Tag Archives: Sean Nealon

Sand and nanotechnology

There’s some good news coming out of the University of California, Riverside regarding sand and lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries, which I will temper with some additional information later in this posting.

First, the good news is that researchers have a new non-toxic, low cost way to produce a component in lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries according to a July 8, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering have created a lithium ion battery that outperforms the current industry standard by three times. The key material: sand. Yes, sand.

“This is the holy grail — a low cost, non-toxic, environmentally friendly way to produce high performance lithium ion battery anodes,” said Zachary Favors, a graduate student working with Cengiz and Mihri Ozkan, both engineering professors at UC Riverside.

The idea came to Favors six months ago. He was relaxing on the beach after surfing in San Clemente, Calif. when he picked up some sand, took a close look at it and saw it was made up primarily of quartz, or silicon dioxide.

His research is centered on building better lithium ion batteries, primarily for personal electronics and electric vehicles. He is focused on the anode, or negative side of the battery. Graphite is the current standard material for the anode, but as electronics have become more powerful graphite’s ability to be improved has been virtually tapped out.

A July 8, 2014 University of California at Riverside news release by Sean Nealon, which originated the news item, describes some of the problems with silicon as a replacement for graphite and how the researchers approached those problems,

Researchers are now focused on using silicon at the nanoscale, or billionths of a meter, level as a replacement for graphite. The problem with nanoscale silicon is that it degrades quickly and is hard to produce in large quantities.

Favors set out to solve both these problems. He researched sand to find a spot in the United States where it is found with a high percentage of quartz. That took him to the Cedar Creek Reservoir, east of Dallas, where he grew up.

Sand in hand, he came back to the lab at UC Riverside and milled it down to the nanometer scale, followed by a series of purification steps changing its color from brown to bright white, similar in color and texture to powdered sugar.

After that, he ground salt and magnesium, both very common elements found dissolved in sea water into the purified quartz. The resulting powder was then heated. With the salt acting as a heat absorber, the magnesium worked to remove the oxygen from the quartz, resulting in pure silicon.

The Ozkan team was pleased with how the process went. And they also encountered an added positive surprise. The pure nano-silicon formed in a very porous 3-D silicon sponge like consistency. That porosity has proved to be the key to improving the performance of the batteries built with the nano-silicon.

Now, the Ozkan team is trying to produce larger quantities of the nano-silicon beach sand and is planning to move from coin-size batteries to pouch-size batteries that are used in cell phones.

The research is supported by Temiz Energy Technologies. The UCR Office of Technology Commercialization has filed patents for inventions reported in the research paper.

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

Scalable Synthesis of Nano-Silicon from Beach Sand for Long Cycle Life Li-ion Batteries by Zachary Favors, Wei Wang, Hamed Hosseini Bay, Zafer Mutlu, Kazi Ahmed, Chueh Liu, Mihrimah Ozkan, & Cengiz S. Ozkan. Scientific Reports 4, Article number: 5623 doi:10.1038/srep05623 Published 08 July 2014

While this is good news, it does pose a conundrum of sorts. It seems that supplies of sand are currently under siege. A documentary, Sand Wars (2013) lays out the issues (from the Sand Wars website’s Synopsis page),

Most of us think of it as a complimentary ingredient of any beach vacation. Yet those seemingly insignificant grains of silica surround our daily lives. Every house, skyscraper and glass building, every bridge, airport and sidewalk in our modern society depends on sand. We use it to manufacture optical fiber, cell phone components and computer chips. We find it in our toothpaste, powdered foods and even in our glass of wine (both the glass and the wine, as a fining agent)!

Is sand an infinite resource? Can the existing supply satisfy a gigantic demand fueled by construction booms?  What are the consequences of intensive beach sand mining for the environment and the neighboring populations?

Based on encounters with sand smugglers, barefoot millionaires, corrupt politicians, unscrupulous real estate developers and environmentalists, this investigation takes us around the globe to unveil a new gold rush and a disturbing fact: the “SAND WARS” have begun.

Dr. Muditha D Senarath Yapa of John Keells Research at John Keells Holdings comments on the situation in Sri Lanka in his June 22, 2014 article (Nanotechnology – Depleting the most precious minerals for a few dollars) for The Nation,

Many have written for many years about the mineral sands of Pulmoddai. It is a national tragedy that for more than 50 years, we have been depleting the most precious minerals of our land for a few dollars. There are articles that appeared in various newspapers on how the mineral sands industry has boomed over the years. I hope the readers understand that it only means that we are depleting our resources faster than ever. According to the Lanka Mineral Sands Limited website, 90,000 tonnes of ilmenite, 9,000 tonnes of rutile, 5,500 tonnes of zircon, 100 tonnes of monazite and 4,000 tonnes of high titanium ilmenite are produced annually and shipped away to other countries.

… It is time for Sri Lanka to look at our own resources with this new light and capture the future nano materials market to create value added materials.

It’s interesting that he starts with the depletion of the sands as a national tragedy and ends with a plea to shift from a resource-based economy to a manufacturing-based economy. (This plea resonates strongly here in Canada where we too are a resource-based economy.)

Sidebar: John Keells Holdings is a most unusual company, from the About Us page,

In terms of market capitalisation, John Keells Holdings PLC is one of the largest listed conglomerate on the Colombo Stock Exchange. Other measures tell a similar tale; our group companies manage the largest number of hotel rooms in Sri Lanka, own the country’s largest privately-owned transportation business and hold leading positions in Sri Lanka’s key industries: tea, food and beverage manufacture and distribution, logistics, real estate, banking and information technology. Our investment in Sri Lanka is so deep and widely diversified that our stock price is sometimes used by international financial analysts as a benchmark of the country’s economy.

Yapa heads the companies research effort, which recently celebrated a synthetic biology agreement (from a May 2014 John Keells news release by Nuwan),

John Keells Research Signs an Historic Agreement with the Human Genetics Unit, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo to establish Sri Lanka’s first Synthetic Biology Research Programme.

Getting back to sand, these three pieces, ‘sand is good for li-ion batteries’, ‘sand is a diminishing resource’, and ‘let’s stop being a source of sand for other countries’ lay bare some difficult questions about our collective future on this planet.

Charging portable electronics in 10 minutes (hopefully) with a 3D (silicon-decorated) carbon nanotube cluster

I sometimes think there’s a worldwide obsession with lithium-ion batteries as hardly a day passes without at least one story about them. To honour that obsession, here’s a June 11, 2014 news item on Azonano describing a new technique which could lead to a faster charging time for mobile electronics,

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside [UCR] Bourns College of Engineering have developed a three-dimensional, silicon-decorated, cone-shaped carbon-nanotube cluster architecture for lithium ion battery anodes that could enable charging of portable electronics in 10 minutes, instead of hours.

A June 10, 2014 UCR news release by Sean Nealon, which originated the news item, notes the ubiquity of lithium-ion batteries in modern electronics and explains why silicon was used in this research,

Lithium ion batteries are the rechargeable battery of choice for portable electronic devices and electric vehicles. But, they present problems. Batteries in electric vehicles are responsible for a significant portion of the vehicle mass. And the size of batteries in portable electronics limits the trend of down-sizing.

Silicon is a type of anode material that is receiving a lot of attention because its total charge capacity is 10 times higher than commercial graphite based lithium ion battery anodes. Consider a packaged battery full-cell. Replacing the commonly used graphite anode with silicon anodes will potentially result in a 63 percent increase of total cell capacity and a battery that is 40 percent lighter and smaller.

The news release then provides a very brief description of the technology,

…, UC Riverside researchers developed a novel structure of three-dimensional silicon decorated cone-shaped carbon nanotube clusters architecture via chemical vapor deposition and inductively coupled plasma treatment.

Lithium ion batteries based on this novel architecture demonstrate a high reversible capacity and excellent cycling stability. The architecture demonstrates excellent electrochemical stability and irreversibility even at high charge and discharge rates, nearly 16 times faster than conventionally used graphite based anodes.

The researchers believe the ultrafast rate of charge and discharge can be attributed to two reasons, said Wei Wang, lead author of the paper.

One, the seamless connection between graphene covered copper foil and carbon nanotubes enhances the active material-current collector contact integrity which facilitates charge and thermal transfer in the electrode system.

Two, the cone-shaped architecture offers small interpenetrating channels for faster electrolyte access into the electrode which may enhance the rate performance.

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

Silicon Decorated Cone Shaped Carbon Nanotube Clusters for Lithium Ion Battery Anodes by Wei Wang, Isaac Ruiz, Kazi Ahmed, Hamed Hosseini Bay, Aaron S. George, Johnny Wang, John Butler, Mihrimah Ozkan, and Cengiz S. Ozkan. Small DOI: 10.1002/smll.201400088 Article first published online: 19 APR 2014

© 2014 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This paper is behind a paywall.

Resistive memory from University of California Riverside (replacing flash memory in mobile devices) and Boise State University (neuron chips)

Today, (Aug. 19, 2 013)I have two items on memristors. First, Dexter Johnson provides some context for understanding why a University of California Riverside research team’s approach to creating memristors is exciting some interest in his Aug. 17, 2013 posting (Nanoclast blog on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website), Note: Links have been removed,

The heralding of the memristor, or resistive memory, and the long-anticipated demise of flash memory have both been tracking on opposite trajectories with resistive memory expected to displace flash ever since the memristor was first discovered by Stanley Williams’ group at Hewlett Packard in 2008.

The memristor has been on a rapid development track ever since and has been promised to be commercially available as early as 2014, enabling 10 times greater embedded memory for mobile devices than currently available.

The obsolescence of flash memory at the hands of the latest nanotechnology has been predicted for longer than the commercial introduction of the memristor. But just at the moment it appears it’s going to reach its limits in storage capacity along comes a new way to push its capabilities to new heights, sometimes thanks to a nanomaterial like graphene.

In addition to the graphene promise, Dexter goes on to discuss another development,  which could push memory capabilities and which is mentioned in an Aug. 14, 2013 news item on ScienceDaily (and elsewhere),

A team at the University of California, Riverside Bourns College of Engineering has developed a novel way to build what many see as the next generation memory storage devices for portable electronic devices including smart phones, tablets, laptops and digital cameras.

The device is based on the principles of resistive memory [memristor], which can be used to create memory cells that are smaller, operate at a higher speed and offer more storage capacity than flash memory cells, the current industry standard. Terabytes, not gigbytes, will be the norm with resistive memory.

The key advancement in the UC Riverside research is the creation of a zinc oxide nano-island on silicon. It eliminates the need for a second element called a selector device, which is often a diode.

The Aug. 13, 2013 University of California Riverside news release by Sean Nealon, which originated the news item, further describes the limitations of flash memory and reinforces the importance of being able to eliminate a component (selector device),

Flash memory has been the standard in the electronics industry for decades. But, as flash continues to get smaller and users want higher storage capacity, it appears to reaching the end of its lifespan, Liu [Jianlin Liu, a professor of electrical engineering] said.

With that in mind, resistive memory is receiving significant attention from academia and the electronics industry because it has a simple structure, high-density integration, fast operation and long endurance.

Researchers have also found that resistive memory can be scaled down in the sub 10-nanometer scale. (A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter.) Current flash memory devices are roughly using a feature size twice as large.

Resistive memory usually has a metal-oxide-metal structure in connection with a selector device. The UC Riverside team has demonstrated a novel alternative way by forming self-assembled zinc oxide nano-islands on silicon. Using a conductive atomic force microscope, the researchers observed three operation modes from the same device structure, essentially eliminating the need for a separate selector device.

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

Multimode Resistive Switching in Single ZnO Nanoisland System by Jing Qi, Mario Olmedo, Jian-Guo Zheng, & Jianlin Liu. Scientific Reports 3, Article number: 2405 doi:10.1038/srep02405 Published 12 August 2013

This study is open access.

Meanwhile, Boise State University (Idaho, US) is celebrating a new project, CIF: Small: Realizing Chip-scale Bio-inspired Spiking Neural Networks with Monolithically Integrated Nano-scale Memristors, which was announced in an Aug. 17, 2013 news item on Azonano,

Electrical and computer engineering faculty Elisa Barney Smith, Kris Campbell and Vishal Saxena are joining forces on a project titled “CIF: Small: Realizing Chip-scale Bio-inspired Spiking Neural Networks with Monolithically Integrated Nano-scale Memristors.”

Team members are experts in machine learning (artificial intelligence), integrated circuit design and memristor devices. Funded by a three-year, $500,000 National Science Foundation grant, they have taken on the challenge of developing a new kind of computing architecture that works more like a brain than a traditional digital computer.

“By mimicking the brain’s billions of interconnections and pattern recognition capabilities, we may ultimately introduce a new paradigm in speed and power, and potentially enable systems that include the ability to learn, adapt and respond to their environment,” said Barney Smith, who is the principal investigator on the grant.

The Aug. 14, 2013 Boise State University news release by Kathleen Tuck, which originated the news item, describes the team’s focus on mimicking the brain’s capabilities ,

One of the first memristors was built in Campbell’s Boise State lab, which has the distinction of being one of only five or six labs worldwide that are up to the task.

The team’s research builds on recent work from scientists who have derived mathematical algorithms to explain the electrical interaction between brain synapses and neurons.

“By employing these models in combination with a new device technology that exhibits similar electrical response to the neural synapses, we will design entirely new computing chips that mimic how the brain processes information,” said Barney Smith.

Even better, these new chips will consume power at an order of magnitude lower than current computing processors, despite the fact that they match existing chips in physical dimensions. This will open the door for ultra low-power electronics intended for applications with scarce energy resources, such as in space, environmental sensors or biomedical implants.

Once the team has successfully built an artificial neural network, they will look to engage neurobiologists in parallel to what they are doing now. A proposal for that could be written in the coming year.

Barney Smith said they hope to send the first of the new neuron chips out for fabrication within weeks.

With the possibility that HP Labs will make its ‘memristor chips‘ commercially available in 2014 and neuron chips fabricated for the Boise State University researchers within weeks of this Aug. 19, 2013 date, it seems that memristors have been developed at a lightning fast pace. It’s been a fascinating process to observe.

A ‘wandering meatloaf’ with teeth inspires nanomaterials for solar cells and Li-ion batteries

The ‘wandering meatloaf’ is a species of marine snail (or chiton) that has extraordinary teeth according to the Jan. 16, 2013 news item on ScienceDaily,

An assistant professor [David Kisailus] at the University of California, Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering is using the teeth of a marine snail found off the coast of California to create less costly and more efficient nanoscale materials to improve solar cells and lithium-ion batteries.

The paper is focused on the gumboot chiton, the largest type of chiton, which can be up to a foot-long. They are found along the shores of the Pacific Ocean from central California to Alaska. They have a leathery upper skin, which is usually reddish-brown and occasionally orange, leading some to give it the nickname “wandering meatloaf.”

Over time, chitons have evolved to eat algae growing on and within rocks using a specialized rasping organ called a radula, a conveyer belt-like structure in the mouth that contains 70 to 80 parallel rows of teeth. During the feeding process, the first few rows of the teeth are used to grind rock to get to the algae. They become worn, but new teeth are continuously produced and enter the “wear zone” at the same rate as teeth are shed.

The University of California Riverside Jan. 15, 2013 news release by Sean Nealon, which originated the news item, describes the chiton’s teeth and the specifics of Kisailus’ inspiration (Note: A link has been removed),

Over time, chitons have evolved to eat algae growing on and within rocks using a specialized rasping organ called a radula, a conveyer belt-like structure in the mouth that contains 70 to 80 parallel rows of teeth. During the feeding process, the first few rows of the teeth are used to grind rock to get to the algae. They become worn, but new teeth are continuously produced and enter the “wear zone” at the same rate as teeth are shed.

Kisailus, who uses nature as inspiration to design next generation engineering products and materials, started studying chitons five years ago because he was interested in abrasion and impact-resistant materials. He has previously determined that the chiton teeth contain the hardest biomineral known on Earth, magnetite, which is the key mineral that not only makes the tooth hard, but also magnetic.

Kisailus is using the lessons learned from this biomineralization pathway as inspiration in his lab to guide the growth of minerals used in solar cells and lithium-ion [li-ion] batteries. By controlling the crystal size, shape and orientation of engineering nanomaterials, he believes he can build materials that will allow the solar cells and lithium-ion batteries to operate more efficiently. In other words, the solar cells will be able to capture a greater percentage of sunlight and convert it to electricity more efficiently and the lithium-ion batteries could need significantly less time to recharge.

Using the chiton teeth model has another advantage: engineering nanocrystals can be grown at significantly lower temperatures, which means significantly lower production costs.

While Kisailus is focused on solar cells and lithium-ion batteries, the same techniques could be used to develop everything from materials for car and airplane frames to abrasion resistant clothing. In addition, understanding the formation and properties of the chiton teeth could help to create better design parameters for better oil drills and dental drill bits.

Here’s a representation of the teeth from the University of California Riverside,

A series of images that show the teeth of the gumboot chiton (aka, snail, aka, wandering meatloaf)

A series of images that show the teeth of the gumboot chiton (aka, snail, aka, wandering meatloaf)

You can find other images and media materials in the ScienceDaily news item or the University of California Riverside news release. This citation and link for the research paper is from the ScienceDaily news item,

Qianqian Wang, Michiko Nemoto, Dongsheng Li, James C. Weaver, Brian Weden, John Stegemeier, Krassimir N. Bozhilov, Leslie R. Wood, Garrett W. Milliron, Christopher S. Kim, Elaine DiMasi, David Kisailus. Phase Transformations and Structural Developments in the Radular Teeth ofCryptochiton Stelleri. Advanced Functional Materials, 2013; DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201202894

This article is behind a paywall.