Nantero Secures More Than $10mm In Funding

QDOTS imagesCAKXSY1K 8Company’s Near-Term Commercialization Attracts New Investors

WOBURN, Mass., Nov. 30, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — Nantero, Inc. (, the nanotechnology company pioneering the use of carbon nanotubes in the development of next-generation semiconductor devices, today announced the closing of an over $10 million Series D financing round. The oversubscribed round was led by two new strategic corporate investors currently engaged in strategic development and partnerships with Nantero. The round also includes existing investors, including Charles River Ventures, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Globespan Capital Partners, Stata Venture Partners and Harris & Harris Group. This latest round of funding comes at a significant juncture as the company transitions from development to commercialization of its next-generation memory, NRAM™, and licensees begin to bring Nantero’s technology to market.

“Nantero is making the next generation of memory a reality as it enters the commercialization phase of its NRAM technology,” said Bruce Sachs, General Partner, Charles River Ventures. “After substantial development in multiple production fabs, NRAM has demonstrated its value to several prominent customers and is on track to soon come to market as both a standalone and embedded memory.”

During the past year, Nantero has entered into multiple partnerships with major corporations planning to commercialize NRAM. Nantero has already fabricated highyielding 4Mb arrays of NRAM in CMOS production environments, with several important performance advantages, including speeds comparable to DRAM, low operating power, permanent nonvolatility and non-destructive read, expected unlimited endurance and superior high temperature retention. These 4Mb arrays have been fabricated on vias as small as 15nm to demonstrate NRAM’s superior scalability, which is projected to extend even below 5nm. In addition to these commercial partnerships, Nantero also has a partnership with Imec, a world-leading research institution in nanoelectronics, which is focusing on developing Nantero’s carbon-nanotube-based memory for high-density, next-generation memories with a size less than 20nm.

Greg Schmergel, co-founder and CEO of Nantero, Inc., added, “This round will help us support our partners that are bringing NRAM into production in the near term. We are excited to be working with multiple forward-looking industry leaders that see the value NRAM can bring.”

About Nantero Nantero is a nanotechnology company using carbon nanotubes for the development of next-generation semiconductor products. Nantero’s main focus is the commercial introduction of NRAM™ –a high-density nonvolatile random access storage device. NRAM™ will ultimately replace all existing forms of storage, such as DRAM, SRAM and flash memory, with a high-density nonvolatile RAM – ‘universal memory.’ The applications for the nonvolatile RAM Nantero is developing add up to over $100B in revenue potential, including the ability to enable instant-on computers and to replace the memory in devices such as cell phones, MP3 players, digital cameras, and PDAs, as well as applications in the networking arena. NRAM™ can be manufactured for both standalone and embedded memory applications. Nantero is also working with licensees on the development of additional applications of Nantero’s core nanotube-based technology. For more information on Nantero, Inc. please visit or email


SOURCE  Nantero, Inc.
PR Newswire (

New Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology to study environmental footprint of nanoparticles

Posted: Nov 29th, 2012

(Nanowerk News) Northwestern University has joined  forces with four Midwestern universities and a national laboratory to establish  the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology, which this fall received  funding from the National Science Foundation.
Chemists, environmental engineers and freshwater scientists will  work on developing a deeper understanding of nanotechnology’s environmental  footprint and potential toxicity — areas little understood, despite a rapid  increase of nanomaterials used in consumer products, from cellphones and laptops  to sunscreen and beer bottles.
“We need to know how the tiny particles interact with their  environment, and this requires advanced imaging and spectroscopic tools that can  see where no eye has seen before,” said Franz M. Geiger, a professor of chemistry in the Weinberg  College of Arts and Sciences who is leading the Northwestern team.
“And the nanoparticles must be studied without taking them out  of their biogeochemical environment or modifying them for analysis,” he said. “This is an extremely daunting challenge but one we relish.”
Geiger’s team includes Stephanie Walter, Julianne Troiano and  Laura Olenick, all doctoral students in his lab. They will utilize their unique  nonlinear optics laboratory to develop new imaging techniques and provide  testing grounds for nanoparticles created by other center members.
Robert Hamers, a professor of chemistry at the University of  Wisconsin-Madison, is director of the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology.  Other center members are the University of Minnesota, the University of  Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the University of Illinois and Pacific Northwest National  Laboratory.
“Our center — involving the expertise of researchers at six  different institutions — takes ample advantage of synergy, which, by  definition, produces effects that cannot be produced by summing up the  individual parts,” Geiger said.
Center researchers will focus on understanding how the surfaces of new as well as aged or weathered nanoparticles interact at the molecular level with cell membranes and what kind of biochemical pathways are triggered when these interactions occur. The findings ultimately could help inform the development of federal regulations.
In addition to the molecular studies, the researchers will study  two freshwater organisms, a water flea and a bacterium, feeding them  nanoparticles and tracking the particles using methods to be developed in the  center. The biochemical pathways will be studied to determine if the  nanoparticles have any toxic effects on the organisms.
Some of the nanomaterials produce a signal by lighting up when  light of a certain color is shined on them, allowing the particles to be imaged  inside living organisms. Geiger and his team will apply nonlinear optical  approaches to study a subset of these materials: those that can be accessed  using the suite of ultrafast laser systems available in his laboratory.
The Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology received a three-year,  $1.75 million Phase 1 Center for Chemical Innovation grant from the National  Science Foundation (NSF) this fall. Following the initial phase, the researchers  will have the opportunity to apply to the NSF for a much larger grant to  continue their work.
Geiger’s research with the new center connects to Northwestern’s  strategic plan goals of discovering creative solutions to problems that will  improve lives, communities and the world as well as focusing on nanoscience, one  of Northwestern’s 10 areas of greatest strength.
Source: Northwestern  University

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Magnolia Solar Presents Paper on Nanostructured Transparent Conductive Oxides for PV Applications

Magnolia Solar Corporation (“Magnolia Solar”), developer of revolutionary thin-film solar cell technologies employing nanostructured materials and designs, announced that Dr. Roger E. Welser, the Chief Technology Officer of its wholly owned subsidiary, Magnolia Solar, Inc., presented a paper at the 2012 MRS Fall Meeting in Boston, MA titled

“Nanostructured Transparent Conductive Oxides for Photovoltaic Applications,” as part of a special session on Photovoltaic Technologies.

Published on November 29, 2012 at 7:21 AM

In addition, Dr. Welser will also be a Session Chair for the Session titled “New Concepts, Materials and Technologies for Future Photovoltaics” to be held on Wednesday, November 28, 2012.

Dr. Welser’s presentation discussed the use of advanced optical coatings of nanostructured transparent conductive oxide materials that can enhance photovoltaic device performance by minimizing reflection losses and increasing the optical path length within thin-film solar cells. He also discussed the use of nanostructured indium tin oxide (ITO) materials in antireflection structures with a step-graded refractive index design.


Electronics of nature’s nano machines



27 November 2012 (created 27 November 2012)

“This gives a new powerful tool for studying enzymes and other important biological molecules”. Source: From Electronics of nature’s nano machines.
A team from the Cardiff University’s Schools of Biosciences and Physics and Astronomy have made a breakthrough in our understanding of proteins – the workhorse molecules of the cell and nature’s very own nano machines.
The group has successfully detected electric current through a single molecule of a protein, measuring just 5 nanometres long (a nanometer is one-millionth of a millimetre). Electric current is key in many natural processes including detection of light in the eye, photosynthesis and respiration.
The team showed that the protein could carry large currents, equivalent to a human hair carrying one amp. The team also discovered that current flow could be regulated in much the same way as transistors, the tiny devices driving computers and smartphones, work but on a smaller scale: the proteins are only a quarter of the size of current silicon based transistors.
To access this molecular information, the team has pioneered the use of synthetic biology with a technique called STM (Scanning Tunneling Microscopy) so that electrical current flowing through a protein can be measured right down to the single individual molecule.
Prior to this work, measurement of millions, if not billions of proteins was only possible, so losing crucial details of how an individual molecule functions.
Dr Jones, School of Biosciences, said: “If you step back and listen to the sound of a large crowd, this sound is an accumulation of many individual voices and conversations. What we have done is the molecular equivalent to listening to individual voices in the crowd.
“By marrying our knowledge and ability to manipulate proteins at the molecular level with advanced approaches developed in the School of Physics and Astronomy and DTU Denmark we can examine the individual complex molecules fundamental to all life. The transistor behavior is particularly interesting but in time, it may be possible to integrate proteins with electronic components.”
Collaborators Dr Martin Elliott and Dr Emyr Macdonald, School of Physics and Astronomy added: “The highly conducting nature of this protein was a surprise and the result raises questions about the fundamental nature of electron transfer in proteins.
“This gives a new powerful tool for studying enzymes and other important biological molecules”. Source: From Electronics of nature’s nano machines. The team’s findings have been published as a series of papers in the journals Nano Letters, ACS Nano, Small and Nanoscale.
Related news list by date, most recent first: nanodevicemicroscope Other news stories (random suggestion):  Atmospheric Nanoparticles Impact Health, Weather

Research discovery could revolutionise semiconductor manufacture

28 November 2012

A completely new method of manufacturing the smallest structures in electronics could make their manufacture thousands of times quicker, allowing for cheaper semiconductors. The findings have been published in the latest issue of Nature.

Instead of starting from a silicon wafer or other substrate, as is usual today, researchers have made it possible for the structures to grow from freely suspended nanoparticles of gold in a flowing gas.


technologyImage: Aerotaxy production process

Behind the discovery is Lars Samuelson, Professor of Semiconductor Physics at Lund University, Sweden, and head of the University’s Nanometre Structure Consortium. He believes the technology will be ready for commercialisation in two to four years’ time. A prototype for solar cells is expected to be completed in two years.


“When I first suggested the idea of getting rid of the substrate, people around me said ‘you’re out of your mind, Lars; that would never work’. When we tested the principle in one of our converted ovens at 400°C, the results were better than we could have dreamt of”, he says.
“The basic idea was to let nanoparticles of gold serve as a substrate from which the semiconductors grow. This means that the accepted concepts really were turned upside down!”
Since then, the technology has been refined, patents have been obtained and further studies have been conducted. In the article in Nature, the researchers show how the growth can be controlled using temperature, time and the size of the gold nanoparticles.

Recently, they have also built a prototype machine with a specially built oven. Using a series of ovens, the researchers expect to be able to ‘bake’ the nanowires, as the structures are called, and thereby develop multiple variants, such as p-n diodes. A further advantage of the technology is avoiding the cost of expensive semiconductor wafers.
“In addition, the process is not only extremely quick, it is also continuous. Traditional manufacture of substrates is batch-based and is therefore much more time-consuming”, adds Lars Samuelson.
At the moment, the researchers are working to develop a good method to capture the nanowires and make them self-assemble in an ordered manner on a specific surface. This could be glass, steel or another material suited to the purpose. The reason why no one has tested this method before, in the view of Professor Samuelson, is that today’s method is so basic and obvious. Such things tend to be difficult to question.
However, the Lund researchers have a head start thanks to their parallel research based on an innovative method in the manufacture of nanowires on semiconductor wafers, known as epitaxy – consequently, the researchers have chosen to call the new method aerotaxy. Instead of sculpting structures out of silicon or another semiconductor material, the structures are instead allowed to develop, atomic layer by atomic layer, through controlled self-organisation.
The structures are referred to as nanowires or nanorods. The breakthrough for these semiconductor structures came in 2002 and research on them is primarily carried out at Lund, Berkeley and Harvard universities.
The Lund researchers specialise in developing the physical and electrical properties of the wires, which helps create better and more energy-saving solar cells, LEDs, batteries and other electrical equipment that is now an integrated part of our lives.
The article ‘Continuous gas-phase synthesis of nanowires with tuneable properties’ can be found by entering “I 10.1038/nature11652” here:

Besides Lars Samuelson, the other authors of the article are: Magnus Heurlin, Martin Magnusson, David Lindgren, Martin Ek, Reine Wallenberg and Knut Deppert, all employed at Lund University, except for Martin Magnusson, who works at start-up company Sol Voltaics AB.

aerotaxy work group








The research has been funded by the Swedish Research Council, the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research (SSF), the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation and Vinnova.

For more information, contact Lars Samuelson,+46 46 222 76 79 , +46 703 17 76 79

Contact details for the other authors can be found by searching on

Lund University Nanometre Structure Consortium, nmC@LU:

About semiconductors Semiconductors are materials that neither conduct electricity as well as metals, nor stop a current as effectively as insulators – silicon and germanium are two examples. These properties may not sound attractive, but in actual fact they are excellent. The reason is that we can influence the conductive capacity of the materials, for example by introducing impurity atoms, known as doping. Materials with different types of doping can be combined to manufacture products such as transistors, solar cells or LEDs.


The Department of Energy’s high-risk early stage grant program, ARPA-E, has announced 66 new energy-related projects that will get small amounts of funding and mentorship from the DOE. ARPA-E said that it will give 66 groups — from universities, to startups, to government labs to large companies — a combined $130 million through its Open 2012 program to help them with cutting edge innovation around cleaner and more efficient transportation as well as energy generation and consumption.

The ARPA-E program is one of the DOE’s lauded programs, which has managed to gain bipartisan support and avoid controversy. In contrast, the DOE’s loan guarantee program and battery grant programs allocated large funds to single companies, and when a few of those companies went bankrupt, the DOE received significant criticism.

The ARPA-E program, on the other hand, only gives grants of small — hundreds of thousands to single digit millions — amounts…

View original post 857 more words

ARAPA-E Backs 66 New Projects

The Department of Energy’s high-risk early stage grant program, ARPA-E, has announced 66 new energy-related projects that will get small amounts of funding and mentorship from the DOE. ARPA-E said that it will give 66 groups — from universities, to startups, to government labs to large companies — a combined $130 million through its Open 2012 program to help them with cutting edge innovation around cleaner and more efficient transportation as well as energy generation and consumption.

The ARPA-E program is one of the DOE’s lauded programs, which has managed to gain bipartisan support and avoid controversy. In contrast, the DOE’s loan guarantee program and battery grant programs allocated large funds to single companies, and when a few of those companies went bankrupt, the DOE received significant criticism.

The ARPA-E program, on the other hand, only gives grants of small — hundreds of thousands to single digit millions — amounts and doesn’t expect to get a return back. It’s funding for basic scientific research. The program also backs so-called “moonshots,” which are innovations that could be transformational, but are at a very early stage — a very small amount of these technologies will probably ever be commercialized. The folks at ARPA-E now say they’ve backed 285 projects for a total of about $770 million in funding.

There were fewer startups in the mix than I’ve seen in recent years. It’s a lot harder to be an entrepreneur in this space these days. Some of the more interesting sounding projects in this crop include:

  • Energy beets: Say wha? A company called Plant Sensory Systems, has received a $1.8 million grant to engineer a beet with enhanced energy density that can be turned into biofuels, and which can also be grown with less water and fertilizer.
  • Waste natural gas to fuel: A company called Ceramatec was granted $1.7 million to build a reactor that can convert natural gas unearthed at remote oil field sites into fuel in one step. This natural gas is usually flared off and wasted.
  • Smart window coatings: Lawrence Berkeley National Labs will use a $3 million grant to low cost coatings for windows that will control light and heat.
  • Portable building mapping tech: LBNL received another grant, this one for $1.9 million, to make a device that senses and maps the internal and thermal characteristics for a building. Using this technology, you can see where heat loss is occurring. Sounds like Essess.
  • Cool roofs: Stanford University is looking to develop a low cost coating for roofs, buildings and cars that reflects sunlight and enables passive cooling. ARPA-E gave Stanford $400,000 to build the tech.
  • Smart grid security modelling: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign received a $1.5 million grant to create a modelling and analysis tools to make the smart grid more secure.
  • Gas-based tech for high voltage power lines: The traditional way to control electricity over high voltage transmission lines is using silicon-based switches. GE’s Global Research division received a $4.1 million grant to work on a gas-based switch that can lower the cost of transmission lines, improve grid reliability, and help with clean power deployment.
  • Super wires: A startup called Grid Logic is working on low cost and high temperature superconducting wires. ARPA-E gave the company a $3.8 million grant.
  • Transmission line analytics: Pacific Northwest National Labs received a $1.6 million grant to develop analytics to find unused space on transmission lines and increase efficiency of the use of transmission lines by 30 percent.
  • Big data grid collection: The University of California, Berkeley, along with the California Institute for Energy and Environment, have received $4 million to develop “micro” synchrophasors to collect real time grid data. Are these even smaller versions of the synchrophasors out there? Not sure, I’ll do some research on it.
  • Water wing: Brown University will work on an “oscillating underwater wing” that can capture energy from flowing water in rivers and tides. They’ll control it with software. I feel like a lot of companies who make these design really nice ones, but the problem is in making sure it lasts years while being battered by water and the elements. Brown received $750,000 for this project.
  • Fabric wind blades: GE has quite a few projects in here. Another one is a project to create wind blades made out of fabric stretched across a frame. GE says such blades could enable wind turbines to be “manufactured in sections and assembled on-site, enabling the construction of much larger wind turbines with higher efficiency and lower cost.”
  • Energy from dust devils: Here’s a weird one (for @go2cleanbreak’s book). The Georgia Institute for Technology wants to use a $3.7 million grant to capture energy from wind vortices by harvesting a thin layer of hot air along the ground created by the sun. Like a manufactured, controlled dust devil. I don’t know what to say about that one.
  • Mini mirror solar field: San Francisco’s own Otherlab is working on developing solar projects with small mirrors that will focus light onto towers. Usually these types of fields (like Ivanpah) use large mirrors.
  • New Valley battery startup?: A startup called Alveo Energy won a $4 million grant for a battery for grid storage that will use Prussian Blue dye as the active material in the battery. They were founded in 2012, based in Palo Alto and their CEO is Colin Wessells, according to Google searches (they don’t have a website). If anyone knows more about this company, ping me.
  • Magnetic energy storage: Here’s a new one. The Tai Yang Research Company wants to create a device that stores energy in superconducting cables, by increasing magnetic field strength of the cable.
  • Solar fuel: The Georgia Institute of Technology received $3.6 million to build a solar reactor to produce solar fuel. Sounds like what Joule has been working on … by the way, whatever happened to them?
  • Printed batteries: The Palo Alto Research Center got close to a million dollars to develop printing technology for lithium ion batteries

Image courtesy of Peyri, and rosmary.

Quantum Dot Mass Production Breakthrough Achieved

PRNewswire/ — An Advanced Materials emerging Nanotechnology company has announced a new microreactor and software controlled continuous flow process has been successfully developed and operated for delivery of mass produced quantum dots. This new quantum dot production process replaces batch synthesis and has potential for high improvement in both yield and conversion. Tetrapod Quantum Dots are used in a variety of emerging applications including solid state lighting, QLED displays, nanobio applications and for 3rd Generation solar cells in solar panels. QD-Tetrapods have proven to have superior performance characteristics surpassing spherical nanoparticles in a number of nano-applications including Nano-Bio (delivery) and Nano-Solar (increased harvesting and efficiencies).

The inherent design of the microreactor allows for commercial-scale 0f parallel modules to achieve large production rates in a regulated, optimized system. This breakthrough production process enables both the low cost, high volume production of quantum dots, and also provides flexibility in the choice of materials used to produce the quantum dots including heavy metal free (Cadmium Free) quantum dots and other biologically inert materials.

Quantum dots have been widely recognized for their potential in next generation display technologies, solar cells, LEDs, OLEDs, computer memory, printed electronics and a vast array of security, biomedical and energy storage applications. According to research group BCC Research, the 2010 global market for quantum dots was estimated $67 million in revenues, and is projected to grow quickly over the next 5 years at greater than 50% per year reaching almost $670 million by 2015. The nanomaterials enabled market grew to $263 billion USD in 2012.

For the first time this technology offers to manufacturers that it is now realistic to test the advantages of quantum dots to establish higher performance benchmarks across a number of industries and product applications. Many discoveries and commercial applications have been developmentally slowed by the lack of high quality and consistent quantum dots. Correspondingly high costs, have also proved to be a barrier to entry and development of otherwise commercially poised nanomaterials enabled applications. This technology removes the roadblock from widespread adoption of the quantum dot as a basic building block of technology and services much like the silicon chip that has ubiquitously advanced corporate function and consumer lifestyles worldwide.

“Our goal from the onset has been to achieve a production rate of 100kg per day with a 95% or greater yield,” according to the Founder and CEO. He added that “with this breakthrough we have coupled two disruptive technologies resulting in the potential to now achieve that goal.”

According to the company’s internationally recognized CTO,  “Besides the scalability indicated, in my opinion, the truly remarkable accomplishment in this breakthrough is its adaptability to other inorganic metals and elements, including cadmium-free Quantum Dots.”

The Company has a steadfast vision that advanced technology is the solution to global issues related to cost, efficiency and increasing energy usage. Quantum dot semiconductors enable a new level of performance in a wide array of established consumer and industrial products, including low cost flexible solar cells, low power lighting and displays and biomedical research applications.

The Company intends to invigorate these markets through cost reduction and moving laboratory discovery to commercialization with volume manufacturing methods to establish a growing line of innovative high performance products.

Safe Harbor statement under the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995

This press release contains forward-looking statements that involve risks and uncertainties concerning our business, products, and financial results. Actual results may differ materially from the results predicted. More information about potential risk factors that could affect our business, products, and financial results are included in our annual report and in reports subsequently filed by us with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). All documents are available through the SEC’s Electronic Data Gathering Analysis and Retrieval System (EDGAR) at or from our website. We hereby disclaim any obligation to publicly update the information provided above, including forward-looking statements, to reflect subsequent events or circumstances.

European nanoelectronics industry proposes to invest 100 B€ for innovation

Highlighting the need for Europe to substantially increase its research       and innovation efforts in nanoelectronics in order to maintain its       worldwide competitiveness, the document outlines a proposal by companies       and institutes within Europe’s nanoelectronics ecosystem to invest 100       billion € up to the year 2020 on an ambitious research and innovation       programme, planned and implemented in close cooperation with the       European Union and the Member States.

Nanoelectronics is not only strategically important to Europe in its       own right, it is also a key enabling technology to help solve all of the       societal challenges identified in the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme,” said       Enrico Villa, Chairman of CATRENE. “This important new positioning       paper, which has been put together and endorsed by all the major actors       in the European nanoelectronics ecosystem, including large industrial       companies, SMEs, research organisations and academic institutes, is       intended to open up discussions on how Europe-wide research and       innovation in nanoelectronics can be coordinated to maximise its       applicability and economic value.”

Europe’s semiconductor industry and research institutes remain at the       heart of Europe’s knowledge-based economy, contributing an estimated 30       billion € to Europe’s annual revenues. Its semiconductor companies have       dominant global positions in key application areas, such as transport       and security, as well as in equipment and materials for worldwide       semiconductor manufacturing. Nanoelectronics is not only opening up new       opportunities to exploit Europe’s strengths in equipment and materials       for worldwide digital microchip production, it also offers opportunities       to expand European semiconductor manufacturing on 150mm, 200mm and 300mm       wafers to produce the highly specialised nano-scale devices required to       interface digital chips to real-world application environments. Creating       these new devices will be critical to maintaining Europe’s world-leading       position in industry segments such as automotive, aerospace, medical,       industrial, and telecommunications.

Urgent strategy actions recommended in the positioning paper to secure       the future of Europe’s nanoelectronics ecosystem include extension of       the European Union’s dedicated budgets for Key Enabling Technologies to       reflect their common dependence on nanoelectronics; simplified       notification and enlarged eligibility for public funding in       nanoelectronics, and greater focus on European Union funding for       regional initiatives to support the proposed programme.

“Despite today’s climate of austerity, investing in technologies that       will sustain Europe throughout the 21st century and solve       important societal challenges such as energy efficiency, security and       the aging population, makes economic sense,” explained Mr Villa. “We       firmly believe that with the right investment and Europe-wide programme       coordination, the European nanoelectronics ecosystem can increase       Europe’s worldwide revenues by over 200 billion € per year and create an       additional 250,000 direct and induced jobs in Europe.”

Innovation for the future of Europe: Nanoelectronics beyond 2020’ is       available for download on the AENEAS       and CATRENE       websites.

Direct Link to Strategic Report:

A Magic Formula to Predict Fracture in Steel

22.11.12 – EPFL researchers have elucidated a century-old mystery: how hydrogen destroys steels. A new mathematical model predicts this failure in the presence of the destructive atoms.

A veritable gangrene for steels and other structural metals, hydrogen is one of the most important causes of ruptures in industrial parts, such as pipelines. At the slightest defect in a material, these atoms introduce themselves in the crack and weaken the structure dramatically, making it brittle. The material need only be in contact with aggressive substances or placed in an aqueous environment from which for the dangerous hydrogen atoms enter the material. This phenomenon of “hydrogen embrittlement” has been known for many years, but so far no one managed to capture the physical process or predict when hydrogen embrittlement will occur. Bill Curtin of the Laboratory of Multiscale Mechanical Modeling at EPFL and his collaborator Prof. Jun Song at McGill, tackled this problem and developed a mathematical model to understand the behavior of hydrogen atoms in iron-based steels and thus to predict steel fracture. This is revolutionary in the world of materials, and serves as the subject of an article in the journal Nature Materials.

Hydrogen Attracted by Fractures To establish their equation, the researchers studied the behavior of iron at the atomic level. They showed that the reason hydrogen weakens the materials comes from the tendency of hydrogen atoms to cluster at the tip of a crack. “In the absence of hydrogen, dislocation defects form around a crack, allowing it to relax the stress in the material and preventing the crack from growing, making the material more resilient or tougher, explained Bill Curtin. By grouping around the crack, the hydrogen atoms prevent the creation of these dislocations, and prevent the stress relaxation, allowing the crack to grow and the material becomes extremely brittle.”

A mathematical model that predicts the fracture Using their simulations, the scientists were able to establish a complex mathematical model that calculates when a material in contact with hydrogen will start to break. Several factors are taken into account, such as the concentration of hydrogen in the environment, the speed at which the hydrogen molecules move toward the crack, type of steel, and the load on the structure. If a combination of these parameters attains a critical value, computed from the simulations, then the material will break. Using the model, they predicted the breaking point for a various steels under various conditions. “Our predictions coincided with the experiments in 9 out of 10 cases, rejoiced Bill Curtin. And the 10th case was right on the border”.

This knowledge should allow scientists to tackle the problem armed with new weapons. It will become easier to identify adverse operating modes and to construct materials that are more resistant to this type of deterioration.


How does hydrogen come into contact with a material?

•When welding in damp conditions (presence of H2O). •When steels are used in the presence of hydrogen or hydrogenated gas mixtures (hydrocarbons in pipelines, for example) •Hydrogen can originate from corrosion in an aqueous environment, for example.

Additional information: Atomic mechanism and prediction of hydrogen embrittlement in iron