Category Archives: environment

Making diesel cleaner

A Dec. 10, 2015 news item on Nanowerk announces a new method for producing diesel fuels (Note: A link has been removed),

Researchers from KU Leuven [Belgium] and Utrecht University [Netherlands] have discovered a new approach to the production of fuels (Nature, “Nanoscale intimacy in bifunctional catalysts for selective conversion of hydrocarbons”). Their new method can be used to produce much cleaner diesel. It can quickly be scaled up for industrial use. In 5 to 10 years, we may see the first cars driven by this new clean diesel.

A Dec. 10, 2015 KU Leuven press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail about the research,

The production of fuel involves the use of catalysts. These substances trigger the chemical reactions that convert raw material into fuel. In the case of diesel, small catalyst granules are added to the raw material to sufficiently change the molecules of the raw material to produce useable fuel.

Catalysts can have one or more chemical functions. The catalyst that was used for this particular study has two functions, represented by two different materials: a metal (platinum) and a solid-state acid. During the production process for diesel, the molecules bounce to and fro between the metal and the acid. Each time a molecule comes into contact with one of the materials, it changes a little bit. At the end of the process, the molecules are ready to be used for diesel fuel.

The assumption has always been that the metal and the solid-state acid in the catalyst should be as close together as possible. That would speed up the production process by helping the molecules bounce to and fro more quickly. Professor Johan Martens (KU Leuven) and Professor Krijn de Jong (Utrecht University) have now discovered that this assumption is incorrect. [emphasis mine] If the functions within a catalyst are nanometres apart, the process yields better molecules for cleaner fuel.

“Our results are the exact opposite of what we had expected. At first, we thought that the samples had been switched or that something was wrong with our analysis”, says Professor Martens. “We repeated the experiments three times, only to arrive at the same conclusion: the current theory is wrong. There has to be a minimum distance between the functions within a catalyst. This goes against what the industry has been doing for the past 50 years.”

The new technique can optimise quite a few molecules in diesel. Cars that are driven by this clean diesel would emit far fewer particulates and CO². The researchers believe that their method can be scaled up for industrial use with relative ease, so the new diesel could be used in cars in 5 to 10 years.

The new technique can be applied to petroleum-based fuels, but also to renewable carbon from biomass.

A fifty year old assumption has been found wrong. Interesting, non? In any event, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Nanoscale intimacy in bifunctional catalysts for selective conversion of hydrocarbons by Jovana Zecevic, Gina Vanbutsele, Krijn P. de Jong, & Johan A. Martens. Nature 528, 245–248 (10 December 2015)  doi:10.1038/nature16173 Published online 09 December 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.

Russians offer nanotechnology report at Paris Climate talks

Sadly I cannot find the report presented by the Russians  at the Paris Climate Talks (also known as World Climate Change Conference 2015 [COP21]) but did find this reference to it in a Dec. 7, 2015 article in the New York Times,

One of the surprises of the Paris climate talks was the sudden interest by Russia in appearing as a player in the efforts to reel in greenhouse gases.

The second part occurred on Monday, when an event was added to the schedule of news briefings: “Russia Proposes a New Approach to Climate Change.”

And so Russia did, putting forth a plan — and a report — that in the end seemed largely geared toward promoting a government-funded business, run by a prominent politician.

The Russian Times ( published a Nov. 30, 2015 article detailing President Vladimir Putin’s address to the conference attendees,

“We have gone beyond the target fixed by the Kyoto Protocol for the period from 1991 to 2012. Russia not only prevented the growth of greenhouse gas emission, by also significantly reduced it,” Putin said.

“Nearly 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent weren’t released into the atmosphere. As a comparison, the total emissions of all countries in 2012 reached 46 billion tons.”

Russia is planning to keep progressing by bringing breakthrough technologies into practice, “including nanotechnology,” Putin continued saying the country is also open to exchange and share the findings.

Apart from that, Putin has also promised Russia will reduce its polluting emissions by 70 percent by 2030 as compared to base level in 1990.

A Dec. 8, 2015 article by Jasper Nikki De La Cruz for The Science Times provides more detail about the Russian report/proposal (Note: A link has been removed),

Russia proposes a “New Approach” when it comes to dealing with climate change. The proposal focuses on efforts to reduce emissions involving five materials: steel, cement, aluminum, plastic and paper. The proposal is not on the reduction of the production of these materials but rather making these materials lighter, stronger and more efficient. With this approach, nanotechnology is put into the spotlight as the primary technology in making this proposal possible in real-world applications.

Rusnano is a company that is dedicated to nanotechnology. They received $10B of funding from the Russian government. They are pegged to be the frontrunner in research and application of nanotechnology in the production of the mentioned materials.

“Carbon nanotubes have been shown to toughen aluminum, make plastics conductive, extend the life of lithium-ion batteries,” Anatoly B. Chubais, Rusnano founder, said. “So all that is true. Tangentially, that can then lower CO2 emissions, I suppose.”

James Tour, a scientist at Rice University, commented for the New York Times Dec. 7, 2015 article on this suggestion that greater use of carbon nanotubes could reduce emissions,

A report laying out the materials thesis rested heavily on contentions about the use of carbon nanotubes. For a moment that puzzled James M. Tour, a professor of chemistry and materials science at Rice University and an expert on nanomaterials, who was asked about the proposal.

“Carbon nanotubes have been shown to toughen aluminum, make plastics conductive, extend the life of lithium-ion batteries,” he said in an email. “So all that is true. Tangentially, that can then lower CO2 emissions, I suppose.”

But, he added, “All of the above was well known long before Rusnano came around.”

Reporters, too, were confused. When one asked whether the announcement was “a distraction from real action,” Mr. Chubais said the proposal was a means to the same end.

I don’t find the Russian proposal all that outlandish although the emphasis on carbon nanotubes seems a bit outsized (pun intended). In any event, there’s certainly a role for emerging technologies to play in the attempts to change our lifestyles and ameliorate climate change.

Boron nitride sponges for oil spill cleanups

The best part of the news is that the scientists are ready to test these sponges in industrial trials but first here’s why the Australians are so excited about the work from a Dec. 1, 2015 news item on Azonano,

Deakin University scientists have manufactured a revolutionary material that can clean up oil spills, which could save the earth from potential future disasters such as any repeat of the 2010 Gulf Coast BP disaster that wreaked environmental havoc and cost a reported $40 billion.

The major breakthrough material, which literally absorbs the oil like a sponge, is the result of support from the Australian Research Council and is now ready to be trialled by industry after two years of refinement in the laboratory at Deakin’s Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM).

Alfred Deakin Professor Ying (Ian) Chen, the lead author on a paper which outlines the team’s breakthrough in today’s edition of Nature Communications, said the material was the most exciting advancement in oil spill clean-up technology in decades.

Oil spills are a global problem and wreak havoc on our aquatic ecosystems, not to mention cost billions of dollars in damage.

“Everyone remembers the Gulf Coast disaster, but here in Australia they are a regular problem, and not just in our waters. Oil spills from trucks and other vehicles can close freeways for an entire day, again amounting to large economic losses. Professor Chen

But current methods of cleaning up oil spills are inefficient and unsophisticated, taking too long, causing ongoing and expensive damage, which is why the development of our technology was supported by the Australian Research Council.

“We are so excited to have finally got to this stage after two years of trying to work out how to turn what we knew was a good material into something that could be practically used.

A Nov. 30, 2015 Deakin University media release, which originated the news item, provides some technical details,

“In 2013 we developed the first stage of the material, but it was simply a powder. This powder had absorption capabilities, but you cannot simply throw powder onto oil – you need to be able to bind that powder into a sponge so that we can soak the oil up, and also separate it from water.”

The lead author on the paper, IFM scientist Dr Weiwei Lei,) an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Research Awardee, said turning the powder into a sponge was a big challenge.

“But we have finally done it by developing a new production technique,” Dr Lei said.

“The ground-breaking material is called a boron nitride nanosheet, which is made up of flakes which are just several nanometers (one billionth of a meter) in thickness with tiny holes which can increase its surface area per gram to effectively the size of 5.5 tennis courts.”

The research team, which included scientists from Drexel University, Philadelphia, and Missouri University of Science and Technology, started with boron nitride powder known as “white graphite” and broke it into atomically thin sheets that were used to make a sponge.

“The pores in the nanosheets provide the surface area to absorb oils and organic solvents up to 33 times its own weight,” Dr Lei said.

Professor Yury Gogotsi from Drexel University said boron nitride nanosheets did not burn, could withstand flame, and be used in flexible and transparent electrical and heat insulation, as well as many other applications.

“We are delighted that support from the Australian Research Council allowed us to participate in this interesting study and we could help our IFM colleagues to model and better understand this wonderful material, ” Professor Gogotsi said.

Professor Vadym Mochalin from Missouri University of Science and Technology said the mechanochemical technique developed meant it was possible to produce high-concentration stable aqueous colloidal solutions of boron nitride sheets, which could then be transformed into the ultralight porous aerogels and membranes for oil clean-up.

“The use of computational modelling helped us to understand the intimate details of this novel mechanochemical exfoliation process. It is a nice illustration of the power, which combined experimental plus modelling approach offers researchers nowadays.”

The research team is now ready to have their “sponge” trialled by industry. [emphasis mine]

The nanotechnology team at IFM has been working on boron nitride nanomaterials for two decades and is an internationally recognised leader in boron nitride nanotubes and nanosheets.

There was at least one other team working on  sponges, all these are composed of carbon nanotubes, for oil spills (mentioned in my April 17, 2012 posting) but they don’t seem to have been able to get their work out of the laboratory.

Here’s a link to and a citation for boron nitride sponges,

Boron nitride colloidal solutions, ultralight aerogels and freestanding membranes through one-step exfoliation and functionalization by Weiwei Lei, Vadym N. Mochalin, Dan Liu, Si Qin, Yury Gogotsi, & Ying Chen. Nature Communications 6, Article number: 8849 doi:10.1038/ncomms9849 Published 27 November 2015

This is an open access paper.

What is the effect of nanoscale plastic on marine life?

A Nov.27, 2015 news item on Nanowerk announces a new UK (United Kingdom) research project designed to answer the question: what impact could nanoscale plastic particles  have on the marine environment?,

As England brings in pricing on plastic carrier bags, and Scotland reveals that similar changes a little over a year ago have reduced the use of such bags by 80%, new research led by Heriot-Watt University in conjunction with Plymouth University will look at the effect which even the most microscopic plastic particles can have on the marine environment.

While images of large ‘islands’ of plastic rubbish or of large marine animals killed or injured by the effects of such discards have brought home some of the obvious negative effects of plastics in the marine environment, it is known that there is more discarded plastic out there than we can account for, and much of it will have degraded into small or even microscopic particles.

It is the effect of these latter, known as nano-plastics, which will be studied under a £1.1m research project, largely funded by NERC [UK Natural Environment Research Council] and run by Heriot-Watt and Plymouth Universities.

A Nov. 25, 2015 Herriot-Watt University press release, which originated the news item, provides more details,

The project, RealRiskNano, will look at the risks these tiny plastic particles pose to the food web including filter-feeding organisms like mussels, clams and sediment dwelling organisms. It will focus on providing information to improve environmental risk assessment for nanoplastics, based on real-world exposure scenarios replicated in the laboratory.

Team leader Dr Theodore Henry, Associate Professor of Toxicology at Heriot-Watt’s School of Life Sciences, said that the study will build on previous research on nano-material toxicology, but will provide information which the earlier studies did not include.

“Pieces of plastic of all sizes have been found in even the most remote marine environments. It’s relatively easy to see some of the results: turtles killed by easting plastic bags which they take for jelly fish, or large marine mammals drowned when caught in discarded ropes and netting.

“But when plastics fragment into microscopic particles, what then? It’s easy to imagine that they simply disappear, but we know that nano-particles pose their own distinct threats purely because of their size. They’re small enough to be transported throughout the environment with unknown effects on organisms including toxicity and interference with processes of the digestive system.

An important component of the project, to be investigated by Dr Tony Gutierrez at Heriot-Watt, will be the study of interactions between microorganisms and the nanoplastics to reveal how these interactions affect their fate and toxicology.

The aim, said Dr Henry, is to provide the information which is needed to effect real change.“We simply don’t know what effects these nano-plastic particles may pose to the marine environment, to filter-feeders and on to fish, and through the RealRiskNano project we aim to provide this urgently needed information to the people whose job it is to assess risk to the marine ecosystem and decide what steps need to be taken to mitigate it.”

You can find the RealRiskNano website here.

New photocatalytic approach to cleaning wastewater from oil sands

With oil sands in the title, this story had to mention the Canadian province of Alberta, which has been widely castigated and applauded for its oil extraction efforts in their massive oil sands field. A Nov. 24, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now describes a new technology for cleaning the wastewater from oil sands extraction processes,

Researchers have developed a process to remove contaminants from oil sands wastewater using only sunlight and nanoparticles that is more effective and inexpensive than conventional treatment methods.

Frank Gu, a professor in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Waterloo [in the province of Ontario] and Canada Research Chair in Nanotechnology Engineering, is the senior researcher on the team that was the first to find that photocatalysis — a chemical reaction that involves the absorption of light by nanoparticles — can completely eliminate naphthenic acids in oil sands wastewater, and within hours. Naphthenic acids pose a threat to ecology and human health. Water in tailing ponds left to biodegrade naturally in the environment still contains these contaminants decades later.

A Nov. 23, 2015 University of Waterloo news release, which originated the news item, expands on the theme but doesn’t provide much in the way of technical detail,

“With about a billion tonnes of water stored in ponds in Alberta, removing naphthenic acids is one of the largest environmental challenges in Canada,” said Tim Leshuk, a PhD candidate in chemical engineering at Waterloo. He is the lead author of this paper and a recipient of the prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship. “Conventional treatments people have tried either haven’t worked, or if they have worked, they’ve been far too impractical or expensive to solve the size of the problem.  Waterloo’s technology is the first step of what looks like a very practical and green treatment method.”

Unlike treating polluted water with chlorine or membrane filtering, the Waterloo technology is energy-efficient and relatively inexpensive. Nanoparticles become extremely reactive when exposed to sunlight and break down the persistent pollutants in their individual atoms, completely removing them from the water. This treatment depends on only sunlight for energy, and the nanoparticles can be recovered and reused indefinitely.

Next steps for the Waterloo research include ensuring that the treated water meets all of the objectives Canadian environmental legislation and regulations required to ensure it can be safely discharged from sources larger than the samples, such as tailing ponds.

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

Solar photocatalytic degradation of naphthenic acids in oil sands process-affected water by Tim Leshuk, Timothy Wong, Stuart Linley, Kerry M. Peru, John V. Headley, Frank Gu. Chemosphere Volume 144, February 2016, Pages 1854–1861 doi:10.1016/j.chemosphere.2015.10.073

This paper is behind a paywall.

Nanopores and a new technique for desalination

There’s been more than one piece here about water desalination and purification and/or remediation efforts and at least one of them claims to have successfully overcome issues such as reverse osmosis energy needs which are hampering adoption of various technologies. Now, researchers at the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana have developed another new technique for desalinating water while reverse osmosis issues according to a Nov. 11, 2015 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed) ,

University of Illinois engineers have found an energy-efficient material for removing salt from seawater that could provide a rebuttal to poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s lament, “Water, water, every where, nor any drop to drink.”

The material, a nanometer-thick sheet of molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) riddled with tiny holes called nanopores, is specially designed to let high volumes of water through but keep salt and other contaminates out, a process called desalination. In a study published in the journal Nature Communications (“Water desalination with a single-layer MoS2 nanopore”), the Illinois team modeled various thin-film membranes and found that MoS2 showed the greatest efficiency, filtering through up to 70 percent more water than graphene membranes. [emphasis mine]

I’ll get to the professor’s comments about graphene membranes in a minute. Meanwhile, a Nov. 11, 2015 University of Illinois news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more information about the research,

“Even though we have a lot of water on this planet, there is very little that is drinkable,” said study leader Narayana Aluru, a U. of I. professor of mechanical science and engineering. “If we could find a low-cost, efficient way to purify sea water, we would be making good strides in solving the water crisis.

“Finding materials for efficient desalination has been a big issue, and I think this work lays the foundation for next-generation materials. These materials are efficient in terms of energy usage and fouling, which are issues that have plagued desalination technology for a long time,” said Aluru, who also is affiliated with the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the U. of I.

Most available desalination technologies rely on a process called reverse osmosis to push seawater through a thin plastic membrane to make fresh water. The membrane has holes in it small enough to not let salt or dirt through, but large enough to let water through. They are very good at filtering out salt, but yield only a trickle of fresh water. Although thin to the eye, these membranes are still relatively thick for filtering on the molecular level, so a lot of pressure has to be applied to push the water through.

“Reverse osmosis is a very expensive process,” Aluru said. “It’s very energy intensive. A lot of power is required to do this process, and it’s not very efficient. In addition, the membranes fail because of clogging. So we’d like to make it cheaper and make the membranes more efficient so they don’t fail as often. We also don’t want to have to use a lot of pressure to get a high flow rate of water.”

One way to dramatically increase the water flow is to make the membrane thinner, since the required force is proportional to the membrane thickness. Researchers have been looking at nanometer-thin membranes such as graphene. However, graphene presents its own challenges in the way it interacts with water.

Aluru’s group has previously studied MoS2 nanopores as a platform for DNA sequencing and decided to explore its properties for water desalination. Using the Blue Waters supercomputer at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the U. of I., they found that a single-layer sheet of MoS2 outperformed its competitors thanks to a combination of thinness, pore geometry and chemical properties.

A MoS2 molecule has one molybdenum atom sandwiched between two sulfur atoms. A sheet of MoS2, then, has sulfur coating either side with the molybdenum in the center. The researchers found that creating a pore in the sheet that left an exposed ring of molybdenum around the center of the pore created a nozzle-like shape that drew water through the pore.

“MoS2 has inherent advantages in that the molybdenum in the center attracts water, then the sulfur on the other side pushes it away, so we have much higher rate of water going through the pore,” said graduate student Mohammad Heiranian, the first author of the study. “It’s inherent in the chemistry of MoS2 and the geometry of the pore, so we don’t have to functionalize the pore, which is a very complex process with graphene.”

In addition to the chemical properties, the single-layer sheets of MoS2 have the advantages of thinness, requiring much less energy, which in turn dramatically reduces operating costs. MoS2 also is a robust material, so even such a thin sheet is able to withstand the necessary pressures and water volumes.

The Illinois researchers are establishing collaborations to experimentally test MoS2 for water desalination and to test its rate of fouling, or clogging of the pores, a major problem for plastic membranes. MoS2 is a relatively new material, but the researchers believe that manufacturing techniques will improve as its high performance becomes more sought-after for various applications.

“Nanotechnology could play a great role in reducing the cost of desalination plants and making them energy efficient,” said Amir Barati Farimani, who worked on the study as a graduate student at Illinois and is now a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University. “I’m in California now, and there’s a lot of talk about the drought and how to tackle it. I’m very hopeful that this work can help the designers of desalination plants. This type of thin membrane can increase return on investment because they are much more energy efficient.”

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

Water desalination with a single-layer MoS2 nanopore by Mohammad Heiranian, Amir Barati Farimani, & Narayana R. Aluru. Nature Communications 6, Article number: 8616 doi:10.1038/ncomms9616 Published 14 October 2015

Graphene membranes

In a July 13, 2015 essay on Nanotechnology Now, Tim Harper provides an overview of the research into using graphene for water desalination and purification/remediation about which he is quite hopeful. There is no mention of an issue with interactions between water and graphene. It should be noted that Tim Harper is the Chief Executive Officer of G20, a company which produces a graphene-based solution (graphene oxide sheets), which can desalinate water and can purify/remediate it. Tim is a scientist and while you might have some hesitation given his fiscal interests, his essay is worthwhile reading as he supplies context and explanations of the science.

Light emitting diodes (LEDs) from food and beverage waste

It’s exciting to think that with emerging technologies we’ll be able to make use of waste products rather than sending them off to fill up garbage dumps. An Oct. 13, 2015 news item on Nanowerk highlights some research where food and beverage waste products could be used to produce light emitting diodes (LEDs),

Most Christmas lights, DVD players, televisions and flashlights have one thing in common: they’re made with light emitting diodes (LEDs). LEDs are widely used for a variety of applications and have been a popular, more efficient alternative to fluorescent and incandescent bulbs for the past few decades. Two University of Utah researchers have now found a way to create LEDs from food and beverage waste. In addition to utilizing food and beverage waste that would otherwise decompose and be of no use, this development can also reduce potentially harmful waste from LEDs generally made from toxic elements.

An Oct. 13, 2015 University of Utah news release, which originated the news item, describes some of the issues with our current LEDs and how the researchers went about synthesizing the waste for reuse,

LEDs can be produced by using quantum dots, or tiny crystals that have luminescent properties, to produce light. Quantum dots (QDs) can be made with numerous materials, some of which are rare and expensive to synthesize, and even potentially harmful to dispose of. Some research over the past 10 years has focused on using carbon dots (CDs), or simply QDs made of carbon, to create LEDs instead.

Compared to other types of quantum dots, CDs have lower toxicity and better biocompatibility, meaning they can be used in a broader variety of applications.

U Metallurgical Engineering Research Assistant Professor Prashant Sarswat and Professor Michael Free, over the past year and a half, have successfully turned food waste such as discarded pieces of tortilla into CDs, and subsequently, LEDs.

From bread to bulb

To synthesize waste into CDs, Sarswat and Free employed a solvothermal synthesis, or one in which the waste was placed into a solvent under pressure and high temperature until CDs were formed. In this experiment, the researchers used soft drinks and pieces of bread and tortilla.

The food and beverage waste were each placed in a solvent and heated both directly and indirectly for anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes.

After successfully finding traces of CDs from the synthesis, Sarswat and Free proceeded to illuminate the CDs to monitor their formation and color.

The pair also employed four other tests, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, Raman and AFM [atomic force microscopy] imaging to determine the CDs’ various optical and material properties.

“Synthesizing and characterizing CDs derived from waste is a very challenging task. We essentially have to determine the size of dots which are only 20 nanometers or smaller in diameter, so we have to run multiple tests to be sure CDs are present and to determine what optical properties they possess,” said Sarswat.

For comparison, a human hair is around 75,000 nanometers in diameter.

The various tests Sarswat and Free ran first measured the size of the CDs, which correlates with the intensity of the dots’ color and brightness. The tests then determined which carbon source produced the best CDs. For example, sucrose and D-fructose dissolved in soft drinks were found to be the most effective sources for production of CDs.

An environmentally sustainable alternative

Currently, one of the most common sources of QDs is cadmium selenide, a compound comprised of a two toxic elements. The ability to create QDs in the form of CDs from food and beverage waste would eliminate the need for concern over toxic waste, as the food and beverages themselves are not toxic.

“QDs derived from food and beverage waste are not based on common toxic elements such as cadmium and selenium, which makes their processing and disposal more environmentally friendly than it is for most other QDs.  In addition, the use of food and beverage waste as the starting material for QDs allows for reduced waste and cost to produce a useful material,” said Free.

In addition to being toxic when broken down, cadmium selenide is also expensive—one website listed a price of $529 for 25 ml of the compound.

“With food and beverage waste that are already there, our starting material is much less expensive. In fact, it’s essentially free,” said Sarswat.

According to a report from the US Department of Agriculture, roughly 31% of food produced in 2014 was not available for human consumption. To be able to use this waste for creating LEDs which are widely used in a number of technologies would be an environmentally sustainable approach.

Looking forward, Sarswat and Free hope to continue studying the LEDs produced from food and beverage waste for stability and long term performance.

“The ultimate goal is to do this on a mass scale and to use these LEDs in everyday devices. To successfully make use of waste that already exists, that’s the end goal,” said Sarswat.

Finally, the CDs were suspended in epoxy resins, heated and hardened to solidify the CDs for practical use in LEDs.

The researchers have made an image of the luminescent carbon dots available,

PHOTO CREDIT: Prashant Sarswat The luminescence of carbon dots can be seen when irradiated with UV light.

PHOTO CREDIT: Prashant Sarswat The luminescence of carbon dots can be seen when irradiated with UV light.

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

Light emitting diodes based on carbon dots derived from food, beverage, and combustion wastes by Prashant K. Sarswat and Michael L. Free. Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 2015,17, 27642-27652 DOI: 10.1039/C5CP04782J First published online 01 Oct 2015

This paper appears to be behind a paywall. One final note, despite the paper’s title there doesn’t seem to be any mention of combustion waste in the news release which is a bit puzzling.

Smaller (20nm vs 110nm) silver nanoparticles are more likely to absorbed by fish

An Oct. 8, 2015 news item on Nanowerk offers some context for why researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) are studying silver nanoparticles and their entry into the water system,

More than 2,000 consumer products today contain nanoparticles — particles so small that they are measured in billionths of a meter.

Manufacturers use nanoparticles to help sunscreen work better against the sun’s rays and to make athletic apparel better at wicking moisture away from the body, among many other purposes.

Of those products, 462 — ranging from toothpaste to yoga mats — contain nanoparticles made from silver, which are used for their ability to kill bacteria. But that benefit might be coming at a cost to the environment. In many cases, simply using the products as intended causes silver nanoparticles to wind up in rivers and other bodies of water, where they can be ingested by fish and interact with other marine life.

For scientists, a key question has been to what extent organisms retain those particles and what effects they might have.

I’d like to know where they got those numbers “… 2,000 consumer products …” and “… 462 — ranging from toothpaste to yoga mats — contain nanoparticles made from silver… .”

Getting back to the research, an Oct. 7, 2015 UCLA news release, which originated the news item, describes the work in more detail,

A new study by the University of California Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology has found that smaller silver nanoparticles were more likely to enter fish’s bodies, and that they persisted longer than larger silver nanoparticles or fluid silver nitrate. The study, published online in the journal ACS Nano, was led by UCLA postdoctoral scholars Olivia Osborne and Sijie Lin, and Andre Nel, director of UCLA’s Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology and associate director of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA.

Nel said that although it is not yet known whether silver nanoparticles are harmful, the research team wanted to first identify whether they were even being absorbed by fish. CEIN, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, is focused on studying the effects of nanotechnology on the environment.

In the study, researchers placed zebrafish in water that contained fluid silver nitrate and two sizes of silver nanoparticles — some measuring 20 nanometers in diameter and others 110 nanometers. Although the difference in size between these two particles is so minute that it can only be seen using high-powered transmission electron microscopes, the researchers found that the two sizes of particles affected the fish very differently.

The researchers used zebrafish in the study because they have some genetic similarities to humans, their embryos and larvae are transparent (which makes them easier to observe). In addition, they tend to absorb chemicals and other substances from water.

Osborne said the team focused its research on the fish’s gills and intestines because they are the organs most susceptible to silver exposure.

“The gills showed a significantly higher silver content for the 20-nanometer than the 110-nanometer particles, while the values were more similar in the intestines,” she said, adding that both sizes of the silver particles were retained in the intestines even after the fish spent seven days in clean water. “The most interesting revelation was that the difference in size of only 90 nanometers made such a striking difference in the particles’ demeanor in the gills and intestines.”

The experiment was one of the most comprehensive in vivo studies to date on silver nanoparticles, as well as the first to compare silver nanoparticle toxicity by extent of organ penetration and duration with different-sized particles, and the first to demonstrate a mechanism for the differences.

Osborne said the results seem to indicate that smaller particles penetrated deeper into the fishes’ organs and stayed there longer because they dissolve faster than the larger particles and are more readily absorbed by the fish.

Lin said the results indicate that companies using silver nanoparticles have to strike a balance that recognizes their benefits and their potential as a pollutant. Using slightly larger nanoparticles might help make them somewhat safer, for example, but it also might make the products in which they’re used less effective.

He added that data from the study could be translated to understand how other nanoparticles could be used in more environmentally sustainable ways.

Nel said the team’s next step is to determine whether silver particles are potentially harmful. “Our research will continue in earnest to determine what the long-term effects of this exposure can be,” he said.

Here’s an image illustrating the findings,

Courtesy ACS Nano

Courtesy ACS Nano

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

Organ-Specific and Size-Dependent Ag Nanoparticle Toxicity in Gills and Intestines of Adult Zebrafish by Olivia J. Osborne, Sijie Lin, Chong Hyun Chang, Zhaoxia Ji, Xuechen Yu, Xiang Wang, Shuo Lin, Tian Xia, and André E. Nel. ACS Nano, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.5b04583 Publication Date (Web): September 1, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Anyone have a spare portabella (also known as, portobello) mushroom? I need for my phone

Scientists as the University of California at Riverside (UCR) have developed a type of lithium-ion battery with portabella mushrooms, from a Sept. 29, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily,

Can portabella mushrooms stop cell phone batteries from degrading over time?

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside Bourns College of Engineering think so.

They have created a new type of lithium-ion battery anode using portabella mushrooms, which are inexpensive, environmentally friendly and easy to produce. The current industry standard for rechargeable lithium-ion battery anodes is synthetic graphite, which comes with a high cost of manufacturing because it requires tedious purification and preparation processes that are also harmful to the environment.

A Sept. 29, 2015 UCR news release (also on EurekAlert) by Sean Nealon, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

With the anticipated increase in batteries needed for electric vehicles and electronics, a cheaper and sustainable source to replace graphite is needed. Using biomass, a biological material from living or recently living organisms, as a replacement for graphite, has drawn recent attention because of its high carbon content, low cost and environmental friendliness.

UC Riverside engineers were drawn to using mushrooms as a form of biomass because past research has established they are highly porous, meaning they have a lot of small spaces for liquid or air to pass through. That porosity is important for batteries because it creates more space for the storage and transfer of energy, a critical component to improving battery performance.

In addition, the high potassium salt concentration in mushrooms allows for increased electrolyte-active material over time by activating more pores, gradually increasing its capacity.

A conventional anode allows lithium to fully access most of the material during the first few cycles and capacity fades from electrode damage occurs from that point on. The mushroom carbon anode technology could, with optimization, replace graphite anodes. It also provides a binderless and current-collector free approach to anode fabrication.

“With battery materials like this, future cell phones may see an increase in run time after many uses, rather than a decrease, due to apparent activation of blind pores within the carbon architectures as the cell charges and discharges over time,” said Brennan Campbell, a graduate student in the Materials Science and Engineering program at UC Riverside.

Nanocarbon architectures derived from biological materials such as mushrooms can be considered a green and sustainable alternative to graphite-based anodes, said Cengiz Ozkan, a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and engineering.

The nano-ribbon-like architectures transform upon heat treatment into an interconnected porous network architecture which is important for battery electrodes because such architectures possess a very large surface area for the storage of energy, a critical component to improving battery performance.

One of the problems with conventional carbons, such as graphite, is that they are typically prepared with chemicals such as acids and activated by bases that are not environmentally friendly, said Mihri Ozkan, a professor of electrical and computer engineering. Therefore, the UC Riverside team is focused on naturally-derived carbons, such as the skin of the caps of portabella mushrooms, for making batteries.

It is expected that nearly 900,000 tons of natural raw graphite would be needed for anode fabrication for nearly six million electric vehicle forecast to be built by 2020. This requires that the graphite be treated with harsh chemicals, including hydrofluoric and sulfuric acids, a process that creates large quantities of hazardous waste. The European Union projects this process will be unsustainable in the future.

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

Hierarchically Porous Carbon Anodes for Li-ion Batteries by Brennan Campbell, Robert Ionescu, Zachary Favors, Cengiz S. Ozkan, & Mihrimah Ozkan. [Nature] Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 14575 (2015)  doi:10.1038/srep14575 Published online: 29 September 2015

This is an open access paper

Brown University (US) gets big bucks to study effect on nanomaterials on human health

In over seven years of blogging about nanotechnology, this is the most active funding period for health and environmental effects impacts I’ve seen yet. A Sept. 26, 2015 news item on Azonano features another such grant,

With a new federal grant of nearly $10.8 million over the next five years, Brown University researchers and students in the Superfund Research Program (SRP) will be able to advance their work studying how toxicant exposures affect health, how such exposures occur, how nanotechnologies could contain contamination, and how to make sure those technologies are safe.

A Sept. 24, 2015 Brown University news release, which originated the news item, describes of Brown’s SRP work already underway and how this new grant will support it,

“There is more research to be performed,” said Kim Boekelheide, program director, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, and fellow of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society (IBES). “Our scientific theme is integrated biomedical and engineering solutions to regulatory uncertainty, using interdisciplinary approaches to attack the really difficult contamination problems that matter.”

The program is pursuing four integrated projects. In one led by Boekelheide, a team is looking at the physiological effects of exposure to toxicants like trichloroethylene on the male reproductive system. In particular he hopes to find the subtle differences in biomolecular markers in sperm that could allow for very early detection of exposure. Meanwhile in another line of research, Eric Suuberg, professor of engineering, is studying how vapors from toxic material releases can re-emerge from the soil entering into buildings built at or near the polluted sites — and why it is hard to predict the level of exposure that inhabitants of these buildings may suffer.

In another project, Robert Hurt, an IBES fellow, SRP co-primary investigator and professor of engineering, is studying how graphene, an atomically thin carbon material, can be used to block the release and transport of toxicants to prevent human exposures. Hurt is also collaborating with Agnes Kane, an IBES fellow and chair and professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, who is leading a study of nanomaterial effects on human health, so they can be designed and used safely in environmental and other applications.

The program will also continue the program’s community outreach efforts in which they work and share information with communities near the state’s Superfund-designated and Brownfield contaminated sites. Scott Frickel, an IBES fellow and associate professor of sociology, is the new leader of community engagement. The program also includes a research translation core in which researchers share their findings and expertise with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state agencies, and professionals involved in contamination management and cleanup. A training core provides opportunities for interdisciplinary research, field work, and industry “externships” for graduate students in engineering, pathobiology, and social sciences at Brown.

It’s good to see they are integrating social sciences into this project although I hope they aren’t attempting this move as a means to coopt and/or stifle genuine dissent and disagreement by giving a superficial nod to the social sciences and public engagement  while wending on their merry way.