Category Archives: mining

Hector Barron Escobar and his virtual nanomaterial atomic models for the oil, mining, and energy industries

I think there’s some machine translation at work in the Aug. 27, 2015 news item about Hector Barron Escobar on Azonano,

By using supercomputers the team creates virtual atomic models that interact under different conditions before being taken to the real world, allowing savings in time and money.

With the goal of potentiate the oil, mining and energy industries, as well as counteract the emission of greenhouse gases, the nanotechnologist Hector Barron Escobar, designs more efficient and profitable nanomaterials.

The Mexican who lives in Australia studies the physical and chemical properties of platinum and palladium, metal with excellent catalytic properties that improve processes in petrochemistry, solar cells and fuel cells, which because of their scarcity have a high and unprofitable price, hence the need to analyze their properties and make them long lasting.

Structured materials that the specialist in nanotechnology designs can be implemented in the petrochemical and automotive industries. In the first, they accelerate reactions in the production of hydrocarbons, and in the second, nanomaterials are placed in catalytic converters of vehicles to transform the pollutants emitted by combustion into less harmful waste.

An August 26, 2015 Investigación y Desarrollo press release on Alpha Galileo, which originated the news item, continues Barron Escobar’s profile,

PhD Barron Escobar, who majored in physics at the National University of Mexico (UNAM), says that this are created by using virtual supercomputers to interact with atomic models under different conditions before being taken to the real world.

Barron recounts how he came to Australia with an invitation of his doctoral advisor, Amanda Partner with whom he analyzed the electronic properties of gold in the United States.

He explains that using computer models in the Virtual Nanoscience Laboratory (VNLab) in Australia, he creates nanoparticles that interact in different environmental conditions such as temperature and pressure. He also analyzes their mechanical and electronic properties, which provide specific information about behavior and gives the best working conditions. Together, these data serve to establish appropriate patterns or trends in a particular application.

The work of the research team serves as a guide for experts from the University of New South Wales in Australia, with which they cooperate, to build nanoparticles with specific functions. “This way we perform virtual experiments, saving time, money and offer the type of material conditions and ideal size for a specific catalytic reaction, which by the traditional way would cost a lot of money trying to find what is the right substance” Barron Escobar comments.

Currently he designs nanomaterials for the mining company Orica, because in this industry explosives need to be controlled in order to avoid damaging the minerals or the environment.

Research is also immersed in the creation of fuel cells, with the use of the catalysts designed by Barron is possible to produce more electricity without polluting.

Additionally, they enhance the effectiveness of catalytic converters in petrochemistry, where these materials help accelerate oxidation processes of hydrogen and carbon, which are present in all chemical reactions when fuel and gasoline are created. “We can identify the ideal particles for improving this type of reactions.”

The nanotechnology specialist also seeks to analyze the catalytic properties of bimetallic materials like titanium, ruthenium and gold, as their reaction according to size, shape and its components.

Escobar Barron chose to study nanomaterials because it is interesting to see how matter at the nano level completely changes its properties: at large scale it has a definite color, but keep another at a nanoscale, besides many applications can be obtained with these metals.

For anyone interested in Orica, there’s more here on their website; as for Dr. Hector Barron Escobar, there’s this webpage on  Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) website.

Gold detection down to the nanoparticle?

It appears that detecting gold, presumably for mining purposes, isn’t as easy as one might think especially at the nanoscale. Researchers at Australia’s University of Adelaide have devised a new method according to an April 29, 2015 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

University of Adelaide researchers are developing a portable, highly sensitive method for gold detection that would allow mineral exploration companies to test for gold on-site at the drilling rig.

Using light in two different processes (fluorescence and absorption), the researchers from the University’s Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS), have been able to detect gold nanoparticles at detection limits 100 times lower than achievable under current methods.

An April 29, 2015 University of Adelaide news release details Australia’s interest in gold and offers a high level explanation of the need for better gold detection (Note: Links have been removed),

Australia is the world’s second largest gold producer, worth $13 billion in export earnings.

“Gold is not just used for jewellery, it is in high demand for electronics and medical applications around the world, but exploration for gold is extremely challenging with a desire to detect very low concentrations of gold in host rocks,” says postdoctoral researcher Dr Agnieszka Zuber, working on the project with Associate Professor Heike Ebendorff-Heidepriem.

“The presence of gold deep underground is estimated by analysis of rock particles coming out of the drilling holes. But current portable methods for detection are not sensitive enough, and the more sensitive methods require some weeks before results are available.

“This easy-to-use sensor will allow fast detection right at the drill rig with the amount of gold determined within an hour, at much lower cost.”

The researchers have been able to detect less than 100 parts per billion of gold in water. They are now testing using samples of real rock with initial promising results. The work is funded by the Deep Exploration Technologies Cooperative Research Centre.

The gold detection project is one of a series of projects which will be presented at the IPAS Minerals and Energy Sector Workshop today [April 29, 2015], aimed at linking resources specific research to local companies.

You can find out more about the University of Adelaide’s Institute of Photonics and Advanced Sensing here.

Investment in graphene (Grafoid), the Canadian government, and a 2015 federal election

The federal government of Canada is facing an election this year and many analysts believe it will be held in October 2015. Interestingly, there have been a few recent announcements about funding, also referred to as contributions, for technology companies in the provinces of Ontario and Québec. (You need to win at least one of these provinces if you want to enjoy a majority government.) My Cellulose nanocrystals (CNC), also known as nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC), and toxicity; some Celluforce news; anti-petroleum extremists posted on Feb. 19, 2015 includes my observations (scroll down past the toxicity topic) about the government’s ‘clean technology’ promotional efforts and the rebranding of environmentalism into an ‘anti-petroleum’ movement.

This latest announcement about a ‘non-repayable grant’ is to be found in a Feb. 20, 2015 news item on Azonano,

The Hon. Greg Rickford, Minister of Natural Resources and Minister Responsible for Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) announced today the award of $8.1 million to Grafoid Inc. – Canada’s leading graphene technologies and applications developer – to automate Grafoid’s production of its low-cost, high-purity MesoGraf™ graphene.

“Our government is investing in advanced clean energy technologies that create well-paying jobs and generate economic opportunities. Today’s announcement contributes to economic prosperity and a cleaner environment in Ontario and across Canada,” said Mr. Rickford, who is also the Minister Responsible for Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario.

The contribution from SDTC is an $8.1 million non-repayable grant to design and test the automation system for the production of constant quality MesoGraf™. Further, the grant enables the testing of pre-commercial products using MesoGraf™ graphene from the automated system.

The minister announced the funding at a news conference in Toronto attended by Grafoid and five other Canadian non graphene-related technology companies.

Ottawa-based [Ottawa is in the province of Ontario] Grafoid, the developer of a diverse range of renewable energy, industrial, military and consumer applications from its MesoGraf™ materials is the first Canadian graphene technologies developer to partner with the Canadian Government.

A Feb. 20, 2015 Grafoid news release on, which originated the news item, describes how this makes Canada like other constituencies and gives a bit more detail about the company and its aims,

Canada joins the European Union, the United States, China and South Korea in providing funding assistance to privately-held graphene enterprises.

Grafoid Founding Partner and CEO Gary Economo praised Canada’s decision to stake its claim in the graphene space as the world races toward the commercialization of a potentially disruptive, pan-industrial nanomaterial.

“This is a great day for the Canadian graphene industry and for Grafoid, in particular, because it leads us out of the laboratory and into the automated manufacturing of the world’s new wonder material,” he told the news conference.

“Effectively, today’s $8.1million Federal government funding grant enables us to take a giant leap towards graphene’s broader commercialization,” Mr. Economo said. “It will permit us to increase MesoGraf™ production output from kilograms to tonnes within our global technology centre in Kingston, Ontario.

“For this we are truly appreciative of Canada’s actions in recognizing our science and commercial objectives. In the past three years Grafoid has travelled the globe staking our unique position in the graphene revolution. Today we are gratified to do this going forward with the Government of Canada,” Mr. Economo said.

Grafoid produces MesoGraf™ directly from high-grade graphite ore on a safe, economically scalable, environmentally sustainable basis. Its patent pending one-step process is unique in the industry, producing single layer, bi-layer and tri-layer graphene.

It is then adapted – or functionalized – by Grafoid for use in biomedical, renewable energy storage and production, military, aerospace and automotive, additive materials for 3D printing, water purification, construction, lubricants, solar solutions, coatings, sporting equipment and other sectoral applications.

At one atom thin, graphene is a two-dimensional pure carbon derived from graphite.

It is the strongest material known to science, is barely visible to the naked eye, yet it holds the potential to become a disruptive technology across all industrial sectors and ultimately, for the benefit of humanity.

Grafoid’s Game-Changing Process

Grafoid’s unique graphite ore-to-graphene process produces a material that eliminates cost barriers to graphene’s broad commercialization in a number of industries, some of which include building materials, automotive, aerospace, military, biomedical, renewable energy and sporting equipment.

In order to bring those application developments to market Grafoid’s partners require a scaling up of MesoGraf™ production to supply their needs for pre-production development testing and commercial production, and; the expansion of Grafoid’s research and development.

The automation of bulk MesoGraf™ graphene production is a global first. Uniformity and consistency are critical to the development of mass produced commercial applications.

One of the company’s first-to-market MesoGraf™ developments is in the renewable energy storage and power generation sectors. The market for quick charge long-life batteries is vast, and growing.

Hydro-Quebec – one of the world’s premier patent holders and suppliers of renewable energy technologies – is one of Grafoid’s first long-term sustainable technology development partners. [emphasis mine]

Within six months of development, multiple patents were filed and initial tests of the joint venture’s MesoGraf™ lithium-iron phosphate materials resulted in extreme gains in power performance over conventional batteries.

Grafoid’s corporate goal is not to simply be a graphene supplier but a global partner in commercial application development. With the ability to ramp up graphene output the company’s long-term financial prospects are secured from royalties and licensing fees from jointly developed technologies.

Competitive cost advantages built into an automated MesoGraf™ graphene production regime results in anticipated cost advantages to customers and licensees.

The Hydro-Québec deal with Grafoid was mentioned here in a Nov. 27, 2012 posting which includes this nugget,

There’s also the announcement of a joint venture between Grafoid (a company where, I believe, 40% is owned by Focus Graphite) with the University of Waterloo, from the Apr. 17, 2013 news item on Azonano,

Focus Graphite Inc. on behalf of Grafoid Inc. (“Grafoid”) is pleased to announce the signing of a two-year R&D agreement between Grafoid Inc. and the University of Waterloo to investigate and develop a graphene-based composite for electrochemical energy storage for the automotive and/or portable electronics sectors.

Given the company information included in the news release, there seems to have been a change in the corporate relationship between Grafoid and Focus Graphite. At the very least, Grafoid announcements are now generated by Grafoid itself,

About Grafoid Inc.

Incorporated in late 2011, Grafoid invested in a novel process that transforms raw, unprocessed, high grade graphite ore from its sister company, Focus Graphite to produce single layer, bi-layer and tri-layer MesoGraf™ graphene.

Today, Grafoid, a private company, sits as Canada’s innovation leader and standard-bearer in the global graphene technology space.

The company’s diverse commercial application developments include more than 15 global corporate partnerships – including Fortune 500 companies.

With 17 active projects under development with 11 universities and laboratories, and; some 64 patent applications filed or in development, Grafoid’s business goes beyond scientific R&D.

Grafoid’s Canadian-developed technologies are exported globally.

During the last three years Grafoid has experienced exponential growth as a global enterprise through joint-venture partnerships with Hydro-Quebec, Japan’s Mitsui & Company and other multinational corporations in the United States and Europe.

Grafoid’s wholly-owned subsidiaries Alcereco of Kingston, Ontario and Braille Battery, of Sarasota, Florida extend the company’s capabilities into graphene related material science and nano-engineering.

Braille is a world leader in ultra lightweight Lithium-ion high performance battery production and is a supplier to Formula 1, NASCAR and IndyCar racing vehicles.

The sister company, Focus Graphite also based in Ottawa, which provides Grafoid’s graphite flakes, owns a deposit in the northeastern part of Québec. (You can read more about graphite deposits and mines in my Feb. 20, 2015 post, NanoXplore: graphene and graphite in Québec (Canada).

Of course, this flurry of announcements may point to a Spring 2015 election.

NanoXplore: graphene and graphite in Québec (Canada)

For the second time this week I’m going to be mentioning the province of Québec (Canada) in relation to its ‘nanotechnology’ businesses (see: Cellulose nanocrystals (CNC), also known as nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC), and toxicity; some Celluforce news; anti-petroleum extremists posted on Feb. 19, 2015). A Feb. 20, 2015 news item on Azonano announces a graphene production facility in the Montréal area,

Group NanoXplore Inc., a Montreal-based company specialising in the production and application of graphene and its derivative materials, announced today that its graphene production facility is in full operation with a capacity of 3 metric tonnes per year. This is the largest graphene production capacity in Canada and, outside of China, one of the 5 largest in the world.

A Feb. 19, 2015 NanoXplore news release on MarketWire, which originated the news item, provides a bit more detail in amidst the promotional hype,

NanoXplore’s production process is unique and the core of the company’s competitive advantage. The proprietary process gently and efficiently creates pristine graphene from natural flake graphite without creating the crystalline defects that can limit performance. The process also functionalises the graphene material during production making subsequent mixing with a broad range of industrial materials simple and efficient. NanoXplore’s facility is routinely producing several standard grades of graphene as well as derivative products such as a unique graphite-graphene composite suitable for anodes in Li-ion batteries. [emphasis mine]

Another graphite connection in Québec

Interestingly, back in 2012 Hydro-Québec signed a deal with another Québec-based company, Focus Graphite (which owns a graphite deposit in the northeastern part of the province) to explore ways to produce more efficient lithium-ion batteries (my Nov 27, 2012 posting).

Getting back to the news release, it also provides a summary description of NanoXplore,

NanoXplore is a privately held advanced materials company focused on the large-scale production of high quality graphene and the integration of graphene into real world industrial products. NanoXplore achieves significant improvements in performance for its customers with very low levels of graphene because its material is of high quality (few defects, highly dispersible), because the production process can easily tune the dimensions of the graphene platelets, and because NanoXplore has specific expertise in dispersing graphene in a broad range of industrial materials. NanoXplore partners with its customers to integrate graphene into their products and processes, providing them with innovative products and a strong competitive advantage.

Graphite mines

NanoXplore, too, has some sort of relationship with a graphite mine or, in this case mining company, Mason Graphite (from the NanoXplore website’s Investors’ page),


Partnered with Canadian mining company Mason Graphite, NanoXplore has access to lower quartile graphite/graphene production costs as well as a stable, long term, large flake source of raw material. Local government bodies have embraced the graphite-graphene cluster. With production and R&D centrally located in Montreal, NanoXplore offers world class innovation and true intellectual property safety for its formulation partners.

By the way, Benoit Gascon, NanoXplore’s board chair (scroll down to the bottom  of the team list) is also Mason Graphite’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO). The company has recently announced a detailed study on large-scale production of value-added graphite products (from a Feb. 11, 2015 Mason Graphite news release),

Mason Graphite Inc. (“Mason Graphite” or the “Company”) (TSX VENTURE:LLG)(OTCQX:MGPHF) announces that it has initiated a detailed study for large scale processing of value-added graphite products.

Value-added processing includes micronization, additional purification, spheronization and coating, resulting in graphite products that are suitable for a wide range of electrochemical applications (including alkaline batteries, lithium-ion batteries and fuel cells), technical applications (including carbon brushes, brake linings, plastics and lubricants), and other specialized uses.

The development and validation of the fabrication processes for these graphite products will be carried out by the National Research Council of Canada (“NRC”) along with Hatch, and is expected to conclude by the end of 2015. Following initial scoping work, equipment trials and product testing, the Company intends to provide preliminary results and an updated work program by mid-2015.

The NRC is the Government of Canada’s premier research and technology organization. Hatch is an engineering firm located in Montreal which is already working closely with Mason Graphite on the development of the Lac Gueret Graphite Project.

Other parts of Canada and the graphite/graphene enterprise

NanoXplore and Focus Graphite are not the only companies with connections to a graphite mine in Québec. There’s also Vancouver (Canada)-based Lomiko Metals (mentioned here in an April 17, 2013 posting [for the first time]. A. Paul Gill, Lomiko’s CEO, seems to be pursuing a similar business strategy in that Lomiko, too, has a number of business alliances, e.g., the mine, a research and development laboratory, etc. Moving out of Québec, there is also a graphite mine in Ontario owned by Northern Graphite (my Feb. 6, 2012 posting). It seems Canadians in eastern Canada have a valuable resource in graphite flakes.

Poopy gold, silver, platinum, and more

In the future, gold rushes could occur in sewage plants. Precious metals have been found in large quantity by researchers investigating waste and the passage of nanoparticles (gold, silver, platinum, etc.) into our water. From a Jan. 29, 2015 news article by Adele Peters for Fast Company (Note: Links have been removed),

One unlikely potential source of gold, silver, platinum, and other metals: Sewage sludge. A new study estimates that in a city of a million people, $13 million of metals could be collecting in sewage every year, or $280 per ton of sludge. There’s gold (and silver, copper, and platinum) in them thar poop.

Funded in part by a grant for “nano-prospecting,” the researchers looked at a huge sample of sewage from cities across the U.S., and then studied several specific waste treatment plants. “Initially we thought gold was at just one or two hotspots, but we find it even in smaller wastewater treatment plants,” says Paul Westerhoff, an engineering professor at Arizona State University, who led the new study.

Some of the metals likely come from a variety of sources—we may ingest tiny particles of silver, for example, when we eat with silverware or when we drink water from pipes that have silver alloys. Medical diagnostic tools often use gold or silver. …

The metallic particles Peters is describing are nanoparticles some of which are naturally occurring  as she notes but, increasingly, we are dealing with engineered nanoparticles making their way into the environment.

Engineered or naturally occurring, a shocking quantity of these metallic nanoparticles can be found in our sewage. For example, a waste treatment centre in Japan recorded 1,890 grammes of gold per tonne of ash from incinerated sludge as compared to the 20 – 40 grammes of gold per tonne of ore recovered from one of the world’s top producing gold mines (Miho Yoshikawa’s Jan. 30, 2009 article for Reuters).

While finding it is one thing, extracting it is going to be something else as Paul Westerhoff notes in Peters’ article. For the curious, here’s a link to and a citation for the research paper,

Characterization, Recovery Opportunities, and Valuation of Metals in Municipal Sludges from U.S. Wastewater Treatment Plants Nationwide by Paul Westerhoff, Sungyun Lee, Yu Yang, Gwyneth W. Gordon, Kiril Hristovski, Rolf U. Halden, and Pierre Herckes. Environ. Sci. Technol., Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/es505329q Publication Date (Web): January 12, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

On a completely other topic, this is the first time I’ve noticed this type of note prepended to an abstract,


This article published January 26, 2015 with errors throughout the text. The corrected version published January 27, 2015.

Getting back to the topic at hand, I checked into nano-prospecting and found this Sept. 19, 2013 Arizona State University news release describing the project launch,

Growing use of nanomaterials in manufactured products is heightening concerns about their potential environmental impact – particularly in water resources.

Tiny amounts of materials such as silver, titanium, silica and platinum are being used in fabrics, clothing, shampoos, toothpastes, tennis racquets and even food products to provide antibacterial protection, self-cleaning capability, food texture and other benefits.

Nanomaterials are also put into industrial polishing agents and catalysts, and are released into the environment when used.

As more of these products are used and disposed of, increasing amounts of the nanomaterials are accumulating in soils, waterways and water-systems facilities. That’s prompting efforts to devise more effective ways of monitoring the movement of the materials and assessing their potential threat to environmental safety and human health.

Three Arizona State University faculty members will lead a research project to help improve methods of gathering accurate information about the fate of the materials and predicting when, where and how they may pose a hazard.

Their “nanoprospecting” endeavor is supported by a recently awarded $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

You can find out more about Paul Westerhoff and his work here.

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

Mining uranium from the ocean

We are running short of uranium as terrestrial mining of this element has become more hazardous environmentally. A July 18, 2014 news item on Azonano highlights an ‘ocean mining’ uranium project at the University of Alabama (US),

The U.S. Department of Energy [DOE] selected a University of Alabama [UA] start-up company for an approximate $1.5 million award to refine an alternative material to potentially extract uranium from the ocean.

Uranium, which naturally occurs in seawater and in the Earth’s crust, is the fuel for nuclear power. For decades, scientists have sought a more economical and efficient way to remove it from the ocean, as the terrestrial supply is dwindling and environmentally unfriendly to mine.

A July 17, 2014 University of Alabama news release, which originated the news item, describe the University of Alabama’s unique approach to the problem of extracting uranium from the ocean (Note: A link has been removed),

“Every scientist in the world, except us, who is trying to do this is working with plastics,” said Dr. Gabriela Gurau, a chemist and CEO of the UA-based company, 525 Solutions.

Instead, the UA company is developing an adsorbent, biodegradable material made from the compound chitin, which is found in shrimp shells and in other crustaceans and insects. The researchers have developed transparent sheets, or mats, comprised of tiny chitin fibers, modified for the task. When suspended beneath the ocean’s surface, the mats are designed to withdraw uranium.

“Once you put it in the ocean, it will attract uranium like a magnet, and uranium will stick to it,” said Gurau, a University of Alabama alumna.

If one day implemented, the mats, with uranium attached, would be taken to an industrial plant where the nuclear fuel source would be removed.

Earlier work led by Dr. Robin Rogers, Robert Ramsay Chair of Chemistry at UA and director of UA’s Center for Green Manufacturing, initially proved the concept for extracting uranium using chitin. Rogers is an owner/founder of 525 Solutions and serves as a scientific adviser to the company’s representatives.

“The oceans are estimated to contain more than a thousand times the amount of uranium found in total in any known land deposit,” Rogers said. “Fortunately, the concentration of uranium in the ocean is very, very low, but the volume of the oceans is, of course, very, very high. Assuming we could recover only half of this resource, this much uranium could support 6,500 years of nuclear capacity.”

Removing chitin, in a pure form, from shells had previously proven difficult, but Rogers and his UA colleagues discovered a way to use a relatively new class of solvents, called ionic liquids, for removal. Ionic liquids are liquid salts which have other unique and desirable properties that traditional solvents do not. Rogers is recognized as a world-leader in the field of  ionic liquids.

UA researchers use a time-honored laboratory technique called electrospinning to produce the mats. In this process, the scientists use a specially-prepared, chitin-based, ionic liquid solution, which is loaded in the electrospinning apparatus. Some 30,000 volts of electricity are applied, spinning the fibers into a water bath. After several hours, nanofiber mats, consisting of fibers much thinner than a strand of a spider’s web, form, weaved together into a solid sheet.

The increased surface area the nanomats provide is central to the project, said Dr. Julia Shamshina, the company’s chief technology officer and also a UA alumna.

“The larger the surface area, the larger modifications we can make and the more uranium it will uptake,” Shamshina said. “If you have one very thick fiber and 10 which, when combined, equal the size of the thick fiber, the ten smaller ones will take up hundreds, or even thousands, of times more uranium.”

Rogers extolled the potential environmental benefits of  the company’s approach and addressed cost factors.

“Mining uranium from land is a very dirty, energy intensive process, with a lot of hazardous waste produced,” Rogers said. “If we eliminate land mining by mining from the ocean, we not only clean up the ocean, we eliminate all of the environmental problems with terrestrial mining.

“Research studies have shown that uranium can be extracted from the ocean, but the process remains prohibitively costly,” said Rogers, a  two-time UA graduate. “The search for more effective adsorbents — which is what we’re doing  – is under way and expected to solve this issue.”

Gurau said the two-year grant, from the DOE’s Office of Science through its Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs, will enable the researchers to refine their processes, measure costs and conduct an environmental analysis.

“We need to know if it’s viable from an economic standpoint,” Gurau said. “I think this is a critical step in getting this to the pilot-plant stage.”

Canadian government funding announced for nanotechnology research in Saskatchewan and Alberta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He said the success is attracting Canadians back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turning CO2 in something valuable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tracking gas, oil, and, possibly, water in wells

A Feb. 24, 2014 Rice University news release (also on EurekAlert) and on Azonano as a Feb. 25, 2014 news item) describes a technique tracks which wells are producing oil or gas in fracking operations,

A tabletop device invented at Rice University can tell how efficiently a nanoparticle would travel through a well and may provide a wealth of information for oil and gas producers.

The device gathers data on how tracers – microscopic particles that can be pumped into and recovered from wells – move through deep rock formations that have been opened by hydraulic fracturing [fracking].

Here’s an image of two Rice scientists playing around with a prototype of their tabletop device,

Rice University chemist Andrew Barron and graduate student Brittany Oliva-Chatelain investigate the prototype of a device that allows for rapid testing of nanotracers for the evaluation of wells subject to hydraulic fracturing. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

Rice University chemist Andrew Barron and graduate student Brittany Oliva-Chatelain investigate the prototype of a device that allows for rapid testing of nanotracers for the evaluation of wells subject to hydraulic fracturing. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

The news release goes on to describe the fracking process and explain why the companies don’t know which well is actually producing (Note: Links have been removed),

Drilling companies use fracturing to pump oil and gas from previously unreachable reservoirs. Fluids are pumped into a wellbore under high pressure to fracture rocks, and materials called “proppants,” like sand or ceramic, hold the fractures open. “They’re basically making a crack in the rock and filling it with little beads,” said Rice chemist Andrew Barron, whose lab produced the device detailed in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Environmental Science Processes and Impacts.

But the companies struggle to know which insertion wells — where fluids are pumped in — are connected to the production wells where oil and gas are pumped out. “They may be pumping down three wells and producing from six, but they have very little idea of which well is connected to which,” he said.

Tracer or sensor particles added to fracturing fluids help solve that problem, but there’s plenty of room for optimization, especially in minimizing the volume of nanoparticles used now, he said. “Ideally, we would take a very small amount of a particle that does not interact with proppant, rock or the gunk that’s been pumped downhole, inject it in one well and collect it at the production well. The time it takes to go from one to the other will tell you about the connectivity underground.”

Barron explained the proppant itself accounts for most of the surface area the nanoparticles encounter, so it’s important to tune the tracers to the type of proppant used.

He said the industry lacks a uniform method to test and optimize custom-designed nanoparticles for particular formations and fluids. The ultimate goal  is to optimize the particles so they don’t clump together or stick to the rock or proppant and can be reliably identified when they exit the production well.

Here’s how the tracers work (from the news release),

The automated device by Barron, Rice alumnus Samuel Maguire-Boyle and their colleagues allows them to run nanotracers through a small model of a geological formation and quickly analyze what comes out the other side.

The device sends a tiny amount of silver nanoparticle tracers in rapid pulses through a solid column, simulating the much longer path the particles would travel in a well. That gives the researchers an accurate look at both how sticky and how robust the particles are.

“We chose silver nanoparticles for their plasmon resonance,” Barron said. “They’re very easy to see (with a spectroscope) making for high-quality data.” He said silver nanoparticles would be impractical in a real well, but because they’re easy to modify with other useful chemicals, they are good models for custom nanoparticles.

“The process is simple enough that our undergraduates make different nanoparticles and very quickly test them to find out how they behave,” Barron said.

The method also shows promise for tracking water from source to destination, which could be valuable for government agencies that want to understand how aquifers are linked or want to trace the flow of elements like pollutants in a water supply, he said.

Barron said the Rice lab won’t oversee production of the test rig, but it doesn’t have to. “We just published the paper, but if companies want to make their own, it includes the instructions. The supplementary material is basically a manual for how to do this,” he said.

You can find the paper with this link and/or citation,

Automated method for determining the flow of surface functionalized nanoparticles through a hydraulically fractured mineral formation using plasmonic silver nanoparticles by Samuel J. Maguire-Boyle, David J. Garner, Jessica E. Heimann, Lucy Gao, Alvin W. Orbaek, and Andrew R. Barron. Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts, 2014,16, 220-231 DOI: 10.1039/C3EM00718A First published online 07 Jan 2014

This paper has been published in one of the Royal Society’s open access journals.

My final note, one of my more recent posts about fracking highlights some research that was taking place in Texas (Rice University’s home state) at Texas A&M University, see my July 29, 2013 posting.

NanoStruck’s Letter of Intent about gold tailings in Mexico

As I’ve come to expect from Canadian company NanoStruck, there’s not much detail in this Feb. 19, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

NanoStruck Technologies Inc. announces a non-binding Letter of Intent (“LOI”) signed with Tierra Nuevo Mining Ltd (TNM), a private exploration company with mining assets in Mexico BG Partners Corp., brought this business relationship to NanoStruck.

The Feb. 18, 2014 NanoStruck news release, which originated the news item, describes the property where the Tierra Nuevo Mining would like to test NanoStruck’s technology,

The LOI is to explore the potential of TNM engaging NanoStruck to recover gold and silver from TMN’s tailings material using the NanoMet Technology at TNM’s Noche Buena Mine site, located in Zacatecas state, 10 kilometers northeast of Goldcorp’s Peñasquito Mine. The Noche Buena mine began operations sometime between 1926 and 1930 and was worked continuously until 1992 when it was shut down due to the collapse of metal prices.

Brian Mok, Senior Mining Consultant at BG Partners Corp. said: “This is a great opportunity for NanoStruck to demonstrate its technology and expertise in the mine tailings industry.”

Bundeep Singh Rangar, interim CEO and Chairman of the Board said: “A credible counter-party greatly accelerates the development and go-to-market strategy of our unique mine tailings processing technology.”

I last wrote about NanoStruck and mine tailings in a Feb. 10, 2014 posting titled: 96% of 9.1 grams per metric ton, or 0.32 ounces per ton, of gold recovered in gold tailings tests. As I noted at the time, I am hopeful the company will provide more information as to its technology at some point in the future, preferably sooner rather than later.