Tag Archives: Cientifica

Cientifica pivots with graphene

I’m not sure when Cientifica moved its business focus from a consultancy on emerging technologies as per my Aug. 9, 2013 posting highlighting a then recent report,; scroll down 1/2 way,

Cientifica (a business consultancy focusing on emerging technologies) has released its Graphene Opportunity Report, from the report’s webpage (Note: Links have been removed),

A decade ago when we published the first edition of the Nanotechnology Opportunity Report, there were predictions of untold riches for early investors, the replacement of all manufacturing as we know it, and the mythical trillion-dollar market.

Cientifica went against the grain by predicting that it would be hard for anyone to make money from nanomaterials, and that the real value would be in the applications.

Cientifica’s latest news release (June 13, 2014) announces an agreement with Perpetuus Carbon Group and a commitment to commercialize applications for graphene,

13 June 2014

Cientifica PLC

(“Cientifica” or the “Company”)

Development Agreement with Perpetuus Carbon Group

Cientifica PLC, the AIM listed company focused on applications of graphene, has entered into a collaboration with Perpetuus Carbon Group (“Perpetuus”), a world leader in the production of nano surface modified graphenes.

Cientifica is focusing on investment in a number of specific areas ranging from energy efficiency to health, with the aim of bringing a number of significant applications enabled by graphene to market in the near term.

The objective of the collaboration is to bring together technology, market demand and finance, with a view to placing the UK at the forefront of the commercialisation of graphene. It also creates an integrated value chain spanning graphene production to consumer and industrial applications.

Perpetuus will provide technical support to Cientifica’s planned product development with the aim of reducing the time to market by combining the technical and market expertise of both companies. A number of graphene-enabled products, including infrared heating technology will be on display at the 2nd Annual Graphene Supply, Application and Commercialisation Conference in Manchester, 13 June 2014.

The patented infrared heating technology on display, involving flat panel heaters makes use of graphene to emit infrared light at wave-lengths precisely tailored for maximum comfort and minimum energy use. The graphene enabled technology allows users to maintain the same levels of comfort, whilst using up to 70% less energy than conventional heaters.

Perpetuus supplies graphenes that have been produced in a dry, environmentally friendly manner, unlike many other graphene suppliers who use acids and surfactants, which leaves behind toxic by-products. Perpetuus’ proprietary technology allows it to populate a variety of chemical groups onto and within the nano structure of graphenes to a customer’s precise specification and deliver in kilos and tonnes.

Tim Harper, CEO of Cientifica PLC, explained: “We are focused on a number of specific areas and have identified a number of graphene-enabled applications where, as products move from prototype to market we need a partner that can supply us and our future partners material in a ready for use form, and in significant quantities to meet customer demand. We needed to find a company that can supply tonnes rather than grams per week, of consistent quality materials at competitive prices.

“By partnering with Perpetuus we believe we will be able to quickly incorporate the appropriate functionalised graphene material into our future products which we believe will allow us to significantly bring forward the launch of a number of products.”

Ian Walters of Perpetuus commented: “Many of the proposed applications of graphene are long term, and taking products to market over such long timescales can be challenging. Cientifica’s focus on identifying near term real-world applications of graphene, backed with intellectual property will help to create a quickly expanding market for Perpetuus’ applications and products.”

Further announcements will be made in due course.

There is additional information about both companies in the ‘About” section of the news release,

About Cientifica

Cientifica PLC is an AIM listed company that is focused on acquiring and building businesses making use of emerging technologies and advanced materials such as graphene. [emphasis mine] These are typically businesses at an early stage where the technology has been proven but not scaled up to meet market demand.

Emerging technologies are ones that:

Arise from new knowledge, or the innovative application of existing knowledge;

Lead to the rapid development of new capabilities;Â
Are projected to have significant systemic and long-lasting economic, social and political impacts;

Create new opportunities for and challenges to addressing global issues; andÂ
Have the potential to disrupt or create entire industries.Â

About Perpetuus

For any company to be successful in the commercialisation of graphene materials they need to offer ALL the following features to a customer:–

Functionalisation by implanting a variety of chemical groups onto and within graphenes to nano surface modify graphene, to a customer’s specification.

Consistent high quality graphemes.Â
Commercial quantities.Â
Competitive pricing.Â
Immediate availability in kilos and quick delivery of tonnes rather than grams.Â
An environmentally friendly production process (this will become more relevant as the industry expands).
Environmental impact studies and life cycle analysis on all outputs and byproducts.Â
Comprehensive and reliable characterisation data.Â
Manageable, transportable, user friendly.Â
Presented in stacks. (Graphenes as single layers are invisible and cannot be packaged or handled).

Perpetuus offers all the above to its customers.

Perpetuus, a British company, is not aware of any other business in the world which can offer the full range of these goods and services to its customers.

About Graphene

Graphene is pure carbon in the form of a very thin, nearly transparent sheet, one atom thick. It is remarkably strong for its very low weight (100 times stronger than steel) and it conducts heat and electricity with great efficiency. It can be produced by separating atomic layers of graphite or by depositing graphene directly onto a substrate from a vapour.

The AIM listing mentioned in the Cientifica news release refers to the London Stock Exchange. From the AIM webpage on the London Stock Exchanged website,

AIM is the most successful growth market in the world. Since its launch in 1995, over 3,000 companies from across the globe have chosen to join AIM. Powering the companies of tomorrow, AIM continues to help smaller and growing companies raise the capital they need for expansion.

You can find the Cientifica website here.

A H/T to a June 13, 2014 news item written from the Perpetuus perspective on Azom.com for leading me to the company’s website, more or less. (I’m finding the search algorithms being used by Google, Yahoo, and others verge on the useless these days. )  Getting back to the Perpetuus Carbon Group, I’ve not been able to find that website but Pertpetuus Carbon Technologies can be found here. You can find out more about the 2nd Annual Graphene Supply Application and Commercialisation Conference here. (it’s mentioned in the news release).

Finally, good luck to Cientifica and Perpetuus on their new venture.

Advice on marketing nano from a process engineering perspective

Robert Ferris, PhD, is writing a series of posts about the ‘Process Engineering of Nanotechnology’ on the Emerson Process Experts blog. Before getting to his marketing post, I’m going to briefly discuss his Jan. 4, 2014 posting (the first in this business-oriented series) which offers a good primer on the topic of nanotechnology although I do have a proviso, Ferris’ posts should be read with some caution,

I contribute [sic]  the knowledge gap to the fact that most of the writing out there is written by science-brains and first-adopters. Previous authors focus on the technology and potentials of bench-top scale innovation. This is great for the fellow science-brain but useless to the general population. I can say this because I am one of those science-brains.

The unfortunate truth is that most people do not understand nanotechnology nor care about the science behind it. They only care if the new product is better than the last. Nanotechnology is not a value proposition. So, the articles written do not focus on what the general population cares about. Instead, people are confused by nanotechnology and as a result are unsure of how it can be used.

I think Ferris means ‘attribute’ rather than ‘contribute’ and I infer from the evidence provided by the error that he (in common with me) does not have a copy editor. BTW, my worst was finding three errors in one of my sentences (sigh) weeks after after I’d published. At any rate, I’m suggesting caution not due to this error but to passages such as this (Note: Links have been removed),

Nanotechnology is not new; in fact, it was used as far back as the 16th century in stain glass windows. Also, nanotechnology is already being used in products today, ranging from consumer goods to food processing. Don’t be surprised if you didn’t know, a lot of companies do not publicize the fact that they use nanotechnology.

Strictly speaking the first sentence is problematic since Ferris is describing ‘accidental’ nanotechnology. The artisans weren’t purposefully creating gold nanoparticles to get that particular shade of red in the glass as opposed to what we’re doing today and I think that’s a significant difference. (Dexter Johnson on his Nanoclast blog for the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] has been very clear that these previous forays (Damascus steel, the Lycurgus Cup) cannot be described as nanotechnology since they were unintended.) As for the rest of the excerpt, it’s all quite true.

Ferris’ Feb. 11, 2014 post tackles marketing,

… While companies and products can miss growth targets for any number of reasons, one of the more common failures for nanotechnology-enabled products is improper marketing. Most would agree that marketing is as much art as science but marketing of nanotechnology-enabled products can be particularly tricky.

True again and he’s about to focus on one aspect of marketing,

Companies that develop nanotechnology-enabled products tend to fall into two camps—those that use nanotechnology as a differentiator in their marketing materials and those that do not. In the 5 P’s of marketing (Product, Place, Price, Promotion, and People), we are contrasting how each company approaches product marketing.

Product marketing focuses on communicating how that product meets a customer need. To do this, the marketing material must differentiate from other potential solutions. The question is, does nanotechnology serves as a differentiating value proposition for the customer?

As I understand it, communicating about the product and value propositions would fall under Promotion while decisions about what features to offer, physical design elements, etc. would fall under Product. Still, Ferris goes on to make some good points with his example of selling a nano-manufactured valve,

A local salesperson calls you up to see what you think. As a customer, you ask a simple question, “Why should we buy this new valve over the one we have been using for years?” What will you think if the sales-person answers, “Because it is based on nanotechnology!”? Answering this way does not address your pain points or satisfy your concerns over the risks of purchasing a new product.

My main difficulty with Ferris’ marketing post is a lack of clarity. He never distinguishes between business-to-business (B2B) marketing and business to consumer (B2C) marketing. There are differences, for example, consumers may not have the scientific or technical training to understand the more involved aspects of the product but a business may have someone on staff who can and could respond negatively to a lack of technical/scientific information.

I agree with Ferris on many points but I do feel he might address the issue of selling technology. He uses L’Oréal as an example of a company selling nanotechnology-enabled products  which they do but their product is beauty. The company’s  nanotechnology-enabled products are simply a means of doing that. By contrast a company like IBM sells technology and a component or product that’s nanotechnology-enabled may require a little or a lot of education depending on the component/product and the customer.

For anyone who’s interested in marketing nanotechnology-enabled and products based on other emerging technologies, I recommend reading Geoffrey A. Moore’s book, Crossing the Chasm. His examples are dated as this written about the ‘computer revolution’ but I think the basis principles still hold. As for Ferris’ postings, there’s good information but you may want to check out other sources and I recommend Dexter Johnson’s Nanoclast blog and Cientifica, an emerging technologies consultancy. (Dexter works for Cientifica, in addition to writing for the IEEE, but most of the publications on that site are by Tim Harper). Oh, and you can check here too, although the business side of things is not my main focus, I still manage to write the odd piece about marketing (promotion usually).

Biomining for rare earth elements with Alberta’s (Canada) Ingenuity Lab

Alberta’s Ingenuity Lab and its biomining efforts are being featured in a Feb. 3, 2014 Nanowerk Spotlight article which was supplied by Ingenuity Lab (Note: A link has been removed),

Scientists at Ingenuity Lab in Edmonton, Alberta are taking cues from nature, as they focus on nanotechnology gains in the area of biomining. Using microorganisms and biomolecules, the group is making significant advances in the recovery of rare earth and precious metals from industrial processes and the environment thanks to superior molecular recognition techniques.

In recent decades, the utility of protein/peptide molecules and their inorganic material recognition and binding abilities has come to light. Combinatorial biology tools have enabled researchers to select peptides for various materials such as ceramics, metal oxides, alloys and pure metals. Even though the binding mechanism of peptides hasn’t yet been fully resolved, studies are ongoing and these peptides continue to be used in many nanotechnology applications.

The Spotlight article further describes the approach being undertaken,

… researchers at Alberta’s first nanotechnology accelerator laboratory (Ingenuity Lab) are looking to take advantage of inorganic binding peptides for mining valuable and rare earth elements/metals that exist in nature or synthetic materials.

Rare earth elements (REE) are sought after materials that facilitate the production of electrical car batteries, high power magnets, lasers, fiber optic technology, MRI contrast agents, fluorescent lightening and much more. Despite increasing demand, mining and processing yields are not enough to satisfy the growing need. This is mainly due to the great loss during mining (25-50%) and beneficiation (10-30%).

Since REEs exist as a mixture in mineral ores, their beneficiation and separation into individual metals requires unique processes. Depending on the chemical form of the metal, different compounds are necessary during beneficiation steps to convert minerals into metal nitrates, oxides, chlorides and fluorides, which would be further extracted individually. Furthermore, this process must be followed with solvent separation to obtain individual metals. These excessive steps not only increase the production cost and energy consumption but also decrease the yield and generate environmental pollution due to the use of various chemicals and organic solvents.

…  Ingenuity Lab is working on generating smart biomaterials composed of inorganic binding peptides coated on the core of magnetic nanoparticles. These smart materials will expose two functions; first they will recognize and bind to a specific REE through the peptide region and they will migrate to magnetic field by the help of Iron Oxide core.

You can find more detail and illustrations in the Spotlight article.

There is biomining research being performed in at least one other lab (in China) as I noted in a Nov. 1, 2013 posting about some work to remove REEs from wastewater and where I noted that China had announced a cap on its exports of REEs.

Tim Harper’s Cientifica emerging technologies and business consultancy offers a white paper (free), Simply No Substitute? [2013?], which contextualizes and provides insight into the situation with REEs and other other critical materials. From Cientifica’s Simply No Substitute? webpage,

There is increasing concern that restricted supplies of certain metals and other critical minerals could hinder the deployment of future technologies. This new white paper by Cientifica and Material Value,  Simply No Substitute? takes a critical look at the current technology and policy landscape in this vital area, and in particular, the attempts to develop substitutes for critical materials.

A huge amount of research and development is currently taking place in academic and industrial research laboratories, with the aim of developing novel, innovative material substitutes or simply to ‘engineer-out’ critical materials with new designs.  As an example, our analysis shows the number of patents related to substitutes for rare earth elements has doubled in the last two years. However, the necessity and effectiveness of this research activity is still unclear and requires greater insight. Certainly, as this white paper details, there is no universal agreement between Governments and other stakeholders on what materials are at risk of future supply disruptions.

In an effort to ensure the interests of end-users are represented across this increasingly complex and rapidly developing issue, the publication proposes the creation of a new industry body. This will benefit not just end-users, but also primary and secondary producers  of critical materials, for who it is currently only feasible to have sporadic and inconsistent interaction with the diverse range of industries that use their materials.

You can download the white paper from here.

Getting back to Ingenuity Lab, there is no research paper mentioned in the Spotlight article. Their website does offer this on the Mining page,

The extraction of oil and gas is key to the economic prosperity of Alberta and Canada. We have the third largest oil reserves in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Not only is our oil and gas sector expected to generate $2.1 trillion in economic activity across Canada over the next 25 years, Canadian employment is expected to grow from 75,000 jobs in 2010 to 905,000 in 2035. However, it’s not without its impacts to the environment. This, we know. There are great strides being made in technology and innovation in this sector, but what if we could do more?

Then, there’s this from the site’s Biomining subpage,

Using a process called biomining, the research team at Ingenuity Lab is engineering new nano particles that have the capability to detect, extract or even bind to rare earth and precious metals that exist in nature or found in man-made materials.

Leveraging off of the incredible advances in targeted medical therapies, active nanoparticle and membrane technologies offer the opportunity to recover valuable resources from mining operations while leading to the remediation of environmentally contaminated soil and water.

Biomining technology offers the opportunity to maximize the utility of our natural resources, establish a new path forward to restore the pristine land and water of our forefathers and redefine Canada’s legacy of societal environmental, and economic prosperity.

Finally, there’s this page (Ingenuity Attracts Attention with Biomining Advances)  which seems to have originated the Spotlight article and is the source of the images in the Spotlight article.  I am curious as to whose attention they’ve attracted although I can certainly understand why various groups and individuals might be,

… Ingenuity’s system will also be able to work in a continuous flow process. There will be a constant input of metal mixture, which could be mine acid drain, tailing ponds or polluted water sources, and smart biomaterial. Biomaterial will be recovered from the end point of the chamber together with the targeted metal. Since the interaction between the peptide and the metal of interest is not covalent bonding, metal will be removed from the material without the need for harsh chemicals. This means valuable materials, currently discarded as waste, will be accessible and the reuse of the smart biomaterial will be an option, lowering the purification cost even more.

These exciting discoveries are welcome news for the mining industry and the environment, but also for communities around the world and generations to come.  Thanks to ingenuity, we will soon be able to maximize the utility of our precious resources as we restore damaged lands and water.

In any event I hope to hear more about this promising work with more details (such as:  At what stage is this work?, Is it scalable?) and the other research being performed at Ingenuity Lab.

Graphene hype; the emerging story in an interview with Carla Alvial Palavicino (University of Twente, Netherlands)

i’m delighted to be publishing this interview with Carla Alvial Palavicino, PhD student at the University of Twente (Netherlands), as she is working on the topicof  graphene ‘hype’. Here’s a bit more about the work from her University of Twente webpage (Note: A link has been removed),

From its origins the field of nanotechnology has been populated of expectations. Pictured as “the new industrial revolution” the economic promise holds strong, but also nanotechnologies as a cure for almost all the human ills, sustainers of future growth, prosperity and happiness. In contrast to these promises, the uncertainties associated to the introduction of such a new and revolutionary technology, and mainly risks of nanomaterials, have elicited concerns among governments and the public. Nevertheless, the case of the public can be characterized as concerns about concerns, based on the experience of previous innovations (GMO, etc.).

Expectations, both as promises and concerns, have played and continue playing a central role in the “real-time social and political constitution of nanotechnology” (Kearnes and Macnaghten 2006). A circulation of visions, promises and concerns in observed in the field, from the broadly defined umbrella promises to more specific expectations, and references to grand challenges as moral imperatives. These expectations have become such an important part of the social repertoire of nano applications that we observe the proliferation of systematic and intentional modes of expectation building such as roadmaps, technology assessment, etc.; as well as a considerable group of reports on risk, concerns, and ethical and social aspects. This different modes of expectation building (Konrad 2010) co-exist and contribute to the articulation of the nano field.

This project seeks to identify, characterize and contextualize the existing modes of expectations building, being those intentional (i.e. foresight, TA, etc.) or implicit in arenas of public discourse, associated to ongoing and emerging social processes in the context of socio-technical change.

This dynamics are being explored in relation to the new material graphene.

Before getting to the interview, here’s Alvial Palavicino’s biography,

Carla Alvial Palavicino has a bachelor degree in Molecular Biology Engineering, School of Science, University of Chile, Chile and a Master’s degree on Sustainability Sciences, Graduate School of Frontier Science, University of Tokyo, Japan. She has worked in technology transfer and more recently, in Smart Grids and local scale renewable energy provision.

Finally, here’s the interview (Note: At the author’s request, there have been some grammatical changes made to conform with Canadian English.),

  • What is it that interests you about the ‘hype’ that some technologies receive and how did you come to focus on graphene in particular?

My research belongs to a field called the Sociology of Expectations, which deals with the role of promises, visions, concerns and ideas of the future in the development of technologies, and how these ideas actually affect people’s strategies in technology development. Part of the dynamic found for these expectations are hype-disappointment cycles, much like the ones the Gartner Group uses. And hype has become an expectation itself; people expect that there will be too many promises and some, maybe many of them are not going to be fulfilled, followed by disappointment.

I came to know about graphene because, initially, I was broadly interested in nanoelectronics (my research project is part of NanoNextNL a large Dutch Nano research programme), due to the strong future orientation in the electronics industry. The industry has been organizing, and continues to organize around the promise of Moore’s law for more than 50 years! So I came across graphene as thriving to some extent on the expectations around the end of Moore’s law and because simply everybody was talking about it as the next big thing! Then I thought, this is a great opportunity to investigate hype in real-time

  • Is there something different about the hype for graphene or is this the standard ‘we’ve found a new material and it will change everything’?

I guess with every new technology and new material you find a portion of genuine enthusiasm which might lead to big promises. But that doesn’t necessarily turn into big hype. One thing is that all hype is not the same and you might have technologies that disappeared after the hype such as High Temperature Semiconductors, or technologies that go through a number of hype cycles and disappointment cycles throughout their development (for example, Fuel Cells). Now with graphene what you certainly have is very ‘loud’ hype – the amount of attention it has received in so little time is extraordinary. If that is a characteristic of graphene or a consequence of the current conditions in which the hype has been developed, such as faster ways of communication (social media for example) or different incentives for science and innovation well, this is part of what I am trying to find out.

Quite clearly, the hype in graphene seems to be more ‘reflexive’ than others, that is, people seem to be more conscious about hype now. We have had the experience with carbon nanotubes only recently and scientist, companies and investors are less naïve about what can be expected of the technology, and what needs to be done to move it forward ‘in the right direction’. And they do act in ways that try to soften the slope of the hype-disappointment curve. Having said that, actors [Ed. Note: as in actor-network theory] are also aware of how they can take some advantage of the hype (for funding, investment, or another interest), how to make use of it and hopefully leave safely, before disappointment. In the end, it is rather hard to ask accountability of big promises over the long-term.

  • In the description of your work you mention intentional and implicit modes of building expectations, could explain the difference between the two?

One striking feature of technology development today is that we found more and more activities directed at learning about, assess, and shaping the future, such as forecasts, foresights, Delphi, roadmaps and so on. There are even specialized future actors such as consultancy organisations or foresight experts,  Cientifica among them. And these formalized ways of anticipating  the future are expected to be performative by those who produce them and use them, that is, influence the way the future – and the present- turns out. But this is not a linear story, it’s not like 100% of a roadmap can be turned practice (not even for the ITRS roadmap [Ed. Note: International Technology Roadmap for Semi-conductors] that sustains Moore’s law, some expectations change quite radically between editions of the roadmap). Besides that, there are other forms of building expectations which are embedded in practices around new technologies. Think of the promises made in high profile journals or grant applications; and of expectations incorporated in patents and standards. All these embody particular forms and directions for the future, and exclude others. These are implicit forms of expectation-building, even if not primarily intended as such. These forms are shaped by particular expectations which themselves shape further development. So, in order to understand how these practices, both intentional and implicit, anticipate futures you need to look at the interplay between the various types.

  • Do you see a difference internationally with regard to graphene hype? Is it more prevalent in Europe than in the North America? Is it particularly prevalent in some jurisdiction, e.g. UK?

I think the graphene ‘hype’ has been quite global, but it is moving to different communities, or actors groups, as Tim Harper from Cientifica has mentioned in his recent report about graphene

What is interesting in relation to the different ‘geographical’ responses to graphene is that they exemplify nicely how a big promise (graphene, in this case) is connected to other circulating visions, expectations or concerns. In the case of the UK, the *Nobel prize on Graphene and the following investment was connected to the idea of a perceived crisis of innovation in the country. Thus, the decision to invest in graphene was presented and discussed in reference to global competitiveness, showing a political commitment for science and innovation that was in doubt at that time.

In the European case with its *Graphene flagship, something similar happened. While there is no doubt of the scientific excellence of the flagship project, the reasons why it finally became a winner in the flagship competition might have been related to the attention on graphene. The project itself started quite humbly, and it differed from the other flagship proposals that were much more oriented towards economic or societal challenges. But the attention graphene received after the Nobel Prize, plus the engagement of some large companies, helped to frame the project in terms of its economic profitability.  And. this might have helped to bring attention and make sense of the project in the terms the European Commission was interested in.

In contrast, if you think of the US, the hype has been there (the number of companies engaged in graphene research is only increasing) but it has not had a big echo in policy. One of the reasons might be because this idea of global competition and being left behind is not so present in the US. And in the case of Canada for example, graphene has been taken up by the graphite (mining) community, which is a very local feature.

So answering your questions, the hype has been quite global and fed in a global way (developments in one place resonate in the other) but different geographical areas have reacted in relation to their contingent expectations to what this hype dynamic provided.

  • What do you think of graphene?

I think it’s the new material with more YouTube videos (this one is particularly good in over promising for example)  and the coolest superhero (Mr G from the Flagship). But seriously,  I often get asked that question when I do interviews with actors in the field, since they are curious to learn about the outsider perspective. But to be honest I try to remain as neutral and distant as possible regarding my research object… and not getting caught in the hype!

Thanks so much for a fascinating interview Carla and I very much appreciate the inclusion of Canada in your response to the question about the international response to graphene hype. (Here are three of my postings on graphite and mining in Canada: Canada’s contribution to graphene research: big graphite flakes [Feb. 6, 2012]; A ‘graphite today, graphene tomorrow’ philosophy from Focus Graphite [April 17, 2013[; and Lomiko’s Quatre Milles graphite flakes—pure and ultra pure [April 17, 2013] There are others you can find by searching ‘graphite’ in the blog’s search box.)

* For anyone curious about the Nobel prize and graphene, there’s this Oct.7, 2010 posting. Plus, the Graphene Flagship was one of several projects competing for one of the two 1B Euro research prizes awarded in January 2013 (the win is mentioned in my Jan. 28, 2013 posting).

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Holidays to all!

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

Copyright © 2013 American Chemical Society

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/]

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.

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.

Designing nanocellulose (?) products in Finland; update on Canada’s CelluForce

A VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Oct. 2, 2013 news release (also on EurekAlert) has announced an initiative which combines design with technical expertise in the production of cellulose- (nanocellulose?) based textile and other products derived from wood waste,

The combination of strong design competence and cutting-edge cellulose-based technologies can result in new commercially successful brands. The aim is for fibre from wood-based biomass to replace both cotton production, which burdens the environment, and polyester production, which consumes oil. A research project launched by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Aalto University and Tampere University of Technology aims to create new business models and ecosystems in Finland through design-driven cellulose products.

The joint research project is called Design Driven Value Chains in the World of Cellulose (DWoC). The objective is to develop cellulose-based products suitable for technical textiles and consumer products. The technology could also find use in the pharmaceutical, food and automotive industries. Another objective is to build a new business ecosystem and promote spin-offs.

Researchers seek to combine Finnish design competence with cutting-edge technological developments to utilise the special characteristics of cellulose to create products that feature the best qualities of materials such as cotton and polyester. Product characteristics achieved by using new manufacturing technologies and nanocellulose as a structural fibre element include recyclability and individual production.

The first tests performed by professor Olli Ilkkala’s team at the Aalto University showed that the self-assembly of cellulose fibrils in wood permits the fibrils to be spun into strong yarn. VTT has developed an industrial process that produces yarn from cellulose fibres without the spinning process. VTT has also developed efficient applications of the foam forming method for manufacturing materials that resemble fabric.

“In the future, combining different methods will enable production of individual fibre structures and textile products, even by using 3D printing technology,” says Professor Ali Harlin from VTT.

Usually the price of a textile product is the key criterion even though produced sustainably. New methods help significantly to shorten the manufacturing chain of existing textile products and bring it closer to consumers to respond to their rapidly changing needs. Projects are currently under way where the objective is to replace wet spinning with extrusion technology. The purpose is to develop fabric manufacturing methods where several stages of weaving and knitting are replaced without losing the key characteristics of the textile, such as the way it hangs.

The VTT news release also provides statistics supporting the notion that cellulose textile products derived from wood waste are more sustainable than those derived from cotton,

Finland’s logging residue to replace environmentally detrimental cotton Cotton textiles account for about 40% of the world’s textile markets, and oil-based polyester for practically the remainder. Cellulose-based fibres make up 6% of the market. Although cotton is durable and comfortable to wear, cotton production is highly water-intensive, and artificial fertilisers and chemical pesticides are often needed to ensure a good crop. The surface area of cotton-growing regions globally equates to the size of Finland.

Approximately 5 million tons of fibre could be manufactured from Finland’s current logging residue (25 million cubic metres/year). This could replace more than 20% of globally produced cotton, at the same time reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 120 million tons, and releasing enough farming land to grow food for 18 million people. Desertification would also decrease by approximately 10 per cent.

I am guessing this initiative is focused on nanocellulose since the news release makes no mention of it but it is highly suggestive that one of the project leads, Olli Ilkkala mentions nanocellulose as part of the research for which he received a major funding award as recently as 2012,. From a Feb. 7, 2012 Aalto University news release announcing the grant for Ikkala’s research,

The European Research Council granted Aalto University’s Academy Professor Olli Ikkala funding in the amount of €2.3 million for research on biomimetic nanomaterials. Ikkala’s group specialises in the self-assembly of macromolecules and how to make use of this process when producing functional materials.

The interests of Ikkala’s group focus on the self-assembled strong and light nanocomposite structures found in nature, such as the nacreous matter underneath seashells and biological fibres resembling silk and nanocellulose. [emphasis mine] Several strong natural materials are built from both strong parallel elements and softening and viscosifying macromolecules. All sizes of structures form to combine opposite properties: strength and viscosity.

The research of the properties of biomimetic nanocomposites is based on finding out the initial materials of self-assembly. Initial material may include, for example, nano platelets, polymers, new forms of carbon, surfactants and nanocellulose.[emphasis mine]

– Cellulose is especially interesting, as it is the most common polymer in the world and it is produced in our renewable forests. In terms of strength, nano-sized cellulose fibres are comparable to metals, which was the very offset of interest in using nanocellulose in the design of strong self-assembled biomimetic materials, Ikkala says. [emphases mine]

Celluforce update

After reading about the Finnish initiative, I stumbled across an interesting little article on the Celluforce website about the current state of NCC (nanocrystalline cellulose aka CNC [cellulose nanocrystals]) production, Canada’s claim to fame in the nanocellulose world. From an August 2013 Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Spotlight series article,

The pilot plant, located at the Domtar pulp and paper mill in Windsor, Quebec, is a joint venture between Domtar and FPInnnovations called CelluForce. The plant, which began operations in January 2012, has since successfully demonstrated its capacity to produce NCC on a continuous basis, thus enabling a sufficient inventory of NCC to be collected for product development and testing. Operations at the pilot plant are temporarily on hold while CelluForce evaluates the potential markets for various NCC applications with its stockpiled material. [emphasis mine]

When the Celluforce Windsor, Québec plant was officially launched in January 2012 the production target was for 1,000 kg (1 metric ton) per day (there’s more in my Jan. 31 2012 posting about the plant’s launch). I’ve never seen anything which confirms they reached their production target, in any event, that seems irrelevant in light of the ‘stockpile’.

I am somewhat puzzled by the Celluforce ‘stockpile’ issue. On the one hand, it seems the planning process didn’t take into account demand for the material and, on the other hand, I’ve had a couple back channel requests from entrepreneurs about gaining access to the material after they were unsuccessful with Celluforce.  Is there not enough demand and/or is Celluforce choosing who or which agencies are going to have access to the material?

ETA Oct. 14, 2013: It took me a while to remember but there was a very interesting comment by Tim Harper (UK-based, emerging technologies consultant [Cientifica]) in Bertrand Marotte’s May 6, 2012 Globe & Mail article (about NCC (from my May 8, 2012 posting offering some commentary about Marotte’s article),

Tim Harper, the CEO of London-based Cientifica, a consultant on advanced technologies, describes the market for NCC as “very much a push, without signs of any pull.”

It would seem the current stockpile confirms Harper’s take on NCC’s market situation. For anyone not familiar with marketing terminology, ‘pull’ means market demand. No one is asking to buy NCC as there are no applications requiring the product, so there is ‘no pull/no market demand’.

Graphene bits from the UK’s National Physical Laboratory and Cientifica

In the first bit of this week’s graphene news, the UK”s National Physical Laboratory (NPL) has joined the Graphene Stakeholders Association according to an Aug. 5, 2013 NPL news release,

The National Physical Laboratory (NPL) has joined the Graphene Stakeholders Association (GSA) as a lifetime member. NPL will work closely with the GSA to promote the responsible development of graphene and graphene-enabled technologies and applications.

“We foresee a significant role for NPL in the GSA in helping to develop common and accepted nomenclature, definitions, standard metrology and testing methods that will help foster and facilitate the development of graphene and graphene-enabled applications globally,” stated GSA co-founder, Stephen Waite. “We are delighted with NPL’s decision to join the GSA and look forward to working closely with Andrew Pollard and his colleagues in the months and years ahead,” says Waite.

NPL’s Andrew Pollard, who joins the GSA’s Advisory Board, said: “NPL has a leading role in the development of measurement techniques and international standards for graphene and 2-D materials, and the formation of the GSA is extremely well-timed as graphene progresses from the research laboratory to commercialisation. This partnership between two organisations with such well-aligned aims should enable the widely-predicted growth of a global graphene industry.”

I mentioned the founding of the Graphene Stakeholders Association in an April 23, 2013 posting. At the time I noted the group’s very interesting Graphene Industry Information page, which features these tidbits,

China has published more graphene patents than any other country, at 2,204, ahead of 1,754 for the U.S., 1,160 for South Korea, and 54 for the U.K.

South Korea’s Samsung has more graphene patents than any single company.

Nokia is part of the 74-company Graphene Flagship Consortium that is receiving a €1 billion ($1.35 billion) grant that the E.U. announced in January 2013.

Nokia, Philips, U.K. invention stalwart Dyson, weapons and aerospace company BAE Systems, and others have committed £13 million ($20.5 million) to a graphene development center [Cambridge Graphene Centre as per my Jan. 24, 2013 posting] at Cambridge University, to go along with £12 million ($18.9 million) from the British government. [Also, there's a new National Graphene Institute being built in Manchester, UK {my Jan. 14, 2013 posting}.]

….

Graphene is prohibitively expensive to make today. As recently as 2008, it cost $100 million to produce a single cubic centimeter of graphene.

Researchers are working on methods to reduce the cost of manufacturing and help make graphene a ubiquitous fabrication material.

Graphene film companies face major commercialization hurdles, including reducing costs, scaling-up the substrate transfer process, overcoming current deposition area limitations, and besting other emerging material solutions.

This leads to the 2nd bit of graphene news, Cientifica (a business consultancy focusing on emerging technologies) has released its Graphene Opportunity Report, from the report’s webpage (Note: Links have been removed),

A decade ago when we published the first edition of the Nanotechnology Opportunity Report, there were predictions of untold riches for early investors, the replacement of all manufacturing as we know it, and the mythical trillion-dollar market.

Cientifica went against the grain by predicting that it would be hard for anyone to make money from nanomaterials, and that the real value would be in the applications. This has been borne out by the failure of even large global companies such as Mitsubishi Chemical and Bayer to make much headway with fullerenes and carbon nanotubes, and the failure of countless smaller nanomaterials producers.

On the other hand companies making use of nanomaterials, Germany’s Magforce Technologies and the US based BIND Therapeutics have shown what can be achieved when nanomaterials are applied to large addressable markets, in this case drug delivery.

Is Graphene The New Nanotech?

A similar amount of hype currently surrounds graphene, with wild predictions of applications ranging from microelectronics to water
treatment. This report examines these claims and taking the rational approach for which Cientifica is known, considers how valid these are and evaluates the chances of success.

We also look in detail at the graphene producers. Graphene comes in a wide range of forms, each with its own particular set of addressable applications. No one producer covers all applications and many are destined to be niche players. As with nanomaterials, many companies currently producing graphene are destined to burn brightly and then be unceremoniously snuffed out when scale up or access to applications fails to materialise.

..

As with all Cientifica reports, we look beyond the hype and take a rational and dispassionate look at the entire graphene value chain, from graphite to THz electronics. There will be long-term winners, and we indicate what strategies are required to join this small elite band, and we provide a wealth of lessons from our previous experience in nanotechnologies and life sciences.

Most importantly, we look beyond the narrow graphene or nanotechnology worlds and assess graphene’s chances of success in competing with a wide range of other technologies, many of which have not been considered by those concentrating solely on graphene.

The Graphene Opportunity Report is available at GBP 2000/EUR 2300/USD 3000.

You can access the report’s Table of Contents here.

New ‘smart’ textiles market report from Cientifica

I’ve written about Cientifica and its reports before including their previous ‘smart’ textiles report (Nanotechnologies for Textile Markets published in April 2012; scroll down about 1/2 way) in (coincidentally) a May 15, 2012 posting about textiles and nanotechnology.

Today I received notification that the 2013 report is available for purchase. Here’s more about this year’s report from the Smart Textiles and Nanotechnology: Applications, Technologies and Markets Cientifica market report webpage,

Expanded and revised for 2013, over 264 pages “Smart Textiles and Nanotechnologies: Applications Technologies and Markets” looks at the technologies involved, the companies applying them, and the impact on sectors including apparel, home, military, technical and medical textiles.

Detailed market figures are given from 2012-2022, along with an analysis of the key opportunities, illustrated with 123 figures and 14 tables.

With over a billion Bluetooth enabled devices on the market, ranging from smartphones to set top boxes, and new technologies such as energy scavenging or piezoelectric energy generation being made possible by the use of nanotechnologies , there are opportunities for the textile industry in new markets ranging from consumer electronics to medical diagnostics.

This report provides an in-depth presentation of recent developments in nanotechnology applied to smart textiles and provides market opportunities to 2022. The market is segmented by

Clothing & Apparel
Home Textiles
Military Textiles
Medical Textiles
Sport Textiles
Technical and Smart Textiles

Companies mentioned in this report include:

AdidasAdvanPro Limited
Advanced Nano Products, Inc.AiQ Smart Clothing Inc.

Arc’teryx,
Asahi Kasei
Avelana
Balton Sp. Z.o.o
BASF
Beijing ChamGo Nano-Tech CoBelt Tech
BigSky Technologies LLC

Canada Goose,

Cocona Fabric
Cook Medical
CTT Group
Cyanine Technologies srlDaniel Hechter,

Duke University, USA
DuPont
DuPont Speciality ChemicalsDuro Textiles
Eddie Bauer

Formosa Taffeta
Forster Rohner AG
Foster Miller

Gap
Greenyarn

Kao Corp.
Kao Corp. Japan
Kennedy & Violich ArchitectureKing’s Metal Fiber Technologies

Lee Jeans
Levi StrauusLG Chem
LiberecLindstrand Technologies
LLBean
Lockheed Martin Corp
Louis Vuitton
Mammut,
Marks & SpencerMC10
Misfit Wearables
Mitsubishi
Mitsubishi
Nano Phase Technologies Corporation (NTC)

Nanyan Textiles
nCoat, Inc
New Balance
Nike
Nordstrom
NovaThera

Philips Lighting
Piedmont Chemical Industries, Inc
Pikeur
Polo Ralph LaurenPolar Elektro

Samsung

Sony
SparkFunSphelar Power Corp.
Suzutora
Takeda Chemical Industries
Teijin Fibres Ltd
Texnology Nano Textile (China), Ltd.Tex-Ray

United Textile Mills

Unexpectedly, I noticed a couple of Canadian entries in the company list: Arc’teryx and Canada Goose.

You can find out more about Cientifica on its About Us page,

Cientifica was founded as CMP Cientifica in Madrid in 1997 in order to meet the advanced analytical needs of the European Space Agency.

By 2000 the company was already meeting the increasing demand for information on emerging technologies to both the business and academic communities. Cientifica also launched Europe’s largest nanotechnology conference; TNT 2000, the world’s first conference dealing with investing in nanotechnologies; I2Nano, and the worlds first weekly information source dedicated to Nanotechnology; TNT Weekly.

In 2002 Cientifica published the first edition of  ‘The Nanotechnology Opportunity Report’, described by NASA as “the defining report in the field of nanotechnology.”

Cientifica is distinct from all other companies providing consulting and information services. It combines knowledge and expertise in both the science and business of emerging technologies, with nearly 20 years’ experience in the field of science and research, and nearly 10 years’ providing information on the business and science of emerging technologies.  Cientifica employees are all highly experienced technical project managers and familiar not only with the commercialization of technology but also with the technology transfer of science from the laboratory to the marketplace.

The cost of this latest ‘smart’ textiles report is: GBP 1499.00 / USD 2349.00.

EmTech México 2013

MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) produces an annual emerging technologies conference (EmTech) on its own home ground of Cambridge, MA and also in India (mentioned in my Mar. 5, 2010 posting; scroll down 2/3 of the way), in China, in Spain (mentioned in my Oct. 28, 2011 posting; scroll down about 1/4 of the way) and, of particular interest to me, in México.

The ‘nanotechnology’ bombings in México in 2011 and in early 2013, mentioned most recently in my Mar. 14, 2013 posting, provide an interesting backdrop to the upcoming conference (EmTech México 29-30 mayo, 2013 • Ciudad de México).

The speaker list for the conference is, as expected, heavy with MIT faculty but it also boasts someone I’ve featured here from time to time, Tim Harper of Cientifica. Here’s the description they have for Tim (from the EmTech México speaker [biography] page),

Tim Harper es uno de los principales expertos en la comercialización de nanotecnología y de tecnologías emergentes. Le interesan además la biología sintética, la medicina regenerativa y la geoingeniería.

Harper es un emprendedor, inversor en tecnologías emergentes y asesor gubernamental en materia de estrategia tecnológica. Es fundador y CEO de Cientifica, la empresa más respetada a nivel mundial en materia de información nanotecnológica y pronósticos meteorológicos. Harper fue cofundador de la empresa Nanosight, donde desarrolló un innovador sistema de detección de nanopartículas.

Perteneció al  equipo de  ingenieros de la Agencia Espacial Europea en el centro de I+D en Norrdwijk (Países Bajos). Allí contribuyó decisivamente al lanzamiento del primer microscopio de fuerza atómica en el espacio, donde nunca se había analizado el polvo cósmico.

En 1999, Harper organizó en Sevilla (España) la primera conferencia del mundo sobre inversión en nanotecnología. Desde entonces dirige con éxito el World Nanoeconomic Congress en cuatro continentes. En el año 2002 fundó la European NanoBusiness Association, una sociedad sin ánimo de lucro cuyo objetivo es promover la competitividad europea en materia de nanotecnología.

I gather the conference will be held  in Spanish. My skills in this language are almost nonexistent but relying heavily on my poor French, here’s a rough translation of the first paragraph,

Tim Harper is an expert on the commercialization of nanotechnology and other emerging technologies. He also maintains a professional interest in the fields of synthetic biology, regenerative medicine, and geoengineering.

Here are a few of the other speakers listed on the EmTech México conference’s Ponentes page,

  • Jason Pontin, Director de MIT Technology Review
  • Mario Molina, Premio Nobel de Química (1995)
  • Niels Van Duinen, Director de Desarrollo de Negocio Internacional de Philips Lighting
  • Carlo Ratti, Director del grupo Senseable City Lab en el MIT
  • Marcelo Coelho, Diseñador e investigador del grupo Fluid Interfaces en el MIT Media Lab
  • Juan Pablo Puerta, Director de Ingenería, Etsy
  • Marisa Viveros, Vicepresidenta de Cyber Security Innovation de IBM

You can check out all of the Emtech conferences on this page.

One last note, MIT has its own baggage viz the recent suicide of Aaron Swartz. This essay on Wikipedia offers one of the more neutral descriptions. I’ve excerpted the introduction, (Note: Links and footnotes have been removed),

Aaron Hillel Swartz (November 8, 1986 – January 11, 2013) was an American computer programmer, writer, political organizer and Internet activist.

Swartz was involved in the development of the web feed format RSS,[ the organization Creative Commons,] the website framework web.py and the social news site Reddit, in which he was an equal partner after its merger with his Infogami company. Swartz also focused on sociology, civic awareness and activism. In 2010, he became a research fellow at Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Research Lab on Institutional Corruption, directed by Lawrence Lessig. He founded the online group Demand Progress, known for its campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act.

On January 6, 2011, Swartz was arrested by MIT police on state breaking-and-entering charges, in connection with the systematic downloading of academic journal articles from JSTOR. Federal prosecutors eventually charged him with two counts of wire fraud and 11 violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, charges carrying a cumulative maximum penalty of $1 million in fines plus 35 years in prison, asset forfeiture, restitution and supervised release.

On January 11, 2013, two years after his initial arrest, Swartz was found dead in his Crown Heights, Brooklyn apartment, where he had hanged himself.

MIT president L. Rafael Reif has since ordered a review of MIT’s role in the tragedy noted in the Wikipedia essay and elsewhere. The essay on Aaron Swartz offers a fairly comprehensive overview of Swartz’s life and accomplishments, as well as, his legal situation and the circumstances surrounding his death.

A suicide is a complex event and it is not possible to hold any one person or institution to blame, tempting as it may be. Nonetheless, it must be said that it seems oddly dissonant that MIT which prides itself on its technological advancements  and membership in an elite, forward-thinking research community would be party to an action where prosecutors seemed more intent on punishment than on any principle of law relating to research and its dissemination. Whatever one thinks of Swartz’s actions, it is clear he was acting out of a spirit of civil disobedience (trying to set publicly funded research free).

In fact, the emerging technologies of yesteryear are have social impacts today such that the ways in which we view research and the scientific process are changing prompting questions such as ‘Who gets access to information and ideas?’ and, as  importantly, ‘When?’

I wonder if any of these events, the multiple bombings in México and MIT’s role in the Swartz case and suicide will have any sort of impact on this conference. I doubt it; there wasn’t a single philosopher on the speaker’s list.

Jason Pontin

Director de MIT Technology Review