents that clean clothes and pollution from the air

Tony Ryan, as an individual (and with Helen Storey), knows how to provoke interest in a topic many of us find tired, air pollution. This time, Ryan and Storey have developed a laundry detergent additive through their Catalytic Clothing venture (mentioned previously in a Feb. 24, 2012 posting and in a July 8, 2011 posting). From Adele Peters’ July 22, 2014 article for Fast Company (Note: A link has been removed),

Here’s another reason cities need more pedestrians: If someone is wearing clothes that happened to be washed in the right detergent, just their walking down the street can suck smog out of the surrounding air.

For the last few years, researchers at the Catalytic Clothing project have been testing a pollution-fighting laundry detergent that coats clothing in nano-sized particles of titanium dioxide. The additive traps smog and converts it into a harmless byproduct. It’s the same principle that has been used smog-eating buildings and roads, but clothing has the advantage of actually taking up more space.

Kasey Lum in a June 25, 2014 article for Ecouterre describes the product as a “laundry additive [which] could turn clothing in mobile air purifiers,”

CatClo piggybacks the regular laundering process to deposit nanoparticles of titanium dioxide onto the fibers of the clothing. Exposure to light excites electrons on the particles’ surface, creating free radicals that react with water to make hydrogen peroxide. This, in turn, “bleaches out” volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere, according to Storey, rendering them harmless.

Lum referenced a May 23, 2014 article written by Helen Storey and Tony Ryan for the UK’s Guardian, newspaper which gives a history of their venture, Catalytic Clothing, and an update on their laundry additive (Note: Links have been removed),

It was through a weird and wonderful coincidence on BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation] Radio 4 that we met to discuss quantum mechanics and plastic packaging, resulting in the Wonderland Project, where we created disappearing gowns and bottles as a metaphor for a planet that is going the same way.

Spurred by this collaborative way of working, Wonderland led to Catalytic Clothing, a liquid laundry additive. The idea came out of conversations about how we could harness the surface of our clothing and the power of fashion to communicate complex scientific ideas – and so began the campaign for clean air.

(When I first wrote about Catalytic Clothing I was under the impression that it was an art/science venture focused on clothing as a means of cleaning the air. I was unaware they were working on a laundry additive.)

Getting back to Storey’s and Ryan’s article (Note: A link has been removed),

Catalytic Clothing (CatClo) uses existing technology in a radical new way. Photocatalytic surface treatments that break down airborne pollutants are widely applied to urban spaces, in concrete, on buildings and self-cleaning glass. The efficacy is greatly increased when applied to clothing – not only is there a large surface area, but there is also a temperature gradient creating a constant flux of air, and movement through walking creates our own micro-wind, so catalysing ourselves makes us the most effective air purifiers of them all.

CatClo contains nanoparticles of titania (TiO2) a thousand times finer than a human hair. [generally nanoscale is described as between 1/60,000 to 1/100,000 of a hair's width] When clothes are laundered through the washing process, particles are deposited onto the fibres of the fabric. When the catalysed clothes are worn, light shines on the titanium particles and it excites the electrons on the particle surface. These electrons cause oxygen molecules to split creating free-radicals that then react with water to make hydrogen peroxide. This then bleaches out the volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides (NOx) that are polluting the atmosphere.

The whole process is sped up when people, wearing the clothes, are walking down the street. The collective power of everyone wearing clothes treated with CatClo is extraordinary. If the whole population of a city such as Sheffield was to launder their clothes at home with a product containing CatClo technology they would have the power to remove three tonnes per day of harmful NOx pollution.

So, if the technology exists to clear the air, why isn’t it available? From Storey’s and Ryan’s article,

Altruism, is a hard concept to sell to big business. We have approached and worked with some of the world’s largest producers of laundry products but even though the technology exists and could be relatively cheap to add to existing products, it’s proved to be a tough sell. The fact that by catalysing your clothes the clean air you create will be breathed in by the person behind you is not seen as marketable.

A more serious issue is that photocatalysts can’t tell the difference between a bad pollutant and a “good” one; for example, it treats perfume as just another volatile organic compound like pollution. This is an untenable threat to an entire industry and existing products owned by those best able to take CatClo to market.

We’ve recently travelled to China to see whether CatClo could work there. China is a place where perfume isn’t culturally valued, but the common good is, so a country with one of the biggest pollution problems on the planet, and a government that isn’t hidebound by business as usual, might be the best place to start.

In the midst of developing their laundry additive, Storey and Ryan produced a pop-up exhibition, A Field of Jeans (first mentioned here in an Oct. 13, 2011 posting which lists events for the 2011 London Science Festival), to raise public awareness and support (from the article),

During the research period, we realised that there were more jeans on the planet than people. Knowing this, we launched a pop-up exhibition, A Field of Jeans. The jeans we catalysed are all recycled and as it turns out, because of the special nature of cotton denim, are the most efficacious fabric of all to support the catalysts.

The public have been overwhelmingly supportive; once fears about the “chemicals”, “nanotech” or becoming dirt magnets were dispelled, we captured people’s imagination and proved that CatClo could eventually be as normal as fluoride in toothpaste with enormous potential to increase wellbeing and clean up our polluted cities.

The pop-up exhibition is now at Thomas Tallis School in London (from the Catalytic Clothing homepage),

New 2013/2014
Field of Jeans is at Thomas Tallis school from December 2nd 2013 until further notice. Jeans can be viewed from Kidbrooke Park Road, London SE3 outside the main school entrance. This will inspire a piece of work across the school called Catalytic Learning. More will be posted here soon.
Click here for images

http://www.thomastallis.co.uk/

Here’s an image from the Field of Jeans,

Image can be found here at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/helenstoreyfoundation/sets/72157638346745735/

Image can be found here at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/helenstoreyfoundation/sets/72157638346745735/

I last featured Tony Ryan’s work here in a May 15, 2014 posting about a poem and a catalytic billboard at the University of Sheffield where Ryan is the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Science.

Transmetalation, substituting one set of metal atoms for another set

Transmetalation bears a resemblance of sorts to transmutation. While the chemists from the University of Oregon aren’t turning lead to gold through an alchemical process they are switching out individual metal atoms, aluminum for indium. From a July 21, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

The yield so far is small, but chemists at the University of Oregon have developed a low-energy, solution-based mineral substitution process to make a precursor to transparent thin films that could find use in electronics and alternative energy devices.

A paper describing the approach is highlighted on the cover of the July 21 [2014] issue of the journal Inorganic Chemistry, which draws the most citations of research in the inorganic and nuclear chemistry fields. [emphasis mine] The paper was chosen by the American Chemical Society journal as an ACS Editor’s Choice for its potential scientific and broad public interest when it initially published online.

One observation unrelated to the research, the competition amongst universities seems to be heating up. While journals often tout their impact factor, it’s usually more discreetly than in what amounts to a citation in the second paragraph of the university news release, which originated the news item.

The July 21, 2014 University of Oregon news release (also on EurekAlert), describes the work in more detail,

The process described in the paper represents a new approach to transmetalation, in which individual atoms of one metal complex — a cluster in this case — are individually substituted in water. For this study, Maisha K. Kamunde-Devonish and Milton N. Jackson Jr., doctoral students in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, replaced aluminum atoms with indium atoms.

The goal is to develop inorganic clusters as precursors that result in dense thin films with negligible defects, resulting in new functional materials and thin-film metal oxides. The latter would have wide application in a variety of electronic devices.

“Since the numbers of compounds that fit this bill is small, we are looking at transmetelation as a method for creating new precursors with new combinations of metals that would circumvent barriers to performance,” Kamunde-Devonish said.

Components in these devices now use deposition techniques that require a lot of energy in the form of pressure or temperature. Doing so in a more green way — reducing chemical waste during preparation — could reduce manufacturing costs and allow for larger-scale materials, she said.

“In essence,” said co-author Darren W. Johnson, a professor of chemistry, “we can prepare one type of nanoscale cluster compound, and then step-by-step substitute out the individual metal atoms to make new clusters that cannot be made by direct methods. The cluster we report in this paper serves as an excellent solution precursor to make very smooth thin films of amorphous aluminum indium oxide, a semiconductor material that can be used in transparent thin-film transistors.”

Transmetalation normally involves a reaction done in organic chemistry in which the substitution of metal ions generates new metal-carbon bonds for use in catalytic systems and to synthesize new metal complexes.

“This is a new way to use the process,” Kamunde-Devonish said, “Usually you take smaller building blocks and put them together to form a mix of your basic two or three metals. Instead of building a house from the ground up, we’re doing some remodeling. In everyday life that happens regularly, but in chemistry it doesn’t happen very often. We’ve been trying to make materials, compounds, anything that can be useful to improve the processes to make thin films that find application in a variety of electronic devices.”

The process, she added, could be turned into a toolbox that allows for precise substitutions to generate specifically desired properties. “Currently, we can only make small amounts,” she said, “but the fact that we can do this will allow us to get a fundamental understanding of how this process happens. The technology is possible already. It’s just a matter of determining if this type of material we’ve produced is the best for the process.”

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

Transmetalation of Aqueous Inorganic Clusters: A Useful Route to the Synthesis of Heterometallic Aluminum and Indium Hydroxo—Aquo Clusters by Maisha K. Kamunde-Devonish, Milton N. Jackson, Jr., Zachary L. Mensinger, Lev N. Zakharov, and Darren W. Johnson. Inorg. Chem., 2014, 53 (14), pp 7101–7105 DOI: 10.1021/ic403121r Publication Date (Web): April 18, 2014

Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

This paper appears to be open access (I was able to view the HTML version when I clicked).

Live webcast about data journalism on July 30, 2014 and a webinar featuring the 2014 NNI (US National Nanotechnology Initiative) EHS (Environment, Health and Safety) Progress Review on July 31, 2014

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars is hosting a live webcast on data journalism scheduled for July 30, 2014. For those us who are a little fuzzy as to what the term ‘data journalism’ means, this is probably a good opportunity to find out as per the description in the Wilson Center’s July 23, 2014 email announcement,

What is data journalism? Why does it matter? How has the maturing field of data science changed the direction of journalism and global investigative reporting? Our speakers will discuss the implications for policymakers and institutional accountability, and how the balance of power in information gathering is shifting worldwide, with implications for decision-making and open government.

This event will be live webcast and you may follow it on twitter @STIPcommonslab and #DataJournalism

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014
10am – 12pm EST
5th Floor Conference Room
[Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center
One Woodrow Wilson Plaza - 1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20004-3027
T 1-202-691-4000]

Speakers:

Alexander B. Howard
Writer and Editor, TechRepublic and founder of the blog “E Pluribus Unum.” Previously, he was a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, the Ash Center at Harvard University and the Washington Correspondent for O’Reilly Media.

Kalev H. Leetaru
Yahoo! Fellow at Georgetown University, a Council Member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Government, and a Foreign Policy Magazine Top 100 Global Thinker of 2013. For nearly 20 years he has been studying the web and building systems to interact with and understand the way it is reshaping our global society.

Louise Lief (Moderator)
Public Policy Scholar at the Wilson Center. Her project, “Science and the Media” explores innovative ways to make environmental science more accessible and useful to all journalists. She is investigating how new technologies and civic innovation tools can benefit both the media and science.

I believe you need to RSVP if you are attending in person but it’s not necessary for the livestream.

The other announcement comes via a July 23, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

The National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO) will hold a public webinar on Thursday, July 31, 2014, to provide a forum to answer questions related to the “Progress Review on the Coordinated Implementation of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) 2011 Environmental, Health, and Safety Research Strategy.”

The full notice can be found on the US nano.gov website,

When: The webinar will be live on Thursday, July 31, 2014 from 12:00 pm-1 pm.
Where: Click here to register for the online webcast

While it’s open to the public, I suspect this is an event designed largely for highly interested parties such as the agencies involved in EHS activities, nongovernmental organizations that act as watchdogs, and various government policy wonks. Here’s how they describe their proposed discussions (from the event notice page),

Discussion during the webinar will focus on the research activities undertaken by NNI agencies to advance the current state of the science as highlighted in the Progress Review. Representative research activities as provided in the Progress Review will be discussed in the context of the 2011 NNI EHS Research Strategy’s six core research areas: Nanomaterial Measurement Infrastructure, Human Exposure Assessment, Human Health, the Environment, Risk Assessment and Risk Management Methods, and Informatics and Modeling.

How: During the question-and-answer segment of the webinar, submitted questions will be considered in the order received. A moderator will identify relevant questions and pose them to the panel of NNI agency representatives. Due to time constraints, not all questions may be addressed.  The moderator reserves the right to group similar questions and to skip questions, as appropriate. The NNCO will begin accepting questions and comments via email ([email protected]) at 1 pm on Thursday, July 24th (EDT) until the close of the webinar at 1 pm (EDT) on July 31st.

The Panelists:  The panelists for the webinar are subject matter experts from the Federal Government.

Additional Information: A public copy of the “Progress Review on the Coordinated Implementation of the National Nanotechnology Initiative 2011 Environmental, Health, and Safety Research Strategy” can be accessed at www.nano.gov/2014EHSProgressReview. The 2011 NNI EHS Research Strategy can be accessed at www.nano.gov/node/681.
- See more at: http://www.nano.gov/node/1166#sthash.Ipr0bFeP.dpuf

Trapping gases left from nuclear fuels

A July 20, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily provides some insight into recycling nuclear fuel,

When nuclear fuel gets recycled, the process releases radioactive krypton and xenon gases. Naturally occurring uranium in rock contaminates basements with the related gas radon. A new porous material called CC3 effectively traps these gases, and research appearing July 20 in Nature Materials shows how: by breathing enough to let the gases in but not out.

The CC3 material could be helpful in removing unwanted or hazardous radioactive elements from nuclear fuel or air in buildings and also in recycling useful elements from the nuclear fuel cycle. CC3 is much more selective in trapping these gases compared to other experimental materials. Also, CC3 will likely use less energy to recover elements than conventional treatments, according to the authors.

A July 21, 2014 US Department of Energy (DOE) Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item despite the difference in dates, provides more details (Note: A link has been removed),

The team made up of scientists at the University of Liverpool in the U.K., the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Newcastle University in the U.K., and Aix-Marseille Universite in France performed simulations and laboratory experiments to determine how — and how well — CC3 might separate these gases from exhaust or waste.

“Xenon, krypton and radon are noble gases, which are chemically inert. That makes it difficult to find materials that can trap them,” said coauthor Praveen Thallapally of PNNL. “So we were happily surprised at how easily CC3 removed them from the gas stream.”

Noble gases are rare in the atmosphere but some such as radon come in radioactive forms and can contribute to cancer. Others such as xenon are useful industrial gases in commercial lighting, medical imaging and anesthesia.

The conventional way to remove xenon from the air or recover it from nuclear fuel involves cooling the air far below where water freezes. Such cryogenic separations are energy intensive and expensive. Researchers have been exploring materials called metal-organic frameworks, also known as MOFs, that could potentially trap xenon and krypton without having to use cryogenics. Although a leading MOF could remove xenon at very low concentrations and at ambient temperatures admirably, researchers wanted to find a material that performed better.

Thallapally’s collaborator Andrew Cooper at the University of Liverpool and others had been researching materials called porous organic cages, whose molecular structures are made up of repeating units that form 3-D cages. Cages built from a molecule called CC3 are the right size to hold about three atoms of xenon, krypton or radon.

To test whether CC3 might be useful here, the team simulated on a computer CC3 interacting with atoms of xenon and other noble gases. The molecular structure of CC3 naturally expands and contracts. The researchers found this breathing created a hole in the cage that grew to 4.5 angstroms wide and shrunk to 3.6 angstroms. One atom of xenon is 4.1 angstroms wide, suggesting it could fit within the window if the cage opens long enough. (Krypton and radon are 3.69 angstroms and 4.17 angstroms wide, respectively, and it takes 10 million angstroms to span a millimeter.)

The computer simulations revealed that CC3 opens its windows big enough for xenon about 7 percent of the time, but that is enough for xenon to hop in. In addition, xenon has a higher likelihood of hopping in than hopping out, essentially trapping the noble gas inside.

The team then tested how well CC3 could pull low concentrations of xenon and krypton out of air, a mix of gases that included oxygen, argon, carbon dioxide and nitrogen. With xenon at 400 parts per million and krypton at 40 parts per million, the researchers sent the mix through a sample of CC3 and measured how long it took for the gases to come out the other side.

Oxygen, nitrogen, argon and carbon dioxide — abundant components of air — traveled through the CC3 and continued to be measured for the experiment’s full 45 minute span. Xenon however stayed within the CC3 for 15 minutes, showing that CC3 could separate xenon from air.

In addition, CC3 trapped twice as much xenon as the leading MOF material. It also caught xenon 20 times more often than it caught krypton, a characteristic known as selectivity. The leading MOF only preferred xenon 7 times as much. These experiments indicated improved performance in two important characteristics of such a material, capacity and selectivity.

“We know that CC3 does this but we’re not sure why. Once we understand why CC3 traps the noble gases so easily, we can improve on it,” said Thallapally.

To explore whether MOFs and porous organic cages offer economic advantages, the researchers estimated the cost compared to cryogenic separations and determined they would likely be less expensive.

“Because these materials function well at ambient or close to ambient temperatures, the processes based on them are less energy intensive to use,” said PNNL’s Denis Strachan.

The material might also find use in pharmaceuticals. Most molecules come in right- and left-handed forms and often only one form works in people. In additional experiments, Cooper and colleagues in the U.K. tested CC3′s ability to distinguish and separate left- and right-handed versions of an alcohol. After separating left- and right-handed forms of CC3, the team showed in biochemical experiments that each form selectively trapped only one form of the alcohol.

The researchers have provided an image illustrating a CC3 cage,

Breathing room: In this computer simulation, light and dark purple highlight the cavities within the 3D pore structure of CC3. Courtesy:  PNNL

Breathing room: In this computer simulation, light and dark purple highlight the cavities within the 3D pore structure of CC3. Courtesy: PNNL

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

Separation of rare gases and chiral molecules by selective binding in porous organic cages by Linjiang Chen, Paul S. Reiss, Samantha Y. Chong, Daniel Holden, Kim E. Jelfs, Tom Hasell, Marc A. Little, Adam Kewley, Michael E. Briggs, Andrew Stephenson, K. Mark Thomas, Jayne A. Armstrong, Jon Bell, Jose Busto, Raymond Noel, Jian Liu, Denis M. Strachan, Praveen K. Thallapally, & Andrew I. Cooper. Nature Material (2014) doi:10.1038/nmat4035 Published online 20 July 2014

This paper is behind a paywall.

UNESCO course: Nanotechnology for Water and Wastewater Treatment 2015 call for applications

Despite an initially puzzling announcement from UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), I was able to track down a description for the course on studyfinder.nl,

Nanotechnology for Water and Wastewater Treatment

UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education

Certificate / Diploma Short course Delft [Netherlands]

Field of study     Agriculture and environment
Course description     The course overviews the state-of-the-art and novel developments of nanotechnology in applications for drinking water production and wastewater treatment.
Study subjects     Framework: Nanoparticles and Water; Environmental Fate; Risk Analysis. Nanotechnology for Water/Wastewater Treatment: Physical, Chemical and Biological Properties of Nanoparticles. High-Performance Water and Wastewater Purification Systems: Nanofiltration, Nanosorbents and Nanocatalysts. Nanoparticles that Sense and Treat Disease: Biosensors and Desinfectants.
Course objectives     Apply innovative applications of nanotechnology in drinking water production and wastewater treatment. Familiar with the state-of-the-art, impact and cost-benefit analysis of nanotechnology processes for water and wastewater treatment. Communicate successfully on nanoscience and nanotechnology interfacing with environmental chemistry, environmental engineering and bioprocess.

Duration     2 weeks full-time
Language of instruction     English

There is a bit more information on the UNESCO website’s Short Courses Nanotechnology for Water and Wastewater Treatment webpage,

The emergence of nanobiotechnology and the incorporation of living microorganisms in biomicroelectronic devices are revolutionizing interdisciplinary opportunities for microbiologists and biotechnologists to participate in understanding microbial processes in and from the environment. Moreover, it offers revolutionary perspectives to develop and exploit these processes in completely new ways.

This short course presents an opportunity to learn and discuss about various innovative research aspects of nanoscience and nanotechnology interfacing with environmental chemistry, environmental engineering and bioprocess technology amongst professionals as well as young researchers and PhD students.

You can access the 2015 call for applications on this UNESCO webpage. For more information contact,

Piet Lens

Professor of Environmental Biotechnology

Phone +31152151816
Email

Carbon capture with nanoporous material in the oilfields

Researchers at Rice University (Texas) have devised a new technique for carbon capture according to a June 3, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

Rice University scientists have created an Earth-friendly way to separate carbon dioxide from natural gas at wellheads.

A porous material invented by the Rice lab of chemist James Tour sequesters carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, at ambient temperature with pressure provided by the wellhead and lets it go once the pressure is released. The material shows promise to replace more costly and energy-intensive processes.

A June 3, 2014 Rice University news release, which originated the news item, provides a general description of how carbon dioxide is currently removed during fossil fuel production and adds a few more details about the new technology,

Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel. Development of cost-effective means to separate carbon dioxide during the production process will improve this advantage over other fossil fuels and enable the economic production of gas resources with higher carbon dioxide content that would be too costly to recover using current carbon capture technologies, Tour said. Traditionally, carbon dioxide has been removed from natural gas to meet pipelines’ specifications.

The Tour lab, with assistance from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), produced the patented material that pulls only carbon dioxide molecules from flowing natural gas and polymerizes them while under pressure naturally provided by the well.

When the pressure is released, the carbon dioxide spontaneously depolymerizes and frees the sorbent material to collect more.

All of this works in ambient temperatures, unlike current high-temperature capture technologies that use up a significant portion of the energy being produced.

The news release mentions current political/legislative actions in the US and the implications for the oil and gas industry while further describing the advantages of this new technique,

“If the oil and gas industry does not respond to concerns about carbon dioxide and other emissions, it could well face new regulations,” Tour said, noting the White House issued its latest National Climate Assessment last month [May 2014] and, this week [June 2, 2014], set new rules to cut carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants.

“Our technique allows one to specifically remove carbon dioxide at the source. It doesn’t have to be transported to a collection station to do the separation,” he said. “This will be especially effective offshore, where the footprint of traditional methods that involve scrubbing towers or membranes are too cumbersome.

“This will enable companies to pump carbon dioxide directly back downhole, where it’s been for millions of years, or use it for enhanced oil recovery to further the release of oil and natural gas. Or they can package and sell it for other industrial applications,” he said.

This is an epic (Note to writer: well done) news release as only now is there a technical explanation,

The Rice material, a nanoporous solid of carbon with nitrogen or sulfur, is inexpensive and simple to produce compared with the liquid amine-based scrubbers used now, Tour said. “Amines are corrosive and hard on equipment,” he said. “They do capture carbon dioxide, but they need to be heated to about 140 degrees Celsius to release it for permanent storage. That’s a terrible waste of energy.”

Rice graduate student Chih-Chau Hwang, lead author of the paper, first tried to combine amines with porous carbon. “But I still needed to heat it to break the covalent bonds between the amine and carbon dioxide molecules,” he said. Hwang also considered metal oxide frameworks that trap carbon dioxide molecules, but they had the unfortunate side effect of capturing the desired methane as well and they are far too expensive to make for this application.

The porous carbon powder he settled on has massive surface area and turns the neat trick of converting gaseous carbon dioxide into solid polymer chains that nestle in the pores.

“Nobody’s ever seen a mechanism like this,” Tour said. “You’ve got to have that nucleophile (the sulfur or nitrogen atoms) to start the polymerization reaction. This would never work on simple activated carbon; the key is that the polymer forms and provides continuous selectivity for carbon dioxide.”

Methane, ethane and propane molecules that make up natural gas may try to stick to the carbon, but the growing polymer chains simply push them off, he said.

The researchers treated their carbon source with potassium hydroxide at 600 degrees Celsius to produce the powders with either sulfur or nitrogen atoms evenly distributed through the resulting porous material. The sulfur-infused powder performed best, absorbing 82 percent of its weight in carbon dioxide. The nitrogen-infused powder was nearly as good and improved with further processing.

Tour said the material did not degrade over many cycles, “and my guess is we won’t see any. After heating it to 600 degrees C for the one-step synthesis from inexpensive industrial polymers, the final carbon material has a surface area of 2,500 square meters per gram, and it is enormously robust and extremely stable.”

Apache Corp., a Houston-based oil and gas exploration and production company, funded the research at Rice and licensed the technology. Tour expected it will take time and more work on manufacturing and engineering aspects to commercialize.

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

Capturing carbon dioxide as a polymer from natural gas by Chih-Chau Hwang, Josiah J. Tour, Carter Kittrell, Laura Espinal, Lawrence B. Alemany, & James M. Tour. Nature Communications 5, Article number: 3961 doi:10.1038/ncomms4961 Published 03 June 2014

This paper is behind a paywall.

The researchers have made an illustration of the material available,

 Illustration by Tanyia Johnson/Rice University

Illustration by Tanyia Johnson/Rice University

This morning, Azonano posted a June 6, 2014 news item about a patent for carbon capture,

CO2 Solutions Inc. ( the “Corporation”), an innovator in the field of enzyme-enabled carbon capture technology, today announced it has received a Notice of Allowance from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for its patent application No. 13/264,294 entitled Process for CO2 Capture Using Micro-Particles Comprising Biocatalysts.

One might almost think these announcements were timed to coincide with the US White House’s moves.

As for CO2 Solutions, this company is located in Québec, Canada.  You can find out more about the company here (you may want to click on the English language button).

“I write in praise of air,” a catalytic poem absorbing air pollutants on a nanotechnology-enabled billboard

The poem ‘In Praise of Air’, which is on a billboard at the University of Sheffield (UK), is quite literally catalytic. From a May 15, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

Simon [Armitage], Professor of Poetry at the University, and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Science Professor Tony Ryan, have collaborated to create a catalytic poem called In Praise of Air – printed on material containing a formula invented at the University which is capable of purifying its surroundings.

Here’s what the billboard looks like,

Courtesy of the University of Sheffield

Courtesy of the University of Sheffield

A May 14, 2014 University of Sheffield news release, which originated the news item, has more details about the project from the scientist’s perspective,

This cheap technology could also be applied to billboards and advertisements alongside congested roads to cut pollution.

Professor Ryan, who came up with the idea of using treated materials to cleanse the air, said: “This is a fun collaboration between science and the arts to highlight a very serious issue of poor air quality in our towns and cities.

“The science behind this is an additive which delivers a real environmental benefit that could actually help cut disease and save lives.

“This poem alone will eradicate the nitrogen oxide pollution created by about 20 cars every day.”

He added: “If every banner, flag or advertising poster in the country did this, we’d have much better air quality. It would add less than £100 to the cost of a poster and would turn advertisements into catalysts in more ways than one. The countless thousands of poster sites that are selling us cars beside our roads could be cleaning up emissions at the same time.”

The 10m x 20m piece of material which the poem is printed on is coated with microscopic pollution-eating particles of titanium dioxide which use sunlight and oxygen to react with nitrogen oxide pollutants and purify the air.

Professor Ryan has been campaigning for some time to have his ingredient added to washing detergent in the UK as part of his Catalytic Clothing project. If manufacturers added it, the UK would meet one of its air quality targets in one step.

The news release also describes the arts component and poet’s perspective on this project,

The poem will be on display on the side of the University’s Alfred Denny Building, Western Bank, for one year and its unveiling also marks the launch of this year’s Sheffield Lyric Festival which takes place between 14-17 May 2014 at the University’s Firth Hall.

At a special celebratory event on Thursday (May 15 2014), Simon will read In Praise of Air for the first time in public and Professor Ryan will explain the technology behind the catalytic poem. Volunteers will be wearing catalytic T-shirts.

Dr Joanna Gavins, from the University’s School of English, project manager for the catalytic poem collaboration, who also leads the Lyric Festival, said: “This highlights the innovation and creativity at the heart of the University and its research excellence.

“We are delighted that such a significant event will help launch this year’s Lyric Festival which also features poetry readings by students of the MA in Creative Writing, alongside internationally renowned writers such as Sinead Morrissey and Benjamin Zephaniah, and music from celebrated Sheffield songwriter, Nat Johnson.”

Simon added: “There’s a legacy of poems in public places in Sheffield and, on behalf of the University, I wanted to be part of that dialogue to show what we could do.

“I wanted to write a poem that was approachable, that might catch the attention of the passer-by and the wandering mind, and one that had some local relevance too. But I also hope it’s robust and intricate enough to sustain deeper enquiries – the School of English looks towards it for one thing, and I’d like to think it’s capable of getting the thumbs up or at least a nod from their direction, and from the big-brained students walking up and down Western Bank, and from discerning residents in the neighbourhood.”

He added: “I’ve enjoyed working with the scientists and the science, trying to weave the message into the words, wanting to collaborate both conceptually and with the physical manifestation of the work.

“Poetry often comes out with the intimate and the personal, so it’s strange to think of a piece in such an exposed place, written so large and so bold. I hope the spelling is right!

For the curious, here’s a link to the In Praise of Air project website where you’ll find the poem and much more,

I write in praise of air.  I was six or five
when a conjurer opened my knotted fist
and I held in my palm the whole of the sky.
I’ve carried it with me ever since.

Let air be a major god, its being
and touch, its breast-milk always tilted
to the lips.  Both dragonfly and Boeing
dangle in its see-through nothingness…

Among the jumbled bric-a-brac I keep
a padlocked treasure-chest of empty space,
and on days when thoughts are fuddled with smog
or civilization crosses the street

with a white handkerchief over its mouth
and cars blow kisses to our lips from theirs
I turn the key, throw back the lid, breathe deep.
My first word, everyone’s  first word, was air.

I like this poem a lot and find it quite inspirational for one of my own projects.

Getting back to Tony Ryan, he and his Catalytic Clothing project have been mentioned here in a Feb. 24, 2012 posting (Catalytic Clothing debuts its kilts at Edinburgh International Science Festival) and in a July 8, 2011 posting featuring a collaboration between Ryan and Professor Helen Storey at the London College of Fashion (Nanotechnology-enabled Catalytic Clothes look good and clean the air). The 2012 posting has an image of two kilted gentlemen and the 2011 posting has a video highlighting one of the dresses, some music from Radiohead, and the ideas behind the project.

You can find out more about Catalytic Clothing and the Lyric Festival (from the news release),

Catalytic Clothing

To find out more about the catalytic clothing project visit http://www.catalytic-clothing.org

Lyric Festival

The Lyric Festival is the [University of Sheffield] Faculty of Arts and Humanities’ annual celebration of the written and spoken word. Each May the festival brings some of the UK’s most renowned and respected writers, broadcasters, academics, and performers to the University, as well as showcasing the talent of Faculty students and staff. For more information visit http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/lyric

One last note about the University of Sheffield, it’s the academic home for Professor Richard Jones who wrote one of my favourite books about nanotechnology, Soft Machines (featured in my earliest pieces here, a May 6, 2008 posting). He is the Pro-Vice-Chancellor – Research & Innovation at the university and a blogger on his Soft Machines blog where he writes about innovation and research in the UK and where you’ll also find a link to purchase his book.

ETA May 20, 2014: A May 19, 2014 article by JW Dowey for Earth Times offers more details about the technology,

Titanium dioxide coating on cars and aircraft have revolutionised protective nanotechnology. The University of Sheffield has set the target as absorbing the poisonous compounds from vehicle exhausts. Tony Ryan is the professor of physical chemistry in charge of adapting self-cleaning window technology to pollution solutions. The 10m x20m poster they now use on the Alfred Denny university building demonstrates how nitrogen oxides from 20 cars per day could be absorbed efficiently by roadside absorption.

There are more tidbits to be had in the article including the extra cost (£100) of adding the protective coating to the ‘poetic’ billboard (or hoarding as they say in the UK).

Dreaming of the perfect face mask?

Researchers at Hong Kong Polytechnic University have something for anyone who has ever dreamed of getting a face mask that offers protection from the finest of pollutant particles, according to a May 13, 2014 news item on phys.org,

Researchers at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University have developed a ground-breaking filter technology that guards against the finest pollutants in the air

Haze is usually composed of pollutants in the form of tiny suspended particles or fine mists/droplets emitted from vehicles, coal-burning power plants and factories. Continued exposure increases the risk of developing respiratory problems, heart diseases and lung cancer. Can we avoid the unhealthy air?

A simple face mask that can block out suspended particles has been developed by scientists from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU). The project is led by Professor Wallace Woon-Fong Leung, a renowned filtration expert, who has spent his career understanding these invisible killers.

An article for Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s April 2014 issue of Technology Frontiers, which originated the news item, describes the research problem and Professor Leung’s proposed face mask in more detail,

In Hong Kong, suspended particles PM 10 and PM 2.5 are being monitored.  PM 10 refers to particles that are 10 microns (or micrometres) in size or smaller, whereas PM 2.5 measures 2.5 microns or smaller.  At the forefront of combating air pollution, Professor Leung targets ultra-fine pollutants that have yet been picked up by air quality monitors – particles measuring 1 micron or below, which he perceived to be a more important threat to human health.

“In my view, nano-aerosols (colloid of fine solid particles or liquid droplets of sub-micron to nano-sizes), such as diesel emissions, are the most lethal for three reasons.  First, they are in their abundance by number suspended in the air.  Second, they are too small to be filtered out using current technologies.  Third, they can pass easily through our lungs and work their way into our respiratory systems, and subsequently our vascular, nervous and lymphatic systems, doing the worst kind of harm.”

However, it would be difficult to breathe through the mask if it were required to block out nano-aerosols.  To make an effective filter that is highly breathable, a new filter that provides high filtration efficiency yet low air resistance (or low pressure drop) is required.

According to Professor Leung, pollutant particles get into our body in two ways – by the airflow carrying them and by the diffusion motion of these tiny particles.  As the particles are intercepted by the fibres of the mask, they are filtered out before reaching our lungs.

Fibres from natural or synthetic materials can be made into nanofibres around 1/500 of the diameter of a hair (about 0.1 mm) through nanotechnologies.  While nanofibres increase the surface area for nano-aerosol interception, they also incur larger air resistance.  Professor Leung’s new innovation aims to divide optimal amount of nanofibres into multiple layers separated by a permeable space, allowing plenty of room for air to pass through.

A conventional face mask can only block out about 25% of 0.3-micron nano-aerosols under standard test conditions.  Professor Leung said, “The multi-layer nanofibre mask can block out at least 80% of suspended nano-aerosols, even the ones smaller than 0.3 micron.  In the meantime, the wearer can breathe as comfortably as wearing a conventional face mask, making it superb for any outdoor occasions. Another option is to provide a nanofiber mask that has the same capture efficiency as conventional face mask, yet it is at least several times more breathable, which would be suitable for the working group.”

The new filtration technology has been well recognized.  Recently, Professor Leung and his team have won a Gold Medal and a Special Merit Award from the Romania Ministry of National Education at the 42nd International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva held in Switzerland.

If the breakthrough is turned into tightly-fit surgical masks, they are just as effective against bacteria and viruses whose sizes are under 1 micron.  “In the future, medical professionals at the frontline can have stronger protection against deadly bacteria and viruses,” added Professor Leung.

I did not find any published research about this proposed face mask but there is a 2009 patent for a Multilayer nanofiber filter (US 8523971 B2), which lists the inventors as: Wallace Woon-Fong Leung and Chi Ho Hung and the original assignee as: The Hong Kong Polytechnic University.  The description of the materials in the patent closely resembles the description of the face mask materials.

Cleaner greener diesel by way of bi-functional nanoparticles

It’s always good to hear about cleaner greener diesel as per this May 13, 2014 news item on Azonano,

Ames Laboratory [US Dept. of Energy] scientists have developed a nanoparticle that is able to perform two processing functions at once for the production of green diesel, an alternative fuel created from the hydrogenation of oils from renewable feedstocks like algae.

The method is a departure from the established process of producing biodiesel, which is accomplished by reacting fats and oils with alcohols.

A May ??, 2014 Ames Laboratory news release,which originated the news item, describes the specifics of the problem the scientists are trying to solve,

“Conventionally, when you are producing biodiesel from a feedstock that is rich in free fatty acids like microalgae oil, you must first separate the fatty acids that can ruin the effectiveness of the catalyst, and then you can perform the catalytic reactions that produce the fuel,” said Ames Lab scientist Igor Slowing. “By designing multifunctional nanoparticles and focusing on green diesel rather than biodiesel, we can combine multiple processes into one that is faster and cleaner.” Contrary to biodiesel, green diesel is produced by hydrogenation of fats and oils, and its chemical composition is very similar to that of petroleum-based diesel. Green diesel has many advantages over biodiesel, like being more stable and having a higher energy density.

One of the research groups at Ames Laboratory stumbled across an exciting property while working with bi-functional nanoparticles (from the news release),

An Ames Lab research group, which included Slowing, Kapil Kandel, Conerd Frederickson, Erica A. Smith, and Young-Jin Lee, first saw success using bi-functionalized mesostructured nanoparticles. These ordered porous particles contain amine groups that capture free fatty acids and nickel nanoparticles that catalyze the conversion of the acids into green diesel. Nickel has been researched widely in the scientific community because it is approximately 2000 times less expensive as an alternative to noble metals traditionally used in fatty acid hydrogenation, like platinum or palladium.

Creating a bi-functional nanoparticle also improved the resulting green diesel. Using nickel for the fuel conversion alone, the process resulted in too strong of a reaction, with hydrocarbon chains that had broken down. The process, called “cracking,” created a product that held less potential as a fuel.

“A very interesting thing happened when we added the component responsible for the sequestration of the fatty acids,” said Slowing. “We no longer saw the cracking of molecules. So the result is a better catalyst that produces a hydrocarbon that looks much more like diesel. “

“It also leaves the other components of the oil behind, valuable molecules that have potential uses for the pharmaceutical and food industries,” said Slowing.

But Slowing, along with Kapil Kandel, James W. Anderegg, Nicholas C. Nelson, and Umesh Chaudhary, took the process further by using iron as the catalyst. Iron is 100 times cheaper than nickel. Using iron improved the end product even further, giving a faster conversion and also reducing the loss of CO2  in the process.

“As part of the mission of the DOE, [US Dept. of Energy] we are focused on researching the fundamental science necessary to create the process; but the resulting technology should in principle be scalable for industry,” he said.

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

Supported iron nanoparticles for the hydrodeoxygenation of microalgal oil to green diesel by Kapil Kandel, James W. Anderegg, Nicholas C. Nelson, Umesh Chaudhary, Igor I. Slowing. Journal of Catalysis Volume 314, May 2014, Pages 142–148 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jcat.2014.04.009

This paper is behind a paywall.

There is a patent pending on this technology (from the news release),

A patent application has been filed for this technology; it is available for licensing from the Iowa State University Research Foundation. Further information can be obtained at [email protected].

Patent or not, it would be nice to see at least one of these technologies successfully commercialized.