Tag Archives: Xi Chen

Desalination with nanowood

A new treatment for wood could make renewable salt-separating membranes. Courtesy: University of Maryland

An August 6, 2019 article by Adele Peters for Fast Company describes a ‘wooden’approach to water desalinization (also known as desalination),

“We are trying to develop a new type of membrane material that is nature-based,” says Z. Jason Ren, an engineering professor at Princeton University and one of the coauthors of a new paper in Science Advances about that material, which is made from wood. It’s designed for use in a process called membrane distillation, which heats up saltwater and uses pressure to force the water vapor through a membrane, leaving the salt behind and creating pure water. The membranes are usually made from a type of plastic. Using “nanowood” membranes instead can both improve the energy efficiency of the process and avoid the environmental problems of plastic.

An August 2, 2019 University of Maryland (UMD) news release provides more detail about the research,

A membrane made of a sliver of wood could be the answer to renewably sourced water cleaning. Most membranes that are currently used to distill fresh water from salty are made of polymers based on fossil fuels.

Inspired by the intricate system of water circulating in a tree, a research team from the University of Maryland, Princeton University, and the University of Colorado Boulder have figured out how to use a thin slice of wood as a membrane through which water vapor can evaporate, leaving behind salt or other contaminants.

“This work demonstrates another exciting energy/water application of nanostructured wood, as a high-performance membrane material,” said Liangbing Hu, a professor of materials science and engineering at UMD’s A. James Clark School of Engineering, who co-led the study.

The team chemically treated the wood to become hydrophobic, so that it more efficiently allows water vapor through, driven by a heat source like solar energy.

“This study discovered a new way of using wood materials’ unique properties as both an excellent insulator and water vapor transporter,” said Z. Jason Ren, a professor in environmental engineering who recently moved from CU Boulder to Princeton, and the other co-leader of the team that performed the study.

The researchers treat the wood so that it loses its lignin, the part of the wood that makes it brown and rigid, and its hemicellulose, which weaves in and out between cellulose to hold it in place. The resulting “nanowood” is treated with silane, a compound used to make silicon for computer chips. The semiconducting nature of the compound maintains the wood’s natural nanostructures of cellulose, and clings less to water vapor molecules as they pass through. Silane is also used in solar cell manufacturing.

The membrane looks like a thin piece of wood, seemingly bleached white, that is suspended above a source of water vapor. As the water heats and passes into the gas phase, the molecules are small enough to fit through the tiny channels lining the walls of the leftover cell structure. Water collected on the other side is now free of large contaminants like salt.
To test it, the researchers distilled water through it and found that it performed 1.2 times better than a conventional membrane.

“The wood membrane has very high porosity, which promotes water vapor transport and prevents heat loss,” said first author Dianxun Hou, who was a student at CU Boulder.
Inventwood, a UMD spinoff company of Hu’s research group, is working on commercializing wood based nanotechnologies.

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

Hydrophobic nanostructured wood membrane for thermally efficient distillation by Dianxun Hou, Tian Li, Xi Chen, Shuaiming He, Jiaqi Dai, Sohrab A. Mofid, Deyin Hou, Arpita Iddya, David Jassby, Ronggui Yang, Liangbing Hu, and Zhiyong Jason Ren. Science Advances 02 Aug 2019: Vol. 5, no. 8, eaaw3203 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw3203

This paper appears to be open access.

In my brief survey of the paper, I noticed that the researchers were working with cellulose nanofibrils (CNF), a term which should be familiar for anyone following the nanocellulose story, such as it.

Harvesting the heart’s kinetic energy to power implants

This work comes from Dartmouth College, an educational institution based on the US east coast in the state of New Hampshire. I hardly ever stumble across research from Dartmouth and I assume that’s because they usually focus their interests in areas that are not of direct interest to me,

Rendering of the two designs of the cardiac energy harvesting device. (Cover art by Patricio Sarzosa) Courtesy: Dartmouth College

For a change, we have a point of connection (harvesting biokinetic energy) according to a February 4, 2019 news item on ScienceDaily,

The heart’s motion is so powerful that it can recharge devices that save our lives, according to new research from Dartmouth College.

Using a dime-sized invention developed by engineers at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth, the kinetic energy of the heart can be converted into electricity to power a wide-range of implantable devices, according to the study funded by the National Institutes of Health.

A February 4, 2019 Dartmouth College news release, which originated the news item, describes the problem and the proposed solution,

Millions of people rely on pacemakers, defibrillators and other live-saving implantable devices powered by batteries that need to be replaced every five to 10 years. Those replacements require surgery which can be costly and create the possibility of complications and infections.

“We’re trying to solve the ultimate problem for any implantable biomedical device,” says Dartmouth engineering professor John X.J. Zhang, a lead researcher on the study his team completed alongside clinicians at the University of Texas in San Antonio. “How do you create an effective energy source so the device will do its job during the entire life span of the patient, without the need for surgery to replace the battery?”

“Of equal importance is that the device not interfere with the body’s function,” adds Dartmouth research associate Lin Dong, first author on the paper. “We knew it had to be biocompatible, lightweight, flexible, and low profile, so it not only fits into the current pacemaker structure but is also scalable for future multi-functionality.”

The team’s work proposes modifying pacemakers to harness the kinetic energy of the lead wire that’s attached to the heart, converting it into electricity to continually charge the batteries. The added material is a type of thin polymer piezoelectric film called “PVDF” and, when designed with porous structures — either an array of small buckle beams or a flexible cantilever — it can convert even small mechanical motion to electricity. An added benefit: the same modules could potentially be used as sensors to enable data collection for real-time monitoring of patients.

The results of the three-year study, completed by Dartmouth’s engineering researchers along with clinicians at UT Health San Antonio, were just published in the cover story for Advanced Materials Technologies.

The two remaining years of NIH funding plus time to finish the pre-clinical process and obtain regulatory approval puts a self-charging pacemaker approximately five years out from commercialization, according to Zhang

“We’ve completed the first round of animal studies with great results which will be published soon,” says Zhang. “There is already a lot of expressed interest from the major medical technology companies, and Andrew Closson, one of the study’s authors working with Lin Dong and an engineering PhD Innovation Program student at Dartmouth, is learning the business and technology transfer skills to be a cohort in moving forward with the entrepreneurial phase of this effort.”

Other key collaborators on the study include Dartmouth engineering professor Zi Chen, an expert on thin structure mechanics, and Dr. Marc Feldman, professor and clinical cardiologist at UT [University of Texas] Health San Antonio.

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

Energy Harvesting: Flexible Porous Piezoelectric Cantilever on a Pacemaker Lead for Compact Energy Harvesting by Lin Dong, Xiaomin Han, Zhe Xu, Andrew B. Closson, Yin Liu, Chunsheng Wen, Xi Liu, Gladys Patricia Escobar, Meagan Oglesby, Marc Feldman, Zi Chen, John X. J. Zhang. Adv. Mater. Technol. 1/2019 https://doi.org/10.1002/admt.201970002 First published: 08 January 2019

This paper is open access.