Tag Archives: European Commission

Back to the mortar and pestle for perovskite-based photovoltaics

This mechanochemistry (think mortar and pestle) story about perovskite comes from Poland. From a Jan. 14, 2016 Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences press release (also on EurekAlert but dated Jan. 16, 2016),

Perovskites, substances that perfectly absorb light, are the future of solar energy. The opportunity for their rapid dissemination has just increased thanks to a cheap and environmentally safe method of production of these materials, developed by chemists from Warsaw, Poland. Rather than in solutions at a high temperature, perovskites can now be synthesized by solid-state mechanochemical processes: by grinding powders.

We associate the milling of chemicals less often with progress than with old-fashioned pharmacies and their inherent attributes: the pestle and mortar. [emphasis mine] It’s time to change this! Recent research findings show that by the use of mechanical force, effective chemical transformations take place in solid state. Mechanochemical reactions have been under investigation for many years by the teams of Prof. Janusz Lewinski from the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IPC PAS) and the Faculty of Chemistry of Warsaw University of Technology. In their latest publication, the Warsaw researchers describe a surprisingly simple and effective method of obtaining perovskites – futuristic photovoltaic materials with a spatially complex crystal structure.

“With the aid of mechanochemistry we are able to synthesize a variety of hybrid inorganic-organic functional materials with a potentially great significance for the energy sector. Our youngest ‘offspring’ are high quality perovskites. These compounds can be used to produce thin light-sensitive layers for high efficiency solar cells,” says Prof. Lewinski.

Perovskites are a large group of materials, characterized by a defined spatial crystalline structure. In nature, the perovskite naturally occurring as a mineral is calcium titanium(IV) oxide CaTiO3. Here the calcium atoms are arranged in the corners of the cube, in the middle of each wall there is an oxygen atom and at the centre of the cube lies a titanium atom. In other types of perovskite the same crystalline structure can be constructed of various organic and inorganic compounds, which means titanium can be replaced by, for example, lead, tin or germanium. As a result, the properties of the perovskite can be adjusted so as to best fit the specific application, for example, in photovoltaics or catalysis, but also in the construction of superconducting electromagnets, high voltage transformers, magnetic refrigerators, magnetic field sensors, or RAM memories.

At first glance, the method of production of perovskites using mechanical force, developed at the IPC PAS, looks a little like magic.

“Two powders are poured into the ball mill: a white one, methylammonium iodide CH3NH3I, and a yellow one, lead iodide PbI2. After several minutes of milling no trace is left of the substrates. Inside the mill there is only a homogeneous black powder: the perovskite CH3NH3PbI3,” explains doctoral student Anna Maria Cieslak (IPC PAS).

“Hour after hour of waiting for the reaction product? Solvents? High temperatures? In our method, all this turns out to be unnecessary! We produce chemical compounds by reactions occurring only in solids at room temperature,” stresses Dr. Daniel Prochowicz (IPC PAS).

The mechanochemically manufactured perovskites were sent to the team of Prof. Michael Graetzel from the Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne in Switzerland, where they were used to build a new laboratory solar cell. The performance of the cell containing the perovskite with a mechanochemical pedigree proved to be more than 10% greater than a cell’s performance with the same construction, but containing an analogous perovskite obtained by the traditional method, involving solvents.

“The mechanochemical method of synthesis of perovskites is the most environmentally friendly method of producing this class of materials. Simple, efficient and fast, it is ideal for industrial applications. With full responsibility we can state: perovskites are the materials of the future, and mechanochemistry is the future of perovskites,” concludes Prof. Lewinski.

The described research will be developed within GOTSolar collaborative project funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 Future and Emerging Technologies action.

Perovskites are not the only group of three-dimensional materials that has been produced mechanochemically by Prof. Lewinski’s team. In a recent publication the Warsaw researchers showed that by using the milling technique they can also synthesize inorganic-organic microporous MOF (Metal-Organic Framework) materials. The free space inside these materials is the perfect place to store different chemicals, including hydrogen.

This research was published back in August 2015,

Mechanosynthesis of the hybrid perovskite CH3NH3PbI3: characterization and the corresponding solar cell efficiency by D. Prochowicz, M. Franckevičius, A. M. Cieślak, S. M. Zakeeruddin, M. Grätzel and J. Lewiński. J. Mater. Chem. A, 2015,3, 20772-20777 DOI: 10.1039/C5TA04904K First published online 27 Aug 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.

An open science policy platform for Europe and a technology programme for the arts community

Thanks to David Bruggeman’s Dec. 8, 2015 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog, I’ve gotten some details about the European Union’s (EU) Open Science Policy Platform and about a science, technology and arts programme to connect artists with scientists (Note: Links have been removed),

Recently the European Commission’s [EC] Directorate-General for Research and Development announced the development of an Open Science Policy Platform.  In the European Commission context, Open Science is one of its Digital Government initiatives, but this Policy Platform is not technical infrastructure.  It is a communications mechanism for stakeholders in open access, new digital tools for research and joint arts and research communities.

David goes on to contrast the open science situation in the US with the approach being taken in the EU. Unfortunately, I do not have  sufficient knowledge of the Canadian open science scene to offer any opinion.

Getting back to Europe, there is some sort of a government document from the EC’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation (RTD [Research and Technological Development]) titled, New policy initiative: The establishment of an Open Science Policy Platform,

The Open Science Policy Platform will be governed by a Steering Group composed of top-leading individuals of (European) branch organisations with the required decision-power. DG RTD will seek to appoint individuals from the following stakeholder groups:

-universities;
-academies of science;
-research funding bodies;
-research performing organisations;
-Citizen Science;
-scientific publication associations;
-Open Science platforms and intermediaries;
-(research) libraries.

The Open Science Policy Platform will advise the Commission on the development and implementation  of open science policy on the basis of the draft European Open Science Agenda.

The steering group for this platform will be set up in early 2016 according to the undated document describing this new policy initiative.

Regarding the arts project mentioned earlier, it’s part of the European Union’s Digital Agenda for Europe, from the ICT (information and communication technology) and art – the StARTS platform webpage on the European Commission’s website,

Scientific and technological skills are not the only forces driving innovation. Creativity and the involvement of society play a major role in the innovation process and its endorsement by all. In this context, the Arts serve as catalysts in an efficient conversion of Science and Technology knowledge into novel products, services, and processes.

ICT can enhance our capacity to sense the world, but an artwork can reach audiences on intrinsic emotional levels.

The constant appropriation of new technologies by artists allows them to go further in actively participating in society. By using ICT as their medium of expression, artists are able to prototype solutions, create new products and make new economic, social and business models. Additionally, by using traditional mediums of expression and considering the potentials of ICT, they propose new approaches to research and education.

The European Commission recognised this by launching the Starts programme: Innovation at the nexus of Science, Technology and the Arts  (Starts) to foster the emergence of joint arts and research communities. It supported the ICT Art Connect study which lead the way to the StARTS initiative by revealing new evidence for the integration of the Arts as an essential and fruitful component within research and innovation in ICT.

A Call for a Coordination and support action (CSA) has been launched to boost synergies between artists, creative people and technologists under Horizon 2020 Work Programme 2016/17.

You can find out more on events that are taking place throughout Europe. Follow StARTS on Facebook or via #StartsEU.

You can find the Starts website here.

Novel food nanotechnology resistance

The resistance is coming from the Nanotechnology Industries Association (NIA) and it concerns some upcoming legislation in the European Union. From a Sept. 24, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

In October [2015], the European Union Parliament is expected to vote on legislation that repeals Regulation No 258/97 and replaces it with ‘Regulation on Novel Foods 2013/045(COD)’, which will fundamentally change how nanomaterials in food are regulated. The Nanotechnologies Industries Association has issued the following statement on the upcoming vote:

After reviewing the draft European legislation updating the ‘Regulation on Novel Foods 2013/045(COD)’, it has become clear to the Nanotechnology Industries Association and within the nanotech supply chain that the proposed changes are unworkable. It is vague, unclear and contradicts firmly established nanomaterial regulations that have been effectively used by European institutions for years. Implementing it will create new, unnecessary challenges for SMEs, the drivers of economic growth, aiming to use nanotechnology to improve the daily lives of Europeans.

A Sept 24, 2015 NIA press release, which originated the news item, outlines the concerns,

To include materials that are “composed of discrete functional parts….which have one or more dimensions of the order of 100 nm or less” fundamentally changes the accepted definition of engineered nanomaterials and risks countless products being caught in disproportional regulation. The term “discrete functional parts” adds further complexity as it has little scientific basis, opening it up to a wide range of interpretation when put into practice. This will drive innovators to avoid any products that could possibly be caught in this broad, unclear definition and, ultimately, consumers will miss out on the benefits.

Innovators that can overcome this uncertainty and continue to utilize cutting-edge nanomaterials, will then face a new requirement that their safety tests be ‘the most up-to-date’ – a vague term with no formal definition. This leaves companies subject to unpredictable changes in testing requirements with little notice, a burden no other industry faces.

Finally, if implemented, the text would require the European commission to change the definition of ‘engineered nanomaterial’ in the Food Information to Consumers Regulation. However, regulations cannot be updated overnight, which means companies will be faced with two parallel and competing definitions for an indeterminate period of time.

The Council claims that this regulation will ‘reduce administrative burdens,’ however, we believe it will achieve the opposite. Industry and innovators need regulation that is clear and grounded in science. It ensures they know when they are subject to nanomaterial regulations and are prepared to meet all the requirements. This approach provides them with predictability in regulations and assures the public that the nanomaterials used are safe. A conclusion all parties can welcome.

NIA urges Members of the European Parliament not to create uncertainty in a sector that is a leader in European innovation, and to engage in direct discussions with the European Commission, which is already working on a review of the European Commission Recommendation for a Definition of a Nanomaterial with the Joint Research Centre.

While it might be tempting to lambaste the NIA for resisting regulation of nanomaterials in foods, the organization does have a point. Personally, I would approach it by emphasizing that there has been a problem with the European Union definition for nanomaterials (issued in 2011) and that is currently being addressed by the Joint Research Centre (JRC), which has issued a series of three reports the latest being in July 2015. (Note: There have been issues with the European Union definition since it was first issued and it would seem more logical to wait until that matter has been settled before changing regulations.) From a July 10, 2015 JRC press release,

The JRC has published science-based options to improve the clarity and the practical application of the EC recommendation on the definition of a nanomaterial. This is the last JRC report in a series of three, providing the scientific support to  the Commission in its review of the definition used to identify materials for which special provisions might apply (e.g. for ingredient labelling or safety assessment).  The Commission’s review process continues, assessing the options against policy issues.

As the definition should be broadly applicable in different regulatory sectors, the report suggests that the scope of the definition regarding the origin of nanomaterials should remain unchanged, addressing natural, incidental and manufactured nanomaterials. Furthermore, size as the sole defining property of a nanoparticle, as well as the range of 1 nm to 100 nm as definition of the nanoscale should be maintained.

On the other hand, several issues seem to deserve attention in terms of clarification of the definition and/or provision of additional implementation guidance. These include:

  • The terms “particle”, “particles size”, “external dimension” and “constituent particles”.
  • Consequences of the possibility of varying the current 50% threshold for the particle number fraction (if more than half of the particles have one or more external dimensions between 1 nm and 100 nm the material is a nanomaterial): variable thresholds may allow regulators to address specific concerns in certain application areas, but may also confuse customers and lead to an inconsistent classification of the same material based on the field of application.
  • Ambiguity on the role of the volume-specific surface area (VSSA): The potential use of VSSA should be clarified and ambiguities arising from the current wording should be eliminated.
  • The methods to prove that a material is not a nanomaterial: The definition makes it very difficult to prove that a material is not a nanomaterial. This issue could be resolved by adding an additional criterion.
  • The list of explicitly included materials (fullerenes, graphene flakes and single wall carbon nanotubes even with one or more external dimensions below 1 nm): This list does not include non-carbon based materials with a structure similar to carbon nanotubes. A modification (or removal) of the current list could avoid inconsistencies.
  • A clearer wording in the definition could prevent the misunderstanding that products containing nanoparticles become nanomaterials themselves.

Many of the issues addressed in the report can be clarified by developing new or improved guidance. Also the need for specific guidance beyond clarification of the definition itself is identified. However, relying only on guidance documents for essential parts of the definition may lead to unintended differences in the implementation and decision making. Therefore, also possibilities to introduce more clarity in the definition itself are listed above and discussed in the report.

JRC will continue to support the review process of the definition and its implementation in EU legislation.

Here is an Oct. 18, 2011 posting where I featured some of the issues raised by the European Union definition.

Global overview of nano-enabled food and agriculture regulation

First off, this post features an open access paper summarizing global regulation of nanotechnology in agriculture and food production. From a Sept. 11, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

An overview of regulatory solutions worldwide on the use of nanotechnology in food and feed production shows a differing approach: only the EU and Switzerland have nano-specific provisions incorporated in existing legislation, whereas other countries count on non-legally binding guidance and standards for industry. Collaboration among countries across the globe is required to share information and ensure protection for people and the environment, according to the paper …

A Sept. 11, 2015 European Commission Joint Research Centre press release (also on EurekAlert*), which originated the news item, summarizes the paper in more detail (Note: Links have been removed),

The paper “Regulatory aspects of nanotechnology in the agri/feed/food sector in EU and non-EU countries” reviews how potential risks or the safety of nanotechnology are managed in different countries around the world and recognises that this may have implication on the international market of nano-enabled agricultural and food products.

Nanotechnology offers substantial prospects for the development of innovative products and applications in many industrial sectors, including agricultural production, animal feed and treatment, food processing and food contact materials. While some applications are already marketed, many other nano-enabled products are currently under research and development, and may enter the market in the near future. Expected benefits of such products include increased efficacy of agrochemicals through nano-encapsulation, enhanced bioavailability of nutrients or more secure packaging material through microbial nanoparticles.

As with any other regulated product, applicants applying for market approval have to demonstrate the safe use of such new products without posing undue safety risks to the consumer and the environment. Some countries have been more active than others in examining the appropriateness of their regulatory frameworks for dealing with the safety of nanotechnologies. As a consequence, different approaches have been adopted in regulating nano-based products in the agri/feed/food sector.

The analysis shows that the EU along with Switzerland are the only ones which have introduced binding nanomaterial definitions and/or specific provisions for some nanotechnology applications. An example would be the EU labelling requirements for food ingredients in the form of ‘engineered nanomaterials’. Other regions in the world regulate nanomaterials more implicitly mainly by building on non-legally binding guidance and standards for industry.

The overview of existing legislation and guidances published as an open access article in the Journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology is based on information gathered by the JRC, RIKILT-Wageningen and the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) through literature research and a dedicated survey.

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

Regulatory aspects of nanotechnology in the agri/feed/food sector in EU and non-EU countries by Valeria Amenta, Karin Aschberger, , Maria Arena, Hans Bouwmeester, Filipa Botelho Moniz, Puck Brandhoff, Stefania Gottardo, Hans J.P. Marvin, Agnieszka Mech, Laia Quiros Pesudo, Hubert Rauscher, Reinhilde Schoonjans, Maria Vittoria Vettori, Stefan Weigel, Ruud J. Peters. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology Volume 73, Issue 1, October 2015, Pages 463–476 doi:10.1016/j.yrtph.2015.06.016

This is the most inclusive overview I’ve seen yet. The authors cover Asian countries, South America, Africa, and the MIddle East, as well as, the usual suspects in Europe and North America.

Given I’m a Canadian blogger I feel obliged to include their summary of the Canadian situation (Note: Links have been removed),

4.2. Canada

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), who have recently joined the Health Portfolio of Health Canada, are responsible for food regulation in Canada. No specific regulation for nanotechnology-based food products is available but such products are regulated under the existing legislative and regulatory frameworks.11 In October 2011 Health Canada published a “Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterials” (Health Canada, 2011), the document provides a (working) definition of NM which is focused, similarly to the US definition, on the nanoscale dimensions, or on the nanoscale properties/phenomena of the material (see Annex I). For what concerns general chemicals regulation in Canada, the New Substances (NS) program must ensure that new substances, including substances that are at the nano-scale (i.e. NMs), are assessed in order to determine their toxicological profile ( Environment Canada, 2014). The approach applied involves a pre-manufacture and pre-import notification and assessment process. In 2014, the New Substances program published a guidance aimed at increasing clarity on which NMs are subject to assessment in Canada ( Environment Canada, 2014).

Canadian and US regulatory agencies are working towards harmonising the regulatory approaches for NMs under the US-Canada Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC) Nanotechnology Initiative.12 Canada and the US recently published a Joint Forward Plan where findings and lessons learnt from the RCC Nanotechnology Initiative are discussed (Canada–United States Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC) 2014).

Based on their summary of the Canadian situation, with which I am familiar, they’ve done a good job of summarizing. Here are a few of the countries whose regulatory instruments have not been mentioned here before (Note: Links have been removed),

In Turkey a national or regional policy for the responsible development of nanotechnology is under development (OECD, 2013b). Nanotechnology is considered as a strategic technological field and at present 32 nanotechnology research centres are working in this field. Turkey participates as an observer in the EFSA Nano Network (Section 3.6) along with other EU candidate countries Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Montenegro (EFSA, 2012). The Inventory and Control of Chemicals Regulation entered into force in Turkey in 2008, which represents a scale-down version of the REACH Regulation (Bergeson et al. 2010). Moreover, the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning published a Turkish version of CLP Regulation (known as SEA in Turkish) to enter into force as of 1st June 2016 (Intertek).

The Russian legislation on food safety is based on regulatory documents such as the Sanitary Rules and Regulations (“SanPiN”), but also on national standards (known as “GOST”) and technical regulations (Office of Agricultural Affairs of the USDA, 2009). The Russian policy on nanotechnology in the industrial sector has been defined in some national programmes (e.g. Nanotechnology Industry Development Program) and a Russian Corporation of Nanotechnologies was established in 2007.15 As reported by FAO/WHO (FAO/WHO, 2013), 17 documents which deal with the risk assessment of NMs in the food sector were released within such federal programs. Safe reference levels on nanoparticles impact on the human body were developed and implemented in the sanitary regulation for the nanoforms of silver and titanium dioxide and, single wall carbon nanotubes (FAO/WHO, 2013).

Other countries included in this overview are Brazil, India, Japan, China, Malaysia, Iran, Thailand, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, US, South Africa, South Korea, Switzerland, and the countries of the European Union.

*EurekAlert link added Sept. 14, 2015.

Scaling graphene production up to industrial strength

If graphene is going to be a ubiquitous material in the future, production methods need to change. An Aug. 7, 2015 news item on Nanowerk announces a new technique to achieve that goal,

Producing graphene in bulk is critical when it comes to the industrial exploitation of this exceptional two-dimensional material. To that end, [European Commission] Graphene Flagship researchers have developed a novel variant on the chemical vapour deposition process which yields high quality material in a scalable manner. This advance should significantly narrow the performance gap between synthetic and natural graphene.

An Aug. 7, 2015 European Commission Graphene Flagship press release by Francis Sedgemore, which originated the news item, describes the problem,

Media-friendly Nobel laureates peeling layers of graphene from bulk graphite with sticky tape may capture the public imagination, but as a manufacturing process the technique is somewhat lacking. Mechanical exfoliation may give us pristine graphene, but industry requires scalable and cost-effective production processes with much higher yields.

On to the new method (from the press release),

Flagship-affiliated physicists from RWTH Aachen University and Forschungszentrum Jülich have together with colleagues in Japan devised a method for peeling graphene flakes from a CVD substrate with the help of intermolecular forces. …

Key to the process is the strong van der Waals interaction that exists between graphene and hexagonal boron nitride, another 2d material within which it is encapsulated. The van der Waals force is the attractive sum of short-range electric dipole interactions between uncharged molecules.

Thanks to strong van der Waals interactions between graphene and boron nitride, CVD graphene can be separated from the copper and transferred to an arbitrary substrate. The process allows for re-use of the catalyst copper foil in further growth cycles, and minimises contamination of the graphene due to processing.

Raman spectroscopy and transport measurements on the graphene/boron nitride heterostructures reveals high electron mobilities comparable with those observed in similar assemblies based on exfoliated graphene. Furthermore – and this comes as something of a surprise to the researchers – no noticeable performance changes are detected between devices developed in the first and subsequent growth cycles. This confirms the copper as a recyclable resource in the graphene fabrication process.

“Chemical vapour deposition is a highly scalable and cost-efficient technology,” says Christoph Stampfer, head of the 2nd Institute of Physics A in Aachen, and co-author of the technical article. “Until now, graphene synthesised this way has been significantly lower in quality than that obtained with the scotch-tape method, especially when it comes to the material’s electronic properties. But no longer. We demonstrate a novel fabrication process based on CVD that yields ultra-high quality synthetic graphene samples. The process is in principle suitable for industrial-scale production, and narrows the gap between graphene research and its technological applications.”

With their dry-transfer process, Banszerus and his colleagues have shown that the electronic properties of CVD-grown graphene can in principle match those of ultrahigh-mobility exfoliated graphene. The key is to transfer CVD graphene from its growth substrate in such a way that chemical contamination is avoided. The high mobility of pristine graphene is thus preserved, and the approach allows for the substrate material to be recycled without degradation.

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

Ultrahigh-mobility graphene devices from chemical vapor deposition on reusable copper by Luca Banszerus, Michael Schmitz, Stephan Engels, Jan Dauber, Martin Oellers, Federica Haupt, Kenji Watanabe, Takashi Taniguchi, Bernd Beschoten, and Christoph Stampfer. Science Advances  31 Jul 2015: Vol. 1, no. 6, e1500222 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1500222

This article appears to be open access.

For those interested in finding out more about chemical vapour deposition (CVD), David Chandler has written a June 19, 2015 article for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) titled:  Explained: chemical vapor deposition (Technique enables production of pure, uniform coatings of metals or polymers, even on contoured surfaces.)

Outcomes for US-European Union bridging Nano environment, health, and safety (EHS) research workshop

According to Lynn Bergeson in an April 14, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now, a US-European Union (EU) workshop on nanosafety has published a document,

The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) published on March 23, 2015, the outcomes of the March 12-13, 2015, joint workshop held by the U.S. and the European Union (EU), “Bridging NanoEHS Research Efforts.” …

A US National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) ??, ??, 2015 notice on the nano.gov site provides more details,

Workshop participants reviewed progress toward COR [communities of research] goals and objectives, shared best practices, and identified areas for cross-COR collaboration.  To address new challenges the CORs were realigned and expanded with the addition of a COR on nanotechnology characterization. The seven CORs now address:

Characterization
Databases and Computational Modeling
Exposure through Product Life
EcoToxicity
Human Toxicity
Risk Assessment
Risk Management and Control

The CORs support the shared goal of responsible nanotechnology development as outlined in the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative EHS Research Strategy, and the research strategy of the EU NanoSafety Cluster. The CORs directly address several priorities described in the documents above, including the creation of a comprehensive nanoEHS knowledge base and international cooperation on the development of best practices and consensus standards.

The CORs are self-run, with technical support provided by the European Commission and the U.S. National Nanotechnology Coordination Office. Each Community has European and American co-chairs who convene meetings and teleconferences, guide the discussions, and set the group’s agenda. Participation in the CORs is free and open to any interested individuals. More information is available at www.us-eu.org.

The workshop was organized by the European Commission and the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative under the auspices of the agreement for scientific and technological cooperation between the European Union and the United States.

Coincidentally, I received an April 13, 2015 notice about the European Commission’s NanoSafety Cluster’s Spring 2015 newsletter concerning their efforts but found no mention of the ‘bridging workshop’. Presumably, information was not available prior to the newsletter’s deadline.

In my April 8, 2014 posting about a US proposed rule for reporting nanomaterials, I included information about the US and its efforts to promote or participate in harmonizing the nano situation internationally. Scroll down about 35% of the way to find information about the Canada-U.S. Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC) Nanotechnology Initiative, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) effort, and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) effort.

Converting light to electricity at femto speeds

This is a pretty remarkable (to me anyway) piece of research on speeding up the process of converting light to electricity. From an April 14, 2015 Institute of Photonic Science press release (also on EurekAlert but dated April 15, 2015),

The efficient conversion of light into electricity plays a crucial role in many technologies, ranging from cameras to solar cells. It also forms an essential step in data communication applications, since it allows for information carried by light to be converted into electrical information that can be processed in electrical circuits. Graphene is an excellent material for ultrafast conversion of light to electrical signals, but so far it was not known how fast graphene responds to ultrashort flashes of light.

The new device that the researchers developed is capable of converting light into electricity in less than 50 femtoseconds (a twentieth of a millionth of a millionth of a second). To do this, the researchers used a combination of ultrafast pulse-shaped laser excitation and highly sensitive electrical readout. As Klaas-Jan Tielrooij comments, “the experiment uniquely combined the ultrafast pulse shaping expertise obtained from single molecule ultrafast photonics with the expertise in graphene electronics. Facilitated by graphene’s nonlinear photo-thermoelectric response, these elements enabled the observation of femtosecond photodetection response times.”

The ultrafast creation of a photovoltage in graphene is possible due to the extremely fast and efficient interaction between all conduction band carriers in graphene. This interaction leads to a rapid creation of an electron distribution with an elevated electron temperature. Thus, the energy absorbed from light is efficiently and rapidly converted into electron heat. Next, the electron heat is converted into a voltage at the interface of two graphene regions with different doping. This photo-thermoelectric effect turns out to occur almost instantaneously, thus enabling the ultrafast conversion of absorbed light into electrical signals. As Prof. van Hulst states, “it is amazing how graphene allows direct non-linear detecting of ultrafast femtosecond (fs) pulses”.

The results obtained from the findings of this work, which has been partially funded by the EC Graphene Flagship, open a new pathway towards ultra-fast optoelectronic conversion. As Prof. Koppens comments, “Graphene photodetectors keep showing fascinating performances addressing a wide range of applications”.

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

Generation of photovoltage in graphene on a femtosecond timescale through efficient carrier heating by K. J. Tielrooij, L. Piatkowski, M. Massicotte, A. Woessner, Q. Ma, Y. Lee,  K. S. Myhro, C. N. Lau, P. Jarillo-Herrero, N. F. van Hulst & F. H. L. Koppens. Nature Nanotechnology (2015) doi:10.1038/nnano.2015.54 Published online 13 April 2015

This paper is behind a paywall but there is a free preview via ReadCube Access.

Nanomaterials, the European Commission, and functionality

A Feb. 17, 2015 news item on Nanowerk features a special thematic issue of Science for Environment Policy, a free news and information service published by the European
Commission’s Directorate-General Environment, which provides the latest environmental policy-relevant research findings (Note: A link has been removed),

Nanomaterials – at a scale of one thousand times smaller than a millimetre – offer the promise of radical technological development. Many of these will improve our quality of life, and develop our economies, but all will be measured against the overarching principle that we do not make some error, and harm ourselves and our environment by exposure to new forms of hazard. This Thematic Issue (“Nanomaterials’ functionality”; free pdf download) explores recent developments in nanomaterials research, and possibilities for safe, practical and resource-efficient applications.

You can find Nanomaterials’ functionality thematic issue here; the issue includes.

Several articles in this Thematic Issue illustrate how nanotechnology is likely to further revolutionise that arena, for example in capturing sunlight and turning it into usable electrical energy. The article ‘Solar cell efficiency boosted with pine tree-like nanotube needle’, describes how light collected from the sun can be bounced around many times inside a nanostructure to improve the chance of it exciting electrons, and ‘Nanotechnology cuts costs and improves efficiency of photovoltaic cells’ shows how electrons that are released can be captured by the large surface area of ‘nano-tree like’ anodes. Together these ensure that more of the sunlight is transformed to captured electrons and electrical power. The article ‘New energy-efficient manufacture of perovskite solar cells’ goes further, and suggests that the existing titanium dioxide that is currently used in solar cells could be replaced by perovskites, yielding quite dramatic improvements in energy conversion, at low device fabrication costs. …

The article ‘New quantum dot process could lead to super-efficient light-producing technology’ describes how anisotropic (elongated, non-spherical) indium-gallenium nitride quantum dots, or proximity to an anisotropic surface, can lead quantum dots to emit polarised light, potentially enabling 3D television screens, optical computers and other applications, at much lower cost. ‘The potential of new building block-like nanomaterials: van der Waals heterostructures’ and ‘Graphene’s health effects summarised in new guide’ touch on the possibility of engineering ‘building block-crystals’ by arranging different 2D nanostructures such as graphene into low dimension crystals, which allows us, for example, to lower the loss of energy in transmitting electricity. There are also quite novel directions underpinning ‘green nanochemistry’ — illustrated by the potential of silk-based electron-beam resists (in the article ‘Making nano-scale manufacturing eco-friendly with silk’) — to be eco-friendly, and have new functionalities.

… [p. 3 PDF]

In addition to highlighting various research areas by mentioning articles included the issue, the editorial makes its case for commercializing nanomaterials and for the European establishment’s precautionary approach to doing so,

European institutions and organisations have been at the forefront of efforts to ensure safe and practical implementation of nanotechnology. Significant efforts have been made to address knowledge gaps through research, the financing of responsible innovation, and the upgrading of the regulatory framework to render it capable of addressing the new challenges. There are solid reasons for institutional attention to the issues. Succinctly put, the passing around and modification of natural nanoparticles and macromolecules (for example, proteins) within our bodies is the foundation of much of life. In doing so we regulate and send signals between cells and organs. It is therefore appropriate that questions should be asked about engineered nanoparticles and how they interact with us, and whether they could lead to unforeseen hazards. Those are substantive issues, and answering them well will support the creative drive towards real innovation for many decades to come, and honour our commitments to future generations. [p. 4 PDF]

This special issue provide links for more information and citations for the research papers the articles are based on.

SEMANTICS, a major graphene project based in Ireland

A Jan. 28, 2015 news item on Nanowerk profiles SEMANTICS, a major graphene project based in Ireland (Note: A link has been removed),

Graphene is the strongest, most impermeable and conductive material known to man. Graphene sheets are just one atom thick, but 200 times stronger than steel. The European Union is investing heavily in the exploitation of graphene’s unique properties through a number of research initiatives such as the SEMANTICS project running at Trinity College Dublin.

A Dec. 16, 2014 European Commission press release, which originated the news item, provides an overview of the graphene enterprise in Europe,

It is no surprise that graphene, a substance with better electrical and thermal conductivity, mechanical strength and optical purity than any other, is being heralded as the ‘wonder material’ of the 21stcentury, as plastics were in the 20thcentury.

Graphene could be used to create ultra-fast electronic transistors, foldable computer displays and light-emitting diodes. It could increase and improve the efficiency of batteries and solar cells, help strengthen aircraft wings and even revolutionise tissue engineering and drug delivery in the health sector.

It is this huge potential which has convinced the European Commission to commit €1 billion to the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) Graphene Flagship project, the largest-ever research initiative funded in the history of the EU. It has a guaranteed €54 million in funding for the first two years with much more expected over the next decade.

Sustained funding for the full duration of the Graphene Flagship project comes from the EU’s Research Framework Programmes, principally from Horizon 2020 (2014-2020).

The aim of the Graphene Flagship project, likened in scale to NASA’s mission to put a man on the moon in the 1960s, or the Human Genome project in the 1990s, is to take graphene and related two-dimensional materials such as silicene (a single layer of silicon atoms) from a state of raw potential to a point where they can revolutionise multiple industries and create economic growth and new jobs in Europe.

The research effort will cover the entire value chain, from materials production to components and system integration. It will help to develop the strong position Europe already has in the field and provide an opportunity for European initiatives to lead in global efforts to fully exploit graphene’s miraculous properties.

Under the EU plan, 126 academics and industry groups from 17 countries will work on 15 individual but connected projects.

The press release then goes on to describe a new project, SEMANTICS,

… this is not the only support being provided by the EU for research into the phenomenal potential of graphene. The SEMANTICS research project, led by Professor Jonathan Coleman at Trinity College Dublin, is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) and has already achieved some promising results.

The ERC does not assign funding to particular challenges or objectives, but selects the best scientists with the best ideas on the sole criterion of excellence. By providing complementary types of funding, both to individual scientists to work on their own ideas, and to large-scale consortia to coordinate top-down programmes, the EU is helping to progress towards a better knowledge and exploitation of graphene.

“It is no overestimation to state that graphene is one of the most exciting materials of our lifetime,” Prof. Coleman says. “It has the potential to provide answers to the questions that have so far eluded us. Technology, energy and aviation companies worldwide are racing to discover the full potential of graphene. Our research will be an important element in helping to realise that potential.”

With the help of European Research Council (ERC) Starting and Proof of Concept Grants, Prof. Coleman and his team are researching methods for obtaining single-atom layers of graphene and other layered compounds through exfoliation (peeling off) from the multilayers, followed by deposition on a range of surfaces to prepare films displaying specific behaviour.

“We’re working towards making graphene and other single-atom layers available on an economically viable industrial scale, and making it cheaply,” Prof. Coleman continues.

“At CRANN [Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices at Trinity College Dublin], we are developing nanosheets of graphene and other single-atom materials which can be made in very large quantities,” he adds. “When you put these sheets in plastic, for example, you make the plastic stronger. Not only that – you can massively increase its electrical properties, you can improve its thermal properties and you can make it less permeable to gases. The applications for industry could be endless.”

Prof. Coleman admits that scientists are regularly taken aback by the potential of graphene. “We are continually amazed at what graphene and other single-atom layers can do,” he reveals. “Recently it has been discovered that, when added to glue, graphene can make it more adhesive. Who would have thought that? It’s becoming clear that graphene just makes things a whole lot better,” he concludes.

So far, the project has developed a practical method for producing two-dimensional nanosheets in large quantities. Crucially, these nanosheets are already being used for a range of applications, including the production of reinforced plastics and metals, building super-capacitors and batteries which store energy, making cheap light detectors, and enabling ultra-sensitive position and motion sensors. As the number of application grows, increased demand for these materials is anticipated. In response, the SEMANTICS team has scaled up the production process and is now producing 2D nanosheets at a rate more than 1000 times faster than was possible just a year ago.

I believe that new graphene production process is the ‘blender’ technique featured here in an April 23, 2014 post. There’s also a profile of the ‘blender’ project  in a Dec. 10, 2014 article by Ben Deighton for the European Commission’s Horizon magazine (Horizon 2020 is the European Union’s framework science funding programme). Deighton’s article hosts a video of Jonathan Coleman speaking about nanotechnology, blenders, and more on Dec. 1, 2014 at TEDxBrussels.

Heart of stone

Researchers in Europe do not want to find out what would Europe look like without its stone castles, Stonehenge, Coliseum, cathedrals, and other monumental stone structures, and have found a possible solution to the problem of deterioration according to an Oct. 20, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

Castles and cathedrals, statues and spires… Europe’s built environment would not be the same without these witnesses of centuries past. But, eventually, even the hardest stone will crumble. EU-funded researchers have developed innovative nanomaterials to improve the preservation of our architectural heritage.

“Our objective,” says Professor Gerald Ziegenbalg of IBZ Salzchemie, “was to find new possibilities to consolidate stone and mortar, especially in historical buildings.” The products available at the time, he adds, didn’t meet the full range of requirements, and some could actually damage the artefacts they were meant to preserve. Alternatives compatible with the original materials were needed.

A July 9, 2014 European Commission press release, which originated the news item, provides more details about this project (Note: A link has been removed),

 Ziegenbalg was the coordinator of the Stonecore project, which rose to this monumental challenge within a mere three years. It developed and commercialised a new type of material that penetrates right into the stone, protecting it without any risk of damage or harmful residues. The team also invented new ways to assess damage to stone and refined a number of existing techniques.

The concept behind the new material developed by the Stonecore partners is ingenious. It involves lime nanoparticles suspended in alcohol, a substance that evaporates completely upon exposure to air. The nanoparticles then react with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to form limestone.

This innovation is on the market under the brand name CaLoSil. It is available in various consistencies – liquids and pastes – and in a number of formulations based on different types of alcohol, as well as with added filler materials such as marble. The product is applied by dipping, spraying or injection into the stone.

Beyond its use as a consolidant, CaLoSil can also be used to clean stone and mortar, as it helps to treat fungus and algae. The dehydrating effect of the alcohol and the acidity of the lime destroy the cells, and the growth can then be washed off. This method, says Ziegenbalg, is more effective than conventional chemical or mechanical approaches, and it does not damage the stone.

Limestone face-lifts

The partners tested their new product in a number of locations across Europe, on a wide variety of materials exposed to very different conditions. Together, they rejuvenated statues and sculptures, saved features in cathedrals and citadels, and treated materials as diverse as sandstone, marble and tuff.

The opportunity to access such a wide variety of sites, says Ziegenbalg, was one of the many advantages of working with partners from several countries. It pre-empted the risk of developing a product that was too narrowly focused on a specific application.

Inside the heart of stone

A number of techniques enable conservation teams to assess the state of the objects in their care. To obtain a clearer picture of deeper damage, Stonecore improved existing approaches involving ultrasound, developing a new device. The project also pioneered a new technique based on ground-penetrating radar, which one partner is now offering as a commercial service.

The team also developed an innovative micro-drilling tool and refined an existing technique for measuring the water uptake of stone.

A further innovation is a new technique to measure surface degradation. For this so-called “peeling test”, a length of adhesive tape is affixed to the object. The weight of the particles that come off with the tape when it is removed indicate how likely the stone is to degrade.

Carving out solutions

The partners’ achievements have not gone unnoticed. In 2013, Stonecore was shortlisted along with 10 other projects for the annual EuroNanoForum’s Best Project Award.

Ziegenbalg attributes the team’s success mainly to the partners’ wide range of complementary expertise, and to their dedication. “The participating small and medium-sized enterprises were extremely active,” he says. “They were highly motivated to handle the more practical work, while the universities supported them with the necessary research input.”

While it’s not clear from this press release or the Stonecore website, it appears this project has run its course as part of European Union’s Framework Programme 7.