Tag Archives: Jiaxing Huang

Improve car performance with graphene balls

Lubrication is vital for car engines and it can be expensive when you get it wrong or when it’s not as effective as it could be. A Jan. 25, 2016 news item on Nanowerk highlights some research focused on improving the quality of engine lubrication,

When an automobile’s engine is improperly lubricated, it can be a major hit to the pocketbook and the environment.

For the average car, 15 percent of the fuel consumption is spent overcoming friction in the engine and transmission. When friction is high, gears have to work harder to move. This means the car burns more fuel and emits more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

“Every year, millions of tons of fuel are wasted because of friction,” said Northwestern Engineering’s Jiaxing Huang, associate professor of materials science and engineering. “It’s a serious problem.”

While oil helps reduce this friction, people have long searched for additives that enhance oil’s performance. Huang and his collaborators discovered that crumpled graphene balls are an extremely promising lubricant additive. In a series of tests, oil modified with crumpled graphene balls outperformed some commercial lubricants by 15 percent, both in terms of reducing friction and the degree of wear on steel surfaces.

A Jan. 25, 2015 McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University news release, which originated the news item, provides more information about the team’s work,

About five years ago, Huang discovered crumpled graphene balls — a novel type of ultrafine particles that resemble crumpled paper balls. The particles are made by drying tiny water droplets with graphene-based sheets inside. “Capillary force generated by the evaporation of water crumples the sheets into miniaturized paper balls,” Huang said. “Just like how we crumple a piece of paper with our hands.”

Shortly after making this discovery, Huang explained it to Chung [Yip-Wah Chung, professor of materials science and engineering] during a lunch in Hong Kong by crumpling a napkin and juggling it. “When the ball landed on the table, it rolled,” Chung recalled. “It reminded me of ball bearings that roll between surfaces to reduce friction.”

That “a-ha!” moment led to a collaboration among the two professors and Wang, who was in the middle of editing a new Encyclopedia of Tribology with Chung.

Nanoparticles, particularly carbon nanoparticles, previously have been studied to help increase the lubrication of oil. The particles, however, do not disperse well in oil and instead tend to clump together, which makes them less effective for lubrication. The particles may jam between the gear’s surfaces causing severe aggregation that increases friction and wear. To overcome this problem, past researchers have modified the particles with extra chemicals, called surfactants, to make them disperse. But this still doesn’t entirely solve the problem.

“Under friction, the surfactant molecules can rub off and decompose,” Chung said. “When that happens, the particles clump up again.”

Because of their unique shape, crumpled graphene balls self-disperse without needing surfactants that are attracted to oil. With their pointy surfaces, they are unable to make close contact with the other graphene balls. Even when they are squeezed together, they easily separate again when disturbed.

Huang and his team also found that performance of crumpled graphene balls is not sensitive to their concentrations in the oil. “A few are already sufficient, and if you increase the concentration by 10 times, performance is about the same,” Huang said. “For all other carbon additives, such performance is very sensitive to concentration. You have to find the sweet spot.”

“The problem with finding a sweet spot is that, during operation, the local concentration of particles near the surfaces under lubrication could fluctuate,” Wang [Q. Jane Wang, professor of mechanical engineering] added. “This leads to unstable performance for most other additive particles.”

Next, the team plans to explore the additional benefit of using crumpled graphene balls in oil: they can also be used as carriers. Because the ball-like particles have high surface area and open spaces, they are good carriers for materials with other functions, such as corrosion inhibition.

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

Self-dispersed crumpled graphene balls in oil for friction and wear reduction by Xuan Dou, Andrew R. Koltonow, Xingliang He, Hee Dong Jang, Qian Wang, Yip-Wah Chung, and Jiaxing Huang. PNAS 2016 doi:10 .1038/srep03863 Published ahead of print January 25, 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

One final comment, it’s a bit unusual to see the term ‘carbon nanoparticle’. Generally speaking, carbon nanoparticles seem to have their own names, graphene, carbon nanotubes, and buckminsterfullerenes come to mind.

Silver nanowires have a surprising ability to self-heal

It seems there could be a new member of the flexible electronics materials community, silver nanowires, according to a Jan. 23, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily,

Wth its high electrical conductivity and optical transparency, indium tin oxide is one of the most widely used materials for touchscreens, plasma displays, and flexible electronics. But its rapidly escalating price has forced the electronics industry to search for other alternatives.

One potential and more cost-effective alternative is a film made with silver nanowires–wires so extremely thin that they are one-dimensional–embedded in flexible polymers. Like indium tin oxide, this material is transparent and conductive. But development has stalled because scientists lack a fundamental understanding of its mechanical properties.

A Jan. 23, 2015 Northwestern University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, explains what makes silver nanowires a candidate as an alternative to indium tin oxide for use in flexible electronics,

… Horacio Espinosa, the James N. and Nancy J. Farley Professor in Manufacturing and Entrepreneurship at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering, has led research that expands the understanding of silver nanowires’ behavior in electronics.

Espinosa and his team investigated the material’s cyclic loading, which is an important part of fatigue analysis because it shows how the material reacts to fluctuating loads of stress.

“Cyclic loading is an important material behavior that must be investigated for realizing the potential applications of using silver nanowires in electronics,” Espinosa said. “Knowledge of such behavior allows designers to understand how these conductive films fail and how to improve their durability.”

By varying the tension on silver nanowires thinner than 120 nanometers and monitoring their deformation with electron microscopy, the research team characterized the cyclic mechanical behavior. They found that permanent deformation was partially recoverable in the studied nanowires, meaning that some of the material’s defects actually self-healed and disappeared upon cyclic loading. These results indicate that silver nanowires could potentially withstand strong cyclic loads for long periods of time, which is a key attribute needed for flexible electronics.

“These silver nanowires show mechanical properties that are quite unexpected,” Espinosa said. “We had to develop new experimental techniques to be able to measure this novel material property.”

The findings were recently featured on the cover of the journal Nano Letters. Other Northwestern coauthors on the paper are Rodrigo Bernal, a recently graduated PhD student in Espinosa’s lab, and Jiaxing Huang, associate professor of materials science and engineering in McCormick.

“The next step is to understand how this recovery influences the behavior of these materials when they are flexed millions of times,” said Bernal, first author of the paper.

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

Intrinsic Bauschinger Effect and Recoverable Plasticity in Pentatwinned Silver Nanowires Tested in Tension by Rodrigo A. Bernal, Amin Aghaei, Sangjun Lee, Seunghwa Ryu, Kwonnam Sohn, Jiaxing Huang, Wei Cai, and Horacio Espinosa. Nano Lett., 2015, 15 (1), pp 139–146 DOI: 10.1021/nl503237t Publication Date (Web): October 3, 2014
Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

This particular version of the paper is behind a paywall. However, access to the paper is possible although I make no claims as to which version it is or whether it will continue to be freely accessible.

Nano crafts class: get out your ‘paper’ and scissors

It’s not all atomic force microscopy and nanotweezers as scientists keep reminding us that the techniques we learned in kindergarten can be all the high technology we need even when working at the nanoscale. From the Nov. 14, 2012 news item on ScienceDaily,

Two Northwestern University researchers have discovered a remarkably easy way to make nanofluidic devices: using paper and scissors. And they can cut a device into any shape and size they want, adding to the method’s versatility.

The Nov. 14, 2012 Northwestern University news release by Megan Fellman explains both nanofluidic devices and the new technique,

Nanofluidic devices are attractive because their thin channels can transport ions — and with them a higher than normal electric current — making the devices promising for use in batteries and new systems for water purification, harvesting energy and DNA sorting.

The “paper-and-scissors” method one day could be used to manufacture large-scale nanofluidic devices without relying on expensive lithography techniques.

The Northwestern duo found that simply stacking up sheets of the inexpensive material graphene oxide creates flexible “paper” with tens of thousands of very useful channels. A tiny gap forms naturally between neighboring sheets, and each gap is a channel through which ions can flow.

Using a pair of regular scissors, the researchers simply cut the paper into a desired shape, which, in the case of their experiments, was a rectangle.

“In a way, we were surprised that these nanochannels actually worked, because creating the device was so easy,” said Jiaxing Huang, who conducted the research with postdoctoral fellow Kalyan Raidongia. “No one had thought about the space between sheet-like materials before. Using the space as a flow channel was a wild idea. We ran our experiment at least 10 times to be sure we were right.”

The process is a little more complex than kindergarten crafts (from Fellman’s news release),

To create a working device, the researchers took a pair of scissors and cut a piece of their graphene oxide paper into a centimeter-long rectangle. They then encased the paper in a polymer, drilled holes to expose the ends of the rectangular piece and filled up the holes with an electrolyte solution (a liquid containing ions) to complete the device.

Next they put electrodes at both ends and tested the electrical conductivity of the device. Huang and Raidongia observed higher than normal current, and the device worked whether flat or bent.

The nanochannels have significantly different — and desirable — properties from their bulk channel counterparts, Huang said. The nanochannels have a concentrating effect, resulting in an electric current much higher than those in bulk solutions.

Graphene oxide is basically graphene sheets decorated with oxygen-containing groups. It is made from inexpensive graphite powders by chemical reactions known for more than a century.

Scaling up the size of the device is simple. Tens of thousands of sheets or layers create tens of thousands of nanochannels, each channel approximately one nanometer high. There is no limit to the number of layers — and thus channels — one can have in a piece of paper.

To manufacture very massive arrays of channels, one only needs to put more graphene oxide sheets in the paper or to stack up many pieces of paper. A larger device, of course, can handle larger quantities of electrolyte.

Kindergarten techniques worked well for Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov who received Nobel prizes for their work on graphene (from 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.

Then, there’s the ‘Shrinky Dinks’ nanopatterning technique (from my Aug. 16,2010 posting),

Scientists at a Northwestern University laboratory have taken to using a children’s arts and crafts product, Shrinky Dinks, for a new way to create large area nanoscale patterns on the cheap.

It’s good to be reminded that science at its heart is not about expensive equipment and complicated techniques but a means of exploring the world around us with the means at hand.