What’s sparking electric-vehicle adoption in the truck industry?


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACommercial fleets could go electric rapidly. Understanding total cost of ownership and focusing on specific cases is critical.

There’s nothing new about electric trucks; they have labored on the streets of major cities across the world since the first decades of the 20th century.

Fleet managers prized these trucks for their strong pulling power and greater reliability than vehicles powered by early, fitful internal combustion engines (ICEs). And now, in a high-tech second act, both incumbent and nontraditional makers of commercial vehicles across most weight categories and a variety of segments are launching new “eTrucks.” A century on, the question is, why now?

We believe the time for this technology is ripe and that three drivers will support the eTruck market through 2030.

First, based on total cost of ownership (TCO), these trucks could be on par with diesels and alternative powertrains in the relative near term.

Second, robust electric-vehicle (EV) technology and infrastructure is becoming increasingly cost competitive and available.

Nikola Electric Truck 15616_26470_ACT

Nikola CEO: Fuel-Cell Class 8 truck on track for 2021 – SAE International

Third, adoption is being enabled by the regulatory environment, including country-level emission regulations (for example, potential carbon dioxide fleet targets) and local access policies (for example, emission-free zones).

At the same time, barriers to eTruck adoption exist: new vehicles must be proved to be reliable, consumers need to be educated, and employees, dealers, and customers will require training. Furthermore, there are challenges in managing the new supply chain and setting up the production of new vehicles.

Based on the analysis of many different scenarios—which are highly sensitive to a defined set of assumptions—our research shows that commercial-vehicle (CV) electrification will be driven at different rates across segments, depending on the specific characteristics of use cases.

Electrification is happening fast, and it’s happening now

Electric Truck II upsvanMcKinsey developed a granular assessment of battery-electric commercial vehicles (BECVs) for 27 CV segments across three different regions (China, Europe, and the United States), three weight classes, and three applications. The three weight classes are light-duty trucks (LDTs), medium-duty trucks (MDTs), and heavy-duty trucks (HDTs), while the three applications are urban, regional, and long-haul cycles. While our modeling also includes other alternative fuels and technologies such as mild hybrids, plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), natural gas, and fuel-cell electric CVs, this article focuses on full electrification.

Our model concentrates on two scenarios, “early adoption” and “late adoption,” to help place bookends for each weight class and geography (Exhibit 1). The two scenarios reflect different beliefs regarding core assumptions, such as the effectiveness of any regulatory push, the timing of infrastructure readiness, and the supply availability, which results in delay or advancement of uptake.

adoption scenarios for electric trucks in 3 weight classes in Europe, US, and China through 2030

Our research reveals strong potential uptake of BECVs, especially in the light- and medium-duty segments. Unlike decision criteria to purchase passenger cars, CV purchasing decisions place greater emphasis on economic calculations and reflect a greater sensitivity to regulation. Light- and medium-duty BECV segment adoption will probably lag that of passenger-car EVs through 2025 due to a lack of eTruck model availability and fleets that are risk averse. However, our analysis indicates that in an “early adoption” scenario, BECV share in light and medium duty could surpass car EV sales mix in some markets by 2030 due to undeniable TCO advantages for BECVs over diesel trucks.

Comparing the weight classes, our scenarios suggest low uptake in the HDT segment mainly because of high battery costs, and, as such, later TCO parity. In the MDT and LDT segments, our “late adoption” scenario suggests that BECVs could reach 8 to 27 percent sales penetration by 2030, depending on region and application. In our “early-adoption” scenario, with more aggressive assumptions about the expansion of low-emission zones in major cities, BECVs could reach 15 to 34 percent sales penetration by 2030.

The inflection point appears to be shortly after 2025, when demand could be supported by a significant tailwind from the expected tightening of regulation (for example, free-emission zones), in combination with increasing customer confidence, established charging infrastructure, model availability, and improved economics for a variety of use cases and applications.

TCO plays a more important role in commercial-vehicle purchasing considerations and modeling TCO helps companies understand the timing of TCO parity across different powertrain types. We analyzed the sensitivity of TCO parity to see how much earlier a specific use case with a custom-made technology package tailored to a predefined driving and charging pattern can break even. The illustration of the “race of eTrucks” shows the interval of potential TCO breakeven points for various applications and weight classes (Exhibit 2). The light-colored shade behind each point indicates how early a specific use case can potentially break even.

timeline for electric trucks (by weight class and miles traveled) reaching total-cost-of-ownership parity with diesel vehicles in Europe, US, and China through 2030

Medium average daily distances show the earliest TCO breakeven point. Looking across weight classes, we can identify an optimal daily driving distance that establishes TCO parity for eTrucks and diesels. In the example shown, the earliest breakeven point occurs at a distance travelled of about 200 kilometers a day. This sweet spot of operation means the battery is large enough to enable efficient operation without too many recharges, while ensuring sufficient annual distance to benefit from the lower cost per kilometer. At the same time, the battery is still small enough to limit upfront capital expenditures. This effect is strongest where the difference between electricity and diesel prices is high, as in the European Union, where taxes on fuels are high, resulting in a high price differential with electricity prices. In the United States, prices for fuel and electricity are both lower, as is the absolute price differential.

Urban city buses will break even earliest in the heavy-duty segment. Electric city buses—an adaptation of a purpose-built HDT—could break even the earliest in the HDT segment, between 2023 and 2025 for the average application. In China in 2016, the share of new EV bus sales already exceeded 30 percent1due to regulatory considerations. By 2030, EV city buses could reach about 50 percent if municipalities enact conducive policies. City and urban bus segments are likely to experience some of the highest BECV penetration levels in Europe and the United States.

The breakeven point for light-duty urban applications is sensitive to minor changes in use case. While the average LDT-segment truck could break even in 2021, by slightly modifying the use-case characteristics (for example, using a smaller battery, recharging during operation, or assuming higher energy efficiency due to disabled heating for urban parcel delivery), the case can reach parity today.

Three critical assumptions most affect TCO breakeven points.The assumptions that drive TCO uncertainties include the development of fuel and electricity efficiencies for ICE or BECV technologies, the cost of batteries, and the cost of fuel and electricity. Also, our analysis shows that the TCO breakeven of urban applications is more sensitive to changes in assumptions than it is for long-haul applications. That’s because the costs per kilometer associated with both BECVs and ICEs for long hauls remain closer to each other for a longer period. For example, a five percent improvement in a BECV’s TCO would shift the breakeven point by three to four years in urban applications, but only by about two years in long-haul applications.

Infrastructure readiness

The required charging infrastructure represents a major challenge to BECV uptake. Nevertheless, charging may not be as critical as it is for passenger cars, due to the predictability and repeatability of driving patterns and operational uses and the central nature of refueling. In general, charging infrastructure will be required at depots to enable charging when BECVs are not in use (for example, overnight). Building a supporting infrastructure will require investments by vehicle owners and, potentially, end users as well. (Our TCO modeling reflects the required cost of use-case-supporting charging infrastructure.) The possibility of charging while loading or unloading could drive earlier adoption because it has the potential to reduce cost based on smaller battery-size requirements.

Long-haul (and partly regional) applications will require in-route charging, for example, at motorways or resting areas. On the one hand, the high level of predictability of long-haul routes allows for concentrated investment in charging infrastructure. Companies can identify key routes and charging points and prioritize them for investment. Analysis shows that on popular routes a charging point every 80 to 100 kilometers could suffice for the early phases of HDT adoption, so the sheer number of charging points might not be the limiting factor.

Courtesy Of: McKinsey Center for Future Mobility 

Advertisements

New fuel cell technology runs on solid carbon


New Fuel Cell Solid Carbon 160820_webAdvancements allow the fuel cell to utilize about three times as much carbon as earlier direct carbon fuel cell (DCFC) designs

DOE/IDAHO NATIONAL LABORATORY

IDAHO FALLS — Advancements in a fuel cell technology powered by solid carbon could make electricity generation from resources such as coal and biomass cleaner and more efficient, according to a new paper published by Idaho National Laboratory researchers.

The fuel cell design incorporates innovations in three components: the anode, the electrolyte and the fuel. Together, these advancements allow the fuel cell to utilize about three times as much carbon as earlier direct carbon fuel cell (DCFC) designs.

The fuel cells also operate at lower temperatures and showed higher maximum power densities than earlier DCFCs, according to INL materials engineer Dong Ding. The results appear in this week’s edition of the journal Advanced Materials.

Whereas hydrogen fuel cells (e.g., proton exchange membrane (PEM) and other fuel cells) generate electricity from the chemical reaction between pure hydrogen and oxygen, DCFCs can use any number of carbon-based resources for fuel, including coal, coke, tar, biomass and organic waste.

Because DCFCs make use of readily available fuels, they are potentially more efficient than conventional hydrogen fuel cells. “You can skip the energy-intensive step of producing hydrogen,” Ding said.

But earlier DCFC designs have several drawbacks: They require high temperatures — 700 to 900 degrees Celsius — which makes them less efficient and less durable. Further, as a consequence of those high temperatures, they’re typically constructed of expensive materials that can handle the heat.

Also, early DCFC designs aren’t able to effectively utilize the carbon fuel.

Ding and his colleagues addressed these challenges by designing a true direct carbon fuel cell that’s capable of operating at lower temperatures — below 600 degrees Celsius. The fuel cell makes use of solid carbon, which is finely ground and injected via an airstream into the cell. The researchers tackled the need for high temperatures by developing an electrolyte using highly conductive materials — doped cerium oxide and carbonate. These materials maintain their performance under lower temperatures.

Next, they increased carbon utilization by developing a 3-D ceramic textile anode design that interlaces bundles of fibers together like a piece of cloth. The fibers themselves are hollow and porous. All of these features combine to maximize the amount of surface area that’s available for a chemical reaction with the carbon fuel.

Finally, the researchers developed a composite fuel made from solid carbon and carbonate. “At the operating temperature, that composite is fluidlike,” Ding said. “It can easily flow into the interface.”

The molten carbonate carries the solid carbon into the hollow fibers and the pinholes of the anode, increasing the power density of the fuel cell.

The resulting fuel cell looks like a green, ceramic watch battery that’s about as thick as a piece of construction paper. A larger square is 10 centimeters on each side. The fuel cells can be stacked on top of one another depending on the application. The Advanced Materials journal posted a video abstract here: https://youtu.be/M_wOsvze2qI.

The technology has the potential for improved utilization of carbon fuels, such as coal and biomass, because direct carbon fuel cells produce carbon dioxide without the mixture of other gases and particulates found in smoke from coal-fired power plants, for example. This makes it easier to implement carbon capture technologies, Ding said.

The advanced DCFC design has already attracted notice from industry. Ding and his colleagues are partnering with Salt Lake City-based Storagenergy, Inc., to apply for a Department of Energy Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)-Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Funding Opportunity. The results will be announced in February 2018. A Canadian energy-related company has also shown interest in these DCFC technologies.

###

Idaho National Laboratory is one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratories. The laboratory performs work in each of DOE’s strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and environment. INL is the nation’s leading center for nuclear energy research and development. Day-to-day management and operation of the laboratory is the responsibility of Battelle Energy Alliance.

See more INL news at http://www.inl.gov. Follow @INL on Twitter or visit our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/IdahoNationalLaboratory.

From Electric Vehicles – Micro Mobility and the NextGen ‘Green Revolution’ – Panasonic far from being ONLY a battery supplier: CES 2018 with (5) Videos


Panasonic is far from being satisfied with only a battery supplier role. The Japanese company has greater ambitions and intends to offer its scalable “ePowertrain” platform for small EVs.

The main target for the ePowertrain are EV bikes and micro EVs. These should now be easier to develop and produce using Panasonic’s power unit (with an on-board charger, junction box, inverter and DC-to-DC converter) and a motor unit. Of course, batteries are available too.

“Panasonic Corporation announced today that it has developed a scalable “ePowertrain” platform, a solution for the effective development of small electric vehicles (EVs). The platform is a systematized application of devices used in the EVs of major global carmakers, and is intended to contribute to the advancement of the coming mobility society.

Global demand for EVs is expected to expand rapidly, along with a wide variety of new mobility. These include not only conventional passenger vehicles but also new types of EVs, such as EV bikes and micro EVs, which suit various lifestyles and uses in each region.

The platform Panasonic has developed for EV bikes and micro EVs is an energy-efficient, safe powertrain that features integrated compactness, high efficiency, and flexible scalability. It consists of basic units, including a power unit (with an on-board charger, junction box, inverter and DC-to-DC converter) and a motor unit. The platform will help reduce costs and lead time for vehicle development by scaling up or down the combination of basic units in accordance with vehicle specifications such as size, speed and torque.

Panasonic has developed and delivered a wide range of components – including batteries, on-board chargers, film capacitors, DC-to-DC converters and relays – specifically for EVs, plug-in hybrids, and hybrid EVs. Panasonic will continue to contribute to the global growth in EVs through system development that makes use of the strengths of our devices.”

In the case of full-size cars, Panasonic is most known for its battery cells supplied to Tesla. The partnership was recently expanded to include solar cells.

Panasonic feels pretty independent from Tesla, stressing that it has its own battery factory “inside” the Tesla Gigafactory, however the cells were “jointly designed and engineered”.

Annual production of 35 GWh is expected in 2019.

Production of New Battery Cells for Tesla’s “Model 3”

Panasonic’s lithium-ion battery factory within Tesla’s Gigafactory handles production of 2170-size*1 cylindrical battery cells for Tesla’s energy storage system and its new “Model 3” sedan, which began production in July 2017. The high performance cylindrical “2170 cell” was jointly designed and engineered by Tesla and Panasonic to offer the best performance at the lowest production cost in an optimal form factor for both electric vehicles (EVs) and energy products. Panasonic and Tesla are conducting phased investment in the Gigafactory, which will have 35 GWh*/year production capacity of lithium-ion battery cells, more than was produced worldwide in 2013. Panasonic is estimating that global production volume for electric vehicles in fiscal 2026 will see an approximately six-fold increase from fiscal 2017 to over 3 million units. The Company will contribute to the realization of a sustainable energy society through the provision of electric vehicle batteries.

 

 

 

 

 

In regards to solar cells, Panasonic expects 1 GW output at the Tesla Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo, New York in 2019.

The solar cells are used both in conventional modules, as well as in Tesla Solar Roof tiles.

Strengthening Collaboration with Tesla

In addition to the collaboration with Tesla in the lithium-ion battery business (for details, refer to pages 5-6), Panasonic also collaborates with the company in the solar cell business and will begin production of solar cells this summer at its Buffalo, New York, factory. Solar cells produced at this factory are supplied to Tesla. In addition, the solar cells are used in roof tiles sold by Tesla, a product that integrates solar cells with roofing materials.Panasonic will continue its investment in the factory going forward and plans to raise solar cell production capacity to 1 GW by 2019.

“Crumpled” Graphene Balls Could Improve Batteries’ Performance by Preventing Lithium Dendrite Growth: Northwestern University


 

Crumpled Graphene NewsImage_36035Jiaxing Huang discovered crumpled graphene balls six years ago. (Image credit: Jiaxing Huang)

Lithium metal-based batteries have the potential to revolutionize the battery sector. With the theoretically ultra-high capacity of lithium metal used by itself, this new type of battery can be employed to power everything from personal gadgets to cars.

“In current batteries, lithium is usually atomically distributed in another material such as graphite or silicon in the anode,” explains Northwestern Engineering’s Jiaxing Huang. “But using an additional material ‘dilutes’ the battery’s performance. Lithium is already a metal, so why not use lithium by itself?”

The answer is a research challenge that scientists have spent years attempting to overcome. As lithium gets charged and discharged in a battery, it begins to grow dendrites and filaments, “which causes a number of problems,” Huang said. “At best, it leads to rapid degradation of the battery’s performance. At worst, it causes the battery to short or even catch fire.”Northwestern-Hero

One existing solution to avoid lithium’s destructive dendrites is to employ a porous scaffold, such as those made from carbon materials, on which lithium preferentially deposits. Then during battery charging, lithium can deposit along the surface of the scaffold, bypassing dendrite growth. This, however, introduces a new issue. As lithium deposits onto and then dissolves from the porous support as the battery cycles, its volume wavers significantly. This volume fluctuation causes stress that could break the porous support.

Huang and his collaborators have deciphered this problem by choosing a different approach — one that even makes batteries lighter weight and able to contain more lithium.

The answer lies in a scaffold composed of crumpled graphene balls, which can stack with ease to form a porous scaffold, because of their paper ball-like shape. They not only prevent dendrite growth but can also survive the stress from the wavering volume of lithium. The research was featured on the cover of the January edition of the journal Joule.

“One general philosophy for making something that can maintain high stress is to make it so strong that it’s unbreakable,” said Huang, professor of materials science and engineering in Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering. “Our strategy is based on an opposite idea. Instead of trying to make it unbreakable, our scaffold is made of loosely stacked particles that can readily restack.”

Huang discovered crumpled graphene balls six years ago.  Crumpled graphene balls are novel ultrafine particles that look like crumpled paper balls. He formed the particles by atomizing a dispersion of graphene-based sheets into minute water droplets. When the water droplets evaporated, they produced a capillary force that crumpled the sheets into miniaturized paper balls.

crumpling-graphene-electronics-Illinois-img_assist-350x197In Huang’s team’s battery, the crumpled graphene scaffold houses the fluctuation of lithium as it cycles between the cathode and anode. The crumpled balls can travel apart when lithium deposits and then freely assemble back together when the lithium is depleted. Since minute paper balls are conductive and allow lithium ions to flow quickly along their surface, the scaffold forms a continuously conductive, porous, dynamic network for lithium.

“Closely packed, the crumpled graphene balls operate like a highly uniform, continuous solid,” said Jiayan Luo, the paper’s co-corresponding author and professor of chemical engineering at Tianjin University in China. “We also found that the crumpled graphene balls do not form clusters but instead are quite evenly distributed.”

Formerly advised by Huang, Luo received his PhD in materials science and engineering in 2013. Currently as a professor and researcher at Tianjin University, Luo continues to partner with Huang.

In contrast to batteries that use graphite as the host material in the anode, Huang’s solution is a lot lighter in weight and can stabilize a higher load of lithium during cycling. While typical batteries encapsulate lithium that measures only tens of microns in thickness, Huang’s battery holds lithium stacked 150 µm high.

Huang and his collaborators have filed a provisional patent via Northwestern’s Innovation and New Ventures Office (INVO).

The National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Natural Science Foundation of Tianjin, China, the State Key Laboratory of Chemical Engineering, and the Office of Naval Research supported the research.

 

“On the Rebound” The quest to introduce self-healing behaviors in Nanoparticles: Stanford University


In a newly discovered twist, Argonne scientists and collaborators found that palladium nanoparticles can repair atomic dislocations in their crystal structure. This self-healing behavior could be worth exploring in other materials. (Image by Argonne National Laboratory.)

Our bodies have a remarkable ability to heal from broken ankles or dislocated wrists. Now, a new study has shown that some nanoparticles can also “self-heal” after experiencing intense strain, once that strain is removed.

New research from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and Stanford University has found that palladium nanoparticles can repair atomic dislocations in their crystal structure. This newly discovered twist could ultimately advance the quest to introduce self-healing behaviors in other materials.

“It turns out that these nanoparticles function much more like the human body healing from an injury than like a broken machine that can’t fix itself.” – Andrew Ulvestad, Argonne materials scientist

The research follows a study from last year, in which Argonne researchers looked at the sponge-like way that palladium nanoparticles absorb hydrogen.

When palladium particles absorb hydrogen, their spongy surfaces swell. However, the interiors of the palladium particles remain less flexible. As the process continues, something eventually cracks in a particle’s crystal structure, dislocating one or more atoms.

“One would never expect the dislocation to come out under normal conditions,” said Argonne materials scientist Andrew Ulvestad, the lead author of the study. “But it turns out that these nanoparticles function much more like the human body healing from an injury than like a broken machine that can’t fix itself.”

Ulvestad explained that the dislocations form as a way for the material to relieve the stress placed on its atoms by the infusion of additional hydrogen. When scientists remove the hydrogen from the nanoparticle, the dislocations have room to mend.

Using the X-rays provided by Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source, a DOE Office of Science User Facility, Ulvestad was able to track the motion of the dislocations before and after the healing process. To do so, he used a technique called Bragg coherent diffraction imaging, which identifies a dislocation by the ripple effects it produces in the rest of the particle’s crystal lattice.

In some particles, the stress of the hydrogen absorption introduced multiple dislocations. But even particles that dislocated in multiple places could heal to the point where they were almost pristine.

“In some cases, we saw five to eight original dislocations, and some of those were deep in the particle,” Ulvestad said. “After the particle healed, there would be maybe one or two close to the surface.”

Although Ulvestad said that researchers are still unsure exactly how the material heals, it likely involves the relationship between the material’s surface and its interior, he explained.

By better understanding how the material heals, Ulvestad and his colleagues hope to tailor the dislocations to improve material properties. “Dislocations aren’t necessarily bad, but we want to control how they form and how they can be removed,” he said.

The study, entitled “The self-healing of defects induced by the hydriding phase transformation in palladium nanoparticles,” appeared November 9 in Nature Communications.

The work was supported by DOE’s Office of Science and the National Science Foundation.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit the Office of Science website.

A Step Closer for Clean Fuel: New Catalyst (Carbon-Based Nanocomposites) for Hydrogen Production


Flask in scientist handCarbon-based nanocomposite with embedded metal ions yields impressive performance as catalyst for electrolysis of water to generate hydrogen

A nanostructured composite material developed at UC Santa Cruz has shown impressive performance as a catalyst for the electrochemical splitting of water to produce hydrogen. An efficient, low-cost catalyst is essential for realizing the promise of hydrogen as a clean, environmentally friendly fuel.

Researchers led by Shaowei Chen, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UC Santa Cruz, have been investigating the use of carbon-based nanostructured materials as catalysts for the reaction that generates hydrogen from water. In one recent study, they obtained good results by incorporating ruthenium ions into a sheet-like nanostructure composed of carbon nitride. Performance was further improved by combining the ruthenium-doped carbon nitride with graphene, a sheet-like form of carbon, to form a layered composite.

“The bonding chemistry of ruthenium with nitrogen in these nanostructured materials plays a key role in the high catalytic performance,” Chen said. “We also showed that the stability of the catalyst is very good.”

The new findings were published in ChemSusChem, a top journal covering sustainable chemistry and energy materials, and the paper is featured on the cover of the January 10 issue. First author Yi Peng, a graduate student in Chen’s lab, led the study and designed the cover image.

Hydrogen has long been attractive as a clean and renewable fuel. A hydrogen fuel cell powering an electric vehicle, for example, emits only water vapor. Currently, however, hydrogen production still depends heavily on fossil fuels (mostly using steam to extract it from natural gas). Finding a low-cost, efficient way to extract hydrogen from water through electrolysis would be a major breakthrough. Electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind power, which can be intermittent and unreliable, could then be easily stored and distributed as hydrogen fuel.Figs-2A-and-2B

Polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) water electrolysis cell Figure 2B (right): Schematic of an electrochemical energy producer. PEM hydrogen /oxygen fuel …

Currently, the most efficient catalysts for the electrochemical reaction that generates hydrogen from water are based on platinum, which is scarce and expensive. Carbon-based materials have shown promise, but their performance has not come close to that of platinum-based catalysts.

In the new composite material developed by Chen’s lab, the ruthenium ions embedded in the carbon nitride nanosheets change the distribution of electrons in the matrix, creating more active sites for the binding of protons to generate hydrogen. Adding graphene to the structure further enhances the redistribution of electrons.

water-splitting 2

 

“The graphene forms a sandwich structure with the carbon nitride nanosheets and results in further redistribution of electrons. This gives us greater proton reduction efficiencies,” Chen said.

The electrocatalytic performance of the composite was comparable to that of commercial platinum catalysts, the authors reported. Chen noted, however, that researchers still have a long way to go to achieve cheap and efficient hydrogen production.

In addition to Peng and Chen, coauthors of the study include Wanzhang Pan and Jia-En Liu at UC Santa Cruz and Nan Wang at South China University of Technology. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation and the NASA-funded Merced Nanomaterials Center for Energy and Sensing.

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of California – Santa Cruz. Original written by Tim Stephens. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Yi Peng, Wanzhang Pan, Nan Wang, Jia-En Lu, Shaowei Chen. Ruthenium Ion-Complexed Graphitic Carbon Nitride Nanosheets Supported on Reduced Graphene Oxide as High-Performance Catalysts for Electrochemical Hydrogen EvolutionChemSusChem, 2018; 11 (1): 130 DOI: 10.1002/cssc.201701880

“Nano-Wrinkles” (nano-structured surface coatings) would save Shipping and Aquaculture $$$$ Billions


nanowrinklesThe Nepenthes pitcher plant (left) and its nano-wrinkled ‘mouth’ (centre) inspired the engineered nanomaterial (right). Credit: Sydney Nano

A team of chemistry researchers from the University of Sydney Nano Institute has developed nanostructured surface coatings that have anti-fouling properties without using any toxic components.

Biofouling – the build-up of damaging biological material – is a huge economic issue, costing the aquaculture and shipping industries billions of dollars a year in maintenance and extra fuel usage. It is estimated that the increased drag on  due to biofouling costs the shipping industry in Australia $320 million a year a b.

Since the banning of the toxic anti-fouling agent tributyltin, the need for new non-toxic methods to stop marine biofouling has been pressing.

Leader of the research team, Associate Professor Chiara Neto, said: “We are keen to understand how these surfaces work and also push the boundaries of their application, especially for energy efficiency. Slippery coatings are expected to be drag-reducing, which means that objects, such as ships, could move through water with much less energy required.”

The new materials were tested tied to shark netting in Sydney’s Watson Bay, showing that the nanomaterials were efficient at resisting biofouling in a marine environment.

The research has been published in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

Nanowrinkles could save billions in shipping and aquaculture
PhD candidate Sam Peppou Chapman in Watsons Bay, Sydney, next to the test samples of the nanomaterials attached to a shark net. Credit: University of Sydney Nano Institute

The new coating uses ‘nanowrinkles’ inspired by the carnivorous Nepenthes pitcher plant. The plant traps a layer of water on the tiny structures around the rim of its opening. This creates a slippery layer causing insects to aquaplane on the , before they slip into the pitcher where they are digested.

Nanostructures utilise materials engineered at the scale of billionths of a metre – 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. Associate Professor Neto’s group at Sydney Nano is developing nanoscale materials for future development in industry.

Biofouling can occur on any surface that is wet for a long period of time, for example aquaculture nets, marine sensors and cameras, and ship hulls. The slippery surface developed by the Neto group stops the initial adhesion of bacteria, inhibiting the formation of a biofilm from which larger marine fouling organisms can grow.

The interdisciplinary University of Sydney team included biofouling expert Professor Truis Smith-Palmer of St Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, Canada, who was on sabbatical visit to the Neto group for a year, partially funded by the Faculty of Science scheme for visiting women.

In the lab, the slippery surfaces resisted almost all fouling from a common species of marine bacteria, while control Teflon samples without the lubricating layer were completely fouled. Not satisfied with testing the surfaces under highly controlled lab conditions with only one type of bacteria the team also tested the surfaces in the ocean, with the help of marine biologist Professor Ross Coleman.

Test surfaces were attached to swimming nets at Watsons Bay baths in Sydney Harbour for a period of seven weeks. In the much harsher marine environment, the slippery surfaces were still very efficient at resisting fouling.

The antifouling coatings are mouldable and transparent, making their application ideal for underwater cameras and sensors.

 Explore further: Researchers show laser-induced graphene kills bacteria, resists biofouling

More information: Cameron S. Ware et al, Marine Antifouling Behavior of Lubricant-Infused Nanowrinkled Polymeric Surfaces, ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces (2017). DOI: 10.1021/acsami.7b14736

 

More Powerful Computing Possible from Ultra-thin memory storage device: University of Texas, Austin


ultrathinmemIllustration of a voltage-induced memory effect in monolayer nanomaterials, which layer to create “atomristors,” the thinnest memory storage device that could lead to faster, smaller and smarter computer chips. Credit: Cockrell School of Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin

Engineers worldwide have been developing alternative ways to provide greater memory storage capacity on even smaller computer chips. Previous research into two-dimensional atomic sheets for memory storage has failed to uncover their potential—until now.

A team of electrical engineers at The University of Texas at Austin, in collaboration with Peking University scientists, has developed the thinnest  device with dense  capacity, paving the way for faster, smaller and smarter computer chips for everything from consumer electronics to big data to brain-inspired computing.

“For a long time, the consensus was that it wasn’t possible to make memory devices from materials that were only one atomic layer thick,” said Deji Akinwande, associate professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “With our new ‘atomristors,’ we have shown it is indeed possible.”

Made from 2-D nanomaterials, the “atomristors”—a term Akinwande coined—improve upon memristors, an emerging memory storage technology with lower memory scalability. He and his team published their findings in the January issue of Nano Letters.

“Atomristors will allow for the advancement of Moore’s Law at the system level by enabling the 3-D integration of nanoscale memory with nanoscale transistors on the same chip for advanced computing systems,” Akinwande said.

Memory storage and transistors have, to date, always been separate components on a microchip, but atomristors combine both functions on a single, more efficient computer system. By using metallic  (graphene) as electrodes and semiconducting atomic sheets (molybdenum sulfide) as the active layer, the entire memory cell is a sandwich about 1.5 nanometers thick, which makes it possible to densely pack atomristors layer by layer in a plane. This is a substantial advantage over conventional flash memory, which occupies far larger space. In addition, the thinness allows for faster and more efficient electric current flow.

Given their size, capacity and integration flexibility, atomristors can be packed together to make advanced 3-D chips that are crucial to the successful development of brain-inspired computing. One of the greatest challenges in this burgeoning field of engineering is how to make a memory architecture with 3-D connections akin to those found in the human brain.

“The sheer density of memory  that can be made possible by layering these synthetic atomic sheets onto each other, coupled with integrated transistor design, means we can potentially make computers that learn and remember the same way our brains do,” Akinwande said.

The research team also discovered another unique application for the technology. In existing ubiquitous devices such as smartphones and tablets, radio frequency switches are used to connect incoming signals from the antenna to one of the many wireless communication bands in order for different parts of a device to communicate and cooperate with one another. This activity can significantly affect a smartphone’s battery life.

The atomristors are the smallest radio frequency memory switches to be demonstrated with no DC battery consumption, which can ultimately lead to longer battery life.

“Overall, we feel that this discovery has real commercialization value as it won’t disrupt existing technologies,” Akinwande said. “Rather, it has been designed to complement and integrate with the silicon chips already in use in modern tech devices.”

 Explore further: A more efficient way to write data into non-volatile memory devices improves their performance

More information: Ruijing Ge et al, Atomristor: Nonvolatile Resistance Switching in Atomic Sheets of Transition Metal Dichalcogenides, Nano Letters (2017). DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.7b04342

 

A novel electric propulsion technology for nanorobots: 100K Faster computer controls for molecular machines


fastcomputerElectric fields drive the rotating nano-crane – 100,000 times faster than previous methods. Credit: Enzo Kopperger / TUM

Scientists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have developed a novel electric propulsion technology for nanorobots. It allows molecular machines to move a hundred thousand times faster than with the biochemical processes used to date. This makes nanobots fast enough to do assembly line work in molecular factories. The new research results will appear as the cover story on 19th January in the renowned scientific journal Science.

Up and down, up and down. The points of light alternate back and forth in lockstep. They are produced by glowing molecules affixed to the ends of tiny robot arms. Prof. Friedrich Simmel observes the movement of the nanomachines on the monitor of a fluorescence microscope. A simple mouse click is all it takes for the points of light to move in another direction.

“By applying electric fields, we can arbitrarily rotate the arms in a plane,” explains the head of the Chair of Physics of Synthetic Biological Systems at TU Munich. His team has for the first time managed to control nanobots electrically and has at the same time set a record: The new technique is 100 000 times faster than all previous methods.

DNA-origami robots for the manufacturing plants of tomorrow

Scientists around the world are working on new technologies for the nanofactories of the future. They hope these will one day be used to analyse biochemical samples or produce active medical agents. The required miniature machines can already be produced cost-effectively using the DNA-origami technique.

The only reason these  have not been deployed on a large scale to date is that they are too slow. The building blocks are activated with enzymes, strands of DNA or light to then perform specific tasks, for example to gather and transport molecules.

Fast computer control for molecular machines
Rotation of the arm between two docking points (red and blue). Credit: Enzo Kopperger / TUM

However, traditional nanobots take minutes to carry out these actions, sometimes even hours. Therefore, efficient molecular assembly lines cannot, for all practical intents and purposes, be implemented using these methodologies.

Electronic speed boost

“Building up a nanotechnological assembly line calls for a different kind of propulsion technology. We came up with the idea of dropping biochemical nanomachine switching completely in favour of the interactions between DNA structures and electric fields,” explains TUM researcher Simmel, who is also the co-coordinator of the Excellence Cluster Nanosystems Initiative Munich (NIM).

The principle behind the propulsion technology is simple: DNA molecules have negative charges. The biomolecules can thus be moved by applying electric fields. Theoretically, this should allow nanobots made of DNA to be steered using electrical impulses.

Robotic movement under the microscope

To determine whether and how fast the robot arms would line up with an electric field, the researchers affixed several million nanobot arms to a glass substrate and placed this into a sample holder with electrical contacts designed specifically for the purpose.

Each of the miniature machines produced by the lead author Enzo Kopperger comprises a 400 nanometer arm attached to a rigid 55 by 55 nanometer base plate with a flexible joint made of unpaired bases. This construction ensures that the arms can rotate arbitrarily in the horizontal plane.

In collaboration with fluorescence specialists headed by Prof. Don C. Lamb of the Ludwig Maximillians University Munich, the researchers marked the tips of the  using pigment molecules. They observed their motion using a . They then changed the direction of the electric field. This allowed the researchers to arbitrarily alter the orientation of the arms and control the locomotion process.

“The experiment demonstrated that molecular machines can be moved, and thus also driven electrically,” says Simmel. “Thanks to the electronic control process, we can now initiate movements on a millisecond time scale and are thus 100 000 times faster than with previously used biochemical approaches.”

On the road to a nanofactory

The new control technology is suited not only for moving around pigments and nanoparticles. The arms of the miniature robots can also apply force to molecules. These interactions can be utilized for diagnostics and in pharmaceutical development, emphasizes Simmel. “Nanobots are small and economical. Millions of them could work in parallel to look for specific substances in samples or to synthesize complex molecules – not unlike an .”

 Explore further: Scientists create world’s first ‘molecular robot’ capable of building molecules

More information: Enzo Kopperger et al. A self-assembled nanoscale robotic arm controlled by electric fields, Science (2018). DOI: 10.1126/science.aao4284

 

Shaping Stem Cell Research with Nanotechnology – Hope for Treating Parkinson’s; Heart Disease and ???


Nanoscientists have developed a technique that allows them to transform stem cells into bone cells on command. But could the process be used to treat deadly conditions such as heart disease and Parkinson’s?

Anyone who knows a thing or two about biology knows that stem cells have tremendous potential in medicine: anything from repairing and replenishing heart cells after an attack to replacing nerve cells that are progressively lost in the brain of a person with Parkinson’s.

One of the big challenges of using stem cells as a therapy is coaxing them to grow into the specific type of tissue that is required. In the body this happens thanks to precise chemical and physical signals, not all of which are yet understood or characterised.

Using chemicals to direct the fate of stem cells has worked in laboratories, but the outcomes are not always safe or predictable.

Now, a team from Northwestern University in the US thinks it has a solution. They say that they can direct the developmental fate of stem cells using only physical cues, by adapting a well-known technique that traces three-dimensional microscopic shapes and reconstructs them on flat surfaces.

The process is called scanning probe lithography.

By placing the stem cells on the nanopatterned surface, and without adding any kind of chemicals, the scientists found that they could induce the stem cells to develop into bone cells.

Extend this technique, they say, and it might be possible to turn stem cells into any type of cell on command.

When the body needs a repair to be carried out, a special type of stem cell – called mesenchymal stem cells or MSCs – can enter the blood circulation system. These cells travel around the body and actually home in on where they are needed.

MSCs have the potential to develop into a whole range of different tissue types – in other words, they are pluripotent.

The developmental decision that they make depends, in part, on the molecular structures in the matrix surrounding the cells that make up the tissue.

The structure of the matrix affects the softness of the tissue – so the brain is a soft, mushy tissue, while stiffer tissues include muscle, and rigid tissues include bone.

The US team has mimicked this real-life situation. Using the molecular structures in the matrix that surround a cell as a pattern, and with an array of pyramid-like points that are a hundred-thousand times smaller than the tip of a pencil and incredibly sharp, molecule by molecule they have built up a kind of nano-landscape with sculptures ranging in size from the nano- to the microscale, on a small piece of glass. The technique is called polymer pen lithography.

The researchers grew MSCs on one type of nanoscopic sculpture, and were able to direct their developmental fate.

“Starting with millions of possibilities, we quickly zeroed in on the pattern of features that best directed the stem cells into osteocytes [bone cells],” says Chad A Mirkin, who led the work.

Mirkin is professor of chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and is also the director of Northwestern’s International Institute for Nanotechnology.

The potential of this tool is to be able to take pluripotent stem cells from a patient, run them over a selected three-dimensional matrix in order to convert them rapidly into a particular cell type of choice, and then return them to the patient for repair and replenishment of damaged tissues.

“With further development, researchers might be able to use this approach to prepare cells of any lineage on command,” Mirkin says.

“The three-dimensional aspect is very interesting, and mimics aspects of the environment in a highly stylized way,” says Fiona Watt, professor and director of the Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine at Kings College London.

“Several reports argue that the topology imposed on a stem cell – how a stem cell is contained in 3D – affects its behaviour. When you consider your bones and cartilage, this makes perfect sense,” Watt adds.

One important aspect of this work according to Marilyn Monk, emeritus professor of molecular embryology at University College London’s Institute of Child Health, is that it provides evidence that stem-cell fate can solely be informed by the local three-dimensional molecular structure.

“But that’s not to say that this is the only way to direct stem-cell fate,” Monk says. “We know that regulation of development involves multiple mechanisms that operate independently and inter-dependently to bring about a final specific cell function.”

Nonetheless he believes the technique is a real advance. “It would be neat to see if they can take a stem cell, already committed in one developmental direction, and back it up so that it might become another type of cell again, using only their patterning technique,” he says.

“That would be the Nobel prize.”