Category Archives: environment

Quantum dots, televisions, and a counter-intuitive approach to environmental issues

There’s a very interesting Jan. 8, 2015 essay by Dr. Andrew Maynard, being hosted on Nanowerk, about the effects that quantum dot televisions could have on the environment (Note: A link has been removed),

Earlier this week, The Conversation reported that, “The future is bright, the future is … quantum dot televisions”. And judging by the buzz coming from this week’s annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that’s right – the technology is providing manufacturers with a cheap and efficient way of producing the next generation of brilliant, high-definition TV screens.

But the quantum dots in these displays also use materials and technologies – including engineered nanoparticles and the heavy metal cadmium – that have been a magnet for health and environmental concerns. Will the dazzling pictures this technology allow blind us to new health and environmental challenges, or do their benefits outweigh the potential risks?

If I understand things rightly, cadmium is toxic at both the macroscale and the nanoscale and Andrew goes on to describe quantum dots (cadmium at the nanoscale) and the problem they could present in his Jan. 7, 2015 essay on The Conversation,also hosted by Nanowerk, (Note: Link have been removed),

Quantum dots are a product of the emerging field of nanotechnology. They are made of nanometer-sized particles of a semiconducting material – often cadmium selenide. About 2,000 to 20,000 times smaller than the width of a single human hair, they’re designed to absorb light of one color and emit it as another color – to fluoresce. This property makes them particularly well-suited for use in products like tablets and TVs that need bright, white, uniform backlights.

… What is unique about quantum dots is that the color of the emitted light can be modified by simply changing the size of the quantum dot particles. And because this color-shifting is a physical phenomenon, quantum dots far outperform their chemical counterparts in brightness, color and durability.

Unfortunately, the heavy metal cadmium used in the production of many quantum dots is a health and environmental hazard.

On top of this, the potential health and environmental impacts of engineered nanoparticles like quantum dots have been raising concerns with toxicologists and regulators for over a decade now. Research has shown that the size, shape and surface properties of some particles influence the harm they are capable of causing in humans and the environment; smaller particles are often more toxic than their larger counterparts. That said, this is an area where scientific understanding is still developing.

Together, these factors would suggest caution is warranted in adopting quantum dot technologies. Yet taken in isolation they are misleading.

The essay describes the risk factors for various sectors (Note: A link has been removed),

The quantum dots currently being used in TVs are firmly embedded in the screens – usually enclosed behind multiple layers of glass and plastic. As a result, the chances of users being exposed to them during normal operation are pretty much nil.

The situation is potentially different during manufacturing, when there is a chance that someone could be inadvertently exposed to these nanoscopic particles. Scenarios like this have led to agencies like the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health taking a close look at safety when working with nanoparticles. While the potential risks are not negligible, good working practices are effective at reducing or eliminating potentially harmful exposures.

End-of-life disposal raises additional concerns. While the nanoparticles are likely to remain firmly embedded within a trashed TV’s screen, the toxic materials they contain, including cadmium, could well be released into the environment. Cadmium is certainly a health and environmental issue with poorly regulated e-waste disposal and recycling. However, when appropriate procedures are used, exposures should be negligible.

It seems quantum dot televisions impose a smaller burden than their cousins on the environment,

Although it seems counter-intuitive, analysis by the company that was made available to the EPA [US Environmental Protection Agency] showed QD Vision’s products lead to a net decrease in environmental cadmium releases compared to conventional TVs. Cadmium is one of the pollutants emitted from coal-fired electrical power plants. Because TVs using the company’s quantum dots use substantially less power than their non-quantum counterparts, the combined cadmium in QD Vision TVs and the power plant emissions associated with their use is actually lower than that associated with conventional flat screen TVs. In other words, using cadmium in quantum dots for production of more energy-efficient displays can actually results in a net reduction in cadmium emissions.

Not the conclusion one might have drawn at the outset, eh? You can read the essay in its entirety on either Nanowerk (Jan. 8, 2015 essay) or The Conversation (Jan. 7, 2015 essay). (Same essay just different publication dates.) Andrew has also posted his essay on the University of Michigan Risk Science Center website, Are quantum dot TVs – and their toxic ingredients – actually better for the environment? Note: Andrew Maynard is the center’s director.

Treating municipal wastewater and dirty industry byproducts with nanocellulose-based filters

Researchers at Sweden’s Luleå University of Technology have created nanocellulose-based filters in collaboration with researchers at the Imperial College of London (ICL) good enough for use as filters according to a Dec. 23, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

Prototypes of nano-cellulose based filters with high purification capacity towards environmentally hazardous contaminants from industrial effluents e.g. process industries, have been developed by researchers at Luleå University of Technology. The research, conducted in collaboration with Imperial College in the UK has reached a breakthrough with the prototypes and they will now be tested on a few industries in Europe.

“The bio-based filter of nano-cellulose is to be used for the first time in real-life situations and tested within a process industry and in municipal wastewater treatment in Spain. Other industries have also shown interest in this technology and representatives of the mining industry have contacted me and I have even received requests from a large retail chain in the UK,” says Aji Mathew Associate Professor, Division of Materials Science at Luleå University.

A Dec. 22, 2014 Luleå University of Technology press release, which originated the news item, further describes the research,

Researchers have combined a cheap residue from the cellulose industry, with functional nano-cellulose to prepare adsorbent sheets with high filtration capacity. The sheets have since been constructed to different prototypes, called cartridges, to be tested. They have high capacity and can filter out heavy metal ions from industrial waters, dyes residues from the printing industry and nitrates from municipal water. Next year, larger sheets with a layer of nano-cellulose can be produced and formed into cartridges, with higher capacity.

– Each such membrane can be tailored to have different removal capability depending on the kind of pollutant, viz., copper, iron, silver, dyes, nitrates and the like, she says.

Behind the research, which is funded mainly by the EU, is a consortium of research institutes, universities, small businesses and process industries. It is coordinated by Luleå University led by Aji Mathew. She thinks that the next step is to seek more money from the EU to scale up this technology to industrial level.

– Alfa Laval is very interested in this and in the beginning of 2015, I go in with a second application to the EU framework program Horizon 2020 with goals for full-scale demonstrations of this technology, she says.

Two of Aji Mathews graduate student Peng Liu and Zoheb Karim is also deeply involved in research on nano-filters.

– I focus on how these membranes can filter out heavy metals by measuring different materials such as nanocrystals and nano-fibers to determine their capacity to absorb and my colleague focuses on how to produce membranes, says Peng Liu PhD student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Luleå University of Technology.

I have been following the nanocellulose work at Luleå University of Technology for a few years now. The first piece was a Feb. 15, 2012 post titled, The Swedes, sludge, and nanocellulose fibres, and the next was a Sept. 19, 2013 post titled, Nanocellulose and forest residues at Luleå University of Technology (Sweden). It’s nice to mark the progress over time although I am curious as to the source for the nanocellulose, trees, carrots, bananas?

India, Lockheed Martin, and canal-top solar power plants

Apparently the state of Gujarat (India) has inspired at least one other state, Punjab, to build (they hope) a network of photovoltaic (solar energy) plants over top of their canal system (from a Nov. 16, 2014 article by Mridul Chadha for cleantechnica.com),

India’s northern state of Punjab plans to set up 1,000 MW of solar PV projects to cover several kilometres of canals over the next three years. The state government has announced a target to cover 5,000 km of canals across the state. Through this program, the government hopes to generate 15% of the state’s total electricity demand.

Understandably, the construction of canal-top power plants is technically and structurally very different from rooftop or ground-based solar PV projects. The mounting structures for the solar PV modules cannot be heavy, as it could adversely impact the structural integrity of the canal itself. The structures should be easy to work with, as they are to be set up over a slope.

This is where the Punjab government has asked Lockheed Martin for help. The US-based company has entered into an agreement with the Punjab government to develop lightweight mounting structures for solar panels using nanotechnology.

Canal and rooftop solar power projects are the only viable options for Punjab as it is an agricultural state and land availability for large-scale ground-mounted projects remains an issue. As a result, the state government has a relatively lower (compared to other states) capacity addition target of 2 GW.

There’s more about the Punjab and current plans to increase its investment in solar photovoltaics in the article.

Here’s an image of a canal-top solar plant near Kadi (Gujarat),

Canal_Top_Solar_Power_PlantImage Credit: Hitesh vip | CC BY-SA 3.0

A Nov. 15, 2014 news item by Kamya Kandhar for efytimes.com provides a few more details about this Memorandum of Understanding (MOU),

Punjab government had announced its tie up with U.S. aerospace giant Lockheed Martin to expand the solar power generation and overcome power problems in the State. As per the agreement, the state will put in 1,000 MW solar power within the next three years. Lockheed Martin has agreed to provide plastic structures for solar panels on canals by using nano technology.

While commenting upon the agreement, a spokesperson said, “The company would also provide state-of-the-art technology to convert paddy straw into energy, solving the lingering problem of paddy straw burning in the state. The Punjab government and Lockheed Martin would ink a MoU in this regard [on Friday, Nov. 14, 2014].”

The decision was taken during a meeting between three-member team from Lockheed Martin, involving the CEO Phil Shaw, Chief Innovation Officer Tushar Shah and Regional Director Jagmohan Singh along with Punjab Non-Conventional Energy Minister Bikram Singh Majithia and other senior Punjab officials.

As for paddy straw and its conversion into energy, there’s this from a Nov. 14, 2014 news item on India West.com,

Shaw [CEO Phil Shaw] said Lockheed has come out with waste-to-energy conversion solutions with successful conversion of waste products to electricity, heat and fuel by using gasification processes. He said it was an environmentally friendly green recycling technology, which requires little space and the plants are fully automated.

Getting back to the nanotechnology, I was not able to track down any information about nanotechnology-enabled plastics and Lockheed Martin. But, there is a Dec. 11, 2013 interview with Travis Earles, Lockheed Martin Advanced materials and nanotechnology innovation executive and policy leader, written up by Kris Walker for Azonano. Note: this is a general interview and focuses largely on applications for carbon nanotubes and graphene.

Graphene oxide-silver nanoparticle composite along with sunlight removes* endocrine disruptors from the environment

Removing pollutants from the environment with a combination of silver nanoparticles, graphene, and ordinary sunlight may be possible according to a Nov. 6, 2014 news item on Azonano,

Many pollutants with the potential to meddle with hormones — with bisphenol A (BPA) as a prime example — are already common in the environment. In an effort to clean up these pollutants found in the soil and waterways, scientists are now reporting a novel way to break them down by recruiting help from nanoparticles and light. The study appears in the journal ACS [American Chemical Society] Applied Materials & Interfaces.

A Nov. 5, 2014 ACS press pak news item (also on EurekAlert), which originated the Azonano piece, describes the work further,

Nikhil R. Jana and Susanta Kumar Bhunia explain that the class of pollutants known as endocrine disruptors has been shown to either mimic or block hormones in animals, including humans. That interference can cause reproductive and other health problems. The compounds are used to make many household and industrial products, and have been detected in soil, water and even human breast milk. Scientists have been working on ways to harness sunlight to break down endocrine disruptors to make them less of a health threat. But the approaches so far only work with ultraviolet light, which at a mere 6 percent of sunlight, means these methods are not very efficient. Jana and Bhunia wanted to find a simple way to take advantage of visible light, which comprises 52 percent of sunlight.

For inspiration, the researchers turned to an already-developed graphene composite that uses visible light to degrade dyes. They tweaked the composite and loaded it with silver nanoparticles that serve as an antenna for visible light. When they tested it, the new material successfully degraded three different kinds of endocrine disruptors: phenol, BPA and atrazine. They conclude that their composite is a promising way to harness visible light to break down these potentially harmful compounds and other organic pollutants.

The authors acknowledge funding from India’s Department of Science & Technology.

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

Reduced Graphene Oxide-Silver Nanoparticle Composite as Visible Light Photocatalyst for Degradation of Colorless Endocrine Disruptors by Susanta Kumar Bhunia and Nikhil R. Jana. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/am505677x Publication Date (Web): October 8, 2014

Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

This article is behind a paywall.

The authors have provided a diagram illustrating the effectiveness of a control material, graphene-oxide alone, silver nanoparticles alone, and a graphene-oxide silver nanoparticle composite at reducing organic pollutants when used in conjunction with sunlight,

[downloaded from http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/am505677x]

[downloaded from http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/am505677x]

* ‘Remove’ in head corrected to ‘removes’ on Nov. 7, 2014.

Carbon nanotube accumulation in Duke University’s (US) mesocosm

This Oct. 1, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily about carbon nanotubes accumulating in the wetlands is carefully worded,

A Duke University team has found that nanoparticles called single-walled carbon nanotubes accumulate quickly in the bottom sediments of an experimental wetland setting, an action they say could indirectly damage the aquatic food chain. [emphasis mine]

The results indicate little risk to humans ingesting the particles through drinking water, say scientists at Duke’s Center for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEINT). But the researchers warn that, based on their previous research, the tendency for the nanotubes to accumulate in sediment could indirectly damage the aquatic food chain in the long term if the nanoparticles provide “Trojan horse” piggyback rides to other harmful molecules. [emphases mine]

There’s a lot of hedging (could, if) in the way this research is being described. I imagine the researchers are indicating they have concerns but have no wish to stimulate panic and worry.

An Oct. 1, 2014 Duke University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, goes on to explain the interest in carbon nanotubes specifically,

Carbon nanotubes are rapidly becoming more common because of their usefulness in nanoelectric devices, composite materials and biomedicine.

The Duke study was done using small-scale replications of a wetland environment, called “mesocosms,” that include soil, sediments, microbes, insects, plants and fish. These ecosystems-in-a-box are “semi-closed,” meaning they get fresh air and rainwater but don’t drain to their surroundings. While not perfect representations of a natural environment, mesocosms provide a reasonable compromise between the laboratory and the real world.

“The wetland mesocosms we used are a much closer approximation of the natural processes constantly churning in the environment,” said Lee Ferguson, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Duke. “Although it’s impossible to know if our results are fully accurate to natural ecosystems, it is clear that the processes we’ve seen should be considered by regulators and manufacturers.”

Ferguson and his colleagues dosed the mesocosms with single-walled carbon nanotubes and measured their concentrations in the water, soil and living organisms during the course of a year. They found that the vast majority of the nanoparticles quickly accumulated in the sediment on the “pond” floor. However, they found no sign of nanoparticle buildup in any plants, insects or fish living in the mesocosms.

That sounds marvelous and then the researchers provide a few facts about carbon nanotubes,

While this is good news for humans or other animals drinking water after a potential spill or other contamination event, the accumulation in sediment does pose concerns for both sediment-dwelling organisms and the animals that eat them. Previous research has shown that carbon nanotubes take a long time to degrade through natural processes — if they do at all — and any chemical that binds to them cannot easily be degraded either.

“These nanoparticles are really good at latching onto other molecules, including many known organic contaminants,” said Ferguson. “Coupled with their quick accumulation in sediment, this may allow problematic chemicals to linger instead of degrading. The nanoparticle-pollutant package could then be eaten by sediment-dwelling organisms in a sort of ‘Trojan horse’ effect, allowing the adsorbed contaminants to accumulate up the food chain.

“The big question is whether or not these pollutants can be stripped away from the carbon nanotubes by these animals’ digestive systems after being ingested,” continued Ferguson. “That’s a question we’re working to answer now.”

It’s good to see this research is being followed up so quickly. I will keep an eye out for it and, in the meantime, wonder how the followup research will be conducted and what animals will be used for the tests.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the researchers’ most recent paper on possible ‘Trojan’ carbon nanotubes,

Fate of single walled carbon nanotubes in wetland ecosystems by Ariette Schierz, Benjamin Espinasse, Mark R. Wiesner, Joseph H. Bisesi, Tara Sabo-Attwood, and P. Lee Ferguson. Environ. Sci.: Nano, 2014, Advance Article DOI: 10.1039/C4EN00063C First published online 03 Sep 2014

This is an open access paper.

I have written about Duke University and its nanoparticle research in mesocosms before. Most recently, there was a Feb. 28, 2013 posting about work on silver nanoparticles which mentions research in the ‘mesocosm’ (scroll down about 50% of the way). There’s also an Aug. 15, 2011 posting which describes the ‘mesocosm’ project at some length.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Trojan horse story (from its Wikipedia entry; Note: Links have been removed),

The Trojan Horse is a tale from the Trojan War about the subterfuge that the Greeks used to enter the city of Troy and win the war. In the canonical version, after a fruitless 10-year siege, the Greeks constructed a huge wooden horse, and hid a select force of men inside. The Greeks pretended to sail away, and the Trojans pulled the horse into their city as a victory trophy. That night the Greek force crept out of the horse and opened the gates for the rest of the Greek army, which had sailed back under cover of night. The Greeks entered and destroyed the city of Troy, decisively ending the war.

Canadian nano business news: international subsidiary (Nanex) opens in Québec and NanoStruck’s latest results on recovering silver from mine tailings

The Canadian nano business sector is showing some signs of life. Following on my Sept. 3, 2014 posting about Nanotech Security Corp.’s plans to buy a subsidiary business, Fortress Optical Features, there’s an international subsidiary of Nanex (a Belgium-based business) planning to open in the province of Québec and NanoStruck (an Ontario-based company) has announced the results of its latest tests on cyanide-free recovery techniques.

In the order in which I stumbled across these items, I’m starting with the Nanex news item in a Sept. 3, 2014 posting on the Techvibes blog,

Nanex, a Belgian-based innovator and manufacturer of superhydrophobic nanotechnology products, announced last week the creation of its first international subsidiary.

Nanex Canada will be headquartered in Montreal.

For those unfamiliar with the term superhydrophobic, it means water repellent to a ‘super’ degree. For more information the properties of superhydrophobic coatings, the Techvibes post is hosting a video which demonstrates the coating’s properties (there’s a car which may never need washing again).

An Aug. 1, 2014 Nanex press release, which originated the news item, provides more details,

… Nanex Canada Incorporated will be starting operations on October 1st, 2014 and will be headquartered in Montreal, Quebec.

“Nanex’s expansion into Canada is a tremendous leap forward in our international operations, creating not only more efficient and direct channels into all of North America, but also providing access to a new top-notch intellectual pool for our R&D efforts,” Said Boyd Soussana, National Marketing Director at Nanex Canada. “We feel that Quebec and Canada have a great reputation as leaders in the field of advanced technologies, and we are proud to contribute to this scientific landscape.”

Upon launch, Nanex Canada Inc. will begin with retail and sales of its nanotechnology products, which have a wide range of consumer applications. Formal partnerships in B2B [business-to-business] further expanding these applications have been in place throughout Canada beginning in August of 2014. Through its Quebec laboratories Nanex Canada Inc. will also be pursuing R&D initiatives, in order to further develop safe and effective nano-polymers for consumer use, focusing entirely on ease of application and cost efficiency for the end consumer. In addition application of nano-coatings in green technologies will be a priority for North American R&D efforts.

Nanex Company currently manufactures three lines of products: Always Dry, Clean & Coat, and a self-cleaning coating for automotive bodies. These products contain proprietary nano-polymers that when sprayed upon a surface provide advanced abilities including super hydrophobic (extremely water-repellent), oleophobic (extremely oil repellent), and scratch resistance as well as self-cleaning properties.

 

The second piece of news is featured in a Sept. 5, 2014 news item on Azonano,

NanoStruck Technologies Inc. is pleased to announce positive results from test work carried out on silver mine tailings utilizing proprietary cyanide free recovery technologies that returned up to 87.6% of silver from samples grading 56 grams of silver per metric ton (g/t).

A Sept. 4, 2014 NanoStruck news release, which originated the news item, provides more details,

Three leach tests were conducted using the proprietary mixed acid leach process. Roasting was conducted on the sample for two of the leach tests, producing higher recoveries, although the un-roasted sample still produced a 71% recovery rate.

87.6% silver recoveries resulted from a 4 hour leach time at 95 degrees Celsius, with the standard feed grind size of D80 175 micron of roasted material.
84.3% recoveries resulted from a 4 hour leach at 95 degrees Celsius with the standard feed grind size of D80 175 micron with roasted material at a lower acid concentration.
71% recoveries resulted from a 4 hour leach at 95 degrees Celsius from received material, with the standard feed grind size of D80 175 micron with an altered acid mix concentration.

The average recovery for the roasted samples was 86% across the two leach tests performed using the proprietary process.

Bundeep Singh Rangar, Interim CEO and Chairman of the Board, said: “These results further underpin the effectiveness of our processing technology. With our patented process we are achieving excellent recoveries in not only silver tailings, but also gold tailings as well, both of which have vast global markets for us.”

The proprietary process combines a novel mixed acid leach with a solvent extraction stage, utilizing specific organic compounds. No cyanide is used in this environmentally friendly process. The flow sheet design is for a closed loop, sealed unit in which all chemicals are then recycled.

Previous test work undertaken on other gold mine tailings utilizing the proprietary process resulted in a maximum 96.1% recovery of gold. Previous test work undertaken on other silver tailings resulted in a maximum 86.4% recovery of silver.

The technical information contained in this news release has been verified and approved by Ernie Burga, a qualified person for the purpose of National Instrument 43-101, Standards of Disclosure for Mineral Projects, of the Canadian securities administrators.

Should you choose to read the news release in its entirety, you will find that no one is responsible for the information should anything turn out to be incorrect or just plain wrong but, like Nanotech Security Corp., (as I noted in my Sept. 4, 2014 posting), the company is very hopeful.

I have mentioned NanoStruck several times here:

March 14, 2014 posting

Feb. 19, 2014 posting

Feb. 10, 2014 posting

Dec. 27, 2013 posting

Don’t throw that cigarette butt away—use it to store energy!

I’ve read the news release and briefly skimmed the research paper and cannot find any discussion of how these scientists got the idea to ‘recycle’ used cigarette butts for energy storage (supercapacitors) although the inspiration seems to have its roots in a desire to create better supercapacitors from recycled materials. From an Aug. 5, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

A group of scientists from South Korea have converted used-cigarette butts into a high-performing material that could be integrated into computers, handheld devices, electrical vehicles and wind turbines to store energy.

Presenting their findings today, 5 August 2014, in IOP Publishing’s journal Nanotechnology, the researchers have demonstrated the material’s superior performance compared to commercially available carbon, graphene and carbon nanotubes.

It is hoped the material can be used to coat the electrodes of supercapacitors — electrochemical components that can store extremely large amounts of electrical energy — whilst also offering a solution to the growing environmental problem caused by used-cigarette filters.

An Aug. 5, 2014 Institute of Physics (IOP) news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, further describes the situation regarding used cigarette butts and the characteristics that could render them into supercapacitors

It is estimated that as many as 5.6 trillion cigarette butts (equivalent to 766 571 metric tons), are deposited into the environment worldwide every year.

Co-author of the study Professor Jongheop Yi, from Seoul National University, said: “Our study has shown that used cigarette filters can be transformed into a high-performing carbon-based material using a simple one-step process, which simultaneously offers a green solution to meeting the energy demands of society.

“Numerous countries are developing strict regulations to avoid the trillions of toxic and non-biodegradable used cigarette filters that are disposed of into the environment each year; our method is just one way of achieving this.”

Carbon is the most popular material that supercapacitors are composed of, due to its low cost, high surface area, high electrical conductivity and long-term stability.

Scientists around the world are currently working towards improving the characteristics of supercapacitors – such as energy density, power density and cycle stability – while also trying to reduce production costs.

In their study, the researchers demonstrated that the cellulose acetate fibres that cigarette filters are mostly composed of could be transformed into a carbon-based material using a simple, one-step burning technique called pyrolysis.

As a result of this burning process, the resulting carbon-based material contained a number of tiny pores, increasing its performance as a supercapacitive material.

“A high-performing supercapacitor material should have a large surface area, which can be achieved by incorporating a large number of small pores into the material,” continued Professor Yi.

“A combination of different pore sizes ensures that the material has high power densities, which is an essential property in a supercapacitor for the fast charging and discharging.”

Once fabricated, the carbon-based material was attached to an electrode and tested in a three-electrode system to see how well the material could adsorb electrolyte ions (charge) and then release them (discharge).

The material stored a higher amount of electrical energy than commercially available carbon and also had a higher amount of storage compared to graphene and carbon nanotubes, as reported in previous studies.

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

Preparation of energy storage material derived from a used cigarette filter for a supercapacitor electrode by Minzae Lee, Gil-Pyo Kim, Hyeon Don Song, Soomin Park, and Jongheop Yi. Nanotechnology 25 (34) 5601 doi:10.1088/0957-4484/25/34/345601

This is an open access paper.

Germany’s nano-supercapacitors for electric cars

Kudos to the writer for giving a dull topic, supercapacitors and electric cars, a jolt of life. From a July 24, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

Innovative nano-material based supercapacitors are set to bring mass market appeal a good step closer to the lukewarm public interest in Germany. [emphasis mine] This movement is currently being motivated by the advancements in the state-of-the-art of this device.

A July 1, 2014 Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item and, sadly, did not reveal the writer’s name, goes on in this refreshing fashion,

Electric cars are very much welcomed in Norway and they are a common sight on the roads of the Scandinavian country – so much so that electric cars topped the list of new vehicle registrations for the second time. This poses a stark contrast to the situation in Germany, where electric vehicles claim only a small portion of the market. Of the 43 million cars on the roads in Germany, only a mere 8000 are electric powered. The main factors discouraging motorists in Germany from switching to electric vehicles are the high investments cost, their short driving ranges and the lack of charging stations. Another major obstacle en route to the mass acceptance of electric cars is the charging time involved. The minutes involved in refueling conventional cars are so many folds shorter that it makes the situation almost incomparable. However, the charging durations could be dramatically shortened with the inclusion of supercapacitors. These alternative energy storage devices are fast charging and can therefore better support the use of economical energy in electric cars. Taking traditional gasoline-powered vehicles for instance, the action of braking converts the kinetic energy into heat which is dissipated and unused. Per contra, generators on electric vehicles are able to tap into the kinetic energy by converting it into electricity for further usage. This electricity often comes in jolts and requires storage devices that can withstand high amount of energy input within a short period of time. In this example, supercapacitors with their capability in capturing and storing this converted energy in an instant fits in the picture wholly. Unlike batteries that offer limited charging/discharging rates, supercapacitors require only seconds to charge and can feed the electric power back into the air-conditioning systems, defogger, radio, etc. as required.

So, the Norwegians have embraced electric cars while the Germans have remained reluctant. The writer offers a clear explanation of supercapacitors and mentions a solution for improving the electric vehicle acceptance rate in Germany (from the press release)

Rapid energy storage devices are distinguished by their energy and power density characteristics – in other words, the amount of electrical energy the device can deliver with respect to its mass and within a given period of time. Supercapacitors are known to possess high power density, whereby large amounts of electrical energy can be provided or captured within short durations, albeit at a short-coming of low energy density. The amount of energy in which supercapacitors are able to store is generally about 10% that of electrochemical batteries (when the two devices of same weight are being compared). This is precisely where the challenge lies and what the “ElectroGraph” project is attempting to address.

ElectroGraph is a project supported by the EU and its consortium consists of ten partners from both research institutes and industries. One of the main tasks of this project is to develop new types of supercapacitors with significantly improved energy storage capacities. As the project is approaches its closing phase in June, the project coordinator at Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart, Carsten Glanz explained the concept and approach taken en route to its successful conclusion: “during the storage process, the electrical energy is stored as charged particles attached on the electrode material.” “So to store more energy efficiently, we designed light weight electrodes with larger, usable surfaces.”

Next, the ‘nano’ aspect (graphene) of this particular project is explained,

In numerous tests, the researcher and his team investigated the nano-material graphene, whose extremely high specific surface area of up to 2,600 m2/g and high electrical conductivity practically cries out for use as an electrode material. It consists of an ultrathin monolayer lattice made of carbon atoms. When used as an electrode material, it greatly increases the surface area with the same amount of material. From this aspect, graphene is showing its potential in replacing activated carbon – the material that has been used in commercial supercapacitors to date – which has a specific surface area between 1000 and 1800 m2/g.

“The space between the electrodes is filled with a liquid electrolyte,” revealed Glanz. “We use ionic liquids for this purpose. Graphene-based electrodes together with ionic liquid electrolytes present an ideal material combination where we can operate at higher voltages.” “By arranging the graphene layers in a manner that there is a gap between the individual layers, the researchers were able to establish a manufacturing method that efficiently uses the intrinsic surface area available of this nano-material. This prevents the individual graphene layers from restacking into graphite, which would reduce the storage surface and consequently the amount of energy storage capacity. “Our electrodes have already surpassed commercially available one by 75 percent in terms of storage capacity,” emphasizes the engineer. “I imagine that the cars of the future will have a battery connected to many capacitors spread throughout the vehicle, which will take over energy supply during high-power demand phases during acceleration for example and ramming up of the air-conditioning system. These capacitors will ease the burden on the battery and cover voltage peaks when starting the car. As a result, the size of massive batteries can be reduced.”

Whether this effort has already been or, at some time in the future, will be demonstrated is not entirely clear to me,

In order to present the new technology, the ElectroGraph consortium developed a demonstrator consisting of supercapacitors installed in an automobile side-view mirror and charged by a solar cell in an energetically self-sufficient system. The demonstrator will be unveiled at the end of May [2015?] during the dissemination workshop at Fraunhofer IPA.

I imagine improved supercapacitors will be prove to be an enticement for more than one reluctant electric car purchaser no matter where they reside.

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.