Texas A&M researchers concoct nanoparticles to soak up crude oil spills

By Darren Murph posted Sep 25th, 2013 at 10:58 PM 17


Texas A&M researchers concoct nanoparticles to soak up crude oil spills


The 2010 Deepwater Horizon may be forgotten to many, but remnants of its destruction still remain in the Gulf of Mexico. Mercifully, it appears that researchers at Texas A&M University “have developed a non-toxic sequestering agentiron oxide nanoparticles coated in a polymer mesh that can hold up to 10 times their weight in crude oil.” In layman’s terms, they’ve engineered a material that can safely soak up oil.

As the story goes, the nanoparticles “consist of an iron oxide core surrounded by a shell of polymeric material,” with the goal being to soak up leftover oil that isn’t captured using conventional mechanical means. The next step? Creating an enhanced version that’s biodegradable; as it stands, the existing particles could pose a threat if not collected once they’ve accomplished their duties.



Well-defined, magnetic shell cross-linked knedel-like nanoparticles (MSCKs) with hydrodynamic diameters ca. 70 nm were constructed through the co-assembly of amphiphilic block copolymers of PAA20b-PS280 and oleic acid-stabilized magnetic iron oxide nanoparticles using tetrahydrofuran, N,N-dimethylformamide, and water, ultimately transitioning to a fully aqueous system. These hybrid nanomaterials were designed for application as sequestering agents for hydrocarbons present in crude oil, based upon their combination of amphiphilic organic domains, for aqueous solution dispersibility and capture of hydrophobic guest molecules, with inorganic core particles for magnetic responsivity.

The employment of these MSCKs in a contaminated aqueous environment resulted in the successful removal of the hydrophobic contaminants at a ratio of 10 mg of oil per 1 mg of MSCK. Once loaded, the crude oil-sorbed nanoparticles were easily isolated via the introduction of an external magnetic field. The recovery and reusability of these MSCKs were also investigated.

These results suggest that deployment of hybrid nanocomposites, such as these, could aid in environmental remediation efforts, including at oil spill sites, in particular, following the bulk recovery phase.


NeverWet Arrives – Hands-On Product Demonstration: Practical Applications: Nanotechnology

201306047919620Rust-Oleum NeverWet, available at Home Depot, is a superhydrophobic spray-on coating that repels water, mud, ice and other liquids. DETAILS: http://bit.ly/103PQPL

Want to “spill proof” your clothes, hunting/ fishing gear? Make a cooler instantly out of an ordinary cardboard box?

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What would you use it for?


With carbon nanotubes, a path to flexible, low-cost sensors

Nano Particles for Steel 324x182(Nanowerk News) Researchers at the Technische  Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) are showing the way toward low-cost,  industrial-scale manufacturing of a new family of electronic devices. A leading  example is a gas sensor that could be integrated into food packaging to gauge  freshness, or into compact wireless air-quality monitors. New types of solar  cells and flexible transistors are also in the works, as well as pressure and  temperature sensors that could be built into electronic skin for robotic or  bionic applications. All can be made with carbon nanotubes, sprayed like ink  onto flexible plastic sheets or other substrates.
Carbon nanotube-based gas sensors created at TUM offer a unique  combination of characteristics that can’t be matched by any of the alternative  technologies. They rapidly detect and continuously respond to extremely small  changes in the concentrations of gases including ammonia, carbon dioxide, and  nitrogen oxide. They operate at room temperature and consume very little power.  Furthermore, as the TUM researchers report in their latest papers, such devices  can be fabricated on flexible backing materials through large-area, low-cost  processes.
Flexible carbon nanotube Gas Sensors
Flexible, high-performance gas sensors (left) were made by spraying  a solution of carbon nanotubes (right) onto a plastic backing.
Thus it becomes realistic to envision plastic food wrap that  incorporates flexible, disposable gas sensors, providing a more meaningful  indicator of food freshness than the sell-by date. Measuring carbon dioxide, for  example, can help predict the shelf life of meat. “Smart packaging” – assuming  consumers find it acceptable and the devices’ non-toxic nature can be  demonstrated – could enhance food safety and might also vastly reduce the amount  of food that is wasted. Used in a different setting, the same sort of gas sensor  could make it less expensive and more practical to monitor indoor air quality in  real time.
Not so easy – but “really simple”
Postdoctoral researcher Alaa Abdellah and colleagues at the TUM  Institute for Nanoelectronics have demonstrated that high-performance gas  sensors can be, in effect, sprayed onto flexible plastic substrates. With that,  they may have opened the way to commercial viability for carbon nanotube-based  sensors and their applications. “This really is simple, once you know how to do  it,” says Prof. Paolo Lugli, director of the institute.
The most basic building block for this technology is a single  cylindrical molecule, a rolled-up sheet of carbon atoms that are linked in a  honeycomb pattern. This so-called carbon nanotube could be likened to an  unimaginably long garden hose: a hollow tube just a nanometer or so in diameter  but perhaps millions of times as long as it is wide. Individual carbon nanotubes  exhibit amazing and useful properties, but in this case the researchers are more  interested in what can be done with them en masse.
Laid down in thin films, randomly oriented carbon nanotubes form  conductive networks that can serve as electrodes; patterned and layered films  can function as sensors or transistors. “In fact,” Prof. Lugli explains, “the  electrical resistivity of such films can be modulated by either an applied  voltage (to provide a transistor action) or by the adsorption of gas molecules,  which in turn is a signature of the gas concentration for sensor applications.”
And as a basis for gas sensors in particular, carbon nanotubes  combine advantages (and avoid shortcomings) of more established materials, such  as polymer-based organic electronics and solid-state metal-oxide semiconductors.  What has been lacking until now is a reliable, reproducible, low-cost  fabrication method.
Spray deposition, supplemented if necessary by transfer  printing, meets that need. An aqueous solution of carbon nanotubes looks like a  bottle of black ink and can be handled in similar ways. Thus devices can be  sprayed – from a computer-controlled robotic nozzle – onto virtually any kind of  substrate, including large-area sheets of flexible plastic. There is no need for  expensive clean-room facilities.
“To us it was important to develop an easily scalable technology  platform for manufacturing large-area printed and flexible electronics based on  organic semiconductors and nanomaterials,” Dr. Abdellah says. “To that end,  spray deposition forms the core of our processing technology.”
Remaining technical challenges arise largely from  application-specific requirements, such as the need for gas sensors to be  selective as well as sensitive.
Fabrication of carbon nanotube thin films on  flexible substrates by spray deposition and transfer printing. Ahmed  Abdelhalim, Alaa Abdellah, Giuseppe Scarpa, Paolo Lugli. Carbon, Vol.  61, September 2013, 72-79.
Flexible carbon nanotube-based gas sensors  fabricated by large-scale spray deposition. Alaa Abdellah, Zubair Ahmad,  Philipp Köhler, Florin Loghin, Alexander Weise, Giuseppe Scarpa, Paolo Lugli.  IEEE Sensors Journal, Vol. 13 Issue 10, October 2013, 4014-4021.
Scalable spray deposition process for high  performance carbon nanotube gas sensors. Alaa Abdellah, Ahmed Abdelhalim,  Markus Horn, Giuseppe Scarpa, and Paolo Lugli. IEEE Transactions on  Nanotechnology 12, 174-181, 2013.
Source: Technische Universität München 

Read more: http://www.nanowerk.com/news2/newsid=32464.php#ixzz2fyQreLnJ

Making Inorganic Solar Cells with an Airbrush Spray


Nano Particles for Steel 324x182(Nanowerk Spotlight) There is currently a tremendous  amount of interest in the solution processing of inorganic materials. Low cost,  large area deposition of inorganic materials could revolutionize the fabrication  of solar cells, LEDs, and photodetectors. The use of inorganic nanocrystals to  form these structures is an attractive route as the ligand shell that surrounds  the inorganic core allows them to be manipulated and deposited using organic  solvents.

The most common methods currently used for film formation are  spin coating and dip coating, which provide uniform thin films but limit the  geometry of the substrate used in the process. The same nanocrystal solutions  used in these procedures can also be sprayed using an airbrush, enabling larger  areas and multiple substrates to be covered much more rapidly.

The trade-off is  the roughness and uniformity of the film, both of which can be substantially  higher.    Reporting their findings in a recent online edition of ACS  Applied Materials & Interfaces (“Inorganic Photovoltaic Devices Fabricated Using  Nanocrystal Spray Deposition”), researchers have now attempted to quantify  these differences for a single-layer solar cell structure, and found the main  difference to be a reduction in the open circuit voltage of the device.            deposited films of CdTe nanocrystals SEM  images of the top surface of the deposited films following deposition and  sintering, showing (a) CdTe spin coated and (b) CdTe spray coated. The scale bar  in both images represents 200 nm. (Reprinted with permission from American  Chemical Society)

“Our work was motivated by a desire to coat larger substrate  areas more efficiently,” Edward Foos, a research scientists in the Materials  Synthesis and Processing Section of the Chemistry Division at the Naval  Research Laboratory, and first author of the paper, tells Nanowerk. “Our initial  work indicated that if the layers were thick enough to cover the substrate  completely and avoid pinhole formation that would lead to shorting of the  device, then the increased surface roughness might be tolerable.”

He adds that this is the first time the impact of this surface  roughness on the performance characteristics has been directly compared for  these types of devices.

The team prepared single-layer Schottky-barrier solar cells  using spray deposition of inorganic (CdTe) nanocrystals with an airbrush. The  spray deposition results in a rougher film morphology that manifests itself as a  2 orders of magnitude higher saturation current density compared to spin  coating.   “We’re currently working to improve the spray coating process to  improve the layer uniformity,” says Foos. “If the surface roughness can be  reduced, then the overall device performance should increase.”   The team is confident that further optimization of the spray  process to reduce this surface roughness and limit the Voc suppression should be possible and eventually lead  to comparable performances between the two deposition techniques.   “Importantly” Foos points out, “the spray-coating process  enables larger areas to be covered more efficiently, reducing waste of the  active layer components, while enabling deposition on asymmetric substrates.

These advantages should be of substantial interest as inorganic  nanocrystal-based solar cells become increasingly competitive as  third-generation devices.”   The team’s next step will be the fabrication of more complex  device architectures that incorporate multiple solution processed layers. These  structures will have an even smaller tolerance for variation. In addition, the  deposition chemistry used must not interfere with the material applied in the  previous step.

By Michael Berger. Copyright © Nanowerk

Read more: http://www.nanowerk.com/spotlight/spotid=32458.php#ixzz2fyNZ5tzG


Berkeley Lab Researchers Discover Universal Law For Light Absorption In 2D Semiconductors

Nano Particles for Steel 324x182From solar cells to optoelectronic sensors to lasers and imaging devices, many of today’s semiconductor technologies hinge upon the absorption of light. Absorption is especially critical for nano-sized structures at the interface between two energy barriers called quantum wells, in which the movement of charge carriers is confined to two-dimensions. Now, for the first time, a simple law of light absorption for 2D semiconductors has been demonstrated.

Working with ultrathin membranes of the semiconductor indium arsenide, a team of researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has discovered a quantum unit of photon absorption, which they have dubbed “AQ,” that should be general to all 2D semiconductors, including compound semiconductors of the III-V family that are favored for solar films and optoelectronic devices. This discovery not only provides new insight into the optical properties of 2D semiconductors and quantum wells, it should also open doors to exotic new optoelectronic and photonic technologies.

“We used free-standing indium arsenide membranes down to three nanometers in thickness as a model material system to accurately probe the absorption properties of 2D semiconductors as a function of membrane thickness and electron band structure,” says Ali Javey, a faculty scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California (UC) Berkeley. “We discovered that the magnitude of step-wise absorptance in these materials is independent of thickness and band structure details.”

Javey is one of two corresponding authors of a paper describing this research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The paper is titled “Quantum of optical absorption in two-dimensional semiconductors.” Eli Yablonovitch, an electrical engineer who also holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley, is the other corresponding author. Co-authors are Hui Fang, Hans Bechtel, Elena Plis, Michael Martin and Sanjay Krishna.

Previous work has shown that graphene, a two-dimensional sheet of carbon, has a universal value of light absorption. Javey, Yablonovitch and their colleagues have now found that a similar generalized law applies to all 2D semiconductors. This discovery was made possible by a unique process that Javey and his research group developed in which thin films of indium arsenide are transferred onto an optically transparent substrate, in this case calcium fluoride.

“This provided us with ultrathin membranes of indium arsenide, only a few unit cells in thickness, that absorb light on a substrate that absorbed no light,” Javey says. “We were then able to investigate the optical absorption properties of membranes that ranged in thickness from three to 19 nanometers as a function of band structure and thickness.”

Using the Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) capabilities of Beamline 1.4.3 at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source, a DOE national user facility, Javey, Yablonovitch and their co-authors measured the magnitude of light absorptance in the transition from one electronic band to the next at room temperature. They observed a discrete stepwise increase at each transition from indium arsenide membranes with an AQ value of approximately 1.7-percent per step.

“This absorption law appears to be universal for all 2D semiconductor systems,” says Yablonovitch. “Our results add to the basic understanding of electron–photon interactions under strong quantum confinement and provide a unique insight toward the use of 2D semiconductors for novel photonic and optoelectronic applications.”

This research was supported by DOE’s Office of Science and the National Science Foundation.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory addresses the world’s most urgent scientific challenges by advancing sustainable energy, protecting human health, creating new materials, and revealing the origin and fate of the universe. Founded in 1931, Berkeley Lab’s scientific expertise has been recognized with 13 Nobel prizes. The University of California manages Berkeley Lab for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. For more information, visit http://www.lbl.gov.

The DOE 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 science.energy.gov.

The Advanced Light Source is a third-generation synchrotron light source producing light in the x-ray region of the spectrum that is a billion times brighter than the sun. A DOE national user facility, the ALS attracts scientists from around the world and supports its users in doing outstanding science in a safe environment. The Advanced Light Source is a third-generation synchrotron light source producing light in the x-ray region of the spectrum that is a billion times brighter than the sun. A DOE national user facility, the ALS attracts scientists from around the world and supports its users in doing outstanding science in a safe environment. For more information, visit http://www.als.lbl.gov/.

SOURCE: The U.S. Department of Energy

3M to Challenge OLED Displays with Quantum Dots

The giant industrial company says it will commercialize a quantum-dot optical film that dramatically improves LCD color.


OLED TVs: on sale soon
OLED TVs: on sale soon

3M’s optical systems business division is to collaborate with the venture-backed company Nanosys on a new quantum-dot technology that promises to help conventional liquid crystal displays (LCDs) hold off the challenge of organic LEDs (OLEDs).

OLED televisions will be launched this year by LG Display and, in all likelihood, Samsung, while other TV companies such as Panasonic and Sony are expected to follow suit. One of the big selling points of the technology is its more vibrant representation of colors, thanks to the fact that OLEDs are direct emitters of colored light – whereas LCDs are effectively filters of white light.

In an announcement timed to coincide with the Society for Information Display (SID) 2012 “Display Week” meeting – traditionally the event where new display technologies are first reported – Nanosys and 3M said that they intend to commercialize what is known as “quantum dot enhancement film” (QDEF) technology.

“QDEF is a drop-in film that LCD manufacturers can integrate with existing production processes,” say the two companies, meaning that the technology is directly compatible with existing LCD production – where 3M’s optical films already play a major role. “It utilizes the light-emitting properties of quantum dots to create an ideal backlight for LCDs.”

Rather than actively creating light, the quantum dot films developed by Nanosys effectively work like a phosphor. When exposed to blue emission provided by a phosphor-less gallium nitride LED backlight, the dots produce narrow-linewidth red and green light, which can be combined with the original blue emission to generate a high-quality white backlight.

Atomic behaviour Because they are so tiny, quantum dots behave in a similar manner to individual atoms, rather than bulk solids. And the precise color of the light that they produce when illuminated by blue LEDs is determined purely by their size. So by tightly controlling the size of the dots, they can be “tuned” to produce either red or green light at a precise and narrow range of wavelengths.

In an LCD display, what that translates to is a white backlight with a much wider color “gamut”, meaning a much more life-like representation of images on the screen is possible. “Current LCDs are limited to displaying 35 percent or less of the visible color spectrum,” the companies say. “This means the viewing experience on an LCD is vastly different than what a person sees in the real world.”

By increasing that color range by a claimed 50 percent, the QDEF technology offers a challenge to one of the key selling points associated with OLED displays – the vivid color reproduction that results from using direct light emitters in the pixels of the display.

Jason Hartlove, the CEO of Nanosys, said: “We are working together to improve an area of display performance that has been largely neglected for the last decade. Improving color performance for LCDs with drop-in solutions will bring a stunning new visual experience to the consumer and a competitive advantage to the LCD manufacturer against new display technologies such as OLED.”

SID “Gold” award for QDEF LED-backlit TVs and monitors are now commonplace, but one of the original commercial claims for using the technology was identical to that now being heralded by 3M and Nanosys – that it would improve color gamut dramatically, compared with the white fluorescent backlights that initially dominated in LCD TVs.

As things turned out, it was not color gamut but the ability to make TVs much slimmer and lighter that propelled LED backlights into the mainstream, largely thanks to the intervention of Samsung.

And as the world’s leading producer of active-matrix OLED screens – largely for its own mobile phone and tablet offerings – Samsung has a foot in both camps when it comes to improving color representation in the next generation of TV technologies.

Interestingly, the Korean company’s venture wing – Samsung Venture Investment Corporation – led Nanosys’ series E round of financing, which raised $31 million in late 2010.

The QDEF technology was also recognized at SID’s annual Display Industry Awards ceremony earlier this week, winning the SID Gold Award in the category of “display component of the year” at the Boston conference and show.

According to 3M, the quantum-dot film being commercialized by the two firms will simply replace a similar film already found inside LCD backlights, and for display manufacturers would require no new equipment or process changes.

Graphene Mass Production, Roll to Roll

Nano Particles for Steel 324x182Graphene, the lightest and thinnest compound known to man at one atom thick, has several amazing and unique properties that make it a very interesting candidate for many futuristic applications. However, its use is presently limited due to a bottleneck in its synthesis and mass production, which are still at an infant stage and expensive.

The project, which is being funded with 10.5 million euros over four years, aims to develop the first roll-based chemical vapour deposition (CVD) machine for the mass production of few-layer graphene for transparent electrodes for LED and display applications, and adapts the process conditions of a wafer-scale carbon nanotube growth system to provide a low-cost batch process for graphene growth on silicon. The project focuses on applications such as transparent electrodes for OLEDs and GaN LEDs, optical switches, plasmonic waveguides, VLSI interconnects, and RF NEMs.

Due to its high carrier mobility,  long ballistic mean free path, a high frequency photoconductivity, and a large thermal conductivity, graphene is being considered as a component in  next-generation electronic, optoelectronics and microsystems. Production of graphene is possible by four main methods, and prototype devices based on graphene (eg. field effect transistors, photo-transistors and detectors, and transparent electrodes for touch screens,) have been demonstrated with very promising results. GRAFOL aims to turn an emerging technology, the on-substrate synthesis of graphene, into a large-scale production technology available to industry as shown conceptually in the figure.


The project aims to develop the first roll-based chemical vapour deposition (CVD) machine for the mass production of few-layer graphene for transparent electrodes for LED and display applications, and

(Photo : GRAFOL) The project aims to develop the first roll-based chemical vapour deposition (CVD) machine for the mass production of few-layer graphene for transparent electrodes for LED and display applications, and adapts the process conditions of a wafer-scale carbon nanotube growth system to provide a low-cost batch process for graphene growth on silicon.

It is important to realize that the advancement of microelectronics today is not only due to the shrinking of device dimensions, which nano-materials allow, but also to the enlargement of wafer size (the unit of measure for production).  The increase of wafer diameter from 50mm in 1970’s to 300mm in early 2000’s, corresponding to a  36 fold increase in area, has made it much more cost effective to manufacture  microelectronics, quite simply because more chips are made simultaneously. It is quoted by  semiconductor companies, that for graphene to be seriously considered for microelectronics, it must be  on at least the 300mm wafer scale, on Si and attain a life cycle production cost (taking into  account source materials, running costs, equipment depreciation) of $1 per square inch of  deposited area on a substrate. Such a competitive cost can only be achieved if the area of graphene  deposited is increased per run, that is, scaling the production to at  least a 300mm wafer scale (another wafer size transition to 450mm is expected towards the end of this decade).

Taking it one step further, for certain applications such as transparent electrodes graphene should be produced in even larger scale than that required for microelectronics. This  truly large-scale production of graphene would become possible with a successful development of roll-based technology.

Despite its attractive properties, graphene will not yet be used in mainstream electronic applications due to two technological obstacles, namely (1) mass production and (2) device integration. Device integration deals with aspects such as physical integration and process integration (material compatibility, thermal budget). Mass production must use the route of chemical vapour deposition (CVD) onto metal surfaces. To tackle mass production, equipment must be developed which addresses economical manufacturing (yield, throughput, equipment reliability and maintainability) as well as quality assurance (process qualification, material consistency /standard characteristics, monitoring). These obstacles are dealt with in this project.

The value-added / high tech applications developed here have been carefully selected to require graphene on surfaces, and to be those which truly benefit from not only the high specifications but also cost effective production of graphene when deposited on the wafer-scale or by a roll-based method.

GRAFOL  started in October 2011, and will run for 4 years. The coordinator is  the University of Cambridge, led by professor John Robertson. Professor  Robertson leads a team of 14 partners, consisting of both academic  research labs as well as businesses like ours. The project benefits from  expertise of the likes of Aixtron (one of the world’s largest  manufacturers of CVD machines, based in Aachen, Germany), Philips, Thales, and Intel. Financing  comes from the European Union’s FP7 research framework, under the  research theme “Nanosciences, nanotechnologies, materials  and new production technologies”, which focuses on projects with a  strong industrial impact. — Graphenea

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Researchers Develop Novel Technique for Separating Target Molecules from Mixed Solutions Using Magnetic Nanoparticles

Published on September 18, 2013 at 7:04 AM

201306047919620Separating target molecules in biological samples is a critical part of diagnosing and detecting diseases. Usually the target and probe molecules are mixed and then separated in batch processes that require multiple pipetting, tube washing and extraction steps that can affect accuracy.


This is an illustration showing a simple new technique that is capable of separating tiny amounts of the target molecules from mixed solutions. Credit: J.Wang/Brown


Now a team of researchers at Brown University has developed a simple new technique that is capable of separating tiny amounts of the target molecules from mixed solutions by single motion of magnet under a microchannel. Their technique may make pipettes and test tubes a thing of the past in some diagnostic applications and increase the accuracy and sensitivity of disease detection.

The new platform developed by Anubhav Tripathi and his team at Brown doesn’t rely on external pumps to mix samples or flow target molecules. Instead, their system is static and handy for researchers to use, according to Ms. Jingjing Wang, a graduate student pursuing her PhD. Bead-like magnetic particles are specifically modified by attaching short pieces of DNA to them that can capture target DNA molecules with specific sequences matching. Those are then separated for detection simply by pulling the magnetic beads along the channel. The process is simple, fast and specific.

This process has great applicability particularly for point-of-care platforms that are used to detect bacterial, viral infections and prion diseases by DNA, RNA or protein identification. Specific disease applications include testing for HIV and influenza, explained Wang.

“It can also be used to evaluate the expression of certain protein markers, such as troponin (an indicator of damage to the heart muscle) or any detection that requires binding and separation of known target biomolecules,” she added.

Optimizing the system and characterizing the chip for biological assays was the biggest challenge for the research team as it required that both engineering as well as biological factors be considered, however the team is already developing assays using this new platform. A new microchip based Simple Method of Amplifying RNA Targets (SMART) assay developed to detect influenza from patient samples is already showing high agreement with Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), which is considered the “gold standard” for influenza diagnosis. The team’s next challenge is developing assays using this technique to detect wild type and drug-resistant HIV in areas with limited resources such as Kenya and South Africa.

Source: http://www.aip.org

Renewable energy for desalination: An interview with HE Dr Abdulrahman Al-Ibrahim

Water 2.0 open_img

This feature news is part of Singapore International Water Week’s (SIWW) series of one-on-one interviews with global water industry leaders, Conversations with Water Leaders. In this edition, HE Dr Abdulrahman M Al-Ibrahim, Governor of Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC), Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, shares with OOSKAnews correspondent, Renee Martin-Nagle, his thoughts on renewable energy for desalination and the provision of water for all.

HE Dr Abdulrahman M Al-Ibrahim elaborates on how he combined desalination with renewable energy, SWCC’s strive towards operational excellence, environmental responsibility and more.

To start, would you mind speaking about the focus that is being placed by Saudi Arabia on solar energy for desalination?

Certainly. Recently the SWCC board of directors adopted a series of strategic goals, one of which is operational excellence. Part of that operational excellence is to enrich our portfolio of energies, including renewable energies like solar, photovoltaic, thermal, wind, geothermal, and other renewable energies. In the recent past we initiated construction of the first solar desalination plant in Al-Khafji that will produce 30,000 cubic meters per day of desalinated water and is operated by photovoltaic cells with an RO [reverse osmosis] desalination system. The King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) was the leader of this program, and we partnered with KACST to build, manage and maintain the plant throughout its life. We are investigating a more rigorous program to produce around 300,000 cubic metres per day with renewable energies. So, to summarize, renewable energy is not a luxury for us.  It is part of our strategy, and it is a means to enrich our portfolio of energy so that we will have the right mix for our operation.

SA Desal Plant

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has the most installed capacity for desalination in the world and currently it is planning to export its technical know-how regionally and internationally. Image: Power Insider Asia

My understanding is that the energy output of solar may not be adequate for some of the older desal technologies such as multi-stage flash.  Is that why you are using it for reverse osmosis?

I’m sure if we want to couple renewable energy with desalination, we will have to look at different technologies and pick the ones that are the best match, which could be Multi-Effect Distillation (MED), RO hybrid or Tri-hybrid. To start with, we selected RO for the Al-Khafji plant because as a rule of thumb, RO requires the least energy, but on the west coast we are investigating other technologies, such as Tri-hybrid. It’s partially an MED as well as an RO plant with Nano-Filtration (NF) and other means. We are devoting R&D to finding the right technologies to adapt to the renewable energies available locally.

All the projects I am currently overseeing are my favorite, but I’ll tell you about my dream. My dream is to have a highly reliable and very efficient desalination plant that becomes a model not just for our kingdom, Saudi Arabia, but a model worldwide.

Saudi Arabia has the most installed capacity for desalination in the world.  As you do research and gather technologies, does the Kingdom intend to become an exporter of technology as well as an importer?

Yes, we do. For the past 30 or 40 years, the ultimate goal of SWCC was to produce desalinated water to meet the needs of the Kingdom. Now we want to go beyond that goal and export know-how regionally as well as internationally. Our roadmap is to be able to develop know-how, intellectual property, prototypes and patents locally. In the past three or four years, we have come to own some patents, and we want to double that number in the next couple of years.

Would you give me an example of the latest technologies that you are exploring?

Sure. SWCC, together with the Water Re-use Promotion Center of Japan and Sasakura Company, conducted a joint research study to develop a fully integrated NF/SWRO/MED tri-hybrid system. This desalination system enabled us to reduce significantly the water production cost per unit, which we see as a break-through. Subsequently, a number of patents have been registered in Saudi Arabia, Japan and China.

How did you personally get involved in desalination?

I’m a graduate of the mechanical engineering program in Jeddah, in the area of thermal science, and at that time, we were required to study two courses in desalination and do two internships in industrial facilities. My second internship was in a small Multi-Stage Flash (MSF) plant in Jeddah, and, after doing a research project, it became my dream to combine desal with renewable energy. Luckily, in around 1986, I also worked with a very small solar desalination plant in Yanbu that used a technology called thermal freezing, where you freeze the seawater using an absorption system to reach almost zero degrees and then recover fresh water from the system. I went on to get a Master’s degree and a PhD in thermal engineering and renewable energies, and moved my expertise to energy efficiency. After 20 or 30 years, combining desal and renewable energy is becoming a reality instead of a pilot.

What changes have you seen in the past 20-25 years since you first got involved with desal? 

Almost two months ago we launched a new plant in Jeddah called Jeddah RO-3 that operates on reverse osmosis. This plant was built on a site where a thermal plant was in operation since the late 70s and produced 40,000 cubic metres. We demolished the old plant and built a new one on the same footprint that now produces 240,000 cubic metres. So in a 25- or 30-year span we were able to increase production by six times over.

The second thing is our local expertise here in Saudi Arabia. In the past, we had to hire multiple international companies to be able to operate our plants and produce the water. In those days, you would seldom find a Saudi person operating or maintaining the plant.  Now, Saudi locals perform 91 per cent of all our operations as engineers, technicians and managers who understand the technologies and who are able to diagnose and fix problems. We admire and respect all international expertise and we utilize it to the best that we can. At the same time, we feel that we are ready now to stretch our arms to regional and international markets and spread our expertise in terms of technologies, IP and manufacturing facilities. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has invested in desal, and we hope that it will add value to our GDP.

What will be the criteria for choosing desal technologies in the future?

Two factors will be the criteria for selecting technology — energy consumption and reliability. Membrane technology will be able to attain energy efficiency very well. However, we need to be able to assist it with more devices to make it more reliable. If the price of energy is important in your area, then you need to give it more weight. If reliability is more of an issue, then you give it more weight.

As much as we care about producing water, we also care about the environment, for multiple reasons. The primary factor is that we live in and share the same area, so we need to protect the environment next to us.  Secondly, our intake is affected by its surrounding area, and therefore we should not spoil the water next to the plant itself.

What is the problem with membrane reliability?

Membrane technology is very sensitive to the quality of water it receives. For example, if there is red tide, or an algae bloom, or any other material in the seawater, such as a high Silt Density Index (SDI), you would need to shut down the plant to preserve your membrane, or augment your plant with pre-treatment facilities to clean the water before you introduce it to the membrane. On the other hand, although thermal is very expensive and utilizes maybe two or three times as much energy as membrane technology, it may tolerate any water. Also, to be able to build membrane technology, you need to have a pilot plant for a year or two at the same location and study the water carefully to select the most appropriate pre-treatment process.

SWCC uses seawater for its operations.  What you do with the brine that is left over?

As much as we care about producing water, we also care about the environment, for multiple reasons. The primary factor is that we live in and share the same area, so we need to protect the environment next to us.  Secondly, our intake is affected by its surrounding area, and therefore we should not spoil the water next to the plant itself. We perform multiple procedures so as not to intervene with the eco-system next to the plant. We do this at SWCC and in any saline water industrial facility. For example, one standard procedure is to withdraw up to ten times the amount of water that you intend to desalinate, and discharge the extra with the brine to reduce the effect of high temperature or high salinity. We also measure the temperature of the intake and the discharged brine to make sure we protect the ecosystem next to the plant.

The newly commissioned plant in Jeddah – the Jeddah RO-3 – was built with multiple advanced measures to protect the environment –not only water intake and the brine but also energy efficiency within the building. We reduced the energy consumption through the cooling grade and the lighting system, and we are applying to multiple professional organizations to receive certificates of energy efficiency in the new building as well as in the plant.

There is a desalination plant that is constructed on a floating platform in Yanbu.  Would you describe it?

It’s one of the unique features that we have in Saudi Arabia. We have two barges, each one able to produce 25,000 cubic metres per day, that move on the west coast from Yanbu to Shuaibah to Shuqaiq or anywhere else to augment the production of a desal plant. So we move the barge from one location to the other according to the needs that may occur. The barges are stand-alone, with their own power supplied by liquid fuel.

I always hesitate to ask a parent which of his children is the favorite, but would you tell me if there are any projects that are your favorite?

All the projects I am currently overseeing are my favorite, but I’ll tell you about my dream. My dream is to have a highly reliable and very efficient desalination plant that becomes a model not just for our kingdom, Saudi Arabia, but a model worldwide. I want it to become a benchmark.

What final message would you like to leave with our readers?

The people of Saudi Arabia and the employees of the Saline Water Conversion Corporation are eager to produce water to serve the needs of anyone who lives on the planet earth. And we’re extremely happy to share our technologies and information with anyone who shares the same interest values. We believe, as the people of Saudi Arabia, that water is a commodity that should be made available to anyone who lives on the planet, regardless of his faith, regardless of his type, whether he’s human or animal or anyone else. The commercial aspect is an instrument to enable us to provide water that is necessary for life on earth. I totally believe that water is a value-related issue. It’s not a luxury item that needs to be looked at from a commercial business point of view. It’s something that has to be made available for everyone, so that anyone who lives on earth will have adequate quantity and quality of water.

Lab-On-Chip Diagnostics Company Lands $2.1M Angel Financing

Reposted from “Science & Enterprise”: Alan Kotok


Printing Graphene ChipsChipCare Corp., a spin-off company from University of Toronto in Canada developing hand-held diagnostics devices to replace fixed expensive lab equipment, secured $2.05 million in early stage angel financing. The deal combines investments from university, private-sector, and Canadian government sources, according to an announcement by Grand Challenges Canada, a government-financed organization supporting medical innovations in Canada and the third world.

Prototype cell analyzer

Prototype cell analyzer (ChipCare Corp.)

The company’s first product is a hand-held blood testing device built with microfluidics or lab-on-a-chip technology. The device, resembling a supermarket bar code scanner, needs only a tiny blood sample, but can test the sample for HIV in a few minutes. Most HIV tests today require analysis by a flow cytometer, an expensive electronic lab device that performs a variety of medical diagnostics.

Research for the cell analyzer, as the device is called by ChipCare, was conducted in the University of Toronto engineering lab of Stewart Aitchison that investigates optical signal processing for applications in biomedical and physical sciences. Among the lab’s specialties is integrated biosensors for lab-on-chip applications.

The cell analyzer is the work of James Dou, a graduate student in Aitchison’s lab, and the co-founder of ChipCare with Lu Chen, a postdoctoral researcher in the lab. Dou envisioned the cell analyzer in his master’s thesis at University of Toronto and since 2006 has been leading the project to commercialize the technology.

Dou received a Heffernan Fellowship from the university to commercialize the research and was awarded with Aitchison one of the university’s 2012 inventors of the year for their work with the device. He serves as ChipCare’s chief technologist, while Chen is the company’s product development director.

Grand Challenges Canada is leading the financial round, with contributions from Maple Leaf Angels, MaRS Innovation, and University of Toronto. Maple Leaf Angels is a group of high net worth private individuals who invest in seed and early stage technology companies. MaRS Innovation is a consortium of 15 Canadian universities, teaching hospitals, and research institutes that collaborate on commercializing research findings. Specific contributions from these sources were not disclosed.

The proceeds of the round are expected to support the next three years of the device’s development including refinement of its functionality, a more robust prototype, and a reduction in its cost as it moves closer to commercial scale. While the device is first expected to analyze blood samples for HIV, ChipCare plans to expand its diagnostic functions to cover other diseases, such as tuberculosis and malaria.

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