Category Archives: environment

Stifle the noise with seaweed

The claim that most spaces are now designed with sound-absorption in mind seems a little overblown to me but judge for yourself, from a July 14, 2022 news item on phys.org,

From airplanes to apartments, most spaces are now designed with sound-absorbing materials that help dampen the droning, echoing and murmuring sounds of everyday life. But most of the acoustic materials that can cancel out human voices, traffic and music are made from plastic foams that aren’t easily recycled or degraded. Now, researchers reporting in ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering have created a biodegradable seaweed-derived film that effectively absorbs sounds in this range.

A July 14, 2022 American Chemical Society (ACS) news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the work in more detail,

Controlling and optimizing the way sound moves throughout a room is key to creating functional spaces. Foam acoustic panels are a common solution, and they come in a variety of materials and thicknesses tailored to specific sound requirements. Most of these foams, however, are made from polyurethane and other polymers that are derived from crude oil or shale gas. To avoid petrochemicals, researchers have explored more renewably sourced and biodegradable sound-absorbing alternatives. But many current options are made from plant fibers that don’t effectively dampen noises in the most useful range of sound frequencies, or they are too thick or unwieldy to fabricate. So, Chindam Chandraprakash and colleagues wanted to develop a plant-derived, biodegradable material that would be simple to manufacture and that could absorb a range of sounds.

The team created thin films of agar, a jelly-like material that comes from seaweed, along with other plant-derived additives and varied both the thickness and porosity of the films. After running the materials through a battery of tests, the researchers measured how well the films dampened sound across a range of frequencies — from a bass hum to a shrill whine. To do this, the team created a sound tube in which a speaker is placed at one end, and the test film is fitted over the other end. Microphones in the middle of the tube measured the amount of sound emitted by the speaker and the amount of sound reflected off the film. These experiments showed that porous films made with the highest concentrations of agar had the greatest sound-absorbing qualities and performed similarly to traditional acoustic foams. The researchers plan to explore ways to modify the agar films to give them other desirable properties, such as flame resistance, and will explore other biologically derived film materials.

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

Agar-Based Composite Films as Effective Biodegradable Sound Absorbers by Surendra Kumar, Kousar Jahan, Abhishek Verma, Manan Agarwal, and C. Chandraprakash. ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng. 2022, 10, 26, 8242–8253 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1021/acssuschemeng.2c00168 Publication Date: June 23, 2022 Copyright © 2022 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Can I have a beer with those carbon quantum dots?

This research into using waste products from microbreweries comes from Québec, from a June 22, 2022 news item on ScienceDaily,

For a few years now, spent grain, the cereal residue from breweries, has been reused in animal feed. From now on, this material could also be used in nanotechnology! Professor Federico Rosei’s team at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) has shown that microbrewery waste can be used as a carbon source to synthesize quantum dots. The work, done in collaboration with Claudiane Ouellet-Plamondon of the École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS), was published in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s journal RSC Advances

A June 22, 2022 Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, explains what quantum dots have to do with wastage from beer (Note: Links have been removed),

Often considered as “artificial atoms”, quantum dots are used in the transmission of light. With a range of interesting physicochemical properties, this type of nanotechnology has been successfully used as a sensor in biomedicine or as LEDs in next generation displays. But there is a drawback. Current quantum dots are produced with heavy and toxic metals like cadmium. Carbon is an interesting alternative, both for its biocompatibility and its accessibility.

An eco-responsible approach

The choice of brewery waste as a source material came from Daniele Benetti, a postdoctoral fellow at INRS, and Aurel Thibaut Nkeumaleu, the master’s student at ÉTS who conducted the work. Basically, they wanted to carry out various experiments using accessible materials. This is how the scientists came to collaborate with the Brasseurs de Montréal to obtain their cereal residues.

“The use of spent grain highlights both an eco-responsible approach to waste management and an alternative raw material for the synthesis of carbon quantum dots, from a circular economy perspective,” says Professor Rosei.

The advantage of using brewery waste as a source of carbon quantum dots is that it is naturally enriched with nitrogen and phosphorus. This avoids the need for pure chemicals.

“This research was a lot of fun, lighting up what we can do with the beer by-products,” says Claudiane Ouellet-Plamondon, Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Multifunctional Construction Materials at ÉTS. “Moreover, ÉTS is located on the site of the former Dow brewery, one of the main breweries in Quebec until the 1960s. So there is a historical and heritage link to this work.”

An accessible method

In addition to using biobased material, the research team wanted to show that it was possible to produce carbon quantum dots with common means. The scientists used a domestic microwave oven to carbonize the spent grain, resulting in a black powder. It was then mixed with distilled water and put back into the microwave oven. A passage in the centrifuge and advanced filtration allowed to obtain the quantum dots. Their finished product was able to detect and quantify heavy metals, as well as other contaminants that affect water quality, the environment and health. 

The next steps will be to characterize these carbon quantum dots from brewery waste, beyond proof of concept. The research team is convinced that this nanotechnology has the potential to become sophisticated detection sensors for various aqueous solutions, even in living cells.

About the study

The paper “Brewery spent grain derived carbon dots for metal sensing,” by Aurel Thibaut Nkeumaleu, Daniele Benetti, Imane Haddadou, Michael Di Mare, Claudiane Ouellet-Plamondon, and Federico Rosei, was published on April 14, 2022, in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal RSC Advances. The study was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Quebec Centre for Advanced Materials (QCAM) and the Canada Research Chairs.

About INRS
INRS is a university dedicated exclusively to graduate level research and training. Since its creation in 1969, INRS has played an active role in Québec’s economic, social, and cultural development and is ranked first for research intensity in Québec. INRS is made up of four interdisciplinary research and training centres in Québec City, Montréal, Laval, and Varennes, with expertise in strategic sectors: Eau Terre Environnement, Énergie Matériaux Télécommunications, Urbanisation Culture Société, and Armand-Frappier Santé Biotechnologie. The INRS community includes more than 1,500 students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty members, and staff.

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

Brewery spent grain derived carbon dots for metal sensing by Aurel Thibaut Nkeumaleu, Daniele Benetti, Imane Haddadou, Michael Di Mare, Claudiane M. Ouellet-Plamondon and Federico Rosei. RSC Adv., 2022,12, 11621-11627 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1039/D2RA00048B First published: 14 Apr 2022

This paper is open access.

An apple a day could help you clean up nanoplastics?

it’s really all about the pectin. From a June 27, 2022 Shinshu University (Japan) press release on EurekAlert (Note: A link has been removed),

Microplastics are known to collect in ecosystems and nanoplastics occur from the breaking down of microplastics. Nanoplastics are plastic particles of sizes less than 100nm and when they are in water, they are dispersed in a colloidal form. Nanoplastics might be more prevalent than microplastics, but it is hard to analyze and study in-depth due to their size. In zebrafish, however, nanoplastics have been found in various organs including the brain, which may be an indicator that it crosses the blood-brain barrier.

In towns and cities, 90% of microplastics are captured in the sewage treatment process. In the ocean, microplastics are also known to sink to the bottom by binding to biopolymers. Therefore, this research team at Shinshu University lead by Professor Hiroshi Moriwaki of the Department of Applied Biology, Faculty of Textile Science and Technology considered using pectin, a biopolymer to bind to nanoplastics with the help of Fe (III) or AI (III). They found that they were able to remove 95% of nanoplastics in the first 24 hours by using coagulating sedimentation with pectin and Fe(III) with filter paper.

The use of pectin was inspired by the abundance of apples in the prefecture of Nagano where Shinshu University is based. For more information, please read the paper, Interaction between nanoplastics and pectin, a water-soluble polysaccharide, in the presence of Fe(III) ion in the Journal of Environmental Chemical Engineering.

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

Interaction between nanoplastics and pectin, a water-soluble polysaccharide, in the presence of Fe(III) ion by Hiroshi Moriwaki, Naoya Komori, Yoshitake Akiyama. Journal of Environmental Chemical Engineering Volume 10, Issue 3, June 2022, 108054 Available online 9 June 2022, Version of Record 15 June 2022

This study is behind a paywall.

In Brazil: Applications open for July 3 – 15, 2023 School of Advanced Science on Nanotechnology, Agriculture and Environment

According to the December 15, 2022 Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo press release on EurekAlert applications will be received until February 5, 2023,

The São Paulo School of Advanced Science on Nanotechnology, Agriculture and Environment (SPSAS NanoAgri&Enviro) will be held on July 3-15 at the Brazilian Center for Research in Energy and Materials (CNPEM) in Campinas, São Paulo state, Brazil. 

Reporters are invited to reach the organizing committee through the email eventos@cnpem.br, for opportunities to visit the school and sessions.

Designed to meet an increasing level of content depth and complexity, the SPSAS NanoAgri&Enviro will cover the following topics: i) Nanotechnology, innovation, and sustainability; ii) Synthesis, functionalization, and characterization of nanomaterials; iii) Characterization of nanoparticles in complex matrices; iv) Synchrotron Light for nano-agri-environmental research; v) Biological and environmental applications of nanoparticles; vi) Nanofertilizers and Nanoagrochemicals; vii) Ecotoxicology, geochemistry and nanobiointerfaces; viii) Nanosafety and Nanoinformatics; ix) International harmonization and regulatory issues; x) Environmental implications of nanotechnology.

Discussions regarding those topics will benefit from the participation of internationally renowned scientists as speakers, including Mark V. Wiesner (Duke University), Iseult Lynch (University of Birmingham), Leonardo F. Fraceto (São Paulo State University – UNESP), Gregory V. Lowry (Carnegie Mellon University), Marisa N. Fernandes (Federal University of São Carlos – UFSCar), Caue Ribeiro (Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation – EMBRAPA), and others.

The program also comprise didactic activities programmed among theoretical interactive classes, practical experiments (hands-on), and technical visits to world-class facilities and specialized laboratories from several institutions in São Paulo state.

The São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) is supporting the event through its São Paulo School of Advanced Science Program (SPSAS http://espca.fapesp.br/home). Undergraduate students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers who are already working on subjects relating to the school can apply to receive financial support to cover the cost of air travel, accommodation and meals. Applications must be submitted by February 5, 2023.

More information: https://pages.cnpem.br/spsasnano/.

I looked up the criteria for eligible applicants and found this among the other criteria (from the Applications page),

Participating students must be enrolled in undergraduate or graduate courses in Brazil or abroad, being potential candidates for Master’s, Doctoral or Post-Doctoral internships in higher education and research institutions in the state of São Paulo. Doctors may also be accepted. [emphases mine]

If I read that correctly, it means that people who are considering or planning to further their studies in the state of São Paulo are being invited to apply.

I recognized two of the speakers’ names, Mark Wiesner and Iseult Lynch both of whom have been mentioned here a number of times as has Gregory V. Lowry. (Wiesner very kindly helped with an art/sci project I was involved with [Steep] a number of years ago.)

Good luck with your application!

Making graphite from coal and a few graphite facts

Canada is the 10th largest (1.2%) producer of graphite in the world with China leading the way in the top spot at 68.1%. That’s right, 1.2% can get you into the top 10.

If you’re curious about which countries fill out the other eight spots, The National Research Council of Canada has a handy webpage titled, Graphite Facts,

Graphite is a non-metallic mineral that has properties similar to metals, such as a good ability to conduct heat and electricity. Graphite occurs naturally or can be produced synthetically. Purified natural graphite has higher crystalline structure and offers better electrical and thermal conductivity than synthetic material.

Among the many applications, natural and synthetic graphite are used for electrodes, refractories, batteries and lubricants and by foundries. Coated spherical graphite is used to manufacture the anode in lithium-ion batteries. High-grade graphite is also used in fuel cells, semiconductors, LEDs and nuclear reactors.

The Lac des Iles mine is the only mine in Canada that is producing graphite. However, many other companies are working on graphite projects.

Canada’s graphite shipments reached 11,937 tonnes in 2020, up slightly from 11,045 tonnes in 2020 [sic].

Global production and demand for graphite are anticipated to increase in the coming years, largely because of the use of graphite in the batteries of electric vehicles. In 2020, global consumption of graphite reached 2.7 million tonnes. Synthetic graphite accounted for about two-thirds of the graphite consumption, which was largely concentrated in Asia.

In 2020, the value of Canada’s exports of graphite was $31.6 million, a 9% decrease compared to the previous year. Imports also decreased in 2020, by 33% to $20.9 million.

Natural graphite accounted for 46.7% ($14.8 million) of the value of Canada’s exports of graphite and 13.5% ($2.8 million) of Canada’s imports of graphite in 2020. Synthetic graphite accounted for 53.3% ($ 16.9 million) of Canada’s exports of graphite and 86.5% ($18.0 million) of Canada’s imports of graphite in 2020.

In 2020, the United States was the primary destination for Canada’s exports of natural and synthetic graphite, accounting for 85% and 42% of the total exports, respectively.

I think the writer meant that shipments were up slightly from 2019. The page was last updated on February 4, 2022.

The news from Ohio

A June 10, 2022 news item on Nanowerk about research into a new type of graphite (Note: A link has been removed),

As the world’s appetite for carbon-based materials like graphite increases, Ohio University researchers presented evidence this week for a new carbon solid they named “amorphous graphite.”

Physicist David Drabold and engineer Jason Trembly started with the question, “Can we make graphite from coal?”

“Graphite is an important carbon material with many uses. A burgeoning application for graphite is for battery anodes in lithium-ion batteries, and it is crucial for the electric vehicle industry — a Tesla Model S on average needs 54 kg of graphite. Such electrodes are best if made with pure carbon materials, which are becoming more difficult to obtain owing to spiraling technological demand,” they write in their paper that published in Physical Review Letters (“Ab initio simulation of amorphous graphite”).

Ab initio means from the beginning, and their work pursues novel paths to synthetic forms of graphite from naturally occurring carbonaceous material. What they found, with several different calculations, was a layered material that forms at very high temperatures (about 3000 degrees Kelvin). Its layers stay together due to the formation of an electron gas between the layers, but they’re not the perfect layers of hexagons that make up ideal graphene. This new material has plenty of hexagons, but also pentagons and heptagons. That ring disorder reduces the electrical conductivity of the new material compared with graphene, but the conductivity is still high in the regions dominated largely by hexagons.

A June 10, 2022 Ohio University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, delves further into the research (Note: Links have been removed),

Not all hexagons

“In chemistry, the process of converting carbonaceous materials to a layered graphitic structure by thermal treatment at high temperature is called graphitization. In this letter, we show from ab initio and machine learning molecular dynamic simulations that pure carbon networks have an overwhelming proclivity to convert to a layered structure in a significant density and temperature window with the layering occurring even for random starting configurations. The flat layers are amorphous graphene: topologically disordered three-coordinated carbon atoms arranged in planes with pentagons, hexagons and heptagons of carbon,” said Drabold, Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy in the College of Arts and Sciences at Ohio University.

“Since this phase is topologically disordered, the usual ‘stacking registry’ of graphite is only statistically respected,” Drabold said. “The layering is observed without Van der Waals corrections to density functional (LDA and PBE) forces, and we discuss the formation of a delocalized electron gas in the galleries (voids between planes) and show that interplane cohesion is partly due to this low-density electron gas. The in-plane electronic conductivity is dramatically reduced relative to graphene.”

The researchers expect their announcement to spur experimentation and studies addressing the existence of amorphous graphite, which may be testable from exfoliation and/or experimental surface structural probes.

Trembly, Russ Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology at Ohio University, has been working in part on green uses of coal. He and Drabold — along with physics doctoral students Rajendra Thapa, Chinonso Ugwumadu and Kishor Nepal — collaborated on the research. Drabold also is part of the Nanoscale & Quantum Phenomena Institute at OHIO, and he has published a series of papers on the theory of amorphous carbon and amorphous graphene. Drabold also emphasized the excellent work of his graduate students in carrying out this research.

Surprising interplane cohesion

“The question that led us to this is whether we could make graphite from coal,” Drabold said. “This paper does not fully answer that question, but it shows that carbon has an overwhelming tendency to layer — like graphite, but with many ‘defects’ such as pentagons and heptagons (five- and seven-member rings of carbon atoms), which fit quite naturally into the network. We present evidence that amorphous graphite exists, and we describe its process of formation. It has been suspected from experiments that graphitization occurs near 3,000K, but the details of the formation process and nature of disorder in the planes was unknown,” he added.

The Ohio University researchers’ work is also a prediction of a new phase of carbon.

“Until we did this, it was not at all obvious that layers of amorphous graphene (the planes including pentagons and heptagons) would stick together in a layered structure. I find that quite surprising, and it is likely that experimentalists will go hunting for this stuff now that its existence is predicted,” Drabold said. “Carbon is the miracle element — you can make life, diamond, graphite, Bucky Balls, nanotubes, graphene, [emphasis mine] and now this. There is a lot of interesting basic physics in this, too — for example how and why the planes bind, this by itself is quite surprising for technical reasons.”

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

Ab Initio Simulation of Amorphous Graphite by R. Thapa, C. Ugwumadu, K. Nepal, J. Trembly, and D. A. Drabold. Phys. Rev. Lett. 128, 236402 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevLett.128.236402 Published 10 June 2022 © 2022 American Physical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

There is an earlier version of the paper which is open access at ArXiv (hosted by Cornell University),

[Submitted on 22 Feb 2022 (v1), last revised 23 Apr 2022 (this version, v2)]

Ab initio simulation of amorphous graphite by Rajendra Thapa, Chinonso Ugwumadu, Kishor Nepal, Jason Trembly, David Drabold

About graphite and Canadian mines

A July 25, 2011 posting marks the earliest appearance of graphite on this blog. Titled, “Canadians as hewers of graphite?” It featured Northern Graphite Corporation, which today (June 21, 2022) is the largest North American graphite producer according to the company’s homepage,

  • Only North American producer
  • Will be 3rd largest non-Chinese producer
  • Two large development projects
  • All projects:
    • In politically stable countries
    • Have “battery quality” graphite
    • Close to infrastructure

There’s also this from the company’s homepage,

Northern owns the Lac des Iles (LDI) mine in Quebec, the only significant graphite producer in North America. Northern plans to increase production and extend the mine life.

Northern is currently upgrading its Okorusu processing plant in Namibia. It will be back on line in 1H 2023 and make Northern the third largest non Chinese graphite producer.

Northern plans to develop its advanced stage Bissett Creek project in Ontario which has a full Feasibility Study. It has been rated as the highest margin graphite deposit in the world.

The Okanjande deposit in Namibia has a very large measured and indicated resource. Northern intends to study building a 150,000tpa plant to supply battery markets in Europe.

I notice the involvement in Namibia. I hope this is a ‘good’ mining company. Canadian mining companies have been known to breach human rights and environmental regulations when operating internationally. There’s a recent tragedy described in this June 20, 2020 news article on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) online news site (Note: A link has been removed),

Trevali Mining Corp. says it has recovered the bodies of the final two of eight workers killed after its Perkoa Mine in Burkina Faso flooded following heavy rainfall on Apr. 16 [2022].

The bodies of the other six workers were recovered by search teams late last month.

The Vancouver-based zinc miner says it is working alongside Burkinabe authorities to coordinate the dewatering and rehabilitation of the mine.

The flooding event is under investigation by the company and government authorities.

MiningWatch Canada, an Ottawa-based industry watchdog, has questioned how well the company was prepared for disaster and criticized the federal government’s lack of regulations on how Canadian mining companies operate internationally. [emphasis mine]

They say tighter rules are necessary for companies operating abroad. 

A May 10, 2022 article by Amanda Follett Hosgood about the disaster for The Tyee provides more details and asks some very pertinent and uncomfortable questions. (Yes, The Tyee is a very ‘left wing’ journalistic effort and they have a point where Canadian mining companies are concerned.)

Getting back to Northern Graphite, there’s this from their Governance page,

Northern Graphite is committed to conducting its activities in a manner that meets best international industry practices regardless of the country or location of operation.  The Company will operate with the highest standards of honesty, integrity, and ethical behaviour.  It will conduct its business in a manner that meets or exceeds all applicable laws, rules, and regulations and meets its social and moral obligations.  This policy applies to all Board members, officers and other employees, contractors, and other third parties working on behalf of or representing the Company.

The company gets more specific, from their Governance page,

  1. Taking all reasonable precautions to ensure the health and safety of workers and others affected by the Company’s operations.
  2. Managing and minimizing the environmental impact of the Company’s operations by following best international practices and standards and meeting stakeholder expectations while recognizing that mining will always have some unavoidable impacts on the environment. 
  3. Utilizing practices and technologies that minimize the Company’s water and carbon footprints.
  4. Respecting the rights, culture and development of local and Indigenous communities.
  5. The elimination of fraud, bribery, and corruption.
  6.  The protection and respect of human rights.
  7. Providing an adequate return to shareholders and investors while ensuring that all stakeholders benefit from the extraction of the earth’s resources through fair labour and compensation practices, local hiring and contracting, community support, and the payment of all applicable government taxes and royalties.

There are two other Canadian mining companies (that I know of) in pursuit of graphite, Lomiko Metals (British Columbia) and Focus Graphite (Ontario). All the mines in Canada, whether they are producing or not, are in either Québec or Ontario.

As for the research team in Ohio, congratulations on your very exciting work!

FrogHeart’s 2022 comes to an end as 2023 comes into view

I look forward to 2023 and hope it will be as stimulating as 2022 proved to be. Here’s an overview of the year that was on this blog:

Sounds of science

It seems 2022 was the year that science discovered the importance of sound and the possibilities of data sonification. Neither is new but this year seemed to signal a surge of interest or maybe I just happened to stumble onto more of the stories than usual.

This is not an exhaustive list, you can check out my ‘Music’ category for more here. I have tried to include audio files with the postings but it all depends on how accessible the researchers have made them.

Aliens on earth: machinic biology and/or biological machinery?

When I first started following stories in 2008 (?) about technology or machinery being integrated with the human body, it was mostly about assistive technologies such as neuroprosthetics. You’ll find most of this year’s material in the ‘Human Enhancement’ category or you can search the tag ‘machine/flesh’.

However, the line between biology and machine became a bit more blurry for me this year. You can see what’s happening in the titles listed below (you may recognize the zenobot story; there was an earlier version of xenobots featured here in 2021):

This was the story that shook me,

Are the aliens going to come from outer space or are we becoming the aliens?

Brains (biological and otherwise), AI, & our latest age of anxiety

As we integrate machines into our bodies, including our brains, there are new issues to consider:

  • Going blind when your neural implant company flirts with bankruptcy (long read) April 5, 2022 posting
  • US National Academies Sept. 22-23, 2022 workshop on techno, legal & ethical issues of brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) September 21, 2022 posting

I hope the US National Academies issues a report on their “Brain-Machine and Related Neural Interface Technologies: Scientific, Technical, Ethical, and Regulatory Issues – A Workshop” for 2023.

Meanwhile the race to create brainlike computers continues and I have a number of posts which can be found under the category of ‘neuromorphic engineering’ or you can use these search terms ‘brainlike computing’ and ‘memristors’.

On the artificial intelligence (AI) side of things, I finally broke down and added an ‘artificial intelligence (AI) category to this blog sometime between May and August 2021. Previously, I had used the ‘robots’ category as a catchall. There are other stories but these ones feature public engagement and policy (btw, it’s a Canadian Science Policy Centre event), respectively,

  • “The “We are AI” series gives citizens a primer on AI” March 23, 2022 posting
  • “Age of AI and Big Data – Impact on Justice, Human Rights and Privacy Zoom event on September 28, 2022 at 12 – 1:30 pm EDT” September 16, 2022 posting

These stories feature problems, which aren’t new but seem to be getting more attention,

While there have been issues over AI, the arts, and creativity previously, this year they sprang into high relief. The list starts with my two-part review of the Vancouver Art Gallery’s AI show; I share most of my concerns in part two. The third post covers intellectual property issues (mostly visual arts but literary arts get a nod too). The fourth post upends the discussion,

  • “Mad, bad, and dangerous to know? Artificial Intelligence at the Vancouver (Canada) Art Gallery (1 of 2): The Objects” July 28, 2022 posting
  • “Mad, bad, and dangerous to know? Artificial Intelligence at the Vancouver (Canada) Art Gallery (2 of 2): Meditations” July 28, 2022 posting
  • “AI (artificial intelligence) and art ethics: a debate + a Botto (AI artist) October 2022 exhibition in the Uk” October 24, 2022 posting
  • Should AI algorithms get patents for their inventions and is anyone talking about copyright for texts written by AI algorithms? August 30, 2022 posting

Interestingly, most of the concerns seem to be coming from the visual and literary arts communities; I haven’t come across major concerns from the music community. (The curious can check out Vancouver’s Metacreation Lab for Artificial Intelligence [located on a Simon Fraser University campus]. I haven’t seen any cautionary or warning essays there; it’s run by an AI and creativity enthusiast [professor Philippe Pasquier]. The dominant but not sole focus is art, i.e., music and AI.)

There is a ‘new kid on the block’ which has been attracting a lot of attention this month. If you’re curious about the latest and greatest AI anxiety,

  • Peter Csathy’s December 21, 2022 Yahoo News article (originally published in The WRAP) makes this proclamation in the headline “Chat GPT Proves That AI Could Be a Major Threat to Hollywood Creatives – and Not Just Below the Line | PRO Insight”
  • Mouhamad Rachini’s December 15, 2022 article for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) online news overs a more generalized overview of the ‘new kid’ along with an embedded CBC Radio file which runs approximately 19 mins. 30 secs. It’s titled “ChatGPT a ‘landmark event’ for AI, but what does it mean for the future of human labour and disinformation?” The chat bot’s developer, OpenAI, has been mentioned here many times including the previously listed July 28, 2022 posting (part two of the VAG review) and the October 24, 2022 posting.

Opposite world (quantum physics in Canada)

Quantum computing made more of an impact here (my blog) than usual. it started in 2021 with the announcement of a National Quantum Strategy in the Canadian federal government budget for that year and gained some momentum in 2022:

  • “Quantum Mechanics & Gravity conference (August 15 – 19, 2022) launches Vancouver (Canada)-based Quantum Gravity Institute and more” July 26, 2022 posting Note: This turned into one of my ‘in depth’ pieces where I comment on the ‘Canadian quantum scene’ and highlight the appointment of an expert panel for the Council of Canada Academies’ report on Quantum Technologies.
  • “Bank of Canada and Multiverse Computing model complex networks & cryptocurrencies with quantum computing” July 25, 2022 posting
  • “Canada, quantum technology, and a public relations campaign?” December 29, 2022 posting

This one was a bit of a puzzle with regard to placement in this end-of-year review, it’s quantum but it’s also about brainlike computing

It’s getting hot in here

Fusion energy made some news this year.

There’s a Vancouver area company, General Fusion, highlighted in both postings and the October posting includes an embedded video of Canadian-born rapper Baba Brinkman’s “You Must LENR” [L ow E nergy N uclear R eactions or sometimes L attice E nabled N anoscale R eactions or Cold Fusion or CANR (C hemically A ssisted N uclear R eactions)].

BTW, fusion energy can generate temperatures up to 150 million degrees Celsius.

Ukraine, science, war, and unintended consequences

Here’s what you might expect,

These are the unintended consequences (from Rachel Kyte’s, Dean of the Fletcher School, Tufts University, December 26, 2022 essay on The Conversation [h/t December 27, 2022 news item on phys.org]), Note: Links have been removed,

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine has reverberated through Europe and spread to other countries that have long been dependent on the region for natural gas. But while oil-producing countries and gas lobbyists are arguing for more drilling, global energy investments reflect a quickening transition to cleaner energy. [emphasis mine]

Call it the Putin effect – Russia’s war is speeding up the global shift away from fossil fuels.

In December [2022?], the International Energy Agency [IEA] published two important reports that point to the future of renewable energy.

First, the IEA revised its projection of renewable energy growth upward by 30%. It now expects the world to install as much solar and wind power in the next five years as it installed in the past 50 years.

The second report showed that energy use is becoming more efficient globally, with efficiency increasing by about 2% per year. As energy analyst Kingsmill Bond at the energy research group RMI noted, the two reports together suggest that fossil fuel demand may have peaked. While some low-income countries have been eager for deals to tap their fossil fuel resources, the IEA warns that new fossil fuel production risks becoming stranded, or uneconomic, in the next 20 years.

Kyte’s essay is not all ‘sweetness and light’ but it does provide a little optimism.

Kudos, nanotechnology, culture (pop & otherwise), fun, and a farewell in 2022

This one was a surprise for me,

Sometimes I like to know where the money comes from and I was delighted to learn of the Ărramăt Project funded through the federal government’s New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF). Here’s more about the Ărramăt Project from the February 14, 2022 posting,

“The Ărramăt Project is about respecting the inherent dignity and interconnectedness of peoples and Mother Earth, life and livelihood, identity and expression, biodiversity and sustainability, and stewardship and well-being. Arramăt is a word from the Tamasheq language spoken by the Tuareg people of the Sahel and Sahara regions which reflects this holistic worldview.” (Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine)

Over 150 Indigenous organizations, universities, and other partners will work together to highlight the complex problems of biodiversity loss and its implications for health and well-being. The project Team will take a broad approach and be inclusive of many different worldviews and methods for research (i.e., intersectionality, interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary). Activities will occur in 70 different kinds of ecosystems that are also spiritually, culturally, and economically important to Indigenous Peoples.

The project is led by Indigenous scholars and activists …

Kudos to the federal government and all those involved in the Salmon science camps, the Ărramăt Project, and other NFRF projects.

There are many other nanotechnology posts here but this appeals to my need for something lighter at this point,

  • “Say goodbye to crunchy (ice crystal-laden) in ice cream thanks to cellulose nanocrystals (CNC)” August 22, 2022 posting

The following posts tend to be culture-related, high and/or low but always with a science/nanotechnology edge,

Sadly, it looks like 2022 is the last year that Ada Lovelace Day is to be celebrated.

… this year’s Ada Lovelace Day is the final such event due to lack of financial backing. Suw Charman-Anderson told the BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation] the reason it was now coming to an end was:

You can read more about it here:

In the rearview mirror

A few things that didn’t fit under the previous heads but stood out for me this year. Science podcasts, which were a big feature in 2021, also proliferated in 2022. I think they might have peaked and now (in 2023) we’ll see what survives.

Nanotechnology, the main subject on this blog, continues to be investigated and increasingly integrated into products. You can search the ‘nanotechnology’ category here for posts of interest something I just tried. It surprises even me (I should know better) how broadly nanotechnology is researched and applied.

If you want a nice tidy list, Hamish Johnston in a December 29, 2022 posting on the Physics World Materials blog has this “Materials and nanotechnology: our favourite research in 2022,” Note: Links have been removed,

“Inherited nanobionics” makes its debut

The integration of nanomaterials with living organisms is a hot topic, which is why this research on “inherited nanobionics” is on our list. Ardemis Boghossian at EPFL [École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne] in Switzerland and colleagues have shown that certain bacteria will take up single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs). What is more, when the bacteria cells split, the SWCNTs are distributed amongst the daughter cells. The team also found that bacteria containing SWCNTs produce a significantly more electricity when illuminated with light than do bacteria without nanotubes. As a result, the technique could be used to grow living solar cells, which as well as generating clean energy, also have a negative carbon footprint when it comes to manufacturing.

Getting to back to Canada, I’m finding Saskatchewan featured more prominently here. They do a good job of promoting their science, especially the folks at the Canadian Light Source (CLS), Canada’s synchrotron, in Saskatoon. Canadian live science outreach events seeming to be coming back (slowly). Cautious organizers (who have a few dollars to spare) are also enthusiastic about hybrid events which combine online and live outreach.

After what seems like a long pause, I’m stumbling across more international news, e.g. “Nigeria and its nanotechnology research” published December 19, 2022 and “China and nanotechnology” published September 6, 2022. I think there’s also an Iran piece here somewhere.

With that …

Making resolutions in the dark

Hopefully this year I will catch up with the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) output and finally review a few of their 2021 reports such as Leaps and Boundaries; a report on artificial intelligence applied to science inquiry and, perhaps, Powering Discovery; a report on research funding and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Given what appears to a renewed campaign to have germline editing (gene editing which affects all of your descendants) approved in Canada, I might even reach back to a late 2020 CCA report, Research to Reality; somatic gene and engineered cell therapies. it’s not the same as germline editing but gene editing exists on a continuum.

For anyone who wants to see the CCA reports for themselves they can be found here (both in progress and completed).

I’m also going to be paying more attention to how public relations and special interests influence what science is covered and how it’s covered. In doing this 2022 roundup, I noticed that I featured an overview of fusion energy not long before the breakthrough. Indirect influence on this blog?

My post was precipitated by an article by Alex Pasternak in Fast Company. I’m wondering what precipitated Alex Pasternack’s interest in fusion energy since his self-description on the Huffington Post website states this “… focus on the intersections of science, technology, media, politics, and culture. My writing about those and other topics—transportation, design, media, architecture, environment, psychology, art, music … .”

He might simply have received a press release that stimulated his imagination and/or been approached by a communications specialist or publicists with an idea. There’s a reason for why there are so many public relations/media relations jobs and agencies.

Que sera, sera (Whatever will be, will be)

I can confidently predict that 2023 has some surprises in store. I can also confidently predict that the European Union’s big research projects (1B Euros each in funding for the Graphene Flagship and Human Brain Project over a ten year period) will sunset in 2023, ten years after they were first announced in 2013. Unless, the powers that be extend the funding past 2023.

I expect the Canadian quantum community to provide more fodder for me in the form of a 2023 report on Quantum Technologies from the Council of Canadian academies, if nothing else otherwise.

I’ve already featured these 2023 science events but just in case you missed them,

  • 2023 Preview: Bill Nye the Science Guy’s live show and Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. (Scientific Training And Tactical Intelligence Operative Network) coming to Vancouver (Canada) November 24, 2022 posting
  • September 2023: Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand set to welcome women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) November 15, 2022 posting

Getting back to this blog, it may not seem like a new year during the first few weeks of 2023 as I have quite the stockpile of draft posts. At this point I have drafts that are dated from June 2022 and expect to be burning through them so as not to fall further behind but will be interspersing them, occasionally, with more current posts.

Most importantly: a big thank you to everyone who drops by and reads (and sometimes even comments) on my posts!!! it’s very much appreciated and on that note: I wish you all the best for 2023.

Using nanomagnets to remove plastic from water

it seems Australian researchers are working hard to find ways of removing microplastics from water. I have two items, first, a November 29, 2022 news item on Nanowerk announces some of the latest work,

Researchers at RMIT University have found an innovative way to rapidly remove hazardous microplastics from water using magnets.

Lead researcher Professor Nicky Eshtiaghi said existing methods could take days to remove microplastics from water, while their cheap and sustainable invention achieves better results in just one hour.

The team says they have developed adsorbents, in the form of a powder, that remove microplastics 1,000 times smaller than those currently detectable by existing wastewater treatment plants. 

The researchers have successfully tested the adsorbents in the lab, and they plan to engage with industry to further develop the innovation to remove microplastics from waterways.

A November 30, 2022 RMIT University press release, which originated the news item, provides more technical detail about the work,

“The nano-pillar structure we’ve engineered to remove this pollution, which is impossible to see but very harmful to the environment, is recycled from waste and can be used multiple times,” said Eshtiaghi from RMIT’s School of Environmental and Chemical Engineering.

“This is a big win for the environment and the circular economy.”

How does this innovation work?

The researchers have developed an adsorbent using nanomaterials that they can mix into water to attract microplastics and dissolved pollutants.

Muhammad Haris, the first author and PhD candidate from RMIT’s School of Environmental and Chemical Engineering, said the nanomaterials contained iron, which enabled the team to use magnets to easily separate the microplastics and pollutants from the water.

“This whole process takes one hour, compared to other inventions taking days,” he said.

Co-lead researcher Dr Nasir Mahmood said the nano-pillar structured material was designed to attract microplastics without creating any secondary pollutants or carbon footprints.

“The adsorbent is prepared with special surface properties so that it can effectively and simultaneously remove both microplastics and dissolved pollutants from water,” said Mahmood from Applied Chemistry and Environmental Science at RMIT.

“Microplastics smaller than 5 millimetres, which can take up to 450 years to degrade, are not detectable and removable through conventional treatment systems, resulting in millions of tonnes being released into the sea every year. This is not only harmful for aquatic life, but also has significant negative impacts on human health.”

The team received scientific and technical support from the Microscopy and Microanalysis Facility and the Micro Nano Research Facility, part of RMIT’s newly expanded Advanced Manufacturing Precinct, to complete their research. 

What are the next steps?

Developing a cost-effective way to overcome these signficant challenges posed by microplastics was critical, Eshtiaghi said.

“Our powder additive can remove microplastics that are 1,000 times smaller than those that are currently detectable by existing wastewater treatment plants,” she said.

“We are looking for industrial collaborators to take our invention to the next steps, where we will be looking at its application in wastewater treatment plants.”

Eshtiaghi and her colleagues have worked with various water utilities across Australia, including with Melbourne Water and Water Corporation in Perth on a recent Australian Research Council Linkage project to optimise sludge pumping systems.

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

Self-assembly of C@FeO nanopillars on 2D-MOF for simultaneous removal of microplastic and dissolved contaminants from water by Muhammad Haris, Muhammad Waqas Khan, Ali Zavabeti, Nasir Mahmood and Nicky Eshtiaghi. Chemical Engineering Journal Available online 23 November 2022, 140390 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cej.2022.140390

This paper is behind a paywall.

Back in 2019

Caption: This visual abstract depicts the findings of Kang et al.. Novel and robust nanocarbon springs were synthesized via solid pyrolysis with a controlled morphology, and simultaneously engineered nitrogen dopants and encapsulated magnetic nanoparticles. The carbocatalysts can effectively catalyze peroxymonosulfate to generate highly reactive radicals under hydrothermal conditions for decomposing microplastics into harmless substances in water. Credit: Kang et al/Matter

This July 31, 2019 Cell Press news release on EurekAlert announces a different approach, from an Australian team, to removing plastics from water,

Plastic waste that finds its way into oceans and rivers poses a global environmental threat with damaging health consequences for animals, humans, and ecosystems. Now, using tiny coil-shaped carbon-based magnets, researchers in Australia have developed a new approach to purging water sources of the microplastics that pollute them without harming nearby microorganisms. Their work appears July 31 in the journal Matter.

“Microplastics adsorb organic and metal contaminants as they travel through water and release these hazardous substances into aquatic organisms when eaten, causing them to accumulate all the way up the food chain” says senior author Shaobin Wang, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Adelaide (Australia). “Carbon nanosprings are strong and stable enough to break these microplastics down into compounds that do not pose such a threat to the marine ecosystem.”

Although often invisible to the naked eye, microplastics are ubiquitous pollutants. Some, such as the exfoliating beads found in popular cosmetics, are simply too small to be filtered out during industrial water treatment. Others are produced indirectly, when larger debris like soda bottles or tires weather amid sun and sand.

To decompose the microplastics, the researchers had to generate short-lived chemicals called reactive oxygen species, which trigger chain reactions that chop the various long molecules that make up microplastics into tiny and harmless segments that dissolve in water. However, reactive oxygen species are often produced using heavy metals such as iron or cobalt, which are dangerous pollutants in their own right and thus unsuitable in an environmental context.

To get around this challenge, the researchers found a greener solution in the form of carbon nanotubes laced with nitrogen to help boost generation of reactive oxygen species. Shaped like springs, the carbon nanotube catalysts removed a significant fraction of microplastics in just eight hours while remaining stable themselves in the harsh oxidative conditions needed for microplastics breakdown. The coiled shape increases stability and maximises reactive surface area. As a bonus, by including a small amount of manganese, buried far from the surface of the nanotubes to prevent it from leaching into water, the minute springs became magnetic.

“Having magnetic nanotubes is particularly exciting because this makes it easy to collect them from real wastewater streams for repeated use in environmental remediation,” says Xiaoguang Duan, a chemical engineering research fellow at Adelaide who also co-led the project.

As no two microplastics are chemically quite the same, the researchers’ next steps will center on ensuring that the nanosprings work on microplastics of different compositions, shapes and origins. They also intend to continue to rigorously confirm the non-toxicity of any chemical compounds occurring as intermediates or by-products during microplastics decomposition.

The researchers also say that those intermediates and byproducts could be harnessed as an energy source for microorganisms that the polluting plastics currently plague. “If plastic contaminants can be repurposed as food for algae growth, it will be a triumph for using biotechnology to solve environmental problems in ways that are both green and cost efficient,” Wang says.

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

Degradation of Cosmetic Microplastics via Functionalized Carbon Nanosprings by Jian Kang, Li Zhou, Xiaoguang Duan, Hongqi Sun, Zhimin Ao, Shaobin Wang. Matter Volume 1, Issue 3, 4 September 2019, Pages 745-758 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.matt.2019.06.004

This paper is open access.

Comments

I’m glad to see this work and as for which approach might be preferable, I don’t know if there’s a clear winner. The 2022 work removes both microplastics and pollutants in one hour! An impressive feat, which leaves us with microplastics and pollutants to deal with. By contrast , the 2019 work transforms the microplastics into materials that don’t pose harm to the aquatic environment. Great although it takes eight hours. I wish the best for all the researchers working on this microplastics problem.

Fast hydrogen separation with graphene-wrapped zeolite membranes for clean energy

A May 18, 2022 news item on phys.org highlights the problem with using hydrogen as an energy source,

The effects of global warming are becoming more serious, and there is a strong demand for technological advances to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Hydrogen is an ideal clean energy which produces water when burned. To promote the use of hydrogen energy, it is essential to develop safe, energy-saving technologies for hydrogen production and storage. Currently, hydrogen is made from natural gas, so it is not appropriate for decarbonization. Using a lot of energy to separate hydrogen would not make it qualify as clean energy.

Polymer separation membranes have the great advantage of enlarging the separation membrane and increasing the separation coefficient. However, the speed of permeation through the membrane is extremely low, and high pressure must be applied to increase the permeation speed. Therefore, a large amount of energy is required for separation using a polymer separation membrane. The goal is to create a new kind of separation membrane technology that can achieve separation speeds that are 50 times faster than that of conventional separation membranes.

A May 18, 2022 Shinshu University (Japan) press release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, describes a proposed solution to the hydrogen problem,

The graphene-wrapped molecular-sieving membrane prepared in this study has a separation factor of 245 and a permeation coefficient of 5.8 x 106 barrers, which is more than 100 times better than that of conventional polymer separation membranes. If the size of the separation membrane is increased in the future, it is very probable that an energy-saving separation process will be established for the separation of important gases such as carbon dioxide and oxygen as well as hydrogen.

As seen in the transmission electron microscope image in Figure 1 [not shown], graphene is wrapped around the MFI-type zeolite crystal, being hydrophobic. The wrapping uses the principles of colloidal science to keep graphene and zeolite crystal planes close to each other due to reduction of the repulsive interaction. About 5 layers of graphene enclose zeolite crystals in this figure. Around the red arrow, there is a narrow interface space where only hydrogen can permeate. Graphene is also present on hydrophobic zeolite, so the structure of the zeolite crystal cannot be seen with this. Since a strong attractive force acts between graphene, the zeolite crystals wrapped with graphene are in close contact with each other by a simple compression treatment and does not let any gas through.

Figure 2 [not shown] shows a model in which zeolite crystals wrapped with graphene are in contact with each other. The surface of the zeolite crystal has grooves derived from the structure, and there is an interfacial channel between zeolite and graphene through which hydrogen molecules can selectively permeate. The model in which the black circles are connected is graphene, and there are nano-windows represented by blanks in some places. Any gas can freely permeate the nanowindows, but the very narrow channels between graphene and zeolite crystal faces allow hydrogen to permeate preferentially. This structure allows efficient separation of hydrogen and methane. On the other hand, the movement of hydrogen is rapid because there are many voids between the graphene-wrapped zeolite particles. For this reason, ultra-high-speed permeation is possible while maintaining the high separation factor of 200 or more.

Figure 3 [not shown] compares the hydrogen separation factor and gas permeation coefficient for methane with the previously reported separation membranes, which is called Robeson plot. Therefore, this separation membrane separates hydrogen at a speed of about 100 times while maintaining a higher separation coefficient than conventional separation membranes. The farther in the direction of the arrow, the better the performance. This newly developed separation membrane has paved the way for energy-saving separation technologies for the first time.

In addition, this separation principle is different from the conventional dissolution mechanism with polymers and the separation mechanism with pore size in zeolite separation membranes, and it depends on the separation target by selecting the surface structure of zeolite or another crystal. High-speed separation for any target gas is possible in principle. For this reason, if the industrial manufacturing method of this separation membrane and the separation membrane becomes scalable, the chemical industry, combustion industry, and other industries can be significantly improved energy consumption, leading to a significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Currently, the group is conducting research toward the establishment of basic technology for rapidly producing a large amount of enriched oxygen from air. The development of enriched oxygen manufacturing technologies will revolutionize the steel and chemical industry and even medicine.

The figures referenced in the press release are best seen in the context of the paper. I can show you part of Figure 1,

Caption: The black circle connection is a one-layer graphene model, and the nano window is shown as blank. Red hydrogen permeates the gap between graphene and the surface of the zeolite crystal. On the other hand, large CH4 molecules are difficult to permeate. Credit: Copyright©2022 The Authors, License 4.0 (CC BY-NC)

For the rest of Figure 1 and more figures, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Ultrapermeable 2D-channeled graphene-wrapped zeolite molecular sieving membranes for hydrogen separation by Radovan Kukobat, Motomu Sakai, Hideki Tanaka, Hayato Otsuka, Fernando Vallejos-Burgos, Christian Lastoskie, Masahiko Matsukata, Yukichi Sasaki, Kaname Yoshida, Takuya Hayashi and Katsumi Kaneko. Science Advances 18 May 2022 Vol 8, Issue 20 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abl3521

This paper is open access.

US announces fusion energy breakthrough

Nice to learn of this news, which is on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) news online website. From a December 13, 2022 news item provided by Associated Press (Note: the news item was updated to include general description and some Canadian content at about 12 pm PT) ,

Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California for the first time produced more energy in a fusion reaction than was used to ignite it, [emphasis mine] something called net energy gain, the Energy Department said.

Peter Behr’s December 13, 2022 article on Politico.com about the US Department of Energy’s big announcement also breaks the news,

The Department of Energy announced Tuesday [December 12, 2022] that its scientists have produced the first ever fusion reaction that yielded more energy than the reaction required, an essential step in the long path toward commercial fusion power, officials said.

The experiment Dec. 5 [2022], at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, took a few billionths of second. But laboratory leaders said today that it demonstrated for the first time that sustained fusion power is possible.

Behr explains what nuclear fusion is but first he touches on why scientists are so interested in the process, from his December 13, 2022 article,

In theory, nuclear fusion could produce massive amounts of energy without producing lost-lasting radioactive waste, or posing the risk of meltdowns. That’s unlike nuclear fission, which powers today’s reactors.

Fission results when radioactive atoms — most commonly uranium — are split by neutrons in controlled chain reactions, creating lighter atoms and large amounts of radiation and energy to produce electric power.

Fusion is the opposite process. In the most common approach, swirling hydrogen isotopes are forced together under tremendous heat to create helium and energy for power generation. This is the same process that powers the sun and other stars. But scientists have been trying since the mid-20th century to find a way to use it to generate power on Earth.

There are two main approaches to making fusion happen and I found a description for them in an October 2022 article about local company, General Fusion, by Nelson Bennett for Business in Vancouver magazine (paper version),

Most fusion companies are pursuing one of two approaches: Magnet [sic] or inertial confinement. General fusion is one of the few that is taking a more hybrid approach ¬ magnetic confinement with pulse compression.

Fusion occurs when smaller nuclei are fused together under tremendous force into larger nuclei, with a release of energy occurring in the form of neutrons. It’s what happens to stars when gravitational force creates extreme heat that turns on the fusion engine.

Replicating that in a machine requires some form of confinement to squeeze plasma ¬ a kind of super-hot fog of unbound positive and negative particles ¬ to the point where nuclei fuse.

One approach is inertial confinement, in which lasers are focused on a small capsule of heavy hydrogen fuel (deuterium and tritium) to create ignition. This takes a tremendous amount of energy, and the challenge for all fusion efforts is to get a sustained ignition that produces more energy than it takes to get ignition ¬ called net energy gain.

The other main approach is magnetic confinement, using powerful magnets in a machine called a tokomak to contain and squeeze plasma into a donut-shaped form called a torus.

General Fusion uses magnets to confine the plasma, but to get ignition it uses pistons arrayed around a spherical chamber to fire synchronously to essentially collapse the plasma on itself and spark ignition.

General Fusion’s machine uses liquid metal spinning inside a chamber that acts as a protective barrier between the hot plasma and the machine ¬ basically a sphere of plasma contained within a sphere of liquid metal. This protects the machine from damage.

The temperatures generated in fusion ¬ up to to 150 million degrees Celsius ¬ are five to six times hotter than the core of the sun, and can destroy machines that produce them. This makes durability a big challenge in any machine.

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) issued a December 13, 2022 news release, which provides more detail about their pioneering work, Note: I have changed the order of the paragraphs but all of this is from the news release,

Fusion is the process by which two light nuclei combine to form a single heavier nucleus, releasing a large amount of energy. In the 1960s, a group of pioneering scientists at LLNL hypothesized that lasers could be used to induce fusion in a laboratory setting. Led by physicist John Nuckolls, who later served as LLNL director from 1988 to 1994, this revolutionary idea became inertial confinement fusion, kicking off more than 60 years of research and development in lasers, optics, diagnostics, target fabrication, computer modeling and simulation and experimental design.

To pursue this concept, LLNL built a series of increasingly powerful laser systems, leading to the creation of NIF [National Ignition Facility], the world’s largest and most energetic laser system. NIF — located at LLNL in Livermore, California — is the size of a sports stadium and uses powerful laser beams to create temperatures and pressures like those in the cores of stars and giant planets, and inside exploding nuclear weapons.

LLNL’s experiment surpassed the fusion threshold by delivering 2.05 megajoules (MJ) of energy to the target, resulting in 3.15 MJ of fusion energy output, demonstrating for the first time a most fundamental science basis for inertial fusion energy (IFE). Many advanced science and technology developments are still needed to achieve simple, affordable IFE to power homes and businesses, and DOE is currently restarting a broad-based, coordinated IFE program in the United States. Combined with private-sector investment, there is a lot of momentum to drive rapid progress toward fusion commercialization.

If you want to see some really excited comments from scientists just read the LLNL’s December 13, 2022 news release. Even the news release’s banner is exuberant,

Behr peers into the future of fusion energy, from his December 13, 2022 article,

Fearful that China might wind up dominating fusion energy in the second half of this century, Congress in 2020 told DOE [Department of Energy] to begin funding development of a utility-scale fusion pilot plant that could deliver at least 50 megawatts of power to the U.S. grid.

In September [2022], DOE invited private companies to apply for an initial $50 million in research grants to help fund development of detailed pilot plant plans.

“We’re seeking strong partnerships between DOE and the private sector,” a senior DOE official told POLITICO’s E&E News recently. The official was not willing to speak on the record, saying the grant process is ongoing and confidential.

As the competition proceeds, DOE will set technical milestones or requirements, challenging the teams to show how critical engineering challenges will be overcome. DOE’s goal is “hopefully to enable a fusion pilot to operate in the early 2030s,” the official added.

At least 15 U.S. and foreign fusion companies have submitted requests for an initial total of $50 million in pilot plant grants, and some of them are pursuing the laser-ignition fusion process that Lawrence Livermore has pioneered, said Holland. He did not name the companies because the competition is confidential.

I wonder if General Fusion whose CEO (Chief Executive Officer) Greg Twinney declared, “Commercializing fusion energy is within reach, and General Fusion is ready to deliver it to the grid by the 2030s …” (in a December 12, 2022 company press release) is part of the US competition.

I noticed that General Fusion lists this at the end of the press release,

… Founded in 2002, we are headquartered in Vancouver, Canada, with additional centers co-located with internationally recognized fusion research laboratories near London, U.K., and Oak Ridge, Tennessee, U.S.A.

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), like the LLNL, is a US Department of Energy research facility.

As for General Fusion’s London connection, I have more about that in my October 28, 2022 posting “Overview of fusion energy scene,” which includes General Fusion’s then latest news about a commercialization agreement with the UKAEA (UK Atomic Energy Authority) and a ‘fusion’ video by rapper Baba Brinkman along with the overview.

Replace plastic with Choetsu which waterproofs paper and degrades safely

It’s good to see research into practical ways of replacing plastic. From a May 13, 2022 news item on ScienceDaily,

For our sake and the environment, there is a considerable amount of research into the reduction of plastic for many and various applications. For the first time, researchers have found a way to imbue relatively sustainable paper materials with some of the useful properties of plastic. This can be done easily, cost effectively, and efficiently. A coating called Choetsu not only waterproofs paper, but also maintains its flexibility and degrades safely as well.

Caption: A classic origami crane made from paper and coated with Choetsu (left) and uncoated (right). When submerged in water, the coated paper crane keeps its shape while the uncoated one quickly saturates with water and starts to disintegrate. Credit: ©2022 Hiroi et al.

A May 13, 2022 University of Tokyo press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the work in more detail,

It’s hard to escape the fact that plastic materials are by and large detrimental to the environment. You’ve probably seen images of plastic pollution washing up on beaches, spoiling rivers and killing countless animals. Yet the problem often seems completely out of our hands given the ubiquity of plastic materials in everyday life. Professor Zenji Hiroi from the Institute for Solid State Physics at the University of Tokyo and his team explore ways materials science can help, and their recent discovery aims to replace some uses of plastic with something more sustainable: Paper.

“The main problem with plastic materials as I see it is their inability to degrade quickly and safely,” said Hiroi. “There are materials that can degrade safely, such as paper, but obviously paper cannot fulfill the vast range of uses plastic can. However, we’ve found a way to give paper some of the nice properties of plastic, but with none of the detriments. We call it Choetsu, a low-cost biodegradable coating that adds waterproofing and strength to simple paper.”

Choetsu is a combination of materials which, when applied to paper, spontaneously generate a strong and waterproof film when it makes contact with moisture in the air. The coating consists of safe and low-cost chemicals, mostly methyltrimethoxysilane, some isopropyl alcohol, and a small amount of tetraisopropyl titanate. Paper structures, for example food containers, are sprayed with or dipped into this liquid mixture and are dried at room temperature. Once dry, a thin layer of silica containing methyl, a type of alcohol, forms on the cellulose making up the paper, providing the strong and waterproof properties.

Furthermore, reactions that take place during the coating procedure automatically creates a layer of titanium dioxide nanoparticles. These give rise to a dirt- and bacterial-repellent property known as photocatalytic activity, which protects the coated item for an extended period of time. All of the chemicals involved in the coating break down over time into harmless things such as carbon, water and sandlike silicon.

“The technical challenge is complete, and some applications could be realized soon, such as items for consuming, packaging or storing food,” said Hiroi. “We now hope to use this approach on other kinds of materials as well. The liquid composition can be tuned for other materials, and we can create a dirt- and mold-resistant coating that could form onto glass, ceramics and even other plastics to extend their usefulness. Alongside researcher Yoko Iwamiya, who has been working in this field for some time now, and the rest of my team, I hope we can do something truly beneficial for the world.”

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

Photocatalytic Silica–Resin Coating for Environmental Protection of Paper as a Plastic Substitute by Yoko Iwamiya, Daisuke Nishio-Hamane, Kazuhiro Akutsu-Suyama, Hiroshi Arima-Osonoi, Mitsuhiro Shibayama, and Zenji Hiroi. Ind. Eng. Chem. Res. 2022, XXXX, XXX, XXX-XXX DOI: https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.iecr.2c00784 Publication Date: May 13, 2022 © 2022 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.