Tag Archives: Finland

Nano for car lubricants and for sensors on dashboards

I have two car-oriented news items today. The first concerns the introduction of carbon nanospheres into lubricants as a means of reducing friction. From a March 5, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

Tiny, perfectly smooth carbon spheres added to motor oil have been shown to reduce friction and wear typically seen in engines by as much as 25 percent, suggesting a similar enhancement in fuel economy.

The researchers also have shown how to potentially mass-produce the spheres, making them hundreds of times faster than previously possible using ultrasound to speed chemical reactions in manufacturing.

“People have been making these spheres for about the last 10 years, but what we discovered was that instead of taking the 24 hours of synthesis normally needed, we can make them in 5 minutes,” said Vilas Pol, an associate professor of chemical engineering at Purdue University.

The spheres are 100-500 nanometers in diameter, a range that generally matches the “surface roughness” of moving engine components.

“So the spheres are able to help fill in these areas and reduce friction,” said mechanical engineering doctoral student Abdullah A. Alazemi.

A March 4, 2015 Purdue University news release by Emil Venere, which originated the news item, elaborates on the impact this finding could have (Note: A link has been removed),

Tests show friction is reduced by 10 percent to 25 percent when using motor oil containing 3 percent of the spheres by weight.

“Reducing friction by 10 to 25 percent would be a significant improvement,” Sadeghi said. “Many industries are trying to reduce friction through modification of lubricants. The primary benefit to reducing friction is improved fuel economy.”

Friction is greatest when an engine is starting and shutting off, so improved lubrication is especially needed at those times.

“Introducing microspheres helps separate the surfaces because the spheres are free to move,” Alazemi said. “It also is possible that these spheres are rolling and acting as little ball bearings, but further research is needed to confirm this.” [emphasis mine]

Findings indicate adding the spheres did not change the viscosity of the oil.

“It’s very important not to increase the viscosity because you want to maintain the fluidity of the oil so that it can penetrate within engine parts,” Alazemi said.

The spheres are created using ultrasound to produce bubbles in a fluid containing a chemical compound called resorcinol and formaldehyde. The bubbles expand and collapse, generating heat that drives chemical reactions to produce polymer particles. These polymeric particles are then heated in a furnace to about 900 degrees Celsius, yielding the perfectly smooth spheres.

“A major innovation is that professor Pol has shown how to make lots of these spheres, which is important for potential industrial applications,” Sadeghi said.

Etacheri said, “Electron microscopy images and Raman spectra taken before and after their use show the spheres are undamaged, suggesting they can withstand the punishing environment inside engines and other machinery.”

Funding was provided by Purdue’s School of Chemical Engineering. Electron microscopy studies were performed at the Birck Nanotechnology Center in Purdue’s Discovery Park.

Future research will include work to determine whether the spheres are rolling like tiny ball bearings or merely sliding. A rolling mechanism best reduces friction and would portend well for potential applications. Future research also will determine whether the resorcinol-formaldehyde particles might themselves be used as a lubricant additive without heating them to produce pure carbon spheres.

I’m not sure why the researcher is referring to microspheres as the measurements are at the nanoscale, which should mean these are ‘nanospheres’ or, as the researchers have it in the title for their paper, ‘submicrometer spheres’.

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

Ultrasmooth Submicrometer Carbon Spheres as Lubricant Additives for Friction and Wear Reduction by Abdullah A. Alazemi, Vinodkumar Etacheri, Arthur D. Dysart, Lars-Erik Stacke, Vilas G. Pol, and Farshid Sadeghi. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/acsami.5b00099 Publication Date (Web): February 17, 2015
Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall but there is an instructive image freely available,

This image taken with an electron microscope shows that tiny carbon spheres added to motor oil reduce friction and wear typically seen in engines by as much as 25 percent, suggesting a similar enhancement in fuel economy. Purdue researchers also have shown how to potentially mass-produce the spheres. (Purdue University image)

This image taken with an electron microscope shows that tiny carbon spheres added to motor oil reduce friction and wear typically seen in engines by as much as 25 percent, suggesting a similar enhancement in fuel economy. Purdue researchers also have shown how to potentially mass-produce the spheres. (Purdue University image)

My second car item concerns thin films and touch. From a March 5, 2015 news item on Azonano (Note: A link has been removed),,

Canatu, a leading manufacturer of transparent conductive films, has in partnership with Schuster Group [based in Germany] and Display Solution AG [based in Germany], showcased a pioneering 3D encapsulated touch sensor for the automotive industry.

The partnership is delivering the first ever, button free, 3D shaped true multitouch panel for automotives, being the first to bring much anticipated touch applications to dashboards and paneling. The demonstrator provides an example of multi-functional display with 5 finger touch realized in IML [in mould labeling] technology.

A March 5, 2015 Canatu press release, which originated the news item, provides more details about the technology and some insight into future plans,

The demonstrator provides an example of multi-functional display with 5 finger touch realized in IML technology. The integration of touch applications to dashboards and other paneling in cars has long been a desired by automotive designers but a suitable technology was not available. Finally the technology is now here. Canatu’s CNB™ (Carbon NanoBud®) In-Mold Film, with its unique stretch properties provides a clear path to the eventual replacement of mechanical controls with 3D touch sensors. The touch application was made using an existing mass manufacturing tool and industry standard processes.

Specifically designed for automobile center consoles and dashboards, household machines, wearable devices, industrial user interfaces, commercial applications and consumer devices, CNB™ In-Mold Films can be easily formed into shape. The film is first patterned to the required touch functionality, then formed, then back-molded by injection molding, resulting in a unique 3D shape with multitouch functionality.

With a bending radius of 1mm, CNB™ In-Mold Films can bring touch to almost any surface imaginable. The unique properties of CNB™ In-Mold Films are unmatched as no other film on the market can be stretched 120% and molded without losing their conductivity.

You can find out more about Canatu, based in Finland, here.

Europe’s search for raw materials and hopes for nanotechnology-enabled solutions

A Feb. 27, 2015 news item on Nanowerk highlights the concerns over the availability of raw materials and European efforts to address those concerns,

Critical raw materials’ are crucial to many European industries but they are vulnerable to scarcity and supply disruption. As such, it is vital that Europe develops strategies for meeting the demand for raw materials. One such strategy is finding methods or substances that can replace the raw materials that we currently use. With this in mind, four EU projects working on substitution in catalysis, electronics and photonics presented their work at the Third Innovation Network Workshop on substitution of Critical Raw Materials hosted by the CRM_INNONET project in Brussels earlier this month [February 2015].

A Feb. 26, 2015 CORDIS press release, which originated the news item, goes on to describe four European Union projects working on nanotechnology-enabled solutions,

NOVACAM

NOVACAM, a coordinated Japan-EU project, aims to develop catalysts using non-critical elements designed to unlock the potential of biomass into a viable energy and chemical feedstock source.

The project is using a ‘catalyst by design’ approach for the development of next generation catalysts (nanoscale inorganic catalysts), as NOVACAM project coordinator Prof. Emiel Hensen from Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands explained. Launched in September 2013, the project is developing catalysts which incorporate non-critical metals to catalyse the conversion of lignocellulose into industrial chemical feedstocks and bio-fuels. The first part of the project has been to develop the principle chemistry while the second part is to demonstrate proof of process. Prof. Hensen predicts that perhaps only two of three concepts will survive to this phase.

The project has already made significant progress in glucose and ethanol conversion, according to Prof. Hensen, and has produced some important scientific publications. The consortium is working with and industrial advisory board comprising Shell in the EU and Nippon Shokubai in Japan.

FREECATS

The FREECATS project, presented by project coordinator Prof. Magnus Rønning from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, has been working over the past three years to develop new metal-free catalysts. These would be either in the form of bulk nanomaterials or in hierarchically organised structures – both of which would be capable of replacing traditional noble metal-based catalysts in catalytic transformations of strategic importance.

Prof. Magnus Rønning explained that the application of the new materials could eliminate the need for the use for platinum group metals (PGM) and rare earth metals – in both cases Europe is very reliant on other countries for these materials. Over the course of its research, FREECATS targeted three areas in particular – fuel cells, the production of light olefins and water and wastewater purification.

By working to replace the platinum in fuel cells, the project is supporting the EU’s aim of replacing the internal combustion engine by 2050. However, as Prof. Rønning noted, while platinum has been optimized for use over several decades, the materials FREECATS are using are new and thus come with their new challenges which the project is addressing.

HARFIR

Prof. Atsufumi Hirohata of the University of York in the United Kingdom, project coordinator of HARFIR, described how the project aims to discover an antiferromagnetic alloy that does not contain the rare metal Iridium. Iridium is becoming more and more widely used in numerous spin electronic storage devices, including read heads in hard disk drives. The world supply depends on Platinum ore that comes mainly from South Africa. The situation is much worse than for other rare earth elements as the price has been shooting up over recent years, according to Prof. Hirohata.

The HARFIR team, divided between Europe and Japan, aims to replace Iridium alloys with Heusler alloys. The EU team, led by Prof. Hirohata, has been working on the preparation of polycrystalline and epitaxial thin films of Heusler Alloys, with the material design led by theoretical calculations. The Japanese team, led by Prof. Koki Takanashi at Tohoku University, is meanwhile working on the preparation of epitaxial thin films, measurements of fundamental properties and structural/magnetic characterisation by neutron and synchrotron x-ray beams.

One of the biggest challenges has been that Heusler alloys have a relatively complicated atomic structure. In terms of HARFIR’s work, if any atomic disordering at the edge of nanopillar devices, the magnetic properties that are needed are lost. The team is exploring solutions to this challenge.

IRENA

Prof. of Esko Kauppinen Aalto University in Finland closed off the first session of the morning with his presentation of the IRENA project. Launched in September 2013, the project will run until mid 2017 working towards the aim of developing high performance materials, specifically metallic and semiconducting single-walled carbon nanotube (SWCNT) thin films to completely eliminate the use of the critical metals in electron devices. The ultimate aim is to replace Indium in transparent conducting films, and Indium and Gallium as a semiconductor in thin film field effect transistors (TFTs).

The IRENA team is developing an alternative that is flexible, transparent and stretchable so that it can meet the demands of the electronics of the future – including the possibility to print electronics.

IRENA involves three partners from Europe and three from Japan. The team has expertise in nanotube synthesis, thin film manufacturing and flexible device manufacturing, modelling of nanotube growth and thin film charge transport processes, and the project has benefitted from exchanges of team members between institutions. One of the key achievements so far is that the project has succeeded in using a nanotube thin film for the first time as the both the electrode and hole blocking layer in an organic solar cell.

You’ll note that Japan is a partner in all of these projects. In all probability, these initiatives have something to do with rare earths which are used in much of today’s electronics technology and Japan is sorely lacking in those materials. China, by comparison, has dominated the rare earths export industry and here’s an excerpt from my Nov. 1, 2013 posting where I outline the situation (which I suspect hasn’t changed much since),

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, in response to China’s decision to cap its 2013 REE exports, the Russian government announced a $1B investment to 2018 in rare earth production,, according to a Sept. 10, 2013 article by Polina Devitt for Reuters.

I’m not sure you’ll be able to access Tim Harper’s white paper as he is now an independent, serial entrepreneur. I most recently mentioned him in relation to his articles (on Azonano) about the nanotechnology scene in a Feb. 12, 2015 posting where you’ll also find contact details for him.

The quantum chemistry of nanomedicines

A Jan. 29, 2015 news item on Nanowerk provides an overview of the impact quantum chemical reactions may have on nanomedicines. Intriguingly, this line of query started with computations of white dwarf stars,

Quantum chemical calculations have been used to solve big mysteries in space. Soon the same calculations may be used to produce tomorrow’s cancer drugs.

Some years ago research scientists at the University of Oslo in Norway were able to show that the chemical bonding in the magnetic fields of small, compact stars, so-called white dwarf stars, is different from that on Earth. Their calculations pointed to a completely new bonding mechanism between two hydrogen atoms. The news attracted great attention in the media. The discovery, which in fact was made before astrophysicists themselves observed the first hydrogen molecules in white dwarf stars, was made by UiO’s Centre for Theoretical and Computational Chemistry. They based their work on accurate quantum chemical calculations of what happens when atoms and molecules are exposed to extreme conditions.

A Jan. 29, 2015 University of Oslo press release by Yngve Vogt, which originated the news item, offers a substantive description of molecules, electrons, and more for those of us whose last chemistry class is lost in the mists of time,

The research team is headed by Professor Trygve Helgaker, who for the last thirty years has taken the international lead on the design of a computer system for calculating quantum chemical reactions in molecules.

Quantum chemical calculations are needed to explain what happens to the electrons’ trajectories within a molecule.

Consider what happens when UV radiation sends energy-rich photons into your cells. This increases the energy level of the molecules. The outcome may well be that some of the molecules break up. This is exactly what happens when you sun-bathe.

“The extra energy will affect the behaviour of electrons and can destroy the chemical bonding within the molecule. This can only be explained by quantum chemistry. The quantum chemical models are used to produce a picture of the forces and tensions at play between the atoms and the electrons of a molecule, and of what is required for a molecule to dissociate,” says Trygve Helgaker.

The absurd world of the electrons

The quantum chemical calculations solve the Schrödinger equation for molecules. This equation is fundamental to all chemistry and describes the whereabouts of all electrons within a molecule. But here we need to pay attention, for things are really rather more complicated than that. Your high school physics teacher will have told you that electrons circle the atom. Things are not that simple, though, in the world of quantum physics. Electrons are not only particles, but waves as well. The electrons can be in many places at the same time. It’s impossible to keep track of their position. However, there is hope. Quantum chemical models describe the electrons’ statistical positions. In other words, they can establish the probable location of each electron.

The results of a quantum chemical calculation are often more accurate than what is achievable experimentally.

Among other things, the quantum chemical calculations can be used to predict chemical reactions. This means that the chemists will no longer have to rely on guesstimates in the lab. It is also possible to use quantum chemical calculations in order to understand what happens in experiments.

Enormous calculations

The calculations are very demanding.

“The Schrödinger equation is a highly complicated, partial differential equation, which cannot be accurately solved. Instead, we need to make do with heavy simulations”, says researcher Simen Kvaal.

The computations are so demanding that the scientists use one of the University’s fastest supercomputers.

“We are constantly stretching the boundaries of what is possible. We are restricted by the available machine capacity,” explains Helgaker.

Ten years ago it took two weeks to carry out the calculations for a molecule with 140 atoms. Now it can be done in two minutes.

“That’s 20,000 times faster than ten years ago. The computation process is now running 200 times faster because the computers have been doubling their speed every eighteen months. And the process is a further 100 times faster because the software has been undergoing constant improvement,” says senior engineer Simen Reine.

This year the research group has used 40 million CPU hours, of which twelve million were on the University’s supercomputer, which is fitted with ten thousand parallel processors. This allows ten thousand CPU hours to be over and done with in 60 minutes.

“We will always fill the computer’s free capacity. The higher the computational capacity, the bigger and more reliable the calculations.”

Thanks to ever faster computers, the quantum chemists are able to study ever larger molecules.

Today, it’s routine to carry out a quantum chemical calculation of what happens within a molecule of up to 400 atoms. By using simplified models it is possible to study molecules with several thousand atoms. This does, however, mean that some of the effects within the molecule are not being described in detail.

The researchers are now getting close to a level which enables them to study the quantum mechanics of living cells.

“This is exciting. The molecules of living cells may contain many hundred thousand atoms, but there is no need to describe the entire molecule using quantum mechanical principles. Consequently, we are already at a stage when we can help solve biological problems.”

There’s more from the press release which describes how this work could be applied in the future,

Hunting for the electrons of the insulin molecule

The chemists are thus able to combine sophisticated models with simpler ones. “This will always be a matter of what level of precision and detail you require. The optimal approach would have been to use the Schrödinger equation for everything.”

By way of compromise they can give a detailed description of every electron in some parts of the model, while in other parts they are only looking at average numbers.

Simen Reine has been using the team’s computer program, while working with Aarhus University [Finland], on a study of the insulin molecule. An insulin molecule consists of 782 atoms and 3,500 electrons.

“All electrons repel each other, while at the same time being pulled towards the atomic nuclei. The nuclei also repel each other. Nevertheless, the molecule remains stable. In order to study a molecule to a high level of precision, we therefore need to consider how all of the electrons move relative to one another. Such calculations are referred to as correlated and are very reliable.”

A complete correlated calculation of the insulin molecule takes nearly half a million CPU hours. If they were given the opportunity to run the program on the entire University’s supercomputer, the calculations would theoretically take two days.

“In ten years, we’ll be able to make these calculations in two minutes.”

Medically important

“Quantum chemical calculations can help describe phenomena at a level that may be difficult to access experimentally, but may also provide support for interpreting and planning experiments. Today, the calculations will be put to best use within the fields of molecular biology and biochemistry,” says Knut Fægri [vice-rector at the University of Oslo].

“Quantum chemistry is a fundamental theory which is important for explaining molecular events, which is why it is essential to our understanding of biological systems,” says [Associate Professor] Michele Cascella.

By way of an example, he refers to the analysis of enzymes. Enzymes are molecular catalysts that boost the chemical reactions within our cells.

Cascella also points to nanomedicines, which are drugs tasked with distributing medicine round our bodies in a much more accurate fashion.

“In nanomedicine we need to understand physical phenomena on a nano scale, forming as correct a picture as possible of molecular phenomena. In this context, quantum chemical calculations are important,” explains Michele Cascella.

Proteins and enzymes

Professor K. Kristoffer Andersson at the Department of Biosciences uses the simpler form of quantum chemical calculations to study the details of protein structures and the chemical atomic and electronic functions of enzymes.

“It is important to understand the chemical reaction mechanism, and how enzymes and proteins work. Quantum chemical calculations will teach us more about how proteins go about their tasks, step by step. We can also use the calculations to look at activation energy, i.e. how much energy is required to reach a certain state. It is therefore important to understand the chemical reaction patterns in biological molecules in order to develop new drugs,” says Andersson.

His research will also be useful in the search for cancer drugs. He studies radicals, which may be important to cancer. Among other things, he is looking at the metal ions function in proteins. These are ions with a large number of protons, neutrons and electrons.

Photosynthesis

Professor Einar Uggerud at the Department of Chemistry has uncovered an entirely new form of chemical bonding through sophisticated experiments and quantum chemical calculations.

Working with research fellow Glenn Miller, Professor Uggerud has found an unusually fragile key molecule, in a kite-shaped structure, consisting of magnesium, carbon and oxygen. The molecule may provide a new understanding of photosynthesis. Photosynthesis, which forms the basis for all life, converts CO2 into sugar molecules.

The molecule reacts so fast with water and other molecules that it has only been possible to study in isolation from other molecules, in a vacuum chamber.

“Time will tell whether the molecule really has an important connection with photosynthesis,” says Einar Uggerud.

I’m delighted with this explanation as it corrects my understanding of chemical bonds and helps me to better understand computational chemistry. Thank you University of Oslo and Yngve Vogt.

Finally, here’s a representation of an insulin molecule as understood by quantum computation,

QuantumInsulinMolecule

INSULIN: Working with Aarhus University, Simen Reine has calculated the tensions between the electrons and atoms of an insulin molecule. An insulin molecule consists of 782 atoms and 3,500 electrons. Illustration: Simen Reine-UiO

 

Replacing copper wire in motors?

Finnish researchers at Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) believe it may be possible to replace copper wire used in motors with spun carbon nanotubes. From an Oct. 15, 2014 news item on Azonano,

Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) introduces the first electrical motor applying carbon nanotube yarn. The material replaces copper wires in windings. The motor is a step towards lightweight, efficient electric drives. Its output power is 40 W and rotation speed 15000 rpm.

Aiming at upgrading the performance and energy efficiency of electrical machines, higher-conductivity wires are searched for windings. Here, the new technology may revolutionize the industry. The best carbon nanotubes (CNTs) demonstrate conductivities far beyond the best metals; CNT windings may have double the conductivity of copper windings.

”If we keep the design parameters unchanged only replacing copper with carbon nanotube yarns, the Joule losses in windings can be reduced to half of present machine losses. By lighter and more ecological CNT yarn, we can reduce machine dimensions and CO2 emissions in manufacturing and operation. Machines could also be run in higher temperatures,” says Professor Pyrhönen [Juha Pyrhönen], leading the prototype design at LUT.

An Oct. ??, 2014 (?) LUT press release, which originated the news item, further describes the work,

Traditionally, the windings in electrical machines are made of copper, which has the second best conductivity of metals at room temperature. Despite the high conductivity of copper, a large proportion of the electrical machine losses occur in the copper windings. For this reason, the Joule losses are often referred to as copper losses. The carbon nanotube yarn does not have a definite upper limit for conductivity (e.g. values of 100 MS/m have already been measured).

According to Pyrhönen, the electrical machines are so ubiquitous in everyday life that we often forget about their presence. In a single-family house alone there can be tens of electrical machines in various household appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines, hair dryers, and ventilators.

“In the industry, the number of electrical motors is enormous: there can be up to tens of thousands of motors in a single process industry unit. All these use copper in the windings. Consequently, finding a more efficient material to replace the copper conductors would lead to major changes in the industry,” tells Professor Pyrhönen.

There are big plans for this work according to the press release,

The prototype motor uses carbon nanotube yarns spun and converted into an isolated tape by a Japanese-Dutch company Teijin Aramid, which has developed the spinning technology in collaboration with Rice University, the USA. The industrial applications of the new material are still in their infancy; scaling up the production capacity together with improving the yarn performance will facilitate major steps in the future, believes Business Development Manager Dr. Marcin Otto from Teijin Aramid, agreeing with Professor Pyrhönen.

“There is a significant improvement potential in the electrical machines, but we are now facing the limits of material physics set by traditional winding materials. Superconductivity appears not to develop to such a level that it could, in general, be applied to electrical machines. Carbonic materials, however, seem to have a pole position: We expect that in the future, the conductivity of carbon nanotube yarns could be even three times the practical conductivity of copper in electrical machines. In addition, carbon is abundant while copper needs to be mined or recycled by heavy industrial processes.”

The researchers have produced this video about their research,

There’s a reference to some work done at Rice University (Texas, US) with Teijin Armid (Japanese-Dutch company) and Technion Institute (Israel) with spinning carbon nanotubes into threads that look like black cotton (you’ll see the threads in the video). It’s this work that has made the latest research in Finland possible. I have more about the the Rice/Teijin Armid/Technion CNT project in my Jan. 11, 2013 posting, Prima donna of nanomaterials (carbon nanotubes) tamed by scientists at Rice University (Texas, US), Teijin Armid (Dutch/Japanese company), and Technion Institute (based in Israel).

‘Scotch-tape’ technique for isolating graphene

The ‘scotch-tape’ technique is mythologized in the graphene origins story which has scientists, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, first isolating the material by using adhesive (aka ‘sticky’ tape or ‘scotch’ tape) as per my Oct. 7, 2010 posting,

The technique that Geim and Novoselov used to create the first graphene sheets both amuses and fascinates me (from the article by Kit Eaton on the Fast Company website),

The two scientists came up with the technique that first resulted in samples of graphene–peeling individual atoms-deep sheets of the material from a bigger block of pure graphite. The science here seems almost foolishly simple, but it took a lot of lateral thinking to dream up, and then some serious science to investigate: Geim and Novoselo literally “ripped” single sheets off the graphite by using regular adhesive tape. Once they’d confirmed they had grabbed micro-flakes of the material, Geim and Novoselo were responsible for some of the very early experiments into the material’s properties. Novel stuff indeed, but perhaps not so unexpected from a scientist (Geim) who the Nobel Committe notes once managed to make a frog levitate in a magnetic field.

A May 21, 2014 article about Geim who has won both a Nobel and an Ig Nobel (the only scientist to do so) and graphene by Sarah Lewis for Fast Company offers more details about the discovery,

The graphene FNE [Friday Night Experiments] began when Geim asked Da Jiang, a doctoral student from China, to polish a piece of graphite an inch across and a few millimeters thick down to 10 microns using a specialized machine. Partly due to a language barrier, Jiang polished the graphite down to dust, but not the ultimate thinness Geim wanted.

Helpfully, the Geim lab was also observing graphite using scanning tunneling microscopy (STM). The experimenters would clean the samples beforehand using Scotch tape, which they would then discard. “We took it out of the trash and just used it,” Novoselov said. The flakes of graphite on the tape from the waste bin were finer and thinner than what Jiang had found using the fancy machine. They weren’t one layer thick—that achievement came by ripping them some more with Scotch tape.

They swapped the adhesive for Japanese Nitto tape, “probably because the whole process is so simple and cheap we wanted to fancy it up a little and use this blue tape,” Geim said. Yet “the method is called the ‘Scotch tape technique.’ I fought against this name, but lost.”

Scientists elsewhere have been inspired to investigate the process in minute detail as per a June 27, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

The simplest mechanical cleavage technique using a primitive “Scotch” tape has resulted in the Nobel-awarded discovery of graphenes and is currently under worldwide use for assembling graphenes and other two-dimensional (2D) graphene-like structures toward their utilization in novel high-performance nanoelectronic devices.

The simplicity of this method has initiated a booming research on 2D materials. However, the atomistic processes behind the micromechanical cleavage have still been poorly understood.

A June 27, 2014 MANA (International Center for Materials Nanoarchitectoinics) news release, which originated the news item, provides more information,

A joined team of experimentalists and theorists from the International Center for Young Scientists, International Center for Materials Nanoarchitectonics and Surface Physics and Structure Unit of the National Institute for Materials Science, National University of Science and Technology “MISiS” (Moscow, Russia), Rice University (USA) and University of Jyväskylä (Finland) led by Daiming Tang and Dmitri Golberg for the first time succeeded in complete understanding of physics, kinetics and energetics behind the regarded “Scotch-tape” technique using molybdenum disulphide (MoS2) atomic layers as a model material.

The researchers developed a direct in situ probing technique in a high-resolution transmission electron microscope (HRTEM) to investigate the mechanical cleavage processes and associated mechanical behaviors. By precisely manipulating an ultra-sharp metal probe to contact the pre-existing crystalline steps of the MoS2 single crystals, atomically thin flakes were delicately peeled off, selectively ranging from a single, double to more than 20 atomic layers. The team found that the mechanical behaviors are strongly dependent on the number of layers. Combination of in situ HRTEM and molecular dynamics simulations reveal a transformation of bending behavior from spontaneous rippling (< 5 atomic layers) to homogeneous curving (~ 10 layers), and finally to kinking (20 or more layers).

By considering the force balance near the contact point, the specific surface energy of a MoS2 monoatomic layer was calculated to be ~0.11 N/m. This is the first time that this fundamentally important property has directly been measured.

After initial isolation from the mother crystal, the MoS2 monolayer could be readily restacked onto the surface of the crystal, demonstrating the possibility of van der Waals epitaxy. MoS2 atomic layers could be bent to ultimate small radii (1.3 ~ 3.0 nm) reversibly without fracture. Such ultra-reversibility and extreme flexibility proves that they could be mechanically robust candidates for the advanced flexible electronic devices even under extreme folding conditions.

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

Nanomechanical cleavage of molybdenum disulphide atomic layers by Dai-Ming Tang, Dmitry G. Kvashnin, Sina Najmaei, Yoshio Bando, Koji Kimoto, Pekka Koskinen, Pulickel M. Ajayan, Boris I. Yakobson, Pavel B. Sorokin, Jun Lou, & Dmitri Golberg. Nature Communications 5, Article number: 3631 doi:10.1038/ncomms4631 Published 03 April 2014

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

Inhibiting viruses with nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) in Finland

Research and interest in cellulose nanomaterials of one kind or another seems to be reaching new heights. That’s my experience since this is my third posting on the topic in one week.

The latest research features NCC (nanocrystalline cellulose [NCC] or, as it’s sometimes known, cellulose nanocrystals [CNC]) ,as a ‘viral inhibitor’ and is described in an April 15, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

Researchers from Aalto University [Finland] and and the University of Eastern Finland have succeeded in creating a surface on nano-sized cellulose crystals that imitates a biological structure. The surface adsorbs viruses and disables them. The results can prove useful in the development of antiviral ointments and surfaces, for instance.

There are many viral diseases in the world for which no pharmaceutical treatment exists. These include, among others, dengue fever, which is spread by mosquitoes in the tropics, as well as a type of diarrhea, which is more familiar in Finland and is easily spread by the hands and can be dangerous especially for small children and the elderly.

An April 15, 2014 Aalto University news release, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

Researchers at Aalto University and the University of Eastern Finland have now succeeded in preliminary tests to prevent the spread of one type of virus into cells with the help of a new type of nanocrystalline cellulose. Nano-sized cellulose crystals were manufactured out of cotton fibre or filter paper with the help of sulphuric acid, causing sulphate ions with negative charges to attach to their surfaces. The ions then attached to alphaviruses used in the test and neutralised them. When the researchers replaced the sulphate ions with cellulose derivatives that imitate tyrosine sulphates, the activity of the viruses was further reduced. The experiments succeeded in preventing viral infection in 88-100 percent of the time with no noticeable effect on the viability of the cells by the nanoparticles. The research findings were published in the journal Biomacromolecules.

Here’s a diagram illustrating how the new type of NCC works,

Courtesy of Aalto University

Courtesy of Aalto University

The news release includes perspectives from the researchers,

’Certain cellulose derivatives had been seen to have an impact on viruses before. The nano scale increases the proportion of the surface area to that of the number of grams to a very high level, which is an advantage, because viruses specifically attach themselves to surfaces. Making the cellulose crystals biomimetic, which means that they mimic biological structures, was an important step, as we know that in nature viruses often interact specifically with tyrosine structures,’ he [Jukka Seppälä, Professor of Polymer Technology at Aalto University] says.

Both Jukka Seppälä and Ari Hinkkanen, Professor of Gene Transfer Technology at the University of Eastern Finland, emphasise that the research is still in the early stages.

‘Now we know that the attachment of a certain alphavirus can be effectively prevented when we use large amounts of nanocrystalline cellulose.  Next we need to experiment with other alpha viruses and learn to better understand the mechanisms that prevent viral infection. In addition, it is necessary to ascertain if cellulose can also block other viruses and in what conditions, and to investigate whether or not the sulphates have a deleterious effects on an organism,’ Ari Hinkkanen explains.

According to Kristiina Järvinen, Professor of Pharmaceutical Technology at the University of Eastern Finland, there are many routes that can be taken in the commercialisation of the results. The development of an antiviral medicine is the most distant of these; the idea could be sooner applied in disinfectant ointments and coatings, for instance.

‘It would be possible to provide protection against viruses, spread by mosquitoes, by applying ointment containing nanocrystalline cellulose onto the skin. Nanocrystalline cellulose applied on hospital door handles could kill viruses and prevent them from spreading.  However, we first need to ascertain if the compounds will remain effective in a non-liquid form and how they work in animal tests,’ she ponders.

For the curious, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Synthesis of Cellulose Nanocrystals Carrying Tyrosine Sulfate Mimetic Ligands and Inhibition of Alphavirus Infection by Justin O. Zoppe, Ville Ruottinen, Janne Ruotsalainen, Seppo Rönkkö, Leena-Sisko Johansson, Ari Hinkkanen, Kristiina Järvinen, and Jukka Seppälä. Biomacromolecules, 2014, 15 (4), pp 1534–1542 DOI: 10.1021/bm500229d Publication Date (Web): March 14, 2014

Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

As for my other recent postings on cellulose nanomaterials, there’s this April 14, 2014 piece titled: Preparing nanocellulose for eventual use in dressings for wounds and this from April 10, 2014 titled: US Dept. of Agriculture wants to commercialize cellulose nanomaterials.

Cancer as a fashion statement at the University of British Columbia (Canada) and a Marimekko dress made of birch in Finland

The ‘Fashioning Cancer Project’ at the University of British Columbia (UBC) bears some resemblance to the types of outreach projects supported by the UK’s Wellcome Trust (for an example see my June 21, 2011 posting) where fashion designers are inspired by some aspect of science. Here’s more about the ‘Fashioning Cancer Project’ and its upcoming fashion show (on March 25, 2014). From the March 12, 2014 UBC news release (Note: Links have been removed),

A UBC costume design professor has created a collection of ball gowns inspired by microscopic photos of cancer cells and cellular systems to get people talking about the disease, beauty and body image.

The project aims to create alternative imagery for discussions of cancer, to complement existing examples such as the pink ribbon, which is an important symbol of cancer awareness, but may not accurately represent women’s experience with the disease.

“Many women who have battled cancer express a disconnect with the fashion imagery that commonly represents the disease,” says Jacqueline Firkins, an assistant professor in UBC’s Dept. of Theatre and Film, who designed the collection of 10 dresses and dubbed the work ‘Fashioning Cancer: The Correlation between Destruction and Beauty.’

Inspired by cellular images captured by researchers in the lab of UBC scientist Christian Naus, a Peter Wall Distinguished Scholar in Residence, the project seeks to create artistic imagery based on the disease itself.

“My hope is that somehow through fashion, I more closely tap into what a woman might be feeling about her body as she undergoes the disease, but simultaneously reflect a strength, beauty, and resilience,” says Firkins, who will use the collection to raise money for cancer research, patients and survivors.

“This will be an opportunity for people to share their thoughts about the gowns,” says Firkins. “Are they too pretty to reflect something as destructive as cancer? Do they encourage you to tell your own story? Do they evoke any emotions related to your own experience?”

Before giving you where and when, here are two images (a cell and a dress based on the cell),

http://news.ubc.ca/2014/03/12/prof-challenges-cancer-fashion/

Cell7_brain_cells_in_a_dish; Astrocytes from the brain growing in a culture dish. Green colour indicates the cytoskeleton of these cells, red colour shows specific membrance [sic] channels (gap junctions), blue colour indicates the cell nuclei (DNA). The ability to grow cells in a dish has contributed to our understand of the changes these cells undergo when they become channels. Photo credit: John Bechberger, MSc., Christian Naus, PhD.

Cell7_Mercedes_de_la_Zerda: Dress modeled by BFA Acting student Mercedes de la Zerda.Black organza cap sleeve w/ sheer top and multicolour organza diagonal trim. Photo credit: Tim Matheson

Cell7_Mercedes_de_la_Zerda: Dress modeled by BFA Acting student Mercedes de la Zerda.Black organza cap sleeve w/ sheer top and multicolour organza diagonal trim. Photo credit: Tim Matheson

Details about the show (from the UBC event description webpage where you can also find a slide show more pictures),

  • Event: Fashioning Cancer: The Correlation between Destruction and Beauty
  • Date: Tue. March 25, 2014 | Time: 12-1pm
  • Location: UBC’s Frederic Wood Theatre, 6354 Crescent Rd.
  • MAP: http://bit.ly/1fZ4bC8

On a more or less related note, Aalto University (Finland) has announced a dress made of birch cellulose fibre, from a March 13, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

The first garment made out of birch cellulose fibre using the Ioncell method is displayed at a fashion show in Finland on 13 March [2014]. The Ioncell method, which was developed by researchers at Aalto University, is an environmentally friendly alternative to cotton in textile production. The dress produced for Marimekko is a significant step forward in the development of fibre for industrial production.

Researchers were looking for new alternatives to cotton, because demand for textile fibres is expected to nearly double by 2030. The raw material for the Ioncell fibre is a birch-based pulp from Finnish pulp mills. Growing birch wood does not require artificial irrigation in its native habitat, for instance.

The Aalto University March 12, 2014 news release, which originated the news item, describes the new Ioncell fibre and its relationship with Finnish clothing company Marimekko,

The production method for Ioncell has been developed by Professor Herbert Sixta’s research group. The method is based on a liquid salt (ionic liquid) developed under the guidance of Professor Ilkka Kilpeläinen which is a very efficient cellulose solvent. The fibres derived from it are carded and spun to yarns at the Textile University of Börås in Sweden.

‒ We made a breakthrough in the development of the method about a year ago. Progress has been rapid since then. [see my Oct. 3, 2013 posting for another Finnish team’s work with wood cellulose to create fabric]  Production of the fibre and the thread is still a cumbersome process, but we have managed to triple the amount of fibre that is produced in six months. The quality has also improved: the fibers are stronger and of more even quality, Professor Sixta says with satisfaction.

The surface of the ready textile has a dim glow and it is pleasing to the touch. According to Sixta, because of its strength, the strength properties of the Ioncell fibre are equal or even better than other pulp-based fibres on the market. The fibres are even stronger than cotton and viscose.

The Finnish textile and clothing design company Marimekko became inspired by the new fibre at an event organised by the Finnish Bioeconomy Cluster FIBIC, which coordinates bioeconomy research, and immediately got in touch with Professor Herbert Sixta at Aalto University.

‒ We monitor product development for materials closely in order to be able to offer our customers new and more ecological alternatives. It was a wonderful opportunity to be able to join this Aalto University development project at such an early stage. Fibre made from birch pulp seems to be a promising material by virtue of its durability and other characteristics, and we hope that we will soon be able to utilise this new material in our collections, says Noora Niinikoski, Head of Fashion at Marimekko.

Here’s the birch cellulose dress,

Marimekko Birch Dress Courtesy: Aalto University

Let’s all have a fashionable day!

Getting new information on trafficking viruses with gold nanoparticles

Finnish researchers have developed a new technique for studying viruses according to a Jan. 15, 2014 news release on EurekAlert,

Researchers at the Nanoscience Center (NSC) of University of Jyväskylä in Finland have developed a novel method to study enterovirus structures and their functions. The method will help to obtain new information on trafficking of viruses in cells and tissues as well as on the mechanisms of virus opening inside cells.

The news release explains enteroviruses and describes the technique in more detail,

Enteroviruses are pathogenic viruses infecting humans. This group consists of polioviruses, coxsackieviruses, echoviruses and rhinoviruses. Enteroviruses are the most common causes of flu, but they also cause serious symptoms such as heart muscle infections and paralysis. Recently, enteroviruses have been linked with chronic diseases such as diabetes (2).

The infection mechanisms and infectious pathways of enteroviruses are still rather poorly known. Previous studies in the group of Dr. Varpu Marjomäki at the NSC have focused on the cellular factors that are important for the infection caused by selected enteroviruses (3). The mechanistic understanding of virus opening and the release of the viral genome in cellular structures for starting new virus production is still largely lacking. Furthermore, the knowledge of infectious processes in tissues is hampered by the lack of reliable tools for detecting virus infection.

The newly developed method involves a chemical modification of a known thiol-stabilized gold nanoparticle, the so-called Au102 cluster that was first synthesized and structurally solved by the group of Roger D Kornberg in 2007 (4) and later characterized at NSC by the groups of prof. Hannu Häkkinen and prof. Mika Pettersson in collaboration with Kornberg. (5) The organic thiol surface of the Au102 particles is modified by attaching linker molecules that make a chemical bond to sulfur-containing cysteine residues that are part of the surface structure of the virus. Several tens of gold particles can bind to a single virus, and the binding pattern shows up as dark tags reflecting the overall shape and structure of the virus (see the figure). The gold particles allow for studies on the structural changes of the viruses during their lifespan.

The study showed also that the infectivity of the viruses is not compromised by the attached gold particles which indicates that the labeling method does not interfere with the normal biological functions of viruses inside cells. This facilitates new investigations on the virus structures from samples taken from inside cells during the various phases of the virus infection, and gives possibilities to obtain new information on the mechanisms of virus uncoating (opening and release of the genome). The new method allows also for tracking studies of virus pathways in tissues. This is important for further understanding of acute and chronic symptoms caused by viruses. Finally, the method is expected to be useful for developing of new antiviral vaccines that are based on virus-like particles.

The method was developed at the NSC as a wide cross-disciplinary collaboration between chemists, physicists and biologists.

Here’s an image provided by the researchers, which illustrates their work,

Left: transmission electron microscopy (TEM) image of a single CVB3 virus showing tens of gold nanoparticles attached to its surface. The particles form a distinct "tagging pattern" that reflects the shape and the structure of the virus. The TEM image can be correlated to the model of the virus (right), where the yellow spheres mark the possible binding sites of the gold particles. The diameter of the virus is about 35 nanometers (nanometer = one billionth of a millimeter). The figure is taken from the publication. Courtesy: University of Jyväskylä

Left: transmission electron microscopy (TEM) image of a single CVB3 virus showing tens of gold nanoparticles attached to its surface. The particles form a distinct “tagging pattern” that reflects the shape and the structure of the virus. The TEM image can be correlated to the model of the virus (right), where the yellow spheres mark the possible binding sites of the gold particles. The diameter of the virus is about 35 nanometers (nanometer = one billionth of a millimeter). The figure is taken from the publication. Courtesy: University of Jyväskylä

Unfortunately, the researchers have published in the Proceedings f the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). I noted in a previous posting that this publisher has developed a time-consuming process for getting access to a paper and payment options for reading it. I can provide a link to and a citation to the abstract for this paper but I’m not willing to spend several minutes trying to bypass the block they’ve placed on accessing papers and their payment options,

Site-specific targeting of enterovirus capsid by functionalized monodisperse gold nanoclusters by Varpu Marjomäki, Tanja Lahtinen, Mari Martikainen, Jaakko Koivisto, Sami Malola, Kirsi Salorinne, Mika Pettersson, and Hannu Häkkinenb. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA (2014), www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1310973111.

The University of Jyväskylä Jan. ??, 2014 news release about this work provides references (scroll down) to previous papers published on this work.

INFERNOS: realizing Maxwell’s Demon

Before getting to the INFERNOS project and its relationship to Maxwell’s demon, I want to share a pretty good example of this ‘demon’ thought experiment which, as recently as Feb. 4, 2013, I featured in a piece about quantum dots,

James Clerk Maxwell, physicist,  has entered the history books for any number reasons but my personal favourite is Maxwell’s demon, a thought experiment he proposed in the 1800s to violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Lisa Zyga in her Feb. 1, 2013 article for phys.org provides an explanation,

When you open your door on a cold winter day, the warm air from your home and the cold air from outside begin to mix and evolve toward thermal equilibrium, a state of complete entropy where the temperatures outside and inside are the same. This situation is a rough example of the second law of thermodynamics, which says that entropy in a closed system never decreases. If you could control the air flow in a way that uses a sufficiently small amount of energy, so that the entropy of the system actually decreases overall, you would have a hypothetical mechanism called Maxwell’s demon.

An Oct. 9, 2013 news item on Nanowerk ties together INFERNOS and the ‘demon’,

Maxwell’s Demon is an imaginary creature that the mathematician James Clerk Maxwell created in 1897. The creature could turn heat into work without causing any other change, which violates the second law of thermodynamics. The primary goal of the European project INFERNOS (Information, fluctuations, and energy control in small systems) is to realize experimentally Maxwell’s Demon; in other words, to develop the electronic and biomolecular nanodevices that support this principle.

The Universitat de Barcelona (University of Barcelona) Oct. 7, 2013 news release, which originated the news item, provides more details about the project,

Although Maxwell’s Demon is one of the cornerstones of theoretical statistical mechanisms, little has been done about its definite experimental realization. Marco Ribezzi, researcher from the Department of Fundamental Physics, explains that “the principal novelty of INFERNOS is to bring a robust and rigorous experimental base for this field of knowledge. We aim at creating a device that can use information to supply/extract energy to/from a system”. In this sense, the UB group, in which researcher Fèlix Ritort from the former department also participates, focuses their activity on understanding how information and temperature changes are used in individual molecules manipulation.

From the theory side, researchers will work in order to develop a theory of the fluctuation processes in small systems, which would then facilitate efficient algorithms for the Maxwell’s Demon operation.

INFERNOS is a three-year European project of the programme Future and Emerging Technologies (FET). Besides the University of Barcelona, INFERNOS partners are: Aalto University (Finland), project coordinator, Lund University (Sweden), the University of Oslo (Norway), Delf University of Technology (Netherlands), the National Center for Scientific Research (France) and the Research Foundation of State University of New York.

I like the INFERNOS logo, demon and all,

Logo of the European project INFERNOS (Information, fluctuations, and energy control in small systems).

Logo of the European project INFERNOS (Information, fluctuations, and energy control in small systems).

The INFERNOS project website can be found here.

And for anyone who finds that music is the best way to learn, here are Flanders & Swann* performing ‘First and Second Law’ from a 1964 show,

Enjoy!

* ‘Swan’ corrected to ‘Swann’ on April 1, 2014.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celluforce update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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