Tag Archives: Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich

‘No kiln’ ceramics

Sometimes it’s hard to believe what one reads and this piece about ceramics made without kilns  (for me) fits into that category (from a Feb. 28, 2017 ETH Zurich [English: Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich] [German: Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich]) press release (also on EurekAlert) by Fabio Bergamin),

The manufacture of cement, bricks, bathroom tiles and porcelain crockery normally requires a great deal of heat: a kiln is used to fire the ceramic materials at temperatures well in excess of 1,000°C. Now, material scientists from ETH Zurich have developed what seems at first glance to be an astonishingly simple method of manufacture that works at room temperature. The scientists used a calcium carbonate nanopowder as the starting material and instead of firing it, they added a small amount of water and then compacted it.

“The manufacturing process is based on the geological process of rock formation,” explains Florian Bouville, a postdoc in the group of André Studart, Professor of Complex Materials. Sedimentary rock is formed from sediment that is compressed over millions of years through the pressure exerted by overlying deposits. This process turns calcium carbonate sediment into limestone with the help of the surrounding water. As the ETH researchers used calcium carbonate with an extremely fine particle size (nanoparticles) as the starting material, their compacting process took only an hour. “Our work is the first evidence that a piece of ceramic material can be manufactured at room temperature in such a short amount of time and with relatively low pressures,” says ETH professor Studart.

Stronger than concrete

As tests have shown, the new material can withstand about ten times as much force as concrete before it breaks, and is as stiff as stone or concrete. In other words, it is just as hard to deform.

So far, the scientists have produced material samples of about the size of a one-franc piece using a conventional hydraulic press such as those normally used in industry. “The challenge is to generate a sufficiently high pressure for the compacting process. Larger workpieces require a correspondingly greater force,” says Bouville. According to the scientists, ceramic pieces the size of small bathroom tiles should theoretically be feasible.

Energy-efficient and environmentally benign

“For a long time, material scientists have been searching for a way to produce ceramic materials under mild conditions, as the firing process requires a large amount of energy,” says Studart. The new room-temperature method – which experts refer to as cold sintering — is much more energy-efficient and also enables the production of composite materials containing, for example, plastic.

The technique is also of interest with a view to a future CO2-neutral society. Specifically, the carbonate nanoparticles could conceivably be produced using CO2 captured from the atmosphere or from waste gases from thermal power stations. In this scenario, the captured CO2 is allowed to react with a suitable rock in powder form to produce carbonate, which could then be used to manufacture ceramics at room temperature. The climate-damaging CO2 would thus be stored in ceramic products in the long term. These would constitute a CO2 sink and could help thermal power stations to operate on a carbon-neutral basis.

According to the scientists, in the long term, the new approach of cold sintering even has the potential to lead to more environmentally friendly substitutes for cement-based materials. However, great research efforts are needed to reach this goal. Cement production is not only energy-intensive, but it also generates large amounts of CO2 – unlike potential cold-sintered replacement materials.

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

Geologically-inspired strong bulk ceramics made with water at room temperature by Florian Bouville & André R. Studart. Nature Communications 8, Article number: 14655 (2017) doi:10.1038/ncomms14655 Published online: 06 March 2017

This paper is open access.

Florian Bouville’s work in ceramics was last mentioned here in a March 25, 2014 posting.

Why Factory publishes book about research on nanotechnology in architecture

The book titled, Barba. Life in the Fully Adaptable Environment, published by nai010 and the Why Factory, a think tank operated by Dutch architectural firm, MVRDV, and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, is a little difficult to describe.  From a Nov. 16, 2015 MVRDV press release,

Is the end of brick and mortar near? How could nanotechnology change buildings and cities in the future? A speculation of The Why Factory on this topic is illustrated in the best tradition of science fiction in the newly published book Barba. Life in the Fully Adaptable Environment. It forms the point of departure for a series of interactive experiments, installations and proposals towards the development of new, body-based and fully adaptive architectures. A beautiful existential story comes alive. A story closer to us then you’d ever have thought. Imagine a new substance that could be steered and altered in real time. Imagine creating a flexible material that could change its shape, that could shrink and expand, that could do almost anything. The Why Factory calls this fictional material Barba. With Barba, we would be able to adapt our environment to every desire and to every need.

The press release delves into the inspiration for the material and the book,

… The first inspiration came from ‘Barbapapa’, an illustrated cartoon character from the 1970s. Invented and drawn by Talus Taylor and Annette Tison, the friendly, blobby protagonist of the eponymous children’s books and television programme could change his shape to resemble different objects. With Barbapapa’s smooth morphosis in mind, The Why Factory wondered how today’s advancements in robotics, material science and computing might allow us to create environments that transform themselves as easily as Barbapapa could. Neither Barbapapa’s inventors nor anybody else from the team behind the cartoon were involved in this project, but The Why Factory owes them absolute gratitude for the inspiration of Barbapapa.

“Barba is a fantastic matter that does whatever we wish for” says Winy Maas, Professor at The Why Factory and MVRDV co-founder. “You can programme your environment like a computer game. You could wake up in a modernist villa that you transform into a Roman Spa after breakfast. Cities can be totally transformed when offices just disappear after office hours.”

The book moves away from pure speculation, however, and makes steps towards real world application, including illustrated vision, programming experiments and applied prototypes. As co-author of the book, Ulf Hackauf, explains, “We started this book with a vision, which we worked out to form a consistent future scenario. This we took as a point of departure for experiments and speculations, including programming, installations and material research. It eventually led us to prototypes, which could form a first step for making Barba real.”

Barba developed through a series of projects organized by The Why Factory and undertaken in collaboration between Delft University of Technology, ETH Zürich and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology. The research was developed over the course of numerous design studios at the Why Factory and elsewhere. Students and collaborators of the Why Factory have all contributed to the book.

The press release goes on to offer some information about Why Factory,

The Why Factory explores possibilities for the development of our cities by focusing on the production of models and visualisations for cities of the future. Education and research of The Why Factory are combined in a research lab and platform that aims to analyse, theorise and construct future cities. It investigates within the given world and produces future scenarios beyond it; from universal to specific and global to local. It proposes, constructs and envisions hypothetical societies and cities; from science to fiction and vice versa. The Why Factory thus acts as a future world scenario making machinery, engaging in a public debate on architecture and urbanism. Their findings are then communicated to the wider public in a variety of ways, including exhibitions, publications, workshops, and panel discussions.

Based on the Why Factory description, I’m surmising that the book is meant to provoke interactivity in some way. However, there doesn’t seem to be a prescribed means to interact with the Why Factory or the authors (Winy Maas, Ulf Hackauf, Adrien Ravon, and Patrick Healy) so perhaps the book is meant to be a piece of fiction/manual for interested educators, architects, and others who want to create ‘think tank’ environments where people speculate about nanotechnology and architecture.

In any event, you can order the book from this nai010 webpage,

How nanotechnology might drastically change cities and architecture

> New, body-based and fully adaptive architecture
How could nanotechnology change buildings and cities in the future? Imagine a new substance, that could be steered and altered in real time. Imagine …

As for The Why Factory, you can find out more here on the think tank’s About page.

One last comment, in checking out MVRDV, the Dutch architectural firm mentioned earlier as one of The Why Factory’s operating organizations, I came across this piece of news generated as a consequence of the Nov. 13, 2015 Paris bombings,

The Why Factory alumna Emilie Meaud died in Friday’s Paris attacks. Our thoughts are with their family, friends and colleagues.

Nov 17, 2015

To our great horror and shock we received the terrible news that The Why Factory alumna Emilie Meaud (29) died in the Paris attacks of last Friday. She finished her master in Architecture at TU-Delft in 2012 and worked at the Agence Chartier-Dalix. She was killed alongside her twin sister Charlotte. Our thoughts are with their family, friends and colleagues.


Slaughterhouse yarn (scientists looking for business investment)

Not everyone is going to feel comfortable with the idea of using gelatine to create fibres for yarn. Nonetheless, here’s a July 29, 2015 ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, [Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich]) press release (also on EurekAlert) describes the research (a plea for business investment follows),

Some 70 million tonnes of fibres are traded worldwide every year. Man-made fibres manufactured from products of petroleum or natural gas account for almost two-thirds of this total. The most commonly used natural fibres are wool and cotton, but they have lost ground against synthetic fibres.

Despite their environmental friendliness, fibres made of biopolymers from plant or animal origin remain very much a niche product. At the end of the 19th century, there were already attempts to refine proteins into textiles. For example, a patent for textiles made of gelatine was filed in 1894. After the Second World War, however, the emerging synthetic fibres drove biological protein fibres swiftly and thoroughly from the market.

Over the past few years, there has been increased demand for natural fibres produced from renewable resources using environmentally friendly methods. Wool fibre in particular has experienced a renaissance in performance sportswear made of merino wool. And a few years ago, a young entrepreneur in Germany started making high-quality textiles from the milk protein casein.

New use for waste product

Now Philipp Stössel, a 28-year-old PhD student in Professor Wendelin Stark’s Functional Materials Laboratory (FML), is presenting a new method for obtaining high-quality fibres from gelatine. The method was developed in cooperation with the Advanced Fibers Laboratory at Empa St. Gallen. Stössel was able to spin the fibres into a yarn from which textiles can be manufactured.

Gelatine consists chiefly of collagen, a main component of skin, bone and tendons. Large quantities of collagen are found in slaughterhouse waste and can be easily made into gelatine. For these reasons, Stark and Stössel decided to use this biomaterial for their experiments.

Coincidence helps provide a solution

In his experiments, Stössel noticed that when he added an organic solvent (isopropyl) to a heated, aqueous gelatine solution, the protein precipitated at the bottom of the vessel. He removed the formless mass using a pipette and was able to effortlessly press an elastic, endless thread from it. This was the starting point for his unusual research work.

As part of his dissertation, Stössel developed and refined the method, which he has just recently presented in an article for the journal Biomacromolecules.

The refined method replaces the pipette with several syringe drivers in a parallel arrangement. Using an even application of pressure, the syringes push out fine endless filaments, which are guided over two Teflon-coated rolls. The rolls are kept constantly moist in an ethanol bath; this prevents the filaments from sticking together and allows them to harden quickly before they are rolled onto a conveyor belt. Using the spinning machine he developed, Stössel was able to produce 200 metres of filaments a minute. He then twisted around 1,000 individual filaments into a yarn with a hand spindle and had a glove knitted from the yarn as a showpiece.

Attractive luster

Extremely fine, the individual fibres have a diameter of only 25 micrometres, roughly half the thickness of a human hair. With his first laboratory spinning machines, the fibre thickness was 100 micrometres, Stössel recalls. That was too thick for yarn production.

Whereas natural wool fibres have tiny scales, the surface of the gelatine fibres is smooth. “As a result, they have an attractive luster,” Stössel says. Moreover, the interior of the fibres is filled with cavities, as shown by the researchers’ electron microscope images. This might also be the reason for the gelatine yarn’s good insulation, which Stössel was able to measure in comparison with a glove made of merino wool.

Water-resistant fibres

Gelatine’s major drawback is that it its water-solubility. Stössel had to greatly improve the water resistance of the gelatine yarn through various chemical processing stages. First he treated the glove with an epoxy in order to bond the gelatine components more firmly together. Next, he treated the material with formaldehyde so that it would harden better. Finally, he impregnated the yarn with lanolin, a natural wool grease, to make it supple.

As he completes his dissertation over the coming months, Stössel will research how to make the gelatine fibres even more water-resistant. Sheep’s wool is still superior to the gelatine yarn in this respect. However, Stössel is convinced that he is very close to his ultimate goal: making a biopolymer fibre from a waste product.

It’s been a few months since I’ve seen one of these pleas for commercial interest/partnership (from the press release),

Three years ago, the researchers applied for a patent on their invention. Stössel explains that they have reached the point where their capacity in the laboratory is at its limit, but commercial production will only be possible if they can find partners and funding.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the researchers’ latest published paper (there are also two previous paper listed in the press release),

Porous, Water-Resistant Multifilament Yarn Spun from Gelatin by Philipp R. Stoessel, Urs Krebs, Rudolf Hufenus, Marcel Halbeisen, Martin Zeltner, Robert N. Grass, and Wendelin J. Stark. Biomacromolecules, 2015, 16 (7), pp 1997–2005 DOI: 10.1021/acs.biomac.5b00424 Publication Date (Web): June 2, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.