Tag Archives: European Union

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.

PlasCarb: producing graphene and renewable hydrogen from food waster

I have two tidbits about PlasCarb the first being an announcement of its existence and the second an announcement of its recently published research. A Jan. 13, 2015 news item on Nanowerk describes the PlasCarb project (Note: A link has been removed),

The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) is leading a European collaborative project that aims to transform food waste into a sustainable source of significant economic added value, namely graphene and renewable hydrogen.

The project titled PlasCarb will transform biogas generated by the anaerobic digestion of food waste using an innovative low energy microwave plasma process to split biogas (methane and carbon dioxide) into high value graphitic carbon and renewable hydrogen.

A Jan. 13, 2015 CPI press release, which originated the news item, describes the project and its organization in greater detail,

CPI  as the coordinator of the project is responsible for the technical aspects in the separation of biogas into methane and carbon dioxide, and separating of the graphitic carbon produced from the renewable hydrogen. The infrastructure at CPI allows for the microwave plasma process to be trialled and optimised at pilot production scale, with a future technology roadmap devised for commercial scale manufacturing.

Graphene is one of the most interesting inventions of modern times. Stronger than steel, yet light, the material conducts electricity and heat. It has been used for a wide variety of applications, from strengthening tennis rackets, spray on radiators, to building semiconductors, electric circuits and solar cells.

The sustainable creation of graphene and renewable hydrogen from food waste in provides a sustainable method towards dealing with food waste problem that the European Union faces. It is estimated that 90 million tonnes of food is wasted each year, a figure which could rise to approximately 126 million tonnes by 2020. In the UK alone, food waste equates to a financial loss to business of at least £5 billion per year.

Dr Keith Robson, Director of Formulation and Flexible Manufacturing at CPI said, “PlasCarb will provide an innovative solution to the problems associated with food waste, which is one of the biggest challenges that the European Union faces in the strive towards a low carbon economy.  The project will not only seek to reduce food waste but also use new technological methods to turn it into renewable energy resources which themselves are of economic value, and all within a sustainable manner.”

PlasCarb will utilise quality research and specialist industrial process engineering to optimise the quality and economic value of the Graphene and hydrogen, further enhancing the sustainability of the process life cycle.

Graphitic carbon has been identified as one of Europe’s economically critical raw materials and of strategic performance in the development of future emerging technologies. The global market for graphite, either mined or synthetic is worth over €10 billion per annum. Hydrogen is already used in significant quantities by industry and recognised with great potential as a future transport fuel for a low carbon economy. The ability to produce renewable hydrogen also has added benefits as currently 95% of hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels. Moreover, it is currently projected that increasing demand of raw materials from fossil sources will lead to price volatility, accelerated environmental degradation and rising political tensions over resource access.

Therefore, the latter stages of the project will be dedicated to the market uptake of the PlasCarb process and the output products, through the development of an economically sustainable business strategy, a financial risk assessment of the project results and a flexible financial model that is able to act as a primary screen of economic viability. Based on this, an economic analysis of the process will be determined. Through the development of a decentralised business model for widespread trans-European implementation, the valorisation of food waste will have the potential to be undertaken for the benefit of local economies and employment. More specifically, three interrelated post project exploitation markets have been defined: food waste management, high value graphite and RH2 sales.

PlasCarb is a 3-year collaborative project, co-funded under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) and will further reinforce Europe’s leading position in environmental technologies and innovation in high value Carbon. The consortium is composed of eight partners led by CPI from five European countries, whose complimentary research and industrial expertise will enable the required results to be successfully delivered. The project partners are; The Centre for Process Innovation (UK), GasPlas AS (NO), CNRS (FR), Fraunhofer IBP (DE), Uvasol Ltd (UK), GAP Waste Management (UK), Geonardo Ltd. (HU), Abalonyx AS (NO).

You can find PlasCarb here.

The second announcement can be found in a PlasCarb Jan. 14, 2015 press release announcing the publication of research on heterostructures of graphene ribbons,

Few materials have received as much attention from the scientific world or have raised so many hopes with a view to their potential deployment in new applications as graphene has. This is largely due to its superlative properties: it is the thinnest material in existence, almost transparent, the strongest, the stiffest and at the same time the most strechable, the best thermal conductor, the one with the highest intrinsic charge carrier mobility, plus many more fascinating features. Specifically, its electronic properties can vary enormously through its confinement inside nanostructured systems, for example. That is why ribbons or rows of graphene with nanometric widths are emerging as tremendously interesting electronic components. On the other hand, due to the great variability of electronic properties upon minimal changes in the structure of these nanoribbons, exact control on an atomic level is an indispensable requirement to make the most of all their potential.

The lithographic techniques used in conventional nanotechnology do not yet have such resolution and precision. In the year 2010, however, a way was found to synthesise nanoribbons with atomic precision by means of the so-called molecular self-assembly. Molecules designed for this purpose are deposited onto a surface in such a way that they react with each other and give rise to perfectly specified graphene nanoribbons by means of a highly reproducible process and without any other external mediation than heating to the required temperature. In 2013 a team of scientists from the University of Berkeley and the Centre for Materials Physics (CFM), a mixed CSIC (Spanish National Research Council) and UPV/EHU (University of the Basque Country) centre, extended this very concept to new molecules that were forming wider graphene nanoribbons and therefore with new electronic properties. This same group has now managed to go a step further by creating, through this self-assembly, heterostructures that blend segments of graphene nanoribbons of two different widths.

The forming of heterostructures with different materials has been a concept widely used in electronic engineering and has enabled huge advances to be made in conventional electronics. “We have now managed for the first time to form heterostructures of graphene nanoribbons modulating their width on a molecular level with atomic precision. What is more, their subsequent characterisation by means of scanning tunnelling microscopy and spectroscopy, complemented with first principles theoretical calculations, has shown that it gives rise to a system with very interesting electronic properties which include, for example, the creation of what are known as quantum wells,” pointed out the scientist Dimas de Oteyza, who has participated in this project. This work, the results of which are being published this very week in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, therefore constitutes a significant success towards the desired deployment of graphene in commercial electronic applications.

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

Molecular bandgap engineering of bottom-up synthesized graphene nanoribbon heterojunctions by Yen-Chia Chen, Ting Cao, Chen Chen, Zahra Pedramrazi, Danny Haberer, Dimas G. de Oteyza, Felix R. Fischer, Steven G. Louie, & Michael F. Crommie. Nature Nanotechnology (2015) doi:10.1038/nnano.2014.307 Published online 12 January 2015

This article is behind a paywall but there is a free preview available via ReadCube access.

Water purification, Italy, Romania, and graphene

I’m hauling some of the material out of my backlog for publication as I clear the decks for 2015 including this Dec. 17, 2014 news item on Nanowerk about water remediation,

Graphene Plus materials have an amazing capacity for adsorbing organic pollutants such as hydrocarbons from water, soils and air. Directa Plus has already certified the removal capacity of Graphene Plus for floating oils in water and has obtained the approval of the Italian Environmental Ministry for the use these products in oil spills clean-up activities. Graphene Plus is also object of GEnIuS (Graphene Eco Innovative Sorbent), a Directa Plus’ project co-founded by European Union within the Eco-Innovation initiative. The project aims to launch into real markets an innovative solution for water treatment based on graphene.

A Dec. 17, 2014 Directa Plus press release, which originated the news item, describes how a Romanian company has tested the effectiveness of Graphene Plus for water remediation,

Directa Plus has found in SetCar – a Romanian company with fourteen years of activity in decontamination and disposal of hazardous waste – an ideal partner for testing environmental applications of Graphene Plus materials, especially in environmental remediation.

Since summer 2014, SetCar has tested on laboratory scale Graphene Plus materials as adsorbents for different type of organic pollutants. The most impressive laboratory results have been obtained with Grafysorber™ and have encouraged pilot test in hydrocarbons removal from contaminated waters.

The first treatment project started on 14th October, 2014, inside a Romanian former refinery site, containing a basin with about 16 500 m3 of water contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons. The initial hydrocarbons concentration in water was about 56 ppm (3 drops of oil inside 1 litre of water), which means more than 1 tonne of pollutants that must be removed. The hydrocarbons maximum concentration necessary for the discharge of treated water into superficial aquatic ecosystems is 5 ppm.

“5 g/m3 of Grafysorber™ were able to bring the hydrocarbons concentration down to 1 ppm or lower and in only 10 minutes of contacts with the contaminated water! – says Eng. Covaci Melchisedec, Technical Manager of SetCar SA – We worked with a flow rate of 16 m3/h (daily flow rate of 360 -390 m3) in 2 consecutive batches of 4 m3. The total quantity of Grafysorber™ used in this project, which is now concluded, was 80 kg. In next projects, we have planned to implement the productivity of our treatment plant for low concentration hydrocarbons removal till 50 m3/h.”

Giulio Cesareo, President and CEO of Directa Plus shows his satisfaction for this collaboration and says “Our company needs partners such as SetCar SA. Setcar SA has a solid experience in decontamination field but, at the same time, a consolidate team of more than 50 engineers. Thanks to SetCar pilot test we obtained the real evidence that Grafysorber™ is an effective solution for decontamination of water containing hydrocarbons at low concentration”.

The Commercial Director of SetCar SA, Sandu Balan adds “We want to explore Graphene Plus potentiality in removing different type of pollutants from real contaminated water, soils and air and use it in other international projects of decontamination”.

Directa Plus, founded in 2005 and with headquarters in the ComoNext Science and Technology Park in Lomazzo (CO), is a technology company pursuing the development and marketing innovative manufacturing processes for the production of a new generation of nanomaterials targeting existing global markets. On June 23rd, 2014, Directa Plus opened its “Graphene Factory”, a new industrial centre distinguished for being the largest production plant in Europe of pristine graphene nanoplatelets, based on a patented and granted technology and designed according to a modular, replicable and exportable logic. The first module has 30-tonnes per year production capacity. To date, Directa Plus holds 26 granted patents and 19 patents pending. …

Setcar S.A. Established in 1994 as a joint stock company with entirely Rumanian private capital, the company is been developing since 2000 the range of services aimed to solve the environment issues, having as permanent concern the supply of a complete range of services, from chemical analyses for waste identification or, by creating new technologies, up to hazardous waste disposal or bringing the contaminated site to initial condition. …

You can find out more about Directa Plus here and about SetCar here (you will need your Romanian language skills as I cannot find an English language version of the site).

Chalmers University gears up to offer Graphene Science and Technology, an online, international course

They’ll be offering a MOOC, massive open online course, at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, on the topic of graphene starting March 23, 2015 according a Nov. 21, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

Starting in 2015, Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden will be a global disseminator of knowledge. The beginning of the year will mark the start of ChalmersX – the venture of Chalmers moocs on the platform edx.org.

Chalmers announces its membership in edx at the ongoing conference Edx Global Forum in Boston. Edx is the platform where Chalmers’ moocs will be accessible. Universities such as MIT, Harvard, UC Berkeley, the University of Tokyo and many more offer their moocs on the same platform.

“This is a new and different way for us to take on the role of knowledge disseminator in our society“, says Maria Knutson Wedel, vice president for undergraduate and master’s education at Chalmers.

With a computer and an Internet connection, course participants all over the world can watch video lectures, take part in discussions, do assignments and take exams.

“Previously, we have primarily shared knowledge on a local and national level. The technology today enables global knowledge sharing – we can reach people who need the knowledge in question no matter where they are located in the world,“ says Maria Knutson Wedel.

A Nov. 21, 2014 Chalmers University press release on mydesk.com, which seems to have originated the news item, notes that the university is the consortium lead on the European Union’s Graphene Flagship project,

The first ChalmersX mooc will be an introduction to the super-material graphene: Introduction to Graphene Science and Technology. The subject is at the forefront of research, and EU’s biggest research initiative ever – Graphene Flagship – is based at Chalmers.

The course is led by graphene researcher Jie Sun. He took the initiative to the mooc as he saw the need of large-scale education about graphene.

“I hope to give the participants of the course basic knowledge of graphene. At the end of the course, an engineer should be able to determine if graphene is suitable for the company’s products, and a student should be able to decide if the subject is of interest for continued studies”, says Jie Sun.

Moocs are a growing trend in higher education. There is a great deal of interest in the courses – each one typically attracts tens of thousands of participants.

Maria Knutson Wedel believes that moocs can be very useful as supplementary or continuing professional development for people who are already part of working life. She does not believe that the courses can completely replace a traditional campus education, however. Campus education are closely connected and designed to correspond to the expectations from industry, for example. This type of education also results in a degree and a title, something which companies consider when hiring.

“However, this probably depends in part on traditional thinking on the part of the people who do the hiring at companies. In the future, we may reach a point that knowledge, regardless of how it has been obtained, becomes more important than certificates and grades,“ says Maria Knutson Wedel.

The ChalmersX moocs will be specially adapted to their context – the recordings will not consist of traditional 45-minute lectures. The teachers who have developed the course have carefully analysed the concepts they want participants to come away with after the course. The content is then boiled down to short video clips of 5-7 minutes each.

The next mooc in line after the course on graphene will be on sustainability in everyday life, starting in May 2015.

More about: Moocs

Moocs, an abbreviation of massive open online courses, are online courses aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web. The term mooc was coined in 2008. As opposed to traditional distance learning, moocs do not have any prerequisites for admission. Exams are conducted by machine and there are platforms on which participants can get in contact with each other and discuss. The courses do not generate higher education credits, but the participants do receive a certificate for completing the course.

They do have a course prerequisite, from the Introduction to Graphene Science and Technology course,

In order to benefit fully from this course you should have an adequate knowledge of general physics and university level mathematics.

Here’s a video of Jie Sun talking about graphene and his course,

Enjoy the course!

Nanosafety research: a quality control issue

Toxicologist Dr. Harald Krug has published a review of several thousand studies on nanomaterials safety exposing problematic research methodologies and conclusions. From an Oct. 29, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Empa [Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology] toxicologist Harald Krug has lambasted his colleagues in the journal Angewandte Chemie (“Nanosafety Research—Are We on the Right Track?”). He evaluated several thousand studies on the risks associated with nanoparticles and discovered no end of shortcomings: poorly prepared experiments and results that don’t carry any clout. Instead of merely leveling criticism, however, Empa is also developing new standards for such experiments within an international network.

An Oct. 29, 2014 Empa press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the new enthusiasm for research into nanomaterials and safety,

Researching the safety of nanoparticles is all the rage. Thousands of scientists worldwide are conducting research on the topic, examining the question of whether titanium dioxide nanoparticles from sun creams can get through the skin and into the body, whether carbon nanotubes from electronic products are as hazardous for the lungs as asbestos used to be or whether nanoparticles in food can get into the blood via the intestinal flora, for instance. Public interest is great, research funds are flowing – and the number of scientific projects is skyrocketing: between 1980 and 2010, a total of 5,000 projects were published, followed by another 5,000 in just the last three years. However, the amount of new knowledge has only increased marginally. After all, according to Krug the majority of the projects are poorly executed and all but useless for risk assessments.

The press release goes on to describe various pathways into the body and problems with research methodologies,

How do nanoparticles get into the body?

Artificial nanoparticles measuring between one and 100 nanometers in size can theoretically enter the body in three ways: through the skin, via the lungs and via the digestive tract. Almost every study concludes that healthy, undamaged skin is an effective protective barrier against nanoparticles. When it comes to the route through the stomach and gut, however, the research community is at odds. But upon closer inspection the value of many alarmist reports is dubious – such as when nanoparticles made of soluble substances like zinc oxide or silver are being studied. Although the particles disintegrate and the ions drifting into the body are cytotoxic, this effect has nothing to do with the topic of nanoparticles but is merely linked to the toxicity of the (dissolved) substance and the ingested dose.

Laboratory animals die in vain – drastic overdoses and other errors

Krug also discovered that some researchers maltreat their laboratory animals with absurdly high amounts of nanoparticles. Chinese scientists, for instance, fed mice five grams of titanium oxide per kilogram of body weight, without detecting any effects. By way of comparison: half the amount of kitchen salt would already have killed the animals. A sloppy job is also being made of things in the study of lung exposure to nanoparticles: inhalation experiments are expensive and complex because a defined number of particles has to be swirled around in the air. Although it is easier to place the particles directly in the animal’s windpipe (“instillation”), some researchers overdo it to such an extent that the animals suffocate on the sheer mass of nanoparticles.

While others might well make do without animal testing and conduct in vitro experiments on cells, here, too, cell cultures are covered by layers of nanoparticles that are 500 nanometers thick, causing them to die from a lack of nutrients and oxygen alone – not from a real nano-effect. And even the most meticulous experiment is worthless if the particles used have not been characterized rigorously beforehand. Some researchers simply skip this preparatory work and use the particles “straight out of the box”. Such experiments are irreproducible, warns Krug.

As noted in the news item, the scientists at Empa have devised a solution to some to of the problems (from the press release),

The solution: inter-laboratory tests with standard materials
Empa is thus collaborating with research groups like EPFL’s Powder Technology Laboratory, with industrial partners and with Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) to find a solution to the problem: on 9 October the “NanoScreen” programme, one of the “CCMX Materials Challenges”, got underway, which is expected to yield a set of pre-validated methods for lab experiments over the next few years. It involves using test materials that have a closely defined particle size distribution, possess well-documented biological and chemical properties and can be altered in certain parameters – such as surface charge. “Thanks to these methods and test substances, international labs will be able to compare, verify and, if need be, improve their experiments,” explains Peter Wick, Head of Empa’s laboratory for Materials-Biology Interactions.

Instead of the all-too-familiar “fumbling around in the dark”, this would provide an opportunity for internationally coordinated research strategies to not only clarify the potential risks of new nanoparticles in retrospect but even be able to predict them. The Swiss scientists therefore coordinate their research activities with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the US, the European Commission’s Joint Research Center (JRC) and the Korean Institute of Standards and Science (KRISS).

Bravo! and thank you Dr. Krug and Empa for confirming something I’ve suspected due to hints from more informed commentators. Unfortunately my ignorance. about research protocols has not permitted me to undertake a better analysis of the research. ,

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

Nanosafety Research—Are We on the Right Track? by Prof. Dr. Harald F. Krug. Angewandte Chemie International Edition DOI: 10.1002/anie.201403367 Article first published online: 10 OCT 2014

This is an open access paper.

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.

Nanoeducation compendium (2012) from the European Commission

Michael Berger has written an Oct. 6, 2014 Nanowerk Spotlight article about the European Commission’s NANOTECHNOLOGIES: Principles, Applications, Implications and Hands-on Activities: A compendium for educators published in 2012. From the article,

The lessons, discussions on applications and hands-on experiments presented in this book have been tested and enriched by hundreds of teachers, professors and educators from about one thousand schools in 20 countries in Europe and beyond, involving about 40.000 students.

The educational materials in this compendium are organized in three self-contained modules to offer increased flexibility throughout the development of the course, addressing the fundamental concepts, the main application areas and selected hands-on experiments.

Moreover, a case study approach provides educators and teachers with practical applications and examples to discuss in class. Background materials, literature reviews, specific case studies and ideas are presented to show educators how to address nanosciences and nanotechnologies concepts. Topics dealing with the ethical, societal and safety aspects of nanotechnologies are also included to help educators encouraging class debates, referenced with other European projects and relevant webpages.

One caveat, two years later some of the material may be dated, e.g., webpages may have been moved.

There is an overview of various nanoeducation materials and organizations in the European Union provided in a Dec. 18, 2013 posting for NanoDiode (an innovative, coordinated programme for outreach and dialogue throughout Europe to support the effective governance of nanotechnologies; Note: links have been removed),

The need for education features prominently in European policy texts such as the European Commission’s Strategy for Nanotechnology of 2004 and its Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies Action Plan of 2005, which aims to ‘Promote networking and disseminate ‘best practice’s for education and training in N&N.’  Along with similar policy mandates for education on European member states and in other parts of the globe, this has resulted in a wide range of nanotechnology education activities over the last decade. The European project NANOYOU for instance organised a range of education activities such as a poster, film, contest, virtual dialogue, cards, role play, lab experiments, puzzle and games, and a website in 13 languages. In a similar fashion, the European project TimeforNano developed a range of educational materials and events (News & events, a video competition, a NanoKIT, a quiz and a website in 9 languages). The recent compendium for educators made on the basis of NANOYOU and, to a lesser extent, TimeforNano presents an extensive overview on the relevant principles, applications, implications and hands-on activities for nanotechnology education. [emphasis mine; this is the 2012 compendium mentioned in this post]

NISENet (Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network) features the compendium and offers more information and a link to it from here.

Most recently (Sept. 30, 2014 post), I featured a nanoeducation effort in Estonia The country is participating in the Quantum Spin-Off Project which offers an entrepreneurial aspect, as well as, education in the field of nanotechnology/nanoscience.

Nanotechnology education, artificial muscles, and Estonian high schools?

The University of Tartu (Estonia) announced in a Sept. 29, 2014 press release an educational and entrepreneurial programme about nanotechnology/nanoscience for teachers and students,

Led by the University of Tartu, innovative Estonian schools participate in the Quantum Spin-Off project, which aims to bring youth in contact with nanotechnology, modern science and high-tech entrepreneurship. Pupils participating in the project will learn about seven topics of nanotechnology, including the creation of artificial muscles and the manipulation of nanoparticles.

Most people have little contact with nanoscience and nanotechnologies, although the exciting nano-world has always been around us. “Most Estonian teachers do not have the experience of introducing nanoscience required for understanding the nano-world or the necessary connections that would allow visiting the experts in nanoscience and enterprises using the technology,” said the leader of the Quantum Spin-Off project, UT Professor of Technology Education Margus Pedaste, describing the current situation of acquiring nanotechnology knowledge in Estonia.

Coordinator of the project, Project Manager at the Centre for Educational Technology Maarika Lukk adds that nanoscience is interesting and necessary, as it offers plenty of practical applications, for instance in medicine, education, military industry and space.

The press release goes on to describe the Quantum Spin-Off project and the proposed nanoscience programme in more detail,

To bring nanoscience closer to pupils, educational researchers of the University of Tartu decided to implement the European Union LLP Comenius project “Quantum Spin-Off – connecting schools with high-tech research and entrepreneurship”. The objective of the project is to build a kind of a bridge: at one end, pupils can familiarise themselves with modern science, and at the other, experience its application opportunities at high-tech enterprises. “We also wish to inspire these young people to choose a specialisation related to science and technology in the future,” added Lukk.

The pupils can choose between seven topics of nanotechnology: the creation of artificial muscles, microbiological fuel elements, manipulation of nanoparticles, nanoparticles and ionic liquids as oil additives, materials used in regenerative medicine, deposition and 3D-characterisation of atomically designed structures and a topic covered in English, “Artificial robotic fish with EAP elements”.

Learning is based on study modules in the field of nanotechnology. In addition, each team of pupils will read a scientific publication, selected for them by an expert of that particular field. In that way, pupils will develop an understanding of the field and of scientific texts. On the basis of the scientific publication, the pupils prepare their own research project and a business plan suitable for applying the results of the project.

In each field, experts of the University of Tartu will help to understand the topics. Participants will visit a nanotechnology research laboratory and enterprises using nanotechnologies.

The project lasts for two years and it is also implemented in Belgium, Switzerland and Greece.

You can find more information about the European Union’s Quantum Spin-Off Project on its website (from the homepage),

The Quantum Spinoff project will bring science teachers and their pupils in direct contact with research and entrepreneurship in the high-tech nano sector, with the goal of educating a new generation of scientifically literate European citizens and inspiring young people to choose for science and technology careers. Teams of pupils, guided by their science teachers, will be challenged to create a responsible and socially relevant valorisation of a scientific paper in collaboration with actual researchers and entrepreneurs. They will visit high-tech research labs and will compete for the European Quantum Spin-Off Prize. Scientific and technological insights, creativity and responsible entrepreneurship will be all taken into account by the jury of experts. Science teachers will be trained in international and national workshops to support the inquiry learning process of their pupils.

This drive toward linking science to entrepreneurial output is an international effort as this Quantum-Spin Off project , Singapore’s A*STAR (Agency for Science, Technology and Research) and my Sept. 30, 2014 post about the 2014 Canadian Science Policy Conference  make abundantly clear.

FOE, nano, and food: part three of three (final guidance)

The first part of this food and nano ‘debate’ started off with the May 22, 2014 news item on Nanowerk announcing the Friends of the Earth (FOE) report ‘Way too little: Our Government’s failure to regulate nanomaterials in food and agriculture‘. Adding energy to FOE’s volley was a Mother Jones article written by Tom Philpott which had Dr. Andrew Maynard (Director of the University of Michigan’s Risk Science Center) replying decisively in an article published both on Nanowerk and on the Conversation.

The second part of this series focused largely on a couple of  research efforts (a June 11, 2014 news item on Nanowerk highlights a Franco-German research project, SolNanoTox) and in the US (a  June 19, 2014 news item on Azonano about research from the University of Arizona focusing on nanoscale additives for dietary supplement drinks) and noted another activist group’s (As You Sow) initiative with Dunkin’ Donuts (a July 11, 2014 article by Sarah Shemkus in a sponsored section in the UK’s Guardian newspaper0).

This final part in the series highlights the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) final guidance document on nanomaterials and food issued some five weeks after the FOE’s report and an essay by a Canadian academic on the topic of nano and food.

A July 9, 2014 news item on Bloomberg BNA sums up the FDA situation,

The Food and Drug Administration June 24 [2014] announced new guidance to provide greater regulatory clarity for industry on the use of nanotechnology in FDA-regulated products, including drugs, devices, cosmetics and food.

In this final guidance, the agency said that nanotechnology “can be used in a broad array of FDA-regulated products, including medical products (e.g., to increase bioavailability of a drug), foods (e.g., to improve food packaging) and cosmetics (e.g., to affect the look and feel of cosmetics).”

Also on the agency website, the FDA said it “does not make a categorical judgment that nanotechnology is inherently safe or harmful. We intend our regulatory approach to be adaptive and flexible and to take into consideration the specific characteristics and the effects of nanomaterials in the particular biological context of each product and its intended use.”

This July 18, 2014 posting by Jeannie Perron, Miriam Guggenheimm and Allan J. Topol of Covington & Burling LLP on the National Law Review blog provides a better summary and additional insight,

On June 24, 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released three final guidance documents addressing the agency’s general approach to nanotechnology and its use by the food and cosmetics industries, as well as a draft guidance on the use of nanomaterials in food for animals.

These guidance documents reflect FDA’s understanding of nanomaterials as an emerging technology of major importance with the potential to be used in novel ways across the entire spectrum of FDA- regulated products.

The documents suggest that FDA plans to approach nanotechnology-related issues cautiously, through an evolving regulatory structure that adapts to manufacturers’ changing uses of this technology. FDA has not established regulatory definitions of “nanotechnology,” “nanomaterial,” “nanoscale,” or other related terms. …

The notion of an “evolving regulatory structure” is very appealing in situations with emerging technologies with high levels of uncertainty. It’s surprising that more of the activist groups don’t see an opportunity with this approach. An organization that hasn’t devised a rigid regulatory structure has no investment in defending it. Activist groups can make the same arguments, albeit from a different perspective, about an emerging technology as the companies do and, theoretically, the FDA has become a neutral party with the power to require a company to prove its products’ safety.

You can find the FDA final guidance and other relevant documents here.

Finally, Sylvain Charlebois, associate dean at the College of Business and Economics at the University of Guelph, offers a rather provocative (and not from the perspective you might expect given his credentials) opinion on the topic of ‘nano and food’  in a July 18, 2014 article for TheRecord.com,

Nanotechnology and nanoparticles have been around for quite some time. In fact, consumers have been eating nanoparticles for years without being aware they are in their food.

Some varieties of Dentyne gum and Jell-O, M&M’s, Betty Crocker whipped cream frosting, Kool-Aid, Pop-Tarts, you name it, contain them. Even food packaging, such as plastic containers and beer bottles, have nanoparticles.

While consumers and interest groups alike are registering their concerns about genetically modified organisms, the growing role of nanotechnology in food and agriculture is impressive. When considering the socio-economic and ethical implications of nanotechnology, comparisons to the genetic modification debate are unavoidable.

The big picture is this. For years, capitalism has demonstrated its ability to create wealth while relying on consumers’ willingness to intrinsically trust what is being offered to them. With trans fats, genetically modified organisms and now nanoparticles, our food industry is literally playing with fire. [emphasis mine]

Most consumers may not have the knowledge to fully comprehend the essence of what nanotechnology is or what it can do. However, in an era where data access in almost constant real-time is king, the industry should at least give public education a shot.

In the end and despite their tactics, the activist groups do have a point. The food and agricultural industries need to be more frank about what they’re doing with our food. As Charlebois notes, they might want to invest in some public education, perhaps taking a leaf out of the Irish Food Board’s book and presenting the public with information both flattering and nonflattering about their efforts with our food.

Part one (an FOE report is published)

Part two (the problem with research)

ETA Aug. 22, 2014: Coincidentally, Michael Berger has written an Aug. 22, 2014 Nanowerk Spotlight article titled: How to identify nanomaterials in food.

ETA Sept. 1, 2014: Even more coincidentally, Michael Berger has written a 2nd Nanowerk Spotlight (dated Aug. 25, 2014) on the food and nano topic titled, ‘Nanotechnology in Agriculture’ based on the European Union’s Joint Research Centre’s ‘Workshop on Nanotechnology for the agricultural sector: from research to the field”, held on November 21-22 2013′.