# News of nanotechnology-enabled recovery of rare earth elements from industrial wastewater and some rare earths context

An Oct. 31, 2013 news item on Azonano features information about rare earth elements and their use in technology along with a new technique for recycling them from wastewater,

Many of today’s technologies, from hybrid car batteries to flat-screen televisions, rely on materials known as rare earth elements (REEs) that are in short supply, but scientists are reporting development of a new method to recycle them from wastewater.

The process, which is described in a study in the journal ACS [American Chemical Society] Applied Materials & Interfaces, could help alleviate economic and environmental pressures facing the REE industry.

… Attempts so far to recycle them from industrial wastewater are expensive or otherwise impractical. A major challenge is that the elements are typically very diluted in these waters. The team knew that a nanomaterial known as nano-magnesium hydroxide, or nano-Mg(OH)2, was effective at removing some metals and dyes from wastewater. So they set out to understand how the compound worked and whether it would efficiently remove diluted REEs, as well.

The Oct. 30, 2013 ACS PressPac news release, which originated the news item, provides a few details about how the scientists tested their approach,

To test their idea, they produced inexpensive nano-Mg(OH)2 particles, whose shapes resemble flowers when viewed with a high-power microscope. They showed that the material captured more than 85 percent of the REEs that were diluted in wastewater in an initial experiment mimicking real-world conditions. “Recycling REEs from wastewater not only saves rare earth resources and protects the environment, but also brings considerable economic benefits,” the researchers state. “The pilot-scale experiment indicated that the self-supported flower-like nano-Mg(OH)2 had great potential to recycle REEs from industrial wastewater.”

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

Recycling Rare Earth Elements from Industrial Wastewater with Flowerlike Nano-Mg(OH)2 by Chaoran Li †‡, Zanyong Zhuang, Feng Huang, Zhicheng Wu, Yangping Hong, and Zhang Lin. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, 2013, 5 (19), pp 9719–9725 DOI: 10.1021/am4027967 Publication Date (Web): September 13, 2013

As for the short supply mentioned in the first line of the news item, the world’s largest exporter of rare earth elements at 90% of the market, China, recently announced a cap according to a Sept. 6, 2013 article by David Stanway for Reuters. The Chinese government appears to be curtailing exports as part of an ongoing, multi-year strategy. Here’s how Cientifica‘s (an emerging technologies consultancy, etc.) white paper (Simply No Substitute?) about critical materials published in 2012 (?), described the situation,

Despite their name, REE are not that rare in the Earth’s crust. What has happened in the past
decade is that REE exports from China undercut prices elsewhere, leading to the closure of
mines such as the Mountain Pass REE mine in California. Once China had acquired a
dominant market position, prices began to rise. But this situation will likely ease. The US will
probably begin REE production from the Mountain Pass mine later in 2012, and mines in
other countries are expected to start operation soon as well.

Nevertheless, owing to their broad range of uses REE will continue to exert pressures on their
supply – especially for countries without notable REE deposits. This highlights two aspects of
importance for strategic materials: actual rarity and strategic supply issues such as these seen
for REE. Although strategic and diplomatic supply issues may have easier solutions, their
consideration for manufacturing industries will almost be the same – a shortage of crucial
supply lines.

Furthermore, as the example of REE shows, the identification of long-term supply problems
can often be difficult, and not every government has the same strategic foresight that the
Chinese demonstrated. And as new technologies emerge, new elements may see an
unexpected, sudden demand in supply. (pp. 16-17)

Meanwhile, in response to China’s decision to cap its 2013 REE exports, the Russian government announced a $1B investment to 2018 in rare earth production,, according to a Sept. 10, 2013 article by Polina Devitt for Reuters. For those who like to get their information in a more graphic form, here’s an infographic from Thomson Reuters from a May 13, 2012 posting on their eponymous blog, Rare Earth Metals – Graphic of the Day Credit: Thomson Reuters [downloaded from http://blog.thomsonreuters.com/index.php/rare-earth-metals-graphic-of-the-day/] There is a larger version on their blog. All of this serves to explain the interest in recycling REE from industrial wastewater. Surprisingly,, the researchers who developed this new recycling technique are based in China which makes me wonder if the Chinese government sees a future where it too will need to import rare earths as its home sources diminish. # Nano-solutions for the 21st century, University of Oxford Martin School, and Eric Drexler Eric Drexler (aka, K. Eric Drexler) is a big name in the world of nanotechnology as per my May 6, 2013 posting abut his talk in Seattle as part of a tour promoting his latest book, Here’s more from the University Bookstore’s event page, Eric Drexler is the founding father of nanotechnology, the science of engineering on a molecular level—and the science thats about to change the world. Already, says Drexler, author of Radical Abundance, scientists have constructed prototypes for circuit boards built of millions of precisely arranged atoms. This kind of atomic precision promises to change the way we make things (cleanly, inexpensively, and on a global scale), the way we buy things (solar arrays could cost no more than cardboard and aluminum foil, with laptops about the same)—and the very foundations of our economy and environment. … Drexler’s latest effort, Radical Abundance, here’s what he had to say about the book in a July 21, 2011 posting on his Meta Modern blog, Radical Abundance will integrate and extend several themes that I’ve touched on in Metamodern, but will go much further. The topics include: • The nature of science and engineering, and the prospects for a deep transformation in the material basis of civilization. • Why all of this is surprisingly understandable. • A personal narrative of the emergence of the molecular nanotechnology concept and the turbulent history of progress and politics that followed • The quiet rise of macromolecular nanotechnologies, their power, and the rapidly advancing state of the art • …. About the same time he was promoting his book, Radical Abundance, the University of Oxford Martin School released a report written by Drexler and co-authored with Dennis Pamplin,, which is featured in an Oct. 28, 2013 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed), The world faces unprecedented global challenges related to depleting natural resources, pollution, climate change, clean water, and poverty. These problems are directly linked to the physical characteristics of our current technology base for producing energy and material products. Deep and pervasive changes in this technology base can address these global problems at their most fundamental, physical level, by changing both the products and the means of production used by 21st century civilization. The key development is advanced, atomically precise manufacturing (APM). This report (“Nano-solutions for the 21st century”; pdf) examines the potential for nanotechnology to enable deeply transformative production technologies that can be developed through a series of advances that build on current nanotechnology research. Coincidentally or not, Eric Drexler is writing a series of posts for the Guardian about nanotechnology and the future. Here’s a sampling from his Oct. 28, 2013 post on the Guardian’s Small World Nanotech blog sponsored by NanOpinion, In my initial post in this series, I asked, “What if nanotechnology could deliver on its original promise, not only new, useful, nanoscale products, but a new, transformative production technology able to displace industrial production technologies and bring radical improvements in production cost, scope, and resource efficiency?” The potential implications are immense, not just for computer chips and other nanotechnologies, but for issues on the scale of global development and climate change. My first post outlined the nature of this technology, atomically precise manufacturing (APM), comparing it with today’s 3D printing and digital nanoelectronics. My second post placed APM-level technologies in the context of today’s million-atom atomically precise fabrication technologies and outlined the direction of research, an open path, but by no means short, that leads to larger atomically precise structures, a growing range of product materials and a wider range of functional devices, culminating in the factory-in-a-box technologies of APM. Together, these provided an introduction to the modern view of APM-level technologies. Here, I’d like to say a few words about the implications of APM-level technologies for human life and global society. At the bottom of the posting, this is noted, Eric Drexler, often called “the father of nanotechnology”, is at the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology, University of Oxford. His most recent book is Radical Abundance: How a Revolution in Nanotechnology Will Change Civilization The Oxford Martin School of Oxford University and the Research Center for Sustainable Development of the China Academy of Social Sciences recently released a report on atomically precise manufacturing, Nano-solutions for the 21st century. The report discusses the status and prospects for atomically precise manufacturing (APM) together with some of its implications for economic and international affairs. Publicity is a beautiful thing, especially when you can tie so many things together. Drexler, his book, the report, and the Guardian’s special section sponsored by NanOpinion. Getting back to the report, Nano-solutions for the 21st century, I notice that there’s been a lot of collaboration with Chinese researchers and institutions if the acknowledgements are a way to judge these things, This work results from an extensive process that has included interaction and contributions by scientists, governments, philanthropists, and forward-thinkers around the world. Over the last three years workshops have been conducted in China, India, US, Europe, Japan, and more to discuss these findings and their global implications. Draft findings have also been presented at many meetings, from UNFCCC events to specialist conferences. The wealth of feedback received from this project has been of utmost importance and we see the resulting report as a collaboration project than as the work of two individuals. The authors wish to thank all those who have participated in the process and extend particular thanks to China and India, especially Institute for Urban & Environmental Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) and the team from the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology (NCNST) including Dr. ZHI Linjie, Dr. TANG Zhiyong, Dr. WEI Zhixiang and Dr. HAN Baohang. Professor Linjie Zhi was also kind enough to translate the abstract. In India the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and CII – ITC Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Development where among those providing valuable input. This report is only a start of what we hope is a vital international discussion about one of the most interesting fields of the 21st century. We would therefor like to extend special thanks to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and The Oxford Martin School that are examples of world leading institutions that support further discussions in this important area. Dr. Eric Drexler and Dennis Pamlin worked together to make this report a reality. Drexler, currently at the Oxford Martin School, provided technical leadership and served as primary author of the report. Pamlin contributed through discussions, structure and input regarding overall trends in relation to the key aspects of report. Both authors want to thank Dr. Stephanie Corchnoy who contributed to the research and final editing. As always the sole responsibility for the content of report lies with the authors. Eric Drexler Dennis Pamlin (p. 1) I find the specific call outs to China, India, and Japan quite interesting since any European partners are covered under the term for the entire continent, Europe. I haven’t read the report but for what it’s worth here’s the abstract, The report has five sections: 1. Nanotechnology and global challenge The first section discusses the basics of advanced, atomically precise nanotechnology and explains how current and future solutions can help address global challenges. Key concepts are presented and different kinds of nanotechnology are discussed and compared. 2. The birth of Nanotechnology The second section discusses the development of nanotechnology, from the first vision fifty years ago, expanding via a scientific approach to atomically precise manufacturing thirty years ago, initial demonstrations of principle twenty years ago, to the last decade of of accelerating success in developing key enabling technologies. The important role of emerging countries is discussed, with China as a leading example, together with an overview of the contrast between the promise and the results to date. 3. Delivery of transformative nanotechnologies Here the different aspects of APM that are needed to enable breakthrough advances in productive technologies are discussed. The necessary technology base can be developed through a series of coordinated advances along strategically chosen lines of research. 4. Accelerating progress toward advanced nanotechnologies This section discusses research initiatives that can enable and support advanced nanotechnology, on paths leading to APM, including integrated cross-disciplinary research and Identification of high-value applications and their requirements. 5. Possible next steps The final section provides a short summary of the opportunities and the possibilities to address institutional challenges of planning, resource allocation, evaluation, transparency, and collaboration as nanotechnology moves into its next phase of development: nanosystems engineering. The report in its entirety provides a comprehensive overview of the current global condition, as well as notable opportunities and challenges. This content is divided into five independent sections that can be read and understood individually, allowing those with specific interests to access desired information more directly and easily. With all five sections taken together, the report as a whole describes low- cost actions that can help solve critical problems, create opportunities, reduce security risks, and help countries join and accelerate cooperative development of this global technological revolution. Of particular importance, several considerations are highlighted that strongly favor a policy of transparent, international, collaborative development. One final comment, I’m not familiar with Drexler’s co-author, Dennis Pamlin so went searching for some details. Here’s a self-description from the About page on his eponymous website, Dennis Pamlin is an entrepreneur and founder of 21st Century Frontiers. He works with companies, governments and NGOs as a strategic economic, technology and innovation advisor. His background is in engineering, industrial economy and marketing. Mr Pamlin worked as Global Policy Advisor for WWF from 1999 to 2009. During his tenure, Pamlin initiated WWFs Trade and Investment Programme work in the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and led the work with companies (especially high-tech companies such as ICT) as solution providers. Pamlin is currently an independent consultant as well as Director for the Low Carbon Leaders Project under the UN Global Compact and is a Senior Associate at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Current work includes work to establish a web platform to promote transformative mobile applications, creating the first Low Carbon City Development Index (LCCDI) make transformative low-carbon ICT part of the global climate discussions, leading the Global ICT companies work (through GeSI) to establish the ICT sector as a global solution provider when it comes to resource efficient solutions, advising the EU on how public procurement can increase innovation and the uptake of transformative solutions. Pamlin is also exploring how new ideas can be financed through web-tools/apps and the cultural tensions between the “west” and the re-emerging economies (with focus on China and India). He is also leading work to develop methodologies for companies and cities to measure and report their positive impacts, focus on climate, water and poverty, but other areas are also under development. I also found this on Pamlin’s LinkedIn profile, Entrepreneur, advisor and transformative explorer Other International Affairs Current 21st century Frontiers, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), Global Challenges Foundation Previous WWF, Greenpeace It seems to me there’s a ‘sustainability and nanotechnology theme being implied in the introduction to the report (“The world faces unprecedented global challenges related to depleting natural resources, pollution, climate change, clean water, and poverty.”) and I’m certainly inferring it from my reading of Pamlin’s background and interests and this phrase in the acknowledgements: “… Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and CII – ITC Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Development where among those providing valuable input … .” Oddly, I last mentioned nanotechnology and sustainability In an Oct. 28, 2013 posting about a nanotechnology-enabled consumer products database where I also made note of the Second Sustainable Nanotechnology Organization Conference whose website can be found here. # China’s and NanoH2O’s desalination efforts An Oct. 21, 2013 news item on Azonano describes a desalination business deal between China and NanoH2O, a company headquartered in California, NanoH2O, Inc., manufacturer of the most efficient and cost-effective reverse osmosis (RO) membranes for seawater desalination, today announced plans to build a manufacturing facility in Liyang, China, a city in the Yangtze River Delta 250 kilometers west of Shanghai. The 10,000 square meter facility will be the company’s second fully integrated manufacturing plant, following the first located in Los Angeles, California. The China facility comes at a total investment of$45 million and is expected to be operational by the end of 2014.

China, which represents one-fifth of the world’s population but just six percent of the global fresh water supply, plans to increase its seawater reverse osmosis desalination capacity three-fold by 2015. The overall membrane market in China is estimated to grow more than 20 percent per year over the next 10 years. The Chinese government’s current five-year plan also calls for 70 percent of equipment used in desalination plants to be produced domestically. Establishing a new NanoH2O facility in China will allow the company to take advantage of the growing domestic market for both desalination and wastewater treatment.

A few weeks ago in a Sept. 27, 2013 posting, I mentioned some negotiations and deal making between China and the Czech Republic, which concerned ‘green’ nanotechnology.

The signing of the Letter of Intent between NAFIGATE China (a subsidiary of the Czech company NAFIGATE Corporation JSC) and their Chinese partner Guodian Technology & Environment Group Corporation Limited (a subsidiary of one of the most prominent Chinese energy companies) is a significant milestone in Czech-Chinese cooperation in nanotechnology sector. Since January 2013 both companies have been preparing the foundation of the NANODEC (Nanofiber Development Center) project for the development of final applications for water and air cleaning.[emphasis added here]

The company does provide some details about its technology, reversoe osmosis membranes relying on thin-film nanocomposites (TFN) on the FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) webpage on the NanoH2O website,

What does the term “thin-film nanocomposite” mean?

The term “thin-film nanocomposite” was first used by researchers at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) who found that by encapsulating benign nanomaterial into the thin-film polyamide layer of a traditional thin-film composite membrane, they were able to increase membrane permeability compared to conventional RO membranes. NanoH2O leverages nanotechnology to further change the structure of the thin-film of a conventional RO membrane and enhance membrane performance. Benign nanoparticles are introduced during the synthesis of a traditional polymer film and are fully encapsulated when the nanocomposite RO membrane is formed.

How do nanoparticles increase membrane performance?

NanoH2O’s encapsulation of benign nanoparticles changes the structure of the thin-film surface of a conventional RO membrane, allowing more water to pass through while rejecting unwanted materials such as salt. QuantumFlux membranes are 50-100% more permeable than conventional membranes while still meeting best-in-class salt rejection.

Do nanoparticles pose any potential risks to water quality?

No. NanoH2O’s QuantumFlux membrane elements are completely safe for the treatment of potable water. The Qfx SW 365 ES, Qfx SW 400 ES, Qfx SW 400 SR and Qfx SW 400 R are all NSF Standard 61 certified, which means that they have been independently evaluated by NSF International, the global organization that provides standards development, product certification, auditing, education and risk management for public health and safety. NSF Standard 61 certification attests to the safety and viability of the Qfx SW 365 ES, Qfx SW 400 ES, Qfx SW 400 SR and Qfx SW 400 R membrane elements when used in the production of drinking water.

Does NanoH2O use a nanoparticle coating applied to another manufacturer’s membrane?

No. NanoH2O introduces nanostructured materials into the monomers that form the polymer film manufactured solely at its El Segundo, California facility. The nanoparticles are encapsulated into NanoH2O’s patented and patent-pending thin-film polyamide formulation, which makes up the top layer of the thin-film nanocomposite membrane.

There’s no mention here of exactly what kind of nanoparticles are being used in the company’s Quantum Flux membranes (or as they’re known generically, reverse osmosis membranes) but the company does offer some technical papers here, where there is, hopefully, more detail.

## About Thin-Film Nanocomposite (TFN) Technology

### What does the term “thin-film nanocomposite” mean?

The term “thin-film nanocomposite” was first used by researchers at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) who found that by encapsulating benign nanomaterial into the thin-film polyamide layer of a traditional thin-film composite membrane, they were able to increase membrane permeability compared to conventional RO membranes. NanoH2O leverages nanotechnology to further change the structure of the thin-film of a conventional RO membrane and enhance membrane performance. Benign nanoparticles are introduced during the synthesis of a traditional polymer film and are fully encapsulated when the nanocomposite RO membrane is formed.

### How do nanoparticles increase membrane performance?

NanoH2O’s encapsulation of benign nanoparticles changes the structure of the thin-film surface of a conventional RO membrane, allowing more water to pass through while rejecting unwanted materials such as salt. QuantumFlux membranes are 50-100% more permeable than conventional membranes while still meeting best-in-class salt rejection.

### Do nanoparticles pose any potential risks to water quality?

No. NanoH2O’s QuantumFlux membrane elements are completely safe for the treatment of potable water. The Qfx SW 365 ES, Qfx SW 400 ES, Qfx SW 400 SR and Qfx SW 400 R are all NSF Standard 61 certified, which means that they have been independently evaluated by NSF International, the global organization that provides standards development, product certification, auditing, education and risk management for public health and safety. NSF Standard 61 certification attests to the safety and viability of the Qfx SW 365 ES, Qfx SW 400 ES, Qfx SW 400 SR and Qfx SW 400 R membrane elements when used in the production of drinking water.

### Does NanoH2O use a nanoparticle coating applied to another manufacturer’s membrane?

No. NanoH2O introduces nanostructured materials into the monomers that form the polymer film manufactured solely at its El Segundo, California facility. The nanoparticles are encapsulated into NanoH2O’s patented and patent-pending thin-film polyamide formulation, which makes up the top layer of the thin-film nanocomposite membrane.

# Lighting your way onto the internet with LiFi

Chinese researchers have found a way to use lightbulbs instead of WiFi to access the internet, according to an Oct. 17, 2013 news item on Nanowerk,

Successful experiments by Chinese scientists have indicated the possibility of the country’s netizens getting online through signals sent by lightbulbs (LiFi), instead of WiFi.

Four computers under a one-watt LED lightbulb may connect to the Internet under the principle that light can be used as a carrier instead of traditional radio frequencies, as in WiFi, said Chi Nan, an information technology professor with Shanghai’s Fudan University, on Thursday [Oct. 17, 2013].

The Oct. 17, 2013 news release on Xinhua News (China’s official press agency), which originated the news item, describes the possibilities of ‘LiFi’,

A lightbulb with embedded microchips can produce data rates as fast as 150 megabits per second, which is speedier than the average broadband connection in China, said Chi, who leads a LiFi research team including scientists from the Shanghai Institute of Technical Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

With LiFi cost-effective as well as efficient, netizens should be excited to view 10 sample LiFi kits that will be on display at the China International Industry Fair that will kick off on Nov. 5 [2013] in Shanghai.

The current wireless signal transmission equipment is expensive and low in efficiency, said Chi.

“As for cell phones, millions of base stations have been established around the world to strengthen the signal but most of the energy is consumed on their cooling systems,” she explained. “The energy utilization rate is only 5 percent.”

Compared with base stations, the number of lightbulbs that can be used is practically limitless. Meanwhile, Chinese people are replacing the old-fashioned incandescent bulbs with LED lightbulbs at a fast pace.

“Wherever there is an LED lightbulb, there is an Internet signal,” said Chi. “Turn off the light and there is no signal.”

However, there is still a long way to go to make LiFi a commercial success.

“If the light is blocked, then the signal will be cut off,” said Chi.

More importantly, according to the scientist, the development of a series of key related pieces of technology, including light communication controls as well as microchip design and manufacturing, is still in an experimental period.

The term LiFi was coined by Harald Haas from the University of Edinburgh in the UK and refers to a type of visible light communication technology that delivers a networked, mobile, high-speed communication solution in a similar manner as WiFi.

I was not able to find any academic papers about Chi’s work with LiFi but there is her academic page here. As for the fair where Chi’s work will be displayed. CIIF 2013 – The 15th China International Industry Fair 2013 is being held in Shanghai from Nov. 5 – 9, 2013.

# Should October 2013 be called ‘the month of graphene’?

Since the Oct. 10-11, 2013 Graphene Flagship (1B Euros investment) launch, mentioned in my preview Oct. 7, 2013 posting, there’ve been a flurry of graphene-themed news items both on this blog and elsewhere and I’ve decided to offer a brief roundup what I’ve found elsewhere.

Dexter Johnson offers a commentary in the pithily titled, Europe Invests €1 Billion to Become “Graphene Valley,” an Oct. 15, 2013 posting on his Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website) Note: Links have been removed,

The initiative has been dubbed “The Graphene Flagship,” and apparently it is the first in a number of €1 billion, 10-year plans the EC is planning to launch. The graphene version will bring together 76 academic institutions and industrial groups from 17 European countries, with an initial 30-month-budget of €54M (\$73 million).

Graphene research is still struggling to find any kind of applications that will really take hold, and many don’t expect it will have a commercial impact until 2020. What’s more, manufacturing methods are still undeveloped. So it would appear that a 10-year plan is aimed at the academic institutions that form the backbone of this initiative rather than commercial enterprises.

Just from a political standpoint the choice of Chalmers University in Sweden as the base of operations for the Graphene Flagship is an intriguing choice. …

I have to agree with Dexter that choosing Chalmers University over the University of Manchester where graphene was first isolated is unexpected. As a companion piece to reading Dexter’s posting in its entirety and which features a video from the flagship launch, you might want to try this Oct. 15, 2013 article by Koen Mortelmans for Youris (h/t Oct. 15, 2013 news item on Nanowerk),

Andre Konstantin Geim is the only person who ever received both a Nobel and an Ig Nobel. He was born in 1958 in Russia, and is a Dutch-British physicist with German, Polish, Jewish and Ukrainian roots. “Having lived and worked in several European countries, I consider myself European. I don’t believe that any further taxonomy is necessary,” he says. He is now a physics professor at the University of Manchester. …

He shared the Noble [Nobel] Prize in 2010 with Konstantin Novoselov for their work on graphene. It was following on their isolation of microscope visible grapheme flakes that the worldwide research towards practical applications of graphene took off.  “We did not invent graphene,” Geim says, “we only saw what was laid up for five hundred year under our noses.”

Geim and Novoselov are often thought to have succeeded in separating graphene from graphite by peeling it off with ordinary duct tape until there only remained a layer. Graphene could then be observed with a microscope, because of the partial transparency of the material. That is, after dissolving the duct tape material in acetone, of course. That is also the story Geim himself likes to tell.

However, he did not use – as the urban myth goes – graphite from a common pencil. Instead, he used a carbon sample of extreme purity, specially imported. He also used ultrasound techniques. But, probably the urban legend will survive, as did Archimedes’ bath and Newtons apple. “It is nice to keep some of the magic,” is the expression Geim often uses when he does not want a nice story to be drowned in hard facts or when he wants to remain discrete about still incomplete, but promising research results.

Mortelmans’ article fills in some gaps for those not familiar with the graphene ‘origins’ story while Tim Harper’s July 22, 2012 posting on Cientifica’s (an emerging technologies consultancy where Harper is the CEO and founder) TNT blog offers an insight into Geim’s perspective on the race to commercialize graphene with a paraphrased quote for the title of Harper’s posting, “It’s a bit silly for society to throw a little bit of money at (graphene) and expect it to change the world.” (Note: Within this context, mention is made of the company’s graphene opportunities report.)

With all this excitement about graphene (and carbon generally), the magazine titled Carbon has just published a suggested nomenclature for 2D carbon forms such as graphene, graphane, etc., according to an Oct. 16, 2013 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

There has been an intense research interest in all two-dimensional (2D) forms of carbon since Geim and Novoselov’s discovery of graphene in 2004. But as the number of such publications rise, so does the level of inconsistency in naming the material of interest. The isolated, single-atom-thick sheet universally referred to as “graphene” may have a clear definition, but when referring to related 2D sheet-like or flake-like carbon forms, many authors have simply defined their own terms to describe their product.

This has led to confusion within the literature, where terms are multiply-defined, or incorrectly used. The Editorial Board of Carbon has therefore published the first recommended nomenclature for 2D carbon forms (“All in the graphene family – A recommended nomenclature for two-dimensional carbon materials”).

This proposed nomenclature comes in the form of an editorial, from Carbon (Volume 65, December 2013, Pages 1–6),

All in the graphene family – A recommended nomenclature for two-dimensional carbon materials

• Alberto Bianco
CNRS, Institut de Biologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire, Immunopathologie et Chimie Thérapeutique, Strasbourg, France
• Hui-Ming Cheng
Shenyang National Laboratory for Materials Science, Institute of Metal Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 72 Wenhua Road, Shenyang 110016, China
• Toshiaki Enoki
Department of Chemistry, Graduate School of Science and Engineering, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Tokyo, Japan
• Yury Gogotsi
Materials Science and Engineering Department, A.J. Drexel Nanotechnology Institute, Drexel University, 3141 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA
• Robert H. Hurt
Institute for Molecular and Nanoscale Innovation, School of Engineering, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, USA
• Nikhil Koratkar
Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Nuclear Engineering, The Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 110 8th Street, Troy, NY 12180, USA
• Takashi Kyotani
Institute of Multidisciplinary Research for Advanced Materials, Tohoku University, 2-1-1 Katahira, Aoba-ku, Sendai 980-8577, Japan
• Marc Monthioux
Centre d’Elaboration des Matériaux et d’Etudes Structurales (CEMES), UPR-8011 CNRS, Université de Toulouse, 29 Rue Jeanne Marvig, F-31055 Toulouse, France
• Chong Rae Park
Carbon Nanomaterials Design Laboratory, Global Research Laboratory, Research Institute of Advanced Materials, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Seoul National University, Seoul 151-744, Republic of Korea
• Juan M.D. Tascon
Instituto Nacional del Carbón, INCAR-CSIC, Apartado 73, 33080 Oviedo, Spain
• Jin Zhang
Center for Nanochemistry, College of Chemistry and Molecular Engineering, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China

This editorial is behind a paywall.

# Czech nanotechnology efforts in China

There’s a Sept. 27, 2013 news item about the Czech Republic’s latest technology mission to China on the Nanowerk website,

This week [Sept.  23 - 27, 2013], the representatives of Czech nanotechnology firms, two famous technical universities and CzechInvest took part in a technology mission to China, where they met Chinese counterparts and discussed the further strengthening of cooperation in the field of nanotechnology. This technology mission to China, together with activities of some Czech nanotechnology companies, which have also been extensively supported by the Czech embassy in Beijing in recent months, has brought new opportunities for investment and the further collaboration of highly innovative technologies originated in the Czech Republic.

The Sept. 25, 2013 Czechinvest news release, which originated the news item,  offers more details about the mission,

“The Czech Republic is a world leader in the field of nanotechnology, which has an impact on numerous industrial sectors and places major demands on research. Czech nanotechnology firms are highly respected on the Chinese market,” says Marian Piecha, CEO of CzechInvest.

Representatives of CzechInvest, the Technical University of Liberec, Brno University of Technology and the Czech nanotechnology firms NAFIGATE Corporation, Elmarco, ACT Nami and Noen are taking part in CHINanoForum 2013, which is being held from 24 to 27 September in Jiangsu province. Within the forum’s accompanying programme, CzechInvest and NAFIGATE Corporation conducted a seminar title Nanosolutions for Green Economy – Investment Opportunity in China on 24 September. On 27 September the Czech delegates and their Chinese counterparts will be at the Czech embassy in Beijing to discuss the topic of using nanotechnologies in water treatment, among other things.

“China offers tremendous space for introducing new high-tech products to the market,” says Ladislav Mareš, chairman of the board of directors of NAFIGATE Corporation. “This technology mission therefore has major significance for supporting Czech exports to the Chinese market. Presentation of the potential of Czech nanotechnologies is also a signal for Chinese investors.”

According to the news release, a memorandum of understanding will be signed,

Technological cooperation between the two countries will also be supported by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Technology Agency of the Czech Republic and the Suzhou Industrial Park Administrative Committee. The signing of the memorandum, which will facilitate cooperation between Czech and Chinese firms with a high technological profile, will be attended by representatives of CzechInvest and His Excellency Libor Sečka, the Czech ambassador in China.

Earlier this years,  in June 2013, Nafigate signed a letter of intent with its Chinese partner, Guodian Technology & Environment Group Corporation Limited, regarding the development of a green nanotechnology centre. From a June 21, 2013 news release on PR newswire,

In the last few days, Czech nanotechnology pioneers have been presenting possible ways of utilizing Czech nanotechnology with specific examples taken from the Clean Air Nanosolution and Clean Water Nanosolution projects to representatives of the most significant Chinese companies at the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Beijing. “There is a lot of interest in the new technology because it solves fundamental problems in air and water cleaning. At the same time the Czech Republic is the world leader in the field of nanofibers and has much to offer China, from cooperation in research and development to putting specific innovative approaches into practice. Cooperation in this field could become an important new branch of mutual trade and scientific and technological exchanges and bring qualitative changes in the life of Chinese society,” said H. E. Mr. Libor Secka, Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the People’s Republic of China.

The signing of the Letter of Intent between NAFIGATE China (a subsidiary of the Czech company NAFIGATE Corporation JSC) and their Chinese partner Guodian Technology & Environment Group Corporation Limited (a subsidiary of one of the most prominent Chinese energy companies) is a significant milestone in Czech-Chinese cooperation in nanotechnology sector. Since January 2013 both companies have been preparing the foundation of the NANODEC (Nanofiber Development Center) project for the development of final applications for water and air cleaning.

The establishment of the center will be a major breakthrough with a global impact in the field of nanofiber applications. The aim of this initiative is to build a center of excellence which will utilize the best available worldwide know-how, the technological and infrastructural potential of one of the most significant Chinese companies and the potential of the market for new low carbon and green technologies. The Letter of Intent specifies the steps required to open the center according to the schedule in the last quarter of 2013.

For those interested in the overall nanotechnology scene in the Czech Republic, I found a 2012 article in the New York Times and a paper (2009?)  written for the National Information Centre For European Research (NICER) and located on the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.

Here’s some of what Jacy Meyer wrote for the New York Times in a May 22, 2012 article,

Industries based on nanotechnology are a rapidly growing niche in the economy of the Czech Republic, which, although small, is widely respected for its technical prowess. In February, the country had its own pavilion at the International Nanotechnology Trade Fair, Nanotech 2012, in Tokyo. Ten Czech companies took part.

One was Advanced Materials-JTJ, which produces photocatalytic coating materials incorporating titanium dioxide nanoparticles, known as FN coatings. The semi-transparent, odorless coatings have the unusual property of purifying the air around them — removing viruses, bacteria, toxins, cigarette smoke and more through a light-activated catalytic process.

Over the course of a year, “one square meter of FN-painted facade will clean and decontaminate over three million cubic meters of air,” or 106 million cubic feet, removing several kilograms of pollution, Mr. Prochazka [Jan Prochazka, Advanced Materials-JTJ’s chief executive] said.

As well as cleaning the air, the coating protects the painted surfaces from mold, fungus and the slow accumulation of dirt deposits that cause erosion and discoloring, he said.

The process, activated by ultraviolet light — that is, sunshine — is both environmentally friendly and cost-effective.

“For many people nano is a question mark, but really, everything is nano, except for gravel, sand and a few other materials,” Mr. Prochazka said in an interview in Prague. “Take a cup of water; you can’t imagine how many nanoparticles are inside.”

The National Information Centre For European Research (NICER) report titled, Czech Experience in the International Nanotechnology Cooperation, by Jitka Kubatova on the OECD website offers an overview of the public funding of R&D and much more,

the total (public + private) expenditure on R&D:

in 2005
42,2 billion CZK(€1,58 billion)
1,41% GDP (gross domestic product)

in 2006
49,9 billion CZK (€1,87 billion)
1,55% GDP

in 2007
54,3 billion CZK, (€2,03 billion)
1,53% GDP (p. 3 of the PDF)

# Danish Chinese collaboration on graphene project could lead to smaller, faster, greener electronic devices

A mixed team of Danish and Chinese scientists have made a transistor from a single molecular monolayer that works on a computer chip according to a June 19, 2013 University of Copenhagen news release,

The molecular integrated circuit was created by a group of chemists and physicists from the Department of Chemistry Nano-Science Center at the University of Copenhagen and Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing. Their discovery “Ultrathin Reduced Graphene Oxide Films as Transparent Top-Contacts for Light Switchable Solid-State Molecular Junctions”  has just been published online in the prestigious periodical Advanced Materials. The breakthrough was made possible through an innovative use of the two dimensional carbon material graphene.

Here’s how the transistor works (from the news release),

The molecular computer chip is a sandwich built with one layer of gold, one of molecular components and one of the extremely thin carbon material graphene. The molecular transistor in the sandwich is switched on and of using a light impulse so one of the peculiar properties of graphene is highly useful. Even though graphene is made of carbon, it’s almost completely translucent.

Using the new graphene chip researchers can now place their molecules with great precision. This makes it faster and easier to test the functionality of molecular wires, contacts and diodes so that chemists will know in no time whether they need to get back to their beakers to develop new functional molecules, explains Nørgaard [Kasper Nørgaard, an associate professor in chemistry at the University of Copenhagen].

“We’ve made a design, that’ll hold many different types of molecule” he says and goes on: “Because the graphene scaffold is closer to real chip design it does make it easier to test components, but of course it’s also a step on the road to making a real integrated circuit using molecular components. And we must not lose sight of the fact that molecular components do have to end up in an integrated circuit, if they are going to be any use at all in real life”.

In addition to the other benefits of this graphene chip, greater precision, etc., it is also greener, requiring no rare earths or heavy metals.

If you have problems accessing the news release, you can find the information in a June 20, 2013 news item on Nanowerk.

# Fish gets invisibility cloak first, cat waits patiently

An invisibility cloak devised by researchers in Singapore and China is receiving a high degree of interest online with a June 14, 2013 news item on Nanowerk, a June 11, 2013 article by Philip Ball for Nature, and a June 13, 2013 article by Sarah Gates for Huffington Post.

The research paper, Natural Light Cloaking for Aquatic and Terrestrial Creatures by Hongsheng Chen, Bin Zheng, Lian Shen, Huaping Wang, Xianmin Zhang, Nikolay Zheludev, Baile Zhang was submitted June 7, 2013 to arXiv.org (arXiv is an e-print service in the fields of physics, mathematics, computer science, quantitative biology, quantitative finance and statistics. Submissions to arXiv must conform to Cornell University academic standards. arXiv is owned and operated by Cornell University, a private not-for-profit educational institution),

A cloak that can hide living creatures from sight is a common feature of mythology but still remains unrealized as a practical device. To preserve the phase of wave, the previous cloaking solution proposed by Pendry \emph{et al.} required transforming electromagnetic space around the hidden object in such a way that the rays bending around it have to travel much faster than those passing it by. The difficult phase preservation requirement is the main obstacle for building a broadband polarization insensitive cloak for large objects. Here, we suggest a simplifying version of Pendry’s cloak by abolishing the requirement for phase preservation as irrelevant for observation in incoherent natural light with human eyes that are phase and polarization insensitive. This allows the cloak design to be made in large scale using commonly available materials and we successfully report cloaking living creatures, a cat and a fish, in front of human eyes.

What they seem to be saying is that it’s possible to create an invisibility cloak perceptible to the human eye that is made of everyday materials.

I’ll show the fish video first. Pay attention as that fish darts behind its invisibility cloak almost as soon as the video starts (from the Nanowerk Youbube channel; June 14, 2013 Nanowerk news item),

Then, there’s the cat (also from the Nanowerk Youtube channel),

The June 11, 2013 article by Philip Ball for Nature describes the device which provides invisibility,

… This latest addition to the science of invisibility cloaks is one of the simplest implementations so far, but there’s no denying its striking impact.

The ‘box of invisibility’ has been designed by a team of researchers at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, led by Hongsheng Chen, and their coworkers. The box is basically a set of prisms made from high-quality optical glass that bend light around any object in the enclosure around which the prisms are arrayed, the researchers describe in a paper posted on the online repository arXiv.

Ball suggests that this latest invisibility cloak is very similar to a Victorian era music hall trick,

As such, the trick is arguably closer to ‘disappearances’ staged in Victorian music hall using arrangements of slanted mirrors than to the modern use of substances called metamaterials to achieve invisibility by guiding light rays in unnatural ways.

As far as I know, the ‘metamaterial’ invisibility cloaks require very sophisticated equipment for their production, are incredibly expensive, and aren’t all that practical.

Gates’s June 13, 2013 article for the Huffington Post provides an overview of some of the recent work on invisibility cloaks and metamaterials, as well as, previous work done by Dr. Hongsheng Chen, an electromagnetics professor at Zhejiang University (China), and Baile Zhang, an assistant physics professor at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University before they unveiled this latest invisibility cloak.

My most recent posting on the topic was a June 6, 2013 piece on a temporal invisibility cloak.

# “Sensational” 15% can become up to 50% oil recovery rate from dead oil wells with nanoparticle-enhanced water

Texas, the Middle East, and/or Alberta leap to mind before Norway and China when one thinks of research into oil extraction, which makes this June 14, 2013 news item on Nanwerk about a Norway-China collaboration particularly intriguing,

When petroleum companies abandon an oil well, more than half the reservoir’s oil is usually left behind as too difficult to recover. Now, however, much of the residual oil can be recovered with the help of nanoparticles and a simple law of physics.

Oil to be recovered is confined in tiny pores within rock, often sandstone. Often the natural pressure in a reservoir is so high that the oil flows upwards when drilling reaches the rocks containing the oil.

In order to maintain the pressure within a reservoir, oil companies have learned to displace the produced oil by injecting water. This water forces out the oil located in areas near the injection point. The actual injection point may be hundreds or even thousands of metres away from the production well.

Eventually, however, water injection loses its effect. Once the oil from all the easily reached pores has been recovered, water begins emerging from the production well instead of oil, at which point the petroleum engineers have had little choice but to shut down the well.

The petroleum industry and research community have been working for decades on various solutions to increase recovery rates. One group of researchers at the Centre for Integrated Petroleum Research (CIPR) in Bergen, collaborating with researchers in China, has developed a new method for recovering more oil from wells – and not just more, far more. [emphasis mine]

The Chinese scientists had already succeeded in recovering a sensational 15 per cent of the residual oil in their test reservoir when they formed a collaboration with the CIPR researchers to find out what had actually taken place down in the reservoir. Now the Norwegian partner in the collaboration has succeeded in recovering up to 50 per cent of the oil remaining in North Sea rock samples.

The ?, 2013 article (Nanoparticles helping to recover more oil) by Claude R. Olsen/Else Lie. Translation: Darren McKellep/Carol B. Eckmann for the Research Council of Norway, which originated the news item, explains what is left after the easy oil has been extracted and how this news technique squeezes more oil out of the well,

Water in an oil reservoir flows much like the water in a river, accelerating in narrow stretches and slowing where the path widens.

When water is pumped into a reservoir, the pressure difference forces the water away from the injection well and towards the production well through the tiny rock pores. These pores are all interconnected by very narrow tunnel-like passages, and the water accelerates as it squeezes its way through these.

The new method is based on infusing the injection water with particles that are considerably smaller than the tunnel diameters. When the particle-enhanced water reaches a tunnel opening, it will accelerate faster than the particles, leaving the particles behind to accumulate and plug the tunnel entrance, ultimately sealing the tunnel.

This forces the following water to take other paths through the rock’s pores and passages – and in some of these there is oil, which is forced out with the water flow. The result is more oil extracted from the production well and higher profits for the petroleum companies.

The article writers do not provide a description of the nanoparticles but they do describe the genesis of this Norwegian-Sino collaboration,

The idea for this method of oil recovery came from the two Chinese researchers Bo Peng and Ming yuan Li who completed their doctorates in Bergen 10 and 20 years ago, respectively. The University of Bergen and China University of Petroleum in Beijing have been cooperating for over a decade on petroleum research, and this laid the foundation for collaboration on understanding and refining the particle method.

At first it was not known if the particles could be used in seawater, since the Chinese had done their trials with river water and onshore oilfields. Trials in Bergen using rock samples from the North Sea showed that the nanoparticles also work in seawater and help to recover an average of 20?30 per cent, and up to 50 per cent, more residual oil.

# Sifting through Twitter with your computer cluster of more than 600 nodes named Olympus—one of the Top 500 fastest supercomputers in the world.

Here are two (seemingly) contradictory pieces of information (1) the US Library of Congress takes over 24 hours to complete a single search of tweets archived from 2006 – 2010, according to my Jan. 16, 2013 posting, and (2) Court (Courtney) Corley, a data scientist at the US Dept. of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), has a system (SALSA; SociAL Sensor Analytics) that analyzes billions of tweets in seconds. It’s a little hard to make sense out of these two very different perspectives on accessing data from tweets.

The news from Corley and the PNNL is more recent and, before I speculate further, here’s a bit more about Corley’s work, from the June 6, 2013 PNNL news release (also on EurekAlert)

If you think keeping up with what’s happening via Twitter, Facebook and other social media is like drinking from a fire hose, multiply that by 7 billion – and you’ll have a sense of what Court Corley wakes up to every morning.

Corley, a data scientist at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, has created a powerful digital system capable of analyzing billions of tweets and other social media messages in just seconds, in an effort to discover patterns and make sense of all the information. His social media analysis tool, dubbed “SALSA” (SociAL Sensor Analytics), combined with extensive know-how – and a fair degree of chutzpah – allows someone like Corley to try to grasp it all.

“The world is equipped with human sensors – more than 7 billion and counting. It’s by far the most extensive sensor network on the planet. What can we learn by paying attention?” Corley said.

Among the payoffs Corley envisions are emergency responders who receive crucial early information about natural disasters such as tornadoes; a tool that public health advocates can use to better protect people’s health; and information about social unrest that could help nations protect their citizens. But finding those jewels amidst the effluent of digital minutia is a challenge.

“The task we all face is separating out the trivia, the useless information we all are blasted with every day, from the really good stuff that helps us live better lives. There’s a lot of noise, but there’s some very valuable information too.”

I was getting a little worried when I saw the bit about separating useless information from the good stuff since that can be a very personal choice. Thankfully, this followed,

One person’s digital trash is another’s digital treasure. For example, people known in social media circles as “Beliebers,” named after entertainer Justin Bieber, covet inconsequential tidbits about Justin Bieber, while “non-Beliebers” send that data straight to the recycle bin.

The amount of data is mind-bending. In social media posted just in the single year ending Aug. 31, 2012, each hour on average witnessed:

• 25 million search queries
• 98,000 new tweets
• 3.8 million blog views
• 4.5 million event invites
• The equivalent of 453 years of video watched

Several firms routinely sift posts on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media, then analyze the data to see what’s trending. These efforts usually require a great deal of software and a lot of person-hours devoted specifically to using that application. It’s what Corley terms a manual approach.

Corley is out to change that, by creating a systematic, science-based, and automated approach for understanding patterns around events found in social media.

It’s not so simple as scanning tweets. Indeed, if Corley were to sit down and read each of the more than 20 billion entries in his data set from just a two-year period, it would take him more than 3,500 years if he spent just 5 seconds on each entry. If he hired 1 million helpers, it would take more than a day.

But it takes less than 10 seconds when he relies on PNNL’s Institutional Computing resource, drawing on a computer cluster with more than 600 nodes named Olympus, which is among the Top 500 fastest supercomputers in the world.

“We are using the institutional computing horsepower of PNNL to analyze one of the richest data sets ever available to researchers,” Corley said.

At the same time that his team is creating the computing resources to undertake the task, Corley is constructing a theory for how to analyze the data. He and his colleagues are determining baseline activity, culling the data to find routine patterns, and looking for patterns that indicate something out of the ordinary. Data might include how often a topic is the subject of social media, who is putting out the messages, and how often.

Corley notes additional challenges posed by social media. His programs analyze data in more than 60 languages, for instance. And social media users have developed a lexicon of their own and often don’t use traditional language. A post such as “aw my avalanna wristband @Avalanna @justinbieber rip angel pic.twitter.com/yldGVV7GHk” poses a challenge to people and computers alike.

Nevertheless, Corley’s program is accurate much more often than not, catching the spirit of a social media comment accurately more than three out of every four instances, and accurately detecting patterns in social media more than 90 percent of the time.

Corley’s educational background may explain the interest in emergency responders and health crises mentioned in the early part of the news release (from Corley’s PNNL webpage),

B.S. Computer Science from University of North Texas; M.S. Computer Science from University of North Texas; Ph.D. Computer Science and Engineering from University of North Texas; M.P.H (expected 2013) Public Health from University of Washington.

The reference to public health and emergency response is further developed, from the news release,

Much of the work so far has been around public health. According to media reports in China, the current H7N9 flu situation in China was highlighted on Sina Weibo, a China-based social media platform, weeks before it was recognized by government officials. And Corley’s work with the social media working group of the International Society for Disease Surveillance focuses on the use of social media for effective public health interventions.

In collaboration with the Infectious Disease Society of America and Immunizations 4 Public Health, he has focused on the early identification of emerging immunization safety concerns.

“If you want to understand the concerns of parents about vaccines, you’re never going to have the time to go out there and read hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of tweets about those questions or concerns,” Corley said. “By creating a system that can capture trends in just a few minutes, and observe shifts in opinion minute to minute, you can stay in front of the issue, for instance, by letting physicians in certain areas know how to customize the educational materials they provide to parents of young children.”

Corley has looked closely at reaction to the vaccine that protects against HPV, which causes cervical cancer. The first vaccine was approved in 2006, when he was a graduate student, and his doctoral thesis focused on an analysis of social media messages connected to HPV. He found that creators of messages that named a specific drug company were less likely to be positive about the vaccine than others who did not mention any company by name.

Other potential applications include helping emergency responders react more efficiently to disasters like tornadoes, or identifying patterns that might indicate coming social unrest or even something as specific as a riot after a soccer game. More than a dozen college students or recent graduates are working with Corley to look at questions like these and others.

As to why the US Library of Congress requires 24 hours to search one term in their archived tweets and Corley and the PNNL require seconds to sift through two years of tweets, only two possibilities come to my mind. (1) Corley is doing a stripped down version of an archival search so his searches are not comparable to the Library of Congress searches or (2) Corley and the PNNL have far superior technology.