Tag Archives: Rutgers University

Smart suits for US soldiers—an update of sorts from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

The US military has funded a program named: ‘Dynamic Multifunctional Material for a Second Skin Program’ through its Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s (DTRA) Chemical and Biological Technologies Department and Sharon Gaudin’s Feb. 20,  2014 article for Computer World offers a bit of an update on this project,which was first reported in 2012,

A U.S. soldier is on patrol with his squad when he kneels to check something out, unknowingly putting his knee into a puddle of contaminants.

The soldier isn’t harmed, though, because he or she is wearing a smart suit that immediately senses the threat and transforms the material covering his knee into a protective state that repels the potential deadly bacteria.

Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a federal government research facility in Livermore, Calif., are using nanotechnology to create clothing designed to protect U.S. soldiers from chemical and biological attacks.

“The threat is nanoscale so we need to work in the nano realm, which helps to keep it light and breathable,” said Francesco Fornasiero, a staff scientist at the lab. “If you have a nano-size threat, you need a nano-sized defense.”

Fornasiero said the task is a difficult one, and the suits may not be ready for the field for another 10 to 20 years. [emphasis mine]

One option is to use carbon nanotubes in a layer of the suit’s fabric. Sweat and air would be able to easily move through the nanotubes. However, the diameter of the nanotubes is smaller than the diameter of bacteria and viruses. That means they would not be able to pass through the tubes and reach the person wearing the suit.

However, chemicals that might be used in a chemical attack are small enough to fit through the nanotubes. To block them, researchers are adding a layer of polymer threads that extend up from the top of the nanotubes, like stalks of grass coming up from the ground.

The threads are designed to recognize the presence of chemical agents. When that happens, they swell and collapse on top of the nanotubes, blocking anything from entering them.

A second option that the Lawrence Livermore scientists are working on involves similar carbon nanotubes but with catalytic components in a polymer mesh that sits on top of the nanotubes. The components would destroy any chemical agents they come in contact with. After the chemicals are destroyed, they are shed off, enabling the suit to handle multiple attacks.

An October 6, 2012 (NR-12-10-06) Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) news release details the -project and the proponents,

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists and collaborators are developing a new military uniform material that repels chemical and biological agents using a novel carbon nanotube fabric.

The material will be designed to undergo a rapid transition from a breathable state to a protective state. The highly breathable membranes would have pores made of a few-nanometer-wide vertically aligned carbon nanotubes that are surface modified with a chemical warfare agent-responsive functional layer. Response to the threat would be triggered by direct chemical warfare agent attack to the membrane surface, at which time the fabric would switch to a protective state by closing the CNT pore entrance or by shedding the contaminated surface layer.

High breathability is a critical requirement for protective clothing to prevent heat-stress and exhaustion when military personnel are engaged in missions in contaminated environments. Current protective military uniforms are based on heavyweight full-barrier protection or permeable adsorptive protective overgarments that cannot meet the critical demand of simultaneous high comfort and protection, and provide a passive rather than active response to an environmental threat.

To provide high breathability, the new composite material will take advantage of the unique transport properties of carbon nanotube pores, which have two orders of magnitude faster gas transport rates when compared with any other pore of similar size.

“We have demonstrated that our small-size prototype carbon nanotube membranes can provide outstanding breathability in spite of the very small pore sizes and porosity,” said Sangil Kim, another LLNL scientist in the Biosciences and Biotechnology Division. “With our collaborators, we will develop large area functionalized CNT membranes.”

Biological agents, such as bacteria or viruses, are close to 10 nanometers in size. Because the membrane pores on the uniform are only a few nanometers wide, these membranes will easily block biological agents.

However, chemical agents are much smaller in size and require the membrane pores to be able to react to block the threat. To create a multifunctional membrane, the team will surface modify the original prototype carbon nanotube membranes with chemical threat responsive functional groups. The functional groups on the membrane will sense and block the threat like gatekeepers on entrance. A second response scheme also will be developed: Similar to how a living skin peels off when challenged with dangerous external factors, the fabric will exfoliate upon reaction with the chemical agent. In this way, the fabric will be able to block chemical agents such as sulfur mustard (blister agent), GD and VX nerve agents, toxins such as staphylococcal enterotoxin and biological spores such as anthrax.

The project is funded for $13 million over five years with LLNL as the lead institution. The Livermore team is made up of Fornasiero [Francesco Fornasiero], Kim and Kuang Jen Wu. Other collaborators and institutions involved in the project include Timothy Swager at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Jerry Shan at Rutgers University, Ken Carter, James Watkins, and Jeffrey Morse at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Heidi Schreuder-Gibson at Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center, and Robert Praino at Chasm Technologies Inc.

“Development of chemical threat responsive carbon nanotube membranes is a great example of novel material’s potential to provide innovative solutions for the Department of Defense CB needs,” said Tracee Harris, the DTRA science and technology manager for the Dynamic Multifunctional Material for a Second Skin Program. “This futuristic uniform would allow our military forces to operate safely for extended time periods and successfully complete their missions in environments contaminated with chemical and biological warfare agents.”

The Laboratory has a history in developing carbon nanotubes for a wide range of applications including desalination. “We have an advanced carbon nanotube platform to build and expand to make advancements in the protective fabric material for this new project,” Wu said.

The new uniforms could be deployed in the field in less than 10 years. [emphasis mine]

Since Gaudin’s 2014 article quotes one of the LLNL’s scientists, Francesco Fornasiero, with an estimate for the suit’s deployment into the field as 10 – 20 years as opposed to the “less than 10 years” estimated in the news release, I’m guessing the problem has proved more complex than was first anticipated.

For anyone who’s interested in more details about  US soldiers and nanotechnology,

  • May 1, 2013 article by Max Cacas for Signal Online provides more details about the overall Smart Skin programme and its goals.
  • Nov. 15, 2013 article by Kris Walker for Azonano.com describes the Smart Skin project along with others including the intriguingly titled: ‘Warrior Web’.
  • website for MIT’s (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies Note: The MIT researcher mentioned in the LLNL news release is a faculty member of the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies.
  • website for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency

Materials research and nanotechnology for clean energy at Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia)

Getting to the bottom line of a complex set of  interlinked programs and initiatives, it’s safe to say that a group of US students went to study with research Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia) in the first Materials Research School which was held Dec. 9 -21, 2012.

Rutgers University (New Jersey, US)  student Aleksandra Biedron attended the Materials Research School as a member of a joint Rutgers University-Princeton University Nanotechnology for Clean Energy graduate training program (one of the US National Science Foundation’s Integrative Graduate Education Research Traineeship [IGERT] programs).

In a Summer 2013 (volume 14) issue of Rutgers University’s Chemistry and Chemical Biology News, Biedron describes the experience,

The program brought together approximately 50 graduate students and early-career materials researchers from across the United States and East Africa, as well as 15 internationally recognized instructors, for two weeks of lectures, problem solving, and cultural exchange. “I was interested in meeting young African scientists to discuss energy materials, a universal concern, which is relevant to my research in ionic liquids,” said Biedron, a graduate of Livingston High School [Berkeley Heights, New Jersey]. “I was also excited to see Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and experience the culture and historical attractions.”

A cornerstone of the Nanotechnology for Clean Energy IGERT program is having the students apply their training in a dynamic educational exchange program with African institutions, promoting development of the students’ global awareness and understanding of the challenges involved in global scientific and economic development. In Addis Ababa, Biedron quickly noticed how different the scope of research was between the African scientists and their international counterparts.

“The African scientists’ research was really solution-based,” said Biedron. “They were looking at how they could use their natural resources to solve some of their region’s most pressing issues, not only for energy, but also health, clean water, and housing. You don’t really see that as much in the U.S. because we are already thinking about the future, 10 or 20 years from now.”

H/T centraljerseycentral.com, Aug. 1, 2013 news item.

I found a little more information about the first Materials Research School on this Columbia University JUAMI (Joint US-Africa Materials Initiative) webpage,

The Joint US-Africa Materials Initiative
Announces its first Materials Research School
To be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, December 9-21, 2012

Theme of the school:

The first school will concentrate on materials research for sustainable energy. Tutorials and seminar topics will range from photocatalysis and photovoltaics to fuel cells and batteries.

Goals of the school:

The initiative aims to build materials science research and collaborations between the United States and Africa, with an initial focus on East Africa, and to develop ties between young materials researchers in both regions in a school taught by top materials researchers. The school will bring together approximately 50 PhD and early career materials researchers from across the US and East Africa, and 15 internationally recognized instructors, for two weeks of lectures, problem solving and cultural exchange in historic Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Topics include photocatalysis, photovoltaics, thermoelectrics, fuel cells, and batteries.

I also found this on the IGERT homepage,

IGERT Trainees participate in:
  • Interdisciplinary courses in the fundamentals of energy technology, nanotechnology and energy policy.
  • Dissertation research emphasizing nanotechnology and energy.
  • Dynamic educational exchange between U.S. and select African institutions.

A ‘graphite today, graphene tomorrow’ philosophy from Focus Graphite

Focus Graphite, a Canadian company with the tag line ‘Think Graphite today, Think Graphene tomorrow’, is making a bit of splash this month (April 2013) with its announcement of three deals (two joint ventures and the commissioning of their pilot plant) and it’s only April 17.

The most recent is the pilot plant announcement, from Focus Graphite’s Apr. 17, 2013 press release,

Focus Graphite Inc. (TSX-V:FMS)(OTCQX:FCSMF)(FRANKFURT:FKC) (“Focus” or the “Company”) is pleased to report the commissioning of its pilot plant and the start-up of circuit testing for the production of high-grade graphite concentrates from the Company’s wholly-owned Lac Knife, Québec graphite project.

The principal objectives of the pilot plant testwork are to confirm the results from Phase II bench scale Locked Cycle Tests (LCT)*; to assess the technical viability and operational performance of the processing plant design; to generate tailings for environmental testing, and; to produce a range of graphite raw materials for customer assessments and for further upgrading.

The Lac Knife project pilot plant was designed and built and is being operated by SGS Canada Inc. (“SGS”) in Lakefield, Ontario. The testing is expected to last 4-6 weeks.


The highlights of those tests conducted by SGS confirmed:-       The average amount of graphite flake recovered from the core samples in the Phase II LCT increased to 92.2% compared with a recovery of 84.7% graphite flake in the Phase I LCT;

-       The proportion of large flakes (+80 mesh) in the graphite concentrates ranged between 35% and 58%;

-       The carbon content of graphite concentrates produced from the four (4) composites averaged 96.6 %C, including the fine flake fraction (-200 mesh), a 4.6% increase over Phase I LCT completed in mid-2012.

Final results for Phase II LCT including for the two composite drill core samples of massive graphite mineralisation are pending.

* A locked cycle test is a repetitive batch flotation test conducted to assess flow sheet design. It is the preferred method for arriving at a metallurgical projection from laboratory testing. The final cycles of the test are designed to simulate a continuous, stable flotation circuit.

There’s also the announcement of a joint venture between Grafoid (a company where, I believe, 40% is owned by Focus Graphite) with the University of Waterloo, from the Apr. 17, 2013 news item on Azonano,

Focus Graphite Inc. on behalf of Grafoid Inc. (“Grafoid”) is pleased to announce the signing of a two-year R&D agreement between Grafoid Inc. and the University of Waterloo to investigate and develop a graphene-based composite for electrochemical energy storage for the automotive and/or portable electronics sectors.

Gary Economo, President and CEO of Focus Graphite Inc. and Grafoid Inc., said the objective of the agreement is to research and develop patentable applications using Grafoid’s unique investment which derives graphene from raw, graphite ore to target specialty high value graphene derivatives ranging from sulfur graphene to nanoporous graphene foam.

“Today’s announcement marks Grafoid’s fifth publicly declared graphene development project with a major academic or corporate institution, and the third related directly to a next generation green technology or renewable energy development project,” Mr. Economo said.

It follows R&D partnering projects announced with Rutgers University’s AMIPP, CVD Equipment Corporation, with Hydro-Quebec’s research institute, IREQ, and with British Columbia-based CapTherm Systems, an advanced thermal management technologies developer and producer.

Focus Graphite’s Apr. 16, 2013 press release, which originated the news item on Azonano, provides some context for the intense worldwide interest in graphene and the business imperatives,

Alternative Energy & Graphene:

The quest for alternative energy sources is one of the most important and exciting challenges facing science and technology in the 21st century. Environmentally-friendly, efficient and sustainable energy generation and usage have become large efforts for advancing human societal needs.  Graphene is a pure form of carbon with powerful characteristics which can bring about success in portable, stationary and transportation applications in high energy demanding areas in which electrochemical energy storage and conversion devices such as batteries, fuel cells and electrochemical supercapacitors  are the necessary devices.

Electrochemical Supercapacitors:

Supercapacitors, a zero-emission energy storage system, have a number of high-impact characteristics, such as fast charging, long charge-discharge cycles and broad operating temperature ranges, currently used or heavily researched in hybrid or electrical vehicles, electronics, aircrafts, and smart grids for energy storage. The US Department of Energy has assigned the same importance to supercapacitors and batteries. There is much research looking at combining electrochemical supercapacitors with battery systems or fuel cells.

Fuel Cells:

A fuel cell is a zero-emission source of power, and the only byproduct of a fuel cell is water. Some fuel cells use natural gas or hydrocarbons as fuel, but even those produce far less emissions than conventional sources. As a result, fuel cells eliminate or at least vastly reduce the pollution and greenhouse gas emissions caused by burning fossil fuels, and since they are also quiet in operation, they also reduce noise pollution. Fuel cells are more efficient than combustion engines as they generate electricity electrochemically. Since they can produce electricity onsite, the waste heat produced can also be used for heating purposes. Small fuel cells are already replacing batteries in portable products.

Toyota is planning to launch fuel cell cars in 2015, and has licensed its fuel cell vehicle technology to Germany’s BMW AG. BMW will use the technology to build a prototype vehicle by 2015, with plans for a market release around 2020.

By 2020, market penetration could rise as high as 1.2 million fuel cell vehicles, which would represent 7.6% of the total U.S. automotive market. Other fuel cell end users are fork lift and mining industries which continuously add profits to this growing industry.

Proton or polymer exchange membranes (PEM) have become the dominant fuel cell technology in the automotive market.

The U.S. Department of Energy has set fuel cell performance standards for 2015. As of today, no technologies under development have been able to meet the DOE’s  targets for performance and cost.

As I am from British Columbia and it was the first joint venture deal signed in April, here’s a bit more from Focus Graphite’s Apr. 9, 2013 press release,

Focus Graphite Inc. (TSX-V:FMS)(OTCQX:FCSMF)(FRANKFURT:FKC) on behalf of Grafoid Inc., announced today Grafoid’s joint venture development agreement with Coquitlam, British Columbia-based CapTherm Systems Inc. to develop and commercialize next generation, multiphase thermal management systems for electric vehicle (EV) battery and light emitting diode (LED) technologies.

CapTherm Systems Inc – Progressive Thermal Management is a thermal management/cooling company specializing in personal computer, server, LED, and electric vehicle cooling systems. It develops and commercializes proprietary, next-generation high-power electronics cooling technologies.

Its multiphase cooling technologies represent the core of its products that harness the power of latent heat from vaporization.

Under the terms of the agreement, Grafoid Inc., a company invested in the production of high-energy graphene and the development of graphene industrial applications will supply both materials and its science for adapting graphene to CapTherm’s existing EV and LED cooling systems.

Focus Graphite is a Canadian company, you can find more information on their website and the same for Grafoid and SGS Canada, and CapTherm Systems.

I have previously mentioned Focus Graphite in a Nov. 27, 2012 posting about their deal with Hydro Québec’s research institute, IREQ. I have also mentioned graphite mining in Canada with regard to the Northern Graphite Corporation and its Bissett Creek mine (my July 25, 2011 posting and my Feb. 6, 2012 posting). Apparently, Canada has high quality, large graphic flakes.

“It is more important to have beauty in one’s equations than to have them fit experiment” and nano protection against nerve agents

Michael Berger’s Nov. 7, 2012 Nanowerk Spotlight article about nanoporous adsorbents and protection against toxic nerve agents features Dr. Piotr Kowalczyk, a Senior Research Fellow at the Nanochemistry Research Institute at Curtin University of Technology in Australia, quoting English theoretical physicist, Paul Dirac,

“Some of my colleagues asked me if I believe in our theoretical results” says Kowalczyk. “The great physicist Paul Dirac used to say: ‘This result is too beautiful to be false; it is more important to have beauty in one’s equations than to have them fit experiment’.”

“And I truly believe that our theoretical results have to be correct – within the assumed model of nanopores – because they are so simple and beautiful” he concludes.

Kowalczyk is discussing some of  his latest work on protection against toxic nerve agents (Note: I have removed a link),

In a paper published in the October 31, 2012 online edition of Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics (“Screening of Carbonaceous Nanoporous Materials for Capture of Nerve Agents”), an international team led by Kowalczyk and Alexander V Neimark, a professor at Rutgers University, together with scientists from the Physicochemistry of Carbon Materials Research Group at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Poland, is shedding new light on the selection of an optimal nanomaterial for capturing highly volatile nerve agents.

Berger’s article gives some context for this research,

Protection against nerve agents – such as tabun, sarin, soman, VX, and others – is a major terrorism concern of security experts. Nerve agents, which attack the nervous system of the human body, are clear and colorless or slightly colored liquids and may have no odor or a faint, sweetish smell. They evaporate at various rates and are denser than air. Current methods to detect nerve agents include surface acoustic wave sensors; conducting polymer arrays; vector machines; and the most simple: color change paper sensors. Most of these systems have have certain limitations including low sensitivity and slow response times.

You can find more detail about nanopores and toxic nerve agents in Berger’s article.