Tag Archives: jello

Jiggly jell-o as a new hydrogen fuel catalyst

Jello [uploaded from https://www.organicauthority.com/eco-chic-table/new-jell-o-mold-jiggle-chic-holidays]

I’m quite intrigued by this ‘jell-o’ story. It’s hard to believe a childhood dessert might prove to have an application as a catalyst for producing hydrogen fuel. From a December 14, 2018 news item on Nanowerk,

A cheap and effective new catalyst developed by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, can generate hydrogen fuel from water just as efficiently as platinum, currently the best — but also most expensive — water-splitting catalyst out there.

The catalyst, which is composed of nanometer-thin sheets of metal carbide, is manufactured using a self-assembly process that relies on a surprising ingredient: gelatin, the material that gives Jell-O its jiggle.

Two-dimensional metal carbides spark a reaction that splits water into oxygen and valuable hydrogen gas. Berkeley researchers have discovered an easy new recipe for cooking up these nanometer-thin sheets that is nearly as simple as making Jell-O from a box. (Xining Zang graphic, copyright Wiley)

A December 13, 2018 University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley) news release by Kara Manke (also on EurekAlert but published on Dec. 14, 2018), which originated the news item, provides more technical detail,

“Platinum is expensive, so it would be desirable to find other alternative materials to replace it,” said senior author Liwei Lin, professor of mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley. “We are actually using something similar to the Jell-O that you can eat as the foundation, and mixing it with some of the abundant earth elements to create an inexpensive new material for important catalytic reactions.”

The work appears in the Dec. 13 [2018] print edition of the journal Advanced Materials.

A zap of electricity can break apart the strong bonds that tie water molecules together, creating oxygen and hydrogen gas, the latter of which is an extremely valuable source of energy for powering hydrogen fuel cells. Hydrogen gas can also be used to help store energy from renewable yet intermittent energy sources like solar and wind power, which produce excess electricity when the sun shines or when the wind blows, but which go dormant on rainy or calm days.

A black and white image of metal carbide under high magnification.

When magnified, the two-dimensional metal carbides resemble sheets of cell[o]phane. (Xining Zang photo, copyright Wiley)

But simply sticking an electrode in a glass of water is an extremely inefficient method of generating hydrogen gas. For the past 20 years, scientists have been searching for catalysts that can speed up this reaction, making it practical for large-scale use.

“The traditional way of using water gas to generate hydrogen still dominates in industry. However, this method produces carbon dioxide as byproduct,” said first author Xining Zang, who conducted the research as a graduate student in mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley. “Electrocatalytic hydrogen generation is growing in the past decade, following the global demand to lower emissions. Developing a highly efficient and low-cost catalyst for electrohydrolysis will bring profound technical, economical and societal benefit.”

To create the catalyst, the researchers followed a recipe nearly as simple as making Jell-O from a box. They mixed gelatin and a metal ion — either molybdenum, tungsten or cobalt — with water, and then let the mixture dry.

“We believe that as gelatin dries, it self-assembles layer by layer,” Lin said. “The metal ion is carried by the gelatin, so when the gelatin self-assembles, your metal ion is also arranged into these flat layers, and these flat sheets are what give Jell-O its characteristic mirror-like surface.”

Heating the mixture to 600 degrees Celsius triggers the metal ion to react with the carbon atoms in the gelatin, forming large, nanometer-thin sheets of metal carbide. The unreacted gelatin burns away.

The researchers tested the efficiency of the catalysts by placing them in water and running an electric current through them. When stacked up against each other, molybdenum carbide split water the most efficiently, followed by tungsten carbide and then cobalt carbide, which didn’t form thin layers as well as the other two. Mixing molybdenum ions with a small amount of cobalt boosted the performance even more.

“It is possible that other forms of carbide may provide even better performance,” Lin said.

On the left, an illustration of blue spheres, representing gelatin molecules, arranged in a lattice shape. On the right, an illustration of thin sheets of metal carbide.

Molecules in gelatin naturally self-assemble in flat sheets, carrying the metal ions with them (left). Heating the mixture to 600 degrees Celsius burns off the gelatin, leaving nanometer-thin sheets of metal carbide. (Xining Zang illustration, copyright Wiley)

The two-dimensional shape of the catalyst is one of the reasons why it is so successful. That is because the water has to be in contact with the surface of the catalyst in order to do its job, and the large surface area of the sheets mean that the metal carbides are extremely efficient for their weight.

Because the recipe is so simple, it could easily be scaled up to produce large quantities of the catalyst, the researchers say.

“We found that the performance is very close to the best catalyst made of platinum and carbon, which is the gold standard in this area,” Lin said. “This means that we can replace the very expensive platinum with our material, which is made in a very scalable manufacturing process.”

Co-authors on the study are Lujie Yang, Buxuan Li and Minsong Wei of UC Berkeley, J. Nathan Hohman and Chenhui Zhu of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab; Wenshu Chen and Jiajun Gu of Shanghai Jiao Tong University; Xiaolong Zou and Jiaming Liang of the Shenzhen Institute; and Mohan Sanghasadasa of the U.S. Army RDECOM AMRDEC.

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

Self‐Assembly of Large‐Area 2D Polycrystalline Transition Metal Carbides for Hydrogen Electrocatalysis by Xining Zang, Wenshu Chen, Xiaolong Zou, J. Nathan Hohman, Lujie Yang
Buxuan Li, Minsong Wei, Chenhui Zhu, Jiaming Liang, Mohan Sanghadasa, Jiajun Gu, Liwei Lin. Advanced Materials Volume30, Issue 50 December 13, 2018 1805188 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/adma.201805188 First published [online]: 09 October 2018

This paper is behind a paywall.

Printing jello and conducting electricity

The July 4, 2012 news item on ScienceDaily about a gel that behaves like biological tissue but conducts electricity is another one of those pieces of research which illustrate the idea that the boundary between the behaviour of biological and nonbiological materials is wavering,

The material, created by Stanford chemical engineering Associate Professor Zhenan Bao, materials science and engineering Associate Professor Yi Cui and members of their labs, is a kind of conducting hydrogel — a jelly that feels and behaves like biological tissues, but conducts electricity like a metal or semiconductor.

That combination of characteristics holds enormous promise for biological sensors and futuristic energy storage devices, but has proven difficult to manufacture until now.

The ScienceDaily news item originated in a June 27, 2012 article written by Max McClure for the (University of) Stanford Report,

Bao and Cui made the gel by binding long chains of the organic compound aniline together with phytic acid, found naturally in plant tissues. The acid is able to grab up to six polymer chains at once, making for an extensively cross-linked network.

“There are already commercially available conducting polymers,” said Bao, “but they all form a uniform film without any nanostructures.”

In contrast, the new gel’s cross-linking makes for a complex, sponge-like structure.  The hydrogel is marked with innumerable tiny pores that expand the gel’s surface area, increasing the amount of charge it can hold, its ability to sense chemicals, and the rapidity of its electrical response.

Still, the gel can be easily manipulated. Because the material doesn’t solidify until the last step of its synthesis, it can be printed or sprayed as a liquid and turned into a gel after it’s already in place – meaning that manufacturers should be able to construct intricately patterned electrodes at low cost.

Here’s more about the electrical conductance properties from the McClure article,

The material’s unusual structure also gives the gel what Cui referred to as “remarkable electronic properties.”

Most hydrogels are tied together by a large number of insulating molecules, reducing the material’s overall ability to pass electrical current. But phytic acid is a “small-molecule dopant” – meaning that when it links polymer chains, it also lends them charge. This effect makes the hydrogel highly conductive.

The gel’s conductance is “among the best you can get through this kind of process,” said Cui. Its capacity to hold charge is very high, and its response to applied charge is unusually fast.

The substance’s similarity to biological tissues, its large surface area and its electrical capabilities make it well suited for allowing biological systems to communicate with technological hardware.

The researchers envision it being used in everything from medical probes and laboratory biological sensors to biofuel cells and high-energy density capacitors.

“And all it’s made of are commercially available ingredients thrown into a water solution,” said Bao.

The July 4, 2012 ScienceDaily news item provided this citation for the paper,

L. Pan, G. Yu, D. Zhai, H. R. Lee, W. Zhao, N. Liu, H. Wang, B. C.- K. Tee, Y. Shi, Y. Cui, Z. Bao. Hierarchical nanostructured conducting polymer hydrogel with high electrochemical activity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2012; 109 (24): 9287 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1202636109

Jello, microsystems, and kids

It’s a little outside my usual topic range but I’m extending the category since I’ve done it before just because I felt like it and because one of the moving forces behind this project (Eric Lagally) is a member of the Microsystems and Nanotechnology Group at the University of British Columbia (Canada). Lagally and his colleagues have devised a safe and inexpensive way for kids to make microfluidic devices. From the news item on Nanowerk,

Microfluidics, they [Lagally and colleagues] note, has the potential to revolutionize medicine and biology, reducing an entire laboratory of instruments for analyzing blood, urine, and other materials to the size of a postage stamp. Until now, however, hands-on experience with microfluidics has been impossible because of the expense and potentially toxic chemicals involved in making microfluidic devices.

The article [in ACS’ Analytical Chemistry “Using Inexpensive Jell-O Chips for Hands-On Microfluidics Education“] describes using Popsicle-type craft sticks taped to the bottom of a Styrofoam plate to form large-scale versions of the minute channels in actual microfluidic devices.

This sounds like the kind of thing you could do at home.  Bravo!