Category Archives: environment

Harvard University announced new Center on Nano-safety Research

The nano safety center at Harvard University (Massachusetts, US) is a joint center with the US National Institute of Environmental Health  Sciences according to an Aug. 29, 2016 news item on Nanowerk,

Engineered nanomaterials (ENMs)—which are less than 100 nanometers (one millionth of a millimeter) in diameter—can make the colors in digital printer inks pop and help sunscreens better protect against radiation, among many other applications in industry and science. They may even help prevent infectious diseases. But as the technology becomes more widespread, questions remain about the potential risks that ENMs may pose to health and the environment.

Researchers at the new Harvard-NIEHS [US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences] Nanosafety Research Center at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health are working to understand the unique properties of ENMs—both beneficial and harmful—and to ultimately establish safety standards for the field.

An Aug. 16, 2016 Harvard University press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail (Note: Links have been removed),

“We want to help nanotechnology develop as a scientific and economic force while maintaining safeguards for public health,” said Center Director Philip Demokritou, associate professor of aerosol physics at Harvard Chan School. “If you understand the rules of nanobiology, you can design safer nanomaterials.”

ENMs can enter the body through inhalation, ingestion, and skin contact, and toxicological studies have shown that some can penetrate cells and tissues and potentially cause biochemical damage. Because the field of nanoparticle science is relatively new, no standards currently exist for assessing the health risks of exposure to ENMs—or even for how studies of nano-biological interactions should be conducted.

Much of the work of the new Center will focus on building a fundamental understanding of why some ENMs are potentially more harmful than others. The team will also establish a “reference library” of ENMs, each with slightly varied properties, which will be utilized in nanotoxicology research across the country to assess safety. This will allow researchers to pinpoint exactly what aspect of an ENM’s properties may impact health. The researchers will also work to develop standardized methods for nanotoxicology studies evaluating the safety of nanomaterials.

The Center was established with a $4 million dollar grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Science (NIEHS) last month, and is the only nanosafety research center to receive NIEHS funding for the next five years. It will also play a coordinating role with existing and future NIEHS nanotoxicology research projects nantionwide. Scientists from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), MIT, University of Maine, and University of Florida will collaborate on the new effort.

The Center builds on the existing Center for Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology at Harvard Chan School, established by Demokritou and Joseph Brain, Cecil K. and Philip Drinker Professor of Environmental Physiology, in the School’s Department of Environmental Health in 2010.

A July 5, 2016 Harvard University press release announcing the $4M grant provides more information about which ENMs are to be studied,

The main focus of the new HSPH-NIEHS Center is to bring together  scientists from across disciplines- material science, chemistry, exposure assessment, risk assessment, nanotoxicology and nanobiology- to assess the potential  environmental Health and safety (EHS) implications of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs).

The $4 million dollar HSPH based Center  which is the only Nanosafety Research  Center to be funded by NIEHS this funding cycle, … The new HSPH-NIEHS Nanosafety Center builds upon the nano-related infrastructure in [the] collaborating Universities, developed over the past 10 years, which includes an inter-disciplinary research group of faculty, research staff and students, as well as state-of-the-art platforms for high throughput synthesis of ENMs, including metal and metal oxides, cutting edge 2D/3D ENMs such as CNTs [carbon nanotubes] and graphene, nanocellulose, and advanced nanocomposites, [emphasis mine] coupled with innovative tools to assess the fate and transport of ENMs in biological systems, statistical and exposure assessment tools, and novel in vitro and in vivo platforms for nanotoxicology research.

“Our mission is to integrate material/exposure/chemical sciences and nanotoxicology-nanobiology   to facilitate assessment of potential risks from emerging nanomaterials.  In doing so, we are bringing together the material synthesis/applications and nanotoxicology communities and other stakeholders including industry,   policy makers and the general public to maximize innovation and growth and minimize environmental and public health risks from nanotechnology”, quoted by  Dr Philip Demokritou, …

This effort certainly falls in line with the current emphasis on interdisciplinary research and creating standards and protocols for researching the toxicology of engineered nanomaterials.

Canada’s Ingenuity Lab receives a $1.7M grant to develop oil recovery system for oil spills

A Sept. 15, 2016 news item on Benzinga.com describes the reasons for the $1.7M grant for Alberta’s (Canada) Ingenuity Lab to develop an oil spill recovery system,

Since 2010’s tragic events, which saw BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster desecrate the Gulf of Mexico, oil safety has been on the forefront of the environmental debate and media outrage. In line with the mounting concerns continuing to pique public attention, at the end of this month [Sept. 2016], Hollywood will release its own biopic of the event. As can be expected, more questions will be raised about what exactly went wrong, in addition to fresh criticism aimed at the entire industry.

One question that is likely to emerge is how do we prevent such a calamity from ever happening again? Fortunately, some of the brightest minds in science have been preparing for such an answer.

One team that has been focusing on this dilemma is Alberta-based, multi-disciplinary research initiative Ingenuity Lab. The institution has just secured $1.7m in project funding for developing a highly advanced system for recovering oil from oil spills. This injection of capital will enable Ingenuity Lab to conduct new research and develop commercial production processes for recovering heavy oil spills in marine environments. The technology is centred on cutting edge nanowire-based stimuli-responsive membranes and devices that are capable for recovering oil.

A Sept. 15, 2016 Ingenuity Lab news release on MarketWired, which originated the news item, provides more insight into the oil spill situation,

Oil is a common pollutant in our oceans; more than three million metric tonnes contaminate the sea each year. When crude oil is accidentally released into a body of water by an oil tanker, refinery, storage facility, underwater pipeline or offshore oil-drilling rig, it is an environmental emergency of the most urgent kind.

Depending on the location, oil spills can be highly hazardous, as well as environmentally destructive. Consequently, a timely clean up is absolutely crucial in order to protect the integrity of the water, the shoreline and the numerous creatures that depend on these habitats.

Due to increased scrutiny of the oil industry with regard to its unseemly environmental track record, attention must be focused on the development of new materials and technologies for removing organic contaminants from waterways. Simply put, existing methods are not sufficiently robust.

Fortuitously, however, nanotechnology has opened the door for the development of sophisticated new tools that use specifically designed materials with properties that are ideally suited to enable complex separations, including the separation of crude oil from water.

Ingenuity Lab’s project focuses on the efficient recovery of oil through the development of this novel technology using a variety of stimuli-responsive nanomaterials. When the time comes for scale up production for this technology, Ingenuity Lab will work closely with industry trendsetters, Tortech Nanofibers.

This project forms a strong element of the Oil Spill Response Science (OSRS), which is part of Canada’s world-class tanker safety system for Responsible Resource Development. Through this programme, the Canadian Government ensures that the country’s resource wealth can be safely developed and transported to market, thus creating new jobs and economic growth for all Canadians.

From a communications standpoint, the news release is well written and well strategized to underline the seriousness of the situation and to take advantage of renewed interest in the devastating (people’s lives were lost and environmental damage is still being assessed) 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico due to the upcoming movie titled, Deepwater Horizon. A little more information about the team (how many people, who’s leading the research, are there international and/or interprovincial collaborators?), plans for the research (have they already started? what work, if any, are they building on? what challenges are they facing?) and some technical details would have been welcome.

Regardless, it’s good to hear about this initiative and I wish them great success with it.

You can find our more about Ingenuity Lab here and Tortech Nanofibers here. Interestingly, Tortech is a joint venture between Israel’s Plasan Sasa and the UK’s Q-Flo. (Q-Flo is a spinoff from Cambridge University.) One more thing, Tortech Nanofibers produces materials made of carbon nanotubes (CNTs). Presumably Ingenuity’s “nanowire-based stimuli-responsive membranes” include carbon nanotubes.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (US) and five of its nanoscience projects

An Aug 3, 2016 Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory news release (also on Azonano as an Aug. 5, 2016 news item) features a selection of their nanoscience projects (Note: Links, embedded images, and embedded videos have been removed),

1. A DIY paint-on coating for energy efficient windows

This “cool” DIY retrofit tech could improve the energy efficiency of windows and save money. Researchers are developing a polymer-based heat-reflective coating that makes use of the unusual molecular architecture of a polymer.

It has the potential to be painted on windows at one-tenth the cost of current retrofit approaches. Window films on the market today reflect infrared solar energy back to the sky while allowing visible light to pass through, but a professional contractor is needed to install them. A low-cost option could significantly expand adoption and result in potential annual energy savings equivalent to taking 5 million cars off the road.

2. Nanowires that move data at light speed

Researchers have found a new way to produce nanoscale wires that can serve as tiny, tunable lasers. The excellent performance of these tiny lasers is promising for the field of optoelectronics, which is focused on combining electronics and light to transmit data, among other applications. Miniaturizing lasers to the nanoscale could further revolutionize computing, bringing light-speed data transmission to desktop, and ultimately, handheld computing devices.

3. Nano sponges that fight climate change

Scientists are developing nano sponges that could capture carbon from power plants before it enters the atmosphere. Initial tests show the hybrid membrane, composed of nano-sized cages (called metal-organic frameworks) and a polymer, is eight times more carbon dioxide permeable than membranes composed only of the polymer.

Boosting carbon dioxide permeability is a big goal in efforts to develop carbon capture materials that are energy efficient and cost competitive. Watch this video for more on this technology.

4. Custom-made chemical factories

Scientists have recently reengineered a building block of a nanocompartment that occurs naturally in bacteria, greatly expanding the potential of nanocompartments to serve as custom-made chemical factories. Researchers hope to tailor this new use to produce high-value chemical products, such as medicines, on demand

The sturdy nanocompartments are formed by hundreds of copies of just three different types of proteins. Their natural counterparts, known as bacterial microcompartments, encase a wide variety of enzymes that carry out highly specialized chemistry in bacteria.

5. Nanotubes that assemble themselves

Researchers have discovered a family of nature-inspired polymers that, when placed in water, spontaneously assemble into hollow crystalline nanotubes. What’s more, the nanotubes can be tuned to all have the same diameter of between five and ten nanometers.

Controlling the diameter of nanotubes, and the chemical groups exposed in their interior, enables scientists to control what goes through. Nanotubes have the potential to be incredibly useful, from delivering cancer-fighting drugs inside cells to desalinating seawater.

It’s nice to see projects grouped together like that as it gives you a bigger picture of what’s taking place at the lab than you’re likely to get reading news releases about individual projects and breakthroughs.

Berkeley Lab has also got an introductory video which does one of the best jobs I’ve seen of conveying the concept of the nanoscale,

H/t to Aug. 10, 2016 news item on Nanowerk for the Berkeley Lab’s ‘nano penny’ video.

Canada’s consultation on nanoscale forms of substances on the Domestic Substances List (DSL)

Yes, there’s a redundancy in the head but there doesn’t seem to be a way around it. Ah well, it seems about seven weeks after Peter Julian (Member of Parliament) introduced his bill in the Canadian House of Commons to regulate nanotechnology (Aug. 29, 2016 posting), Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and Health Canada (HC) have announced a consultation on nanoscale materials. From an Aug. 4, 2016 posting by Lynn L. Bergeson on Nanotechnology Now (Note: Links have been removed),

On July 27, 2016, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and Health Canada (HC) began a consultation on a proposed prioritization approach for nanoscale forms of substances on the Domestic Substances List (DSL). See http://www.ec.gc.ca/lcpe-cepa/default.asp?lang=En&n=FA3C8DBF-1 Canada will use the proposed approach to: (1) establish a list of existing nanomaterials in Canada for prioritization; (2) identify how the information available will be used to inform prioritization of nanomaterials for risk assessment; and (3) outline the proposed outcomes of the prioritization process. In 2015, Canada conducted a mandatory survey under Section 71 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA). The survey applied to persons who manufactured or imported any of 206 nanomaterials at a quantity greater than 100 kilograms (kg) during the 2014 calendar year. See http://www.ec.gc.ca/ese-ees/default.asp?lang=En&n=28ABBAC9-1%20-%20s1 Based on the results of the survey, ECCC and HC will prepare a final list of confirmed existing nanomaterials in Canada and will use the list for subsequent prioritization. ECCC and HC propose that, where possible, the substances identified via the survey be “rolled up into” their broader parent nanomaterial groups for the purposes of prioritization. According to ECCC and HC, this will allow, when possible, a more robust look at the hazard, volume, and use data as appropriate, rather than considering an individual substance-by-substance approach. ECCC and HC state that further consideration for sub-grouping (such as by use, unique property, or functionalization) may need to be considered for prioritization and/or risk assessment. …

You can find the Government of Canada’s 2015 Consultation Document: Proposed Approach to Address Nanoscale Forms of Substances on the Domestic Substances List page here, which set the stage for this prioritization exercise.

You can also find the Proposed prioritization approach for nanoscale forms of substances on the Domestic substances list page here where you’ll find information such as this,

Possible nanomaterial groupings, based on parent substance

Aluminum oxide
Iron (II)/(II/III) oxide
Modified silica
Bismuth oxide
Magnesium oxide
Silicon oxide
Calcium carbonate
Manganese (II & III) oxide
Silver
Cerium oxide
Nanocellulose
Titanium dioxide
Cobalt (II) oxide
Nanoclays
Yttrium oxide
Copper (II) oxide
Nickel (II) oxide
Zinc oxide
Gold
Quantum dots
Zirconium oxide

You can also find information on how to submit comments,

Stakeholders are invited to submit comments on the content of this consultation document and provide other information that would help inform decision making. Please submit comments to one of the addresses provided below by September 25, 2016 [emphasis mine]. ECCC and HC will respond to comments and adapt the proposed approach based on the feedback received on this document, as described in Section 1.2.

Comments on this consultation document can be submitted to one of the following addresses:

By Mail:
Environment and Climate Change Canada
Substances Management Information Line
Chemicals Management Plan
351 St. Joseph Boulevard
Gatineau, Québec
K1A 0H3

By Email:
eccc.substances.eccc@canada.ca
Please type “Consultation on Prioritization Approach for Nanomaterials” in the subject line of your message.

By Fax:
819-938-5212

Suddenly, there’s lots (relative to the last few years) of action on nanotechnology regulation in Canada.

Everything old is new again: Canadian Parliament holds first reading of another bill to regulate nanotechnlogy

Back in March 2010, Canadian New Democratic Party (NDP) Member of Parliament (MP) Peter Julian introduced a bill to regulate nanotechnology (Bill C-494) in Canada. The Conservative government was in power at the time. I can’t remember how many readings it received but it never did get passed into legislation. Now, Mr. Julian is trying again and, coincidentally or not, the Liberals are in power this time. A July 26, 2016 post by Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton for the National Law Review (Note: Links have been removed),

On June 8, 2016, the Canadian House of Commons held its first reading of an Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA) (nanotechnology) (C-287).  The bill would add Part 6.1 to CEPA primarily to implement procedures for the investigation and assessment of nanomaterials. …

The bill would define nanomaterial as any manufactured substance or product or any component material, ingredient, device or structure that:  (a) is within the nanoscale (one nanometer (nm) up to and including 100 nm), in at least one external dimension; or (b) if it is not within the nanoscale, exhibits one or more properties that are attributable to the size of a substance and size effects.  The bill mandates a risk assessment process to identify the potential benefits and possible risks of nanotechnologies before nanoproducts enter the market.  It would also create a national inventory regarding nanotechnology, including nanomaterials and nanoparticles, using information collected under CEPA Sections 46 and 71 and “any other information to which the Ministers have access.” On July 25, 2015, Canada published a notice announcing a mandatory survey under CEPA Section 71(1)(b) with respect to certain nanomaterials in Canadian commerce.  …

I do have a few observations about the proposed bill. First, it’s more specific than what we have in place now. As I understand current CEPA regulations, they do not cover materials at the nanoscale which are already imported and/or produced at the macroscale and are considered safe, e.g. titanium dioxide. It is assumed that if they’re safe at the macroscale, they will be safe at the nanoscale. I gather this bill is designed to change that status.

Second, there is no mention in Julian’s press release (text to follow) of the joint Canada-United States Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC) Nanotechnology Initiative which was designed to harmonize US and Canadian regulatory approaches to nanotechnology. Would bill C-287 introduce less harmony or was it designed to harmonize our approaches?

Third, I don’t see a big problem with the idea of an inventory, the issue is always implementation.

Finally, it appears that this bill means more bureaucrats or computerized systems and I’m not sure it addresses the problem that I believe it is trying to address: how to deal with uncertainty about the risks and hazards of an emerging technology while meeting demands for economic progress.

Very finally, here’s Peter Julian’s June 8, 2016 press release,

Julian’s bill to include Nanotechnology under Environmental Protection Act

You can watch the video here: https://peterjulian.ca/Introduction_of_Private_Member_Bill_C287_An_Act_t…

OTTAWA – Today [June 8, 2016], Peter Julian, MP (New Westminster-Burnaby) re-introduced Bill C-287 in the House of Commons, which aims to include a framework that would regulate nanotechnology in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

“I first introduced this Bill in 2010. I am pleased to see that some of the aspects of this Bill are being considered by Health Canada and Environment Canada, such as the development of a registry for nanomaterials in commerce and use in Canada. However, there is much more that needs to be done to ensure the responsible use of nanotechnologies in Canada”, said Julian.

Nanotechnology is the application of science and technology to manipulate matter at the atomic or molecular level. Nanomaterials are any ingredient, device, or structure that is between 1 and 100 nm. These materials are present in more than 1000 consumer products, including food and cosmetics. The increasing proliferation of nanoproducts has not been met with an adequate regulatory framework.

Julian’s Bill C-287 would establish a balanced approach ensuring the responsible development of nanotechnology and the safe use off nanomaterials in Canada. The Bill mandates a risk assessment process to identify the potential benefits and possible risks of nanotechnologies before nanoproducts enter the market. It would also require a comprehensive, publicly accessible database that lists existing nanomaterials identified by the Government of Canada.

“While nanotechnology can be very beneficial to people, there are certain risks to it as well. We must identify and mitigate possible risks to better protect the environment and human health before they become an issue. Canada must ensure our regulatory processes ensure nanomaterial safety before the introduction of these substances in Canada”, said Julian.

I’m including links to my 2010 email interview with Peter Julian (published in three parts),

March 24, 2010 (Part one)

March 25, 2010 (Part two)

March 26, 2010 (Part three)

I also covered a hearing on nanomaterials and safety held by the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Health on June 10, 2010 in a June 23, 2010 posting.

Two nano workshops precede OpenTox Euro conference

The main conference OpenTox Euro is focused on novel materials and it’s being preceded by two nano workshops. All of of these events will be taking place in Germany in Oct. 2016. From an Aug. 11, 2016 posting by Lynn L. Bergeson on Nanotechnology Now,

The OpenTox Euro Conference, “Integrating Scientific Evidence Supporting Risk Assessment and Safer Design of Novel Substances,” will be held October 26-28, 2016. … The current topics for the Conference include: (1) computational modeling of mechanisms at the nanoscale; (2) translational bioinformatics applied to safety assessment; (3) advances in cheminformatics; (4) interoperability in action; (5) development and application of adverse outcome pathways; (6) open science applications showcase; (7) toxicokinetics and extrapolation; and (8) risk assessment.

On Oct. 24, 2016, two days before OpenTox Euro, the EU-US Nano EHS [Environmental Health and Safety] 2016 workshop will be held in Germany. The theme is: ‘Enabling a Sustainable Harmonised Knowledge Infrastructure supporting Nano Environmental and Health Safety Assessment’ and the objectives are,

The objective of the workshop is to facilitate networking, knowledge sharing and idea development on the requirements and implementation of a sustainable knowledge infrastructure for Nano Environmental and Health Safety Assessment and Communications. The infrastructure should support the needs required by different stakeholders including scientific researchers, industry, regulators, workers and consumers.

The workshop will also identify funding opportunities and financial models within and beyond current international and national programs. Specifically, the workshop will facilitate active discussions but also identify potential partners for future EU-US cooperation on the development of knowledge infrastructure in the NanoEHS field. Advances in the Nano Safety harmonisation process, including developing an ongoing working consensus on data management and ontology, will be discussed:

– Information needs of stakeholders and applications
– Data collection and management in the area of NanoEHS
– Developments in ontologies supporting NanoEHS goals
– Harmonisation efforts between EU and US programs
– Identify practice and infrastructure gaps and possible solutions
– Identify needs and solutions for different stakeholders
– Propose an overarching sustainable solution for the market and society

The presentations will be focused on the current efforts and concrete achievements within EU and US initiatives and their potential elaboration and extension.

The second workshop is being held by the eNanoMapper (ENM) project on Oct. 25, 2016 and concerns Nano Modelling. The objectives and workshop sessions are:

1. Give the opportunity to research groups working on computational nanotoxicology to disseminate their modelling tools based on hands-on examples and exercises
2. Present a collection of modelling tools that can span the entire lifecycle of nanotox research, starting from the design of experiments until use of models for risk assessment in biological and environmental systems.
3. Engage the workshop participants in using different modelling tools and motivate them to contribute and share their knowledge.

Indicative workshop sessions

• Preparation of datasets to be used for modelling and risk assessment
• Ontologies and databases
• Computation of theoretical descriptors
• NanoQSAR Modelling
• Ab-initio modelling
• Mechanistic modelling
• Modelling based on Omics data
• Filling data gaps-Read Across
• Risk assessment
• Experimental design

We would encourage research teams that have developed tools in the areas of computational nanotoxicology and risk assessment to demonstrate their tools in this workshop.

That’s going to be a very full week in Germany.

You can register for OpenTox Euro and more here.

Peruvian scientist Marino Morikawa nanoremediates wetlands

Peru’s El Cascajo Lake has undergone a successful nanotechology-enabled remediation technique developed by scientist Marino Morikawa and which he hopes can be used to clean up Lake Titicaca according to a July 6, 2016 news item on news.co.cr,

Peruvian scientist Marino Morikawa, who “revived” polluted wetlands in 15 days using nanotechnology, now plans to try to clean up Lake Titicaca and the Huacachina lagoon, an oasis in the middle of the desert.

El Cascajo, an ecosystem of roughly 50 hectares (123 acres) in Chancay district, located north of Lima, began its recovery in 2010 with two inventions that Morikawa came up with using his own resources and money.

The idea of restoring the wetlands came from a call from Morikawa’s father, who told the scientist that El Cascajo, where they used to go fishing when Marino was a child, “was in very bad condition,” Morikawa told EFE.

Marino Morikawa, who earned a degree in environmental science from Japan’s Tsukuba University, visited the wetlands and found a dump for sewage ringed by an illegal landfill where migratory birds fed.

The stinky swamp was covered by aquatic plants, Morikawa said.

The fifteen day timeline for the cleanup seems to be contradicted in this June 22, 2014 article by Rosana Pinheiro for Agencia Plano (a Latin American news portal) describes the situation at Lake El Cascajo and the nanotechnology in more detail,

Peruvian scientist Marino Morikawa created a cleanse system using nanobubbles to decontaminate lake El Cascajo, located at Chancay district, north of Lima, Peru’s capital. After nearly four years of the start of the project, 90% of the lake waters are recovered, and the place is now visited once again by at least 70 species of migratory birds.

The lake was once home to more than a thousand species of migratory birds in the 1990s. …

The [nanotechnology-enabled] treatment is done with tiny bubbles, the nanobubbles, a thousand times smaller than the ones we can see in a glass of soda. These bubbles attract bacteria and metals using static charge and then decompose, releasing free radicals which destroy viruses present in water. The process has been recognized by the Commission of Science, Technology and Innovation of the Peruvian Congress.

Biofilters were also deployed to ease the cleaning process of the water. Morikawa divided the wetland area with pieces of bamboo, creating sectors to order the withdrawal of the aquatic weeds.

… At the beginning, in December 2010, he worked alone, making daily visits to the region to develop the project. After some time, he started receiving help from friends, local population and local government.

A few months after the beginning of the treatment, it was possible to see that El Cascajo waters were more crystalline. However, it was only in January 2013 that “a miracle happened” as Morikawa says: Thousands of migratory birds returned to the lake and occupied about 70% of the area, forming a white cover around the water.

Whether this took fifteen days or several months seems less important than the remediation of the wetlands, Lake El Cascajo, the return of the birds, and a better functioning ecosystem. Let’s hope the same success can be enjoyed at Lake Titicaca.

There are more details in both pieces which I encourage you to read in their entirety.

Dual purpose: loofah and battery?

Sadly, the proposed batteries are not dual purpose although they are based on loofah material. From a June 15, 2016 news item on phys.org,

Today’s mobile lifestyle depends on rechargeable lithium batteries. But to take these storage devices to the next level—to shore up the electric grid or for widespread use in vehicles, for example—they need a big boost in capacity. To get lithium batteries up to snuff for more ambitious applications, researchers report in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces a new solution that involves low-cost, renewable loofah sponges.

A June 15, 2016 American Chemical Society press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

The lithium-ion batteries that power most of our devices still have some room for improvement. But some experts predict that even when these batteries are fully optimized, they still will not be able to meet the power needs for larger-scale applications, such as taking a car 500 miles on one charge. Scientists looking to go beyond lithium-ion have turned to lithium-sulfur and other options. But a major challenge to commercializing these technologies remains: The cathodes crumble over time, leading to progressively lower capacity. Shanqing Zhang, Yanglong Hou, Li-Min Liu and colleagues wanted to find a way to stabilize these alternatives.

The researchers developed a “blocking” layer of highly conductive, porous carbon derived from a loofah sponge. The loofah-derived membrane helped prevent the cathode from dissolving in lithium-sulfur, lithium-selenium and lithium-iodine batteries — and all three types performed well consistently over 500 to 5,000 cycles. The loofah sponge carbon could be the advance needed to move these batteries forward in a low-cost, sustainable way, the researchers say.

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

Multifunctional Nitrogen-Doped Loofah Sponge Carbon Blocking Layer for High-Performance Rechargeable Lithium Batteries by Xingxing Gui, Chuan-Jia Tong, Sarish Rehman, Li-Min Liu, Yanglong Hou, and Shanqing Zhang. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/acsami.6b02378 Publication Date (Web): June 02, 2016

Copyright © 2016 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

The researchers have made an image illustrating the work available,

Courtesy American Chemical Society

Courtesy American Chemical Society

Here’s one final bit from the press release,

The authors acknowledge funding from the Australian Research Council, the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the Ministry of Education of China.

Funding sources can be very interesting and this adds confirmation of China’s focus on the environment and sustainability.

Oil spill cleanups with supergelators

Researchers in Singapore have proposed a new technology for cleaning up oil spills, according to a June 17, 2016 news item on Nanowerk,

Large-scale oil spills, where hundreds of tons of petroleum products are accidentally released into the oceans, not only have devastating effects on the environment, but have significant socio-economic impact as well [1].

Current techniques of cleaning up oil spills are not very efficient and may even cause further pollution or damage to the environment. These methods, which include the use of toxic detergent-like compounds called dispersants or burning of the oil slick, result in incomplete removal of the oil. The oil molecules remain in the water over long periods and may even be spread over a larger area as they are carried by wind and waves. Further, burning can only be applied to fresh oil slicks of at least 3 millimeters thick, and this process would also cause secondary environmental pollution.

In a bid to improve the technology utilized by cleanup crews to manage and contain such large spills, researchers from the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) of A*STAR [located in Singapore] have invented a smart oil-scavenging material or supergelators that could help clean up oil spills efficiently and rapidly to prevent secondary pollution.

These supergelators are derived from highly soluble small organic molecules, which instantly self-assemble into nanofibers to form a 3D net that traps the oil molecules so that they can be removed easily from the surface of the water.

A June 17, 2016 IBN A*STAR media release, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

“Marine oil spills have a disastrous impact on the environment and marine life, and result in an enormous economic burden on society. Our rapid-acting supergelators offer an effective cleanup solution that can help to contain the severe environmental damage and impact of such incidents in the future,” said IBN Executive Director Professor Jackie Y. Ying.

Motivated by the urgent need for a more effective oil spill control solution, the IBN researchers developed new compounds that dissolve easily in environmentally friendly solvents and gel rapidly upon contact with oil. The supergelator molecules arrange themselves into a 3D network, entangling the oil molecules into clumps that can then be easily skimmed off the water’s surface.

“The most interesting and useful characteristic of our molecules is their ability to stack themselves on top of each other. These stacked columns allow our researchers to create and test different molecular constructions, while finding the best structure that will yield the desired properties,” said IBN Team Leader and Principal Research Scientist Dr Huaqiang Zeng. (Animation: Click to see how the supergelators stack themselves into columns.)

IBN’s supergelators have been tested on various types of weathered and unweathered crude oil in seawater, and have been found to be effective in solidifying all of them. The supergelators take only minutes to solidify the oil at room temperature for easy removal from water. In addition, tests carried out by the research team showed that the supergelator was not toxic to human cells, as well as zebrafish embryos and larvae. The researchers believe that these qualities would make the supergelators suitable for use in large oil spill areas.

The Institute is looking for industrial partners to further develop its technology for commercial use. [emphasis mine]

Video: Click to watch the supergelators in action

  1. The well documented BP Gulf of Mexico oil well accident in 2010 was a catastrophe on an unprecedented scale, with damages amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars. Its wide-ranging effects on the marine ecosystem, as well as the fishing and tourism industries, can still be felt six years on.

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

Instant Room-Temperature Gelation of Crude Oil by Chiral Organogelators by Changliang Ren, Grace Hwee Boon Ng, Hong Wu, Kiat-Hwa Chan, Jie Shen, Cathleen Teh, Jackie Y. Ying, and Huaqiang Zeng. Chem. Mater., 2016, 28 (11), pp 4001–4008 DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemmater.6b01367 Publication Date (Web): May 10, 2016

Copyright © 2016 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

I have featured other nanotechnology-enabled oil spill cleanup solutions here. One of the more recent pieces is my Dec. 7, 2015 post about boron nitride sponges. The search terms: ‘oil spill’ and ‘oil spill cleanup’ will help you unearth more.

There have been some promising possibilities and I hope one day these clean up technologies will be brought to market.