KAUST: No Water, Mechanical, Automated, Dusting Device (NOMADD) for Solar Panels


KAUST Solar ic8dbMM9X_FMPublished on Jun 23, 2014

How do you remove the “dust” from hundreds of acres of Solar Panels? (Video)

 

The No Water, Mechanical, Automated, Dusting Device for photovoltaic installations (NOMADD) effectively removes dust without requiring any water or labor. This environmentally friendly technology enables more widespread use of solar photovoltaics in arid regions and helps to conserve the Earth’s water resources and harness the full potential of solar energy.

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This technology is part of KAUST’s technology commercialization program that seeks to stimulate development and commercial use of KAUST-developed technologies. For more information, contact us at IP@kaust.edu.sa.

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Sprinkling Spin Physics onto a Superconductor


JQI sprinkled_spins2JQI (Joint Quantum Institute)Fellow Jay Sau, in collaboration with physicists from Harvard and Yale, has been studying the effects of embedding magnetic spins onto the surface of a superconductor. They recently report in paper that was chosen as an “Editor’s Suggestion” in Physical Review Letters, that the spins can interact differently than previously thought. This hybrid platform could be useful for quantum simulations of complex spin systems, having the special feature that the interactions may be controllable, something quite unusual for most condensed matter systems.

The textbook quantum system known as a spin can be realized in different physical platforms. Due to advances in fabrication and imaging, magnetic impurities embedded onto a substrate have emerged as an exciting prospect for studying spin physics. Quantum ‘spin’ is related to a particle’s intrinsic angular momentum. What’s neat is that while the concept is fairly abstract, numerous effects in nature, such as magnetism, map onto mathematical spin models.

JQI sprinkled_spins2

A single spin is useful, but most practical applications and studies of complex phenomena require controlling many interacting spins. By themselves, spins will interact with each other, with the interaction strength vanishing as spins are separated. In experiments, physicists will often use techniques, such as lasers and/or magnetic fields, to control and modify the interplay between spins. While possible in atomic systems, controlling interactions between quantum spins has not been straightforward or even possible in most solid state systems.

In principle, the best way to enhance communication between spins in materials is to use the moving electrons as intermediaries. Mobile electrons are easy to come by in conductors, but from a quantum physics perspective, these materials are dirty and noisy. Here, electrons flow around, scattering from the countless numbers of vibrating atoms, creating disruptions and masking quantum effects. One way physicists get around this obstacle is to place the spins on a superconducting substrate, which happens to be a quiet, pristine quantum environment.

Why are superconductors are a clean quantum host for spins? To answer this, consider the band structure of this system.

Band structure describes the behavior of electrons in solids. Inside isolated atoms, electrons possess only certain discrete energies separated by forbidden regions. In a solid, atoms are arranged in a repeating pattern, called a lattice. Due to the atoms’ close proximity, their accompanying electrons are effectively shared. The equivalent energy level diagram for the collective arrangement of atoms in a solid consists not of discrete levels, but of bunches or bands of levels representing nearly a continuum of energy values. In a solid, electrons normally occupy the lowest lying energy levels. In conducting solids the next higher energy level (above the highest filled level) is close enough in energy that transitions are allowed, facilitating flow of electrons in the form of a current.

Where do superconductors, in which electrical current flows freely without dissipation, fit into this energy level scheme? This effect is not the result of perfectly closing a gap–in fact the emergence of zero resistivity is a phase transition. As some materials are cooled the electrons can begin to interact, even over large distances, through vibrations in the crystal called phonons. This is called “Cooper pairing.” The pairs, though relatively weak, require some amount of energy to break, which translates into a gap in the band structure forming between the lowest energy superconducting state and the higher energy, non-superconducting states. In some sense, the superconducting state is a quantum environment that is isolated from the noise of the normal conducting state.

In this research, physicists consider what happens to the spin-spin interactions when the spins are embedded onto a superconductor. Generally, when the spins are separated by an amount greater than what’s called the coherence length, they are known to weakly interact antiferromagnetically (spin orientation alternating). It turns out that when the spins are closer together, their interactions are more complex than previously thought, and have the potential to be tunable. The research team corrects existing textbook theory that says that the spin-spin interactions oscillate between ferromagnetic (all spins having the same orientation) and antiferromagnetic. This type of interaction (called RKKY) is valid for regular conductors, but is not when the substrate is a superconductor.

What’s happening here is that, similar to semiconductors, the magnetic spin impurities are affecting the band structure. The spins induce what are called Shiba states, which are allowed electron energy levels in the superconducting gap. This means that there is a way for superconducting electron pairs to break-up and occupy higher, non-superconducting energy states. For this work, the key point is that when two closely-spaced spins are anti-aligned then their electron Shiba states mix together to strengthen their effective antiferromagnetic spin interaction. An exciting feature of this result is that the amount of mixing, and thus effective interaction strength, can be tuned by shifting around the relative energy of Shiba states within the gapped region. The team finds that when Shiba states are in the middle of the superconducting gap, the antiferromagnetic interaction between spins dominates.

Author and theorist Jay Sau explains the promise of this platform, “What this spin-superconductor system provides is the ability connect many quantum systems together with a definitive interaction. Here you can potentially put lots of impurity atoms in a small region of superconductor and they will all interact antiferromagnetically. This is the ideal situation for forming exotic spin states.”

Arrays of spins with controllable interactions are hard to come by in the laboratory and, when combined with the ability to image single spin impurities via scanning tunneling microscopy (STM), this hybrid platform may open new possibilities for studying complex interacting quantum phenomena.

From Sau’s perspective, “We are at the stage where our understanding of quantum many-body things is so bad that we don’t necessarily even want to target simulating a specific material. If we just start to get more examples of complicated quantum systems that we understand, then we have already made progress.”

– See more at: http://jqi.umd.edu/news/sprinkling-spin-physics-onto-superconductor#sthash.6SNA4foX.dpuf

How Nanotechnology Is Gaining Momentum In Manufacturing


Great Things from Small Things .. Nanotechnology Innovation

3D Printing dots-2“According to an article in ASME.org, nanotechnology “will leave virtually no aspect of life untouched and is expected to be in widespread use by 2020.” In addition, a policy paper by the NationalAcademy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS) describes nanotechnology as modern history’s “sixth revolutionary technology,” following the industrial revolution in the mid-1700s, nuclear energy revolution in the 1940s, green revolution in the 1960s, information technology revolution in the 1980s, and biotechnology revolution in the 1990s.”

Genesis Nanotechnology –  “Nanotechnology will change the way we innovate … everything. It will touch almost every aspect in our everyday lives from Nano-Medicine and Consumer Electronics to Energy Solutions and Advanced Fabrics.” http://www.genesisnanotech.com – “Great Things from Small Things”

 

*** This article (From Forbes) originally appeared on PTC Product Lifecycle Stories

nanotechHow Nanotechnology Is Gaining Momentum In Manufacturing

It is hard to imagine the size of a nanometer. At one-billionth of a meter…

View original post 520 more words

Scientists uncover navigation system used by cancer, nerve cells


Great Things from Small Things .. Nanotechnology Innovation

Cancer Nerve System jhfkfffDuke University researchers have found a “roving detection system” on the surface of cells that may point to new ways of treating diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

The cells, which were studied in nematode worms, are able to break through normal tissue boundaries and burrow into other tissues and organs—a crucial step in many normal developmental processes, ranging from embryonic development and wound-healing to the formation of new blood vessels.

But sometimes the process goes awry. Such is the case with metastatic cancer, in which cancer cells spread unchecked from where they originated and form tumors in other parts of the body.

“Cell invasion is one of the most clinically relevant yet least understood aspects of cancer progression,” said David Sherwood, an associate professor of biology at Duke.

 

Cancer Nerve System jhfkfff

Sherwood is leading a team that is investigating the molecular mechanisms that control cell invasion

View original post 492 more words

New $AUD30 M Research Facility at RMIT University in Melbourne


A new $AUD30 million research facility at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, will drive cutting-edge advances in micro- and nano-technologies.

RMIT University’s $AUD30 million MicroNano Research Facility.

The MicroNano Research Facility (MNRF) will bring to Australia the world’s first rapid 3D nanoscale printer and will support projects that span across the traditional disciplines of physics, chemistry, engineering, biology and medicine.

The City campus facility will be launched by Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Margaret Gardner AO, on Wednesday, 27 August.

Professor Gardner said the opening of the state-of-the-art laboratories and clean rooms was the start of an exciting new chapter in cross-disciplinary nano research.

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“At the heart of the MicroNano Research Facility’s mission is bringing together disparate disciplines to enable internationally-leading research activity,” she said.

“RMIT has long been a pioneer in this field, opening Australia’s first academic clean rooms at the Microelectronics and Materials Technology Centre in 1983.

“Over three decades later, this investment in the world-class MNRF will enable RMIT’s leading researchers to continue to break new ground and transform the future.”

Among the equipment available to researchers in the 1200 square metre facility will be the world’s first rapid 3D nanoscale printer, capable of producing thousands of structures – each a fraction of the width of a human hair – in seconds.

Designed by architects SKM Jacobs, the MNRF also offers researchers access to more than 50 cutting-edge tools, including focused ion beam lithography with helium, neon, and gallium ion beams to enable imaging and machining objects to 0.5 nm resolution – about 5 to 10 atoms.

Director of the MNRF, Professor James Friend, said 10 research teams would work at the new facility on a broad range of projects, including:

  • building miniaturised motors – or microactuators – to retrieve blood clots from deep within the brain, enabling minimally invasive neurological intervention in people affected by strokes or aneurysms;
  • improving drug delivery via the lungs through new techniques that can atomise large biomolecules – including drugs, DNA, antibodies and even cells – into tiny droplets to avoid the damage of conventional nebulisation;
  • developing innovative energy harvesting techniques that change the way batteries are recharged, using novel materials that can draw on the energy generated simply by people walking around; and,
  • inventing ways to use water to remove toxins from fabric dyes, with new nanotechnologies that can facilitate the breaking down of those dyes with nanostructured catalysts.

“This facility is all about ensuring researchers have the freedom to imagine and safely realise the impossible at tiny scales and beyond,” Professor Friend said.

“Having access to purpose-designed laboratories and leading-edge equipment opens tremendous opportunities for RMIT and for those we collaborate with, enabling us to advance the development of truly smart technology solutions to some of our most complex problems.”

Laboratories in the MNRF will include:

  • Gas sensors laboratory
  • Metrology laboratory
  • Novel Fabrication laboratory
  • PC2 mammalian cell laboratory
  • Photolithography laboratory
  • Physical vapour deposition laboratory
  • Polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) and nanoparticle laboratory
  • Wet etch laboratory
  • Support laboratory

The MNRF will be a key enabler of RMIT’s flagship Health Innovations Research Institute and Platform Technologies Research Institute.

A unique teaching facility will also be affiliated with the MNRF.

The Micro Nano Teaching Facility (MNTF) is the first of its kind in Australia, enabling undergraduate and postgraduate engineering student trainees to study clean room operations and micro-fabrication

How Nanotechnology Is Gaining Momentum In Manufacturing


3D Printing dots-2“According to an article in ASME.org, nanotechnology “will leave virtually no aspect of life untouched and is expected to be in widespread use by 2020.” In addition, a policy paper by the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS) describes nanotechnology as modern history’s “sixth revolutionary technology,” following the industrial revolution in the mid-1700s, nuclear energy revolution in the 1940s, green revolution in the 1960s, information technology revolution in the 1980s, and biotechnology revolution in the 1990s.”

Genesis Nanotechnology –  “Nanotechnology will change the way we innovate … everything. It will touch almost every aspect in our everyday lives from Nano-Medicine and Consumer Electronics to Energy Solutions and Advanced Fabrics.” http://www.genesisnanotech.com – “Great Things from Small Things”

 

*** This article (From Forbes) originally appeared on PTC Product Lifecycle Stories

nanotechHow Nanotechnology Is Gaining Momentum In Manufacturing

It is hard to imagine the size of a nanometer. At one-billionth of a meter, a nanometer has been compared to 1/80,000th the diameter of a human hair, a million times smaller than the length of an ant, or the amount a man’s beard grows in the time it takes him to lift a razor to his face.saltwater

Yet, nanotechnology—the ability to control matter at the Nano-scale (approximately 1 to 100 nanometers)—is having a huge impact on science, engineering, and technology because matter behaves differently at that size.

The impact of nanotechnology on society has been compared to the invention of electricity or plastic—it is transformative to nearly everything we use today. Uses of nanotechnology range from applications for stronger golf clubs and stain-resistant pants to future visions of transforming manufacturing and treating cancer.

What’s so special about nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology and nanoscience involve the ability to see and to control individual atoms and molecules. At nanoscale, matter has unique physical, chemical, and biological properties that enable new applications. Some nanostructured materials are stronger or have different magnetic properties; some are better at conducting heat or electricity, or may become more chemically reactive, reflect light better, or change color as their size or structure is altered.

According to an article in ASME.org, nanotechnology “will leave virtually no aspect of life untouched and is expected to be in widespread use by 2020.” In addition, a policy paper by the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS) describes nanotechnology as modern history’s “sixth revolutionary technology,” following the industrial revolution in the mid-1700s, nuclear energy revolution in the 1940s, green revolution in the 1960s, information technology revolution in the 1980s, and biotechnology revolution in the 1990s.

NY Invests 628x471

NISKAYUNA, N.Y. (AP) — New York state is teaming with General Electric Co. and other companies on a $500 million initiative to spur high-tech manufacturing of miniature electronics, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt announced Tuesday.

The U.S. federal government is backing nanotech, and the 2015 Federal Budget provides more than $1.5 billion for the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), a continued investment which supports the President’s technology innovation strategy.

Preparing for opportunity

Engineers with expertise in nanotechnology are becoming increasingly valuable, and universities are starting to offer programs focused on nanotech for engineering students.

U of Toronto Lab on a Chip 2014-07-21-dropbot-techBoston University, Rice University, Florida Polytechnic University, and Villanova are just some of the schools that have programs focused on nanotech, which promises to be a growing field. A listing of Nanotechnology Degree Programs shows the various bachelors, masters, and doctorate programs available in countries around the world which will prepare engineers for future jobs in nanotechnology.  According to the National Nanotechnology Initiative, more than 150,000 people in the U.S. held jobs in nanotechnology in 2008, and by 2015 that number is expected to grow to 800,000.

As nanotechnology gains momentum and starts to touch many facets of our lives, countries around the globe are investing in this technology which has relatively low barriers to entry. Steep Growth graph 011514The promise of nanotechnology is being realized by the many companies who want to be gain a share of the market for nanotech-based products, which Global Industry Analysts estimates will be $3.3 trillion by 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

Scientists uncover navigation system used by cancer, nerve cells


Cancer Nerve System jhfkfffDuke University researchers have found a “roving detection system” on the surface of cells that may point to new ways of treating diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

The , which were studied in nematode worms, are able to break through normal tissue boundaries and burrow into other tissues and organs—a crucial step in many normal developmental processes, ranging from embryonic development and wound-healing to the formation of new blood vessels.

But sometimes the process goes awry. Such is the case with metastatic cancer, in which cancer cells spread unchecked from where they originated and form tumors in other parts of the body.

“Cell invasion is one of the most clinically relevant yet least understood aspects of cancer progression,” said David Sherwood, an associate professor of biology at Duke.

 

Cancer Nerve System jhfkfff

Sherwood is leading a team that is investigating the molecular mechanisms that control in both normal development and cancer, using a one-millimeter worm known as C. elegans.

At one point in C. elegans development, a specialized cell called the anchor cell breaches the dense, sheet-like membrane that separate the worm’s uterus from its vulva, opening up the worm’s reproductive tract.

Anchor cells can’t see, so they need some kind of signal to tell them where to break through. In a 2009 study, Sherwood and colleagues discovered that an extracellular cue called netrin orients the anchor cell so that it invades in the right direction.

In a new study appearing Aug. 25 in the Journal of Cell Biology, the team shows how receptors on the invasive cells essentially rove around the cell membrane “hunting” for the missing netrin signal that will guide the cell to the correct location.

The researchers used a video camera attached to a powerful microscope to take time-lapse movies of the slow movement of the C. elegans anchor cell during its invasion.

Their time-lapse analyses reveal that when netrin production is blocked, netrin receptors on the surface of the anchor cell periodically cluster, disperse and reassemble in a different region of the cell membrane. The receptors cluster alongside patches of actin filaments—thin flexible fibers that help cells change shape and form invasive protrusions –- that pop up in ea

“It’s kind of like a missile detection system,” Sherwood said.

Rather than the whole cell having to move around, its receptors move around on the outside of the cell until they get a signal. Once the receptors locate the netrin signal, they stabilize in the region of the that is closest to the source of the signal.

The findings redefine decades-old ideas about how the cell’s navigation system works. “Cells don’t just passively respond to the netrin signal—they’re actively searching for it,” Sherwood said.

Given that netrin has been found to promote cell invasion in some of the most lethal cancers, the findings could lead to new treatment strategies. Disrupting the cell’s netrin detection system, for example, could prevent from finding their way to the bloodstream or the lymphatic system and stop them from metastasizing, or becoming invasive and spreading throughout the body.

“One of the things we’re gearing up to do next are drug screens with our collaborators to see if we can block this detection system during invasion,” Sherwood said.

Scientists have also known for years that netrin plays a key role in wiring the brain and nervous system by guiding developing nerve cells as they grow and form connections.

This means the results could also point to new ways of treating neurological disorders like Parkinson’s and ALS and recovering from spinal cord injuries.

Tinkering with the cell’s netrin detection machinery, for example, may make it possible to encourage damaged cells in the central nervous system—which normally have limited ability to regenerate—to regrow.

Explore further: Scientists unravel mystery of brain cell growth

 

 

 

Catalytic Gold Nanoclusters Promise Rich Chemical Yields


Gold Nano Cluster Wu-Overbury-Figure-Au25_hrOld thinking was that gold, while good for jewelry, was not of much use for chemists because it is relatively nonreactive. That changed a decade ago when scientists hit a rich vein of discoveries revealing that this noble metal, when structured into nanometer-sized particles, can speed up chemical reactions important in mitigating environmental pollutants and producing hard-to-make specialty chemicals.

Catalytic gold nanoparticles have since spurred hundreds of scientific journal articles. With the world catalyst market poised to hit $19.5 billion by 2016, gold nanoparticles may find commercial as well as intellectual importance, as they could ultimately lead to novel catalysts for energy, pharmacology and diverse consumer products.

 

The reaction mechanism of carbon monoxide oxidation is shown over intact and partially ligand-removed gold nanoclusters supported on cerium oxide rods. Image credit: Wu, Z.; Jiang, D.; Mann, A.; Mullins, D.; Qiao, Z.-A.; Allard, L.; Zeng, C.; Jin, R.; Overbury, S. Thiolate Ligands as a Double-Edged Sword for CO Oxidation on CeO2-Supported Au25(SCH2CH2Ph)18 Nanoclusters. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2014, 136(16), 6111.

But before gold nanoparticles can be useful to consumers, researchers have to make them both stable and active. Recently, scientists learned to make tiny, highly ordered clusters with very specific numbers of gold atoms that are stabilized by compounds called ligands. These stabilized gold clusters plus ligands may be thought of as large molecules. In collaboration with scientists from Carnegie Mellon University, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have found one new gold molecule, a catalyst containing exactly 25 gold atoms, that is powerful as well as sophisticated. It catalyzes the conversion of a variety of molecules, including the transformation of poisonous carbon monoxide into harmless carbon dioxide, a reaction that may find application in devices near gas flues or wood-burning stoves. Unfortunately, the ligands that create and stabilize the engineered clusters also block the very sites needed to catalyze the conversion of carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide.

“The ligands are double-edged swords,” said study leader Zili Wu of ORNL, whose investigation was conducted in ORNL’s catalysis group, which is led by Steve Overbury. “We’re interested in using gold clusters as catalysts or catalyst precursors. Ligands on the one hand stabilize the gold particle structure but on the other hand decrease their catalytic performance. Balancing those two factors is the key to creating a new catalytic system. One way is to utilize a metal oxide (here, cerium oxide) as an inorganic ligand to stabilize the gold clusters when the organic ligand has to be removed for catalysis.”

Many catalytic systems consist of metal particles with catalytic properties placed on a metal oxide support with catalytic properties of its own. The metal and metal oxide work together to create a new type of catalytic activity. “We’re trying to understand how that happens,” Wu said.

Their study, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, described how ligands enabled the gold nanocluster to dock on a cerium oxide support shaped like a rod. The catalysts produced were all identical. The researchers would like to engineer future oxide supports in the shapes of cubes or octahedra to find out how those nanostructures could alter the configuration of the gold and the reactivity of the final component system. Better understanding of stabilizing agents may aid design of novel catalysts for critical chemical reactions including oxidation, hydrogenation and coupling.

Carnegie Mellon Professor Rongchao Jin, his student Chenjie Zeng and ORNL postdoctoral fellows Amanda Mann and Zhen-An Qiao synthesized the gold clusters. Mann made the cerium oxide rods. Wu and Mann placed the gold clusters on the supports and performed chemical reaction studies. David Mullins of ORNL performed measurements of extended X-ray absorption fine structure to learn how sizes of clusters change with temperature. ORNL’s Larry Allard verified the nature of the structures with aberration-corrected microscopy, and De-en Jiang, formerly of ORNL but now at the University of California–Riverside, used the Oak Ridge Institutional Cluster to computationally explore structures of ligand-bound gold clusters.

Activating gold

“These ligands affect the reactivity—they essentially poison the gold surface—so the gold really has to be activated,” Overbury, the study’s senior author, explained. “We put the gold onto a support, and it’s got these ligands protecting it. We have to remove those ligands, so we basically heat this [gold nanocluster] up or treat it in some gas to elevated temperatures.”

When the gold clusters are heated, the ligands start to come off and gold’s catalytic activity increases. The optimal temperature for producing gold nanocluster catalysts for carbon monoxide oxidation is 498 Kelvin (225 degrees Celsius or 437 degrees Fahrenheit), Wu said. If heating increases further, catalytic activity decreases because the gold particles become fluid and aggregate on the support.

Next the scientists are interested in varying the gold-cluster size and stabilizing the new clusters to make novel uniform catalysts. “We want to understand how other kinds of reactions can be catalyzed by these. So far we’ve only looked at carbon monoxide oxidation, which is kind of a test reaction,” Overbury said. “Our primary interest is using the gold-nanocluster complex as a toolbox for learning about how other complex reactions occur.”

Added Overbury, “We’re only just starting to mine all the catalytic possibilities for gold.”

DOE’s Office of Science sponsored the research described in the Journal of the American Chemical Society paper. Raman and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopies and catalytic measurements were conducted at the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, a DOE Office of Science User Facility at ORNL. Extended X-ray absorption fine structure work was performed at the National Synchrotron Light Source, which is also a DOE Office of Science User Facility, at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for DOE’s Office of Science. The single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, the Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.


Reference: Wu, Z.; Jiang, D.; Mann, A.; Mullins, D.; Qiao, Z.-A.; Allard, L.; Zeng, C.; Jin, R.; Overbury, S. Thiolate Ligands as a Double-Edged Sword for CO Oxidation on CeO2-Supported Au25(SCH2CH2Ph)18 Nanoclusters. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2014, 136(16), 6111.


Source: By Dawn Levy, Oakridge National Laboratory

Nanotechnology In Agriculture


Great Things from Small Things .. Nanotechnology Innovation

Agri Nano id1360Nanotechnology applications are currently being researched, tested and in some cases already applied across the entire spectrum of food technology, from agriculture to food processing, packaging and food supplements. In our special Food Nanotechnology section we have prepared an overview of this area.

Specifically in agriculture, technical innovation is of importance with regard to addressing global challenges such as population growth, climate change and the limited availability of important plant nutrients such as phosphorus and potassium.

Agri Nano id1360

Nanotechnology applied to agricultural production could play a fundamental role for this purpose and research on agricultural applications is ongoing for largely a decade by now.

A recent “Workshop on Nanotechnology for the agricultural sector: from research to the field”, held on November 21-22 2013, reviewed the state-of-the-art of R&D of nanotechnology for the agricultural sector and analyzed possible markets and commercial pipeline of products. The proceedings from this workshop are now available for…

View original post 1,191 more words

Nanotechnology In Agriculture


 

Agri Nano id1360Nanotechnology applications are currently being researched, tested and in some cases already applied across the entire spectrum of food technology, from agriculture to food processing, packaging and food supplements. In our special Food Nanotechnology section we have prepared an overview of this area.

 

Specifically in agriculture, technical innovation is of importance with regard to addressing global challenges such as population growth, climate change and the limited availability of important plant nutrients such as phosphorus and potassium.

Agri Nano id1360

Nanotechnology applied to agricultural production could play a fundamental role for this purpose and research on agricultural applications is ongoing for largely a decade by now.

A recent “Workshop on Nanotechnology for the agricultural sector: from research to the field”, held on November 21-22 2013, reviewed the state-of-the-art of R&D of nanotechnology for the agricultural sector and analyzed possible markets and commercial pipeline of products. The proceedings from this workshop are now available for download (pdf).

Agri Nano 2 id37064

Here is a summary of the five major sections of this workshop:

Overview of nanotechnology research activities in the agricultural sector

The application of nanomaterials in agriculture aims in particular to reduce applications of plant protection products, minimize nutrient losses in fertilization, and increase yields through optimized nutrient management.
Despite these potential advantages, the agricultural sector is still comparably marginal and has not yet made it to the market to any larger extent in comparison with other sectors of nanotechnology application.
Nanotechnology devices and tools, like nanocapsules, nanoparticles and even viral capsids, are examples of uses for the detection and treatment of diseases, the enhancement of nutrients absorption by plants, the delivery of active ingredients to specific sites and water treatment processes.

The use of target-specific nanoparticles can reduce the damage to non-target plant tissues and the amount of chemicals released into the environment. Nanotechnology derived devices are also explored in the field of plant breeding and genetic transformation.

The potential of nanotechnology in agriculture is large, but a few issues are still to be addressed, such as increasing the scale of production processes and lowering costs, as well as risk assessment issues. In this respect, particularly attractive are nanoparticles derived from biopolymers such as proteins and carbohydrates with low impact on human health and the environment.

For instance, the potential of starch-based nanoparticles as nontoxic and sustainable delivery systems for agrochemicals and biostimulants is being extensively investigated.
Nanomaterials and nanostructures with unique chemical, physical, and mechanical properties – e.g. electrochemically active carbon nanotubes, nanofibers and fullerenes – have been recently developed and applied for highly sensitive bio-chemical sensors.

These nanosensors have also relevant implications for application in agriculture, in particular for soil analysis, easy bio-chemical sensing and control, water management and delivery, pesticide and nutrient delivery.
In recent years, agricultural waste products have attracted attention as source of renewable raw materials to be processed in substitution of fossil resources for several different applications as well as a raw material for nanomaterial production (see for instance: “New synthesis method for graphene using agricultural waste”).

Nanocomposites based on biomaterials have beneficial properties compared to traditional micro and macro composite materials and, additionally, their production is more sustainable. Many production processes are being developed nowadays to obtain useful nanocomposites from traditionally harvested materials.

Commercial applications of nanotechnology in the agricultural sector.

From a commercial perspective, existing agro-chemical companies are investigating the potential of nanotechnologies and, in particular, whether intentionally manufactured nano-size active ingredients can give increased efficacy or greater penetration of useful components in plants.

However, the nano-size so far did not demonstrate to hold key improvements in products characteristics, especially considering the interest of large scale production and the costs involved in it.

Some specific nano-products for the agricultural sector have been put on the market by technology-oriented smaller companies, like soil-enhancer products that promote even water distribution, storage and consequently water saving.

However, the commercial market application of these products is so far only achieved at small scale, due to the high costs involved in their development. These costs are normally compensated by higher returns in the medical or pharmaceutical sectors, but so far there are no such returns in the agricultural sector. Research continues in the commercial agro-chemical sector to evaluate potential future advantages.

Companies are also facing challenges derived from the definition of nanomaterials that is adopted by the EU. One crucial point related to the EU definition is the possibility that non-active substances already used for many decades in commercial products formulations will fall within the scope of the nano definition, although not intentionally developed as nanoparticles or having specific nano-scale properties.

Nanoscale formulants (e.g. clay, silica, polymers, pigments, macromolecules) have been used for many decades and are also ubiquitous in many daily household products.

The concern is that the need for labelling of products that are already on the market since decades results in a scenario, in which the technology is stigmatized, preventing further and innovative applications of nanotechnology in agriculture.
Nanotechnology risk assessment and regulation in the EU and worldwide

Due to the variety of applications of nanotechnology, different pieces of legislation are concerned in the EU, including both horizontal legislation and product-specific legislation. The most comprehensive horizontal piece of legislation relevant to nanomaterials is the EU Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), which addresses chemical substances, in whatever size, shape or physical state.

Substances at the nanoscale are therefore covered by REACH and its provisions apply. Some researchers, however, argue that REACH needs to be revised in three major areas (read more: “Does the EU’s chemical regulation sufficiently address nanotechnology risks?”.

Among product-specific legislation, some already explicitly address nanomaterials (cosmetics, food additives, provision of food information to consumers, and biocides) while others do not (toys, electrical equipment and waste & environmental legislation).

At international level, there are several activities in place on risk analysis of nanomaterials in the food and agriculture sectors, in particular by the governments of Australia/New Zealand, Canada, China, the EU, Japan, Switzerland and the US.

Overall, definitions of nanomaterials developed in different countries result in different risk management measures. So far, apart from the EU, no country has set a regulatory framework for the mandatory labelling of nanomaterials in food and current regulations do not cover all areas (see for instance: “Gaps in U.S. nanotechnology regulatory oversight”).

Socio-economic issues of agricultural nanotechnology.

The emergence of nanotechnology applications in consumer products has also raised a number of ethical and societal concerns in some countries, starting from health and environmental safety, to consumer perception and intellectual property rights.

From different studies about consumer acceptance of nanotechnology products, it appears that the public opinion is generally not negative. The public seems to be unconcerned about many applications of nanotechnology with the exception of areas where societal concern already exists such as pesticides.

As for many emerging technologies, intellectual property in nanotechnology, and in particular freedom to operate, constitute relevant issues for the development of new products.

The number of patent applications in nanotechnology has increased more than tenfold during the last 20 years, demonstrating a great potential for commercial applications.

Patenting on nanotechnology in general presents some important concerns (read more: “Legal implications of the nanotechnology patent land rush”).

Nanotechnology is pervasive in different fields of applications and nano-based inventions could infringe existing granted patents in those fields. This risk of overlapping patents can also have consequences for the agri-food sector. Moreover, patent holders could lock-up huge areas of technology.

There are indeed already over 3,000 patents worldwide for potential agrochemical usage of nanotechnology but they are most likely patents with broad claims, filed with the scope of guarantee freedom to operate in the field in case of future commercial developments.

In developing countries nanotechnologies can have important applications in several agri-food areas, such as food security, input delivery, rice production systems, agri-biotechnology, healthcare of animals, precision farming, food industry and water use (read more: “Small is beautiful? Nanotechnology solutions for development problems”).

However, the main factors limiting the development of these applications are low investments in manpower training and in research infrastructure.

Michael Berger. Copyright ©