Researchers Create Unique Hybrid Nanomaterials to Transform Dirty Water into Drinkable Water

Graphene Hybrid Water072916 NewsImage_34896An artist’s rendering of nanoparticle biofoam developed by engineers at Washington University in St. Louis. The biofoam makes it possible to clean water quickly and efficiently using nanocellulose and graphene oxide. (Photo credit: Washington University in St. Louis)

Recently, a team of researchers from Washington University in St. Louis have discovered a method to use graphene oxide sheets to convert dirty water into drinking water. This could easily become a worldwide game-changer.

“We hope that for countries where there is ample sunlight, such as India, you’ll be able to take some dirty water, evaporate it using our material, and collect fresh water,” said Srikanth Singamaneni, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at the School of Engineering & Applied Science.

The new method integrates graphene oxide and bacteria-produced cellulose to create a bi-layered biofoam. A paper explaining the research can be found online in Advanced Materials.

The process is extremely simple. The beauty is that the nanoscale cellulose fiber network produced by bacteria has excellent ability move the water from the bulk to the evaporative surface while minimizing the heat coming down, and the entire thing is produced in one shot. The design of the material is novel here. You have a bi-layered structure with light-absorbing graphene oxide filled nanocellulose at the top and pristine nanocellulose at the bottom.

When you suspend this entire thing on water, the water is actually able to reach the top surface where evaporation happens. Light radiates on top of it, and it converts into heat because of the graphene oxide — but the heat dissipation to the bulk water underneath is minimized by the pristine nanocellulose layer. You don’t want to waste the heat; you want to confine the heat to the top layer where the evaporation is actually happening.

Srikanth Singamaneni, Associate Professor, Washington University

The bottom of the bi-layered biofoam has the cellulose, which acts as a sponge, sucking water up to the graphene oxide where fast evaporation occurs. The resulting fresh water found at the top of the sheet can be effortlessly collected.

The method used to form the bi-layered biofoam is also new.

The graphene oxide flakes are embedded into the layers of nanocellulose fibers, which are formed by the bacteria. Using the same method used by an oyster to make a pearl, the bacteria create these layers.

While we are culturing the bacteria for the cellulose, we added the graphene oxide flakes into the medium itself. The graphene oxide becomes embedded as the bacteria produce the cellulose. At a certain point along the process, we stop, remove the medium with the graphene oxide and reintroduce fresh medium. That produces the next layer of our foam. The interface is very strong; mechanically, it is quite robust.

Qisheng Jiang, Graduate Student, Washington University

The new biofoam is also very light and cost-efficient to make, thus making it a feasible tool for desalination and water purification.

“Cellulose can be produced on a massive scale,” Singamaneni said, “and graphene oxide is extremely cheap — people can produce tons, truly tons, of it. Both materials going into this are highly scalable. So one can imagine making huge sheets of the biofoam.”

“The properties of this foam material that we synthesized has characteristics that enhances solar energy harvesting. Thus, it is more effective in cleaning up water,” said Pratim Biswas, the Lucy and Stanley Lopata Professor and chair of the Department of Energy, Environmental and Chemical Engineering.

“The synthesis process also allows addition of other nanostructured materials to the foam that will increase the rate of destruction of the bacteria and other contaminants, and make it safe to drink. We will also explore other applications for these novel structures.”

Related Stories

University of Pennsylvania: In the Future Seeing Your Dentist May ‘Go Nano’ ~ Using nanoparticles to break up plaque and prevent cavities

Dental Nano 072616 woman-getting-work-done-on-teeth-by-dentistThe bacteria that live in dental plaque and contribute to tooth decay often resist traditional antimicrobial treatment, as they can “hide” within a sticky biofilm matrix, a glue-like polymer scaffold.

A new strategy conceived by University of Pennsylvania researchers took a more sophisticated approach. Instead of simply applying an antibiotic to the teeth, they took advantage of the pH-sensitive and enzyme-like properties of iron-containing to catalyze the activity of hydrogen peroxide, a commonly used natural antiseptic. The activated hydrogen peroxide produced that were able to simultaneously degrade the biofilm matrix and kill the within, significantly reducing plaque and preventing the tooth decay, or cavities, in an animal model.

“Even using a very low concentration of hydrogen peroxide, the process was incredibly effective at disrupting the biofilm,” said Hyun (Michel) Koo, a professor in the Penn School of Dental Medicine’s Department of Orthodontics and divisions of Pediatric Dentistry and Community Oral Health and the senior author of the study, which was published in the journal Biomaterials. “Adding nanoparticles increased the efficiency of bacterial killing more than 5,000-fold.” Dental nano II 072616 id39034

The paper’s lead author was Lizeng Gao, a postdoctoral researcher in Koo’s lab. Coauthors were Yuan Liu, Dongyeop Kim, Yong Li and Geelsu Hwang, all of Koo’s lab, as well as David Cormode, an assistant professor of radiology and bioengineering with appointments in Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine and School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Pratap C. Naha, a postdoctoral fellow in Cormode’s lab.

The work built off a seminal finding by Gao and colleagues, published in 2007 in Nature Nanotechnology, showing that nanoparticles, long believed to be biologically and chemically inert, could in fact possess enzyme-like properties. In that study, Gao showed that an iron oxide nanoparticle behaved similarly to a peroxidase, an enzyme found naturally that catalyzes oxidative reactions, often using hydrogen peroxide.

When Gao joined Koo’s lab in 2013, he proposed using these nanoparticles in an oral setting, as the oxidation of hydrogen peroxide produces free radicals that can kill bacteria.

“When he first presented it to me, I was very skeptical,” Koo said, “because these free radicals can also damage healthy tissue. But then he refuted that and told me this is different because the nanoparticles’ activity is dependent on pH.”

Gao had found that the nanoparticles had no catalytic activity at neutral or near-neutral pH of 6.5 or 7, physiological values typically found in blood or in a healthy mouth. But when pH was acidic, closer to 5, they become highly active and can rapidly produce free radicals.

The scenario was ideal for targeting plaque, which can produce an acidic microenvironment when exposed to sugars.

Gao and Koo reached out to Cormode, who had experience working with in a radiological imaging context, to help them synthesize, characterize and test the effectiveness of the nanoparticles, several forms of which are already FDA-approved for imaging in humans.

Beginning with in vitro studies, which involved growing a biofilm containing the cavity-causing bacteria Streptococcus mutans on a tooth-enamel-like surface and then exposing it to sugar, the researchers confirmed that the nanoparticles adhered to the biofilm, were retained even after treatment stopped and could effectively catalyze hydrogen peroxide in acidic conditions.

They also showed that the nanoparticles’ reaction with a 1 percent or less hydrogen peroxide solution was remarkably effective at killing bacteria, wiping out more than 99.9 percent of the S. mutans in the biofilm within five minutes, an efficacy more than 5,000 times greater than using hydrogen peroxide alone. Even more promising, they demonstrated that the treatment regimen, involving a 30-second topical treatment of the nanoparticles followed by a 30-second treatment with hydrogen peroxide, could break down the biofilm matrix components, essentially removing the protective sticky scaffold.

Moving to an animal model, they applied the nanoparticles and hydrogen peroxide topically to the teeth of rats, which can develop tooth decay when infected with S. mutans just as humans do. Twice-a-day, one-minute treatments for three weeks significantly reduced the onset and severity of carious lesions, the clinical term for , compared to the control or treatment with hydrogen peroxide alone. The researchers observed no adverse effects on the gum or oral soft tissues from the treatment.

“It’s very promising,” said Koo. “The efficacy and toxicity need to be validated in clinical studies, but I think the potential is there.”

Among the attractive features of the platform is the fact that the components are relatively inexpensive.

“If you look at the amount you would need for a dose, you’re looking at something like 5 milligrams,” Cormode said. “It’s a tiny amount of material, and the nanoparticles are fairly easily synthesize, so we’re talking about a cost of cents per dose.”

In addition, the platform uses a concentration of , 1 percent, which is lower than many currently available tooth-whitening systems that use 3 to 10 percent concentrations, minimizing the chance of negative side effects.

Looking ahead, Gao, Koo, Cormode and colleagues hope to continue refining and improving upon the effectiveness of the nanoparticle platform to fight biofilms.

“We’re studying the role of nanoparticle coatings, composition, size and so forth so we can engineer the particles for even better performance,” Cormode said.

Explore further: Nanoparticles release drugs to reduce tooth decay

More information: Lizeng Gao et al. Intrinsic peroxidase-like activity of ferromagnetic nanoparticles, Nature Nanotechnology (2007). DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2007.260

Lizeng Gao et al. Nanocatalysts promote Streptococcus mutans biofilm matrix degradation and enhance bacterial killing to suppress dental caries in vivo, Biomaterials (2016). DOI: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2016.05.051



Osmotic (Sea Water) Power: Nano Generators could Turn ‘Blue Energy’ into 2 Terawatts of Clean Energy Per Year

Harvesting renewable ‘blue energy’ from salt concentration gradients, such as those that occur at river mouths where fresh water mixes with salty sea water, just got a boost. An osmotic nanogenerator made from atom thick molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) has been created that can turn much more of this chemical energy into electricity than ever before.1

The molybdenum disulfide nanopore membrane (blue and yellow) uses salinity gradients to generate electricity © Nature Publishing Group

With the potential to be a considerable source of energy, osmotic power has gained ground in recent years with several pilot power plants around the world. 

It’s estimated that a total of around two terawatts of clean energy – the equivalent of around 2000 nuclear reactors – could be harvested worldwide from locations where salt concentration gradients occur.

Two main membrane technologies exist to harness osmotic power from solutions with differing salt concentrations. One is pressure retarded osmosis (PRO) which uses membranes to exploit pressure differences and drive a turbine, while the other is called reverse electrodialysis (RED) which involves ion exchange across a charged membrane. However, both methods have been limited by the efficiency and power density of materials that have only been able to generate a few watts per square metre of membrane.

However, the world’s first prototype PRO osmotic power plant, which was opened by Statkraft in Norway in 2009, was deemed uneconomical and shelved in 2013.
Better materials have been developed though, including boron nitride nanotubes which French researchers showed could produce 1000 watts per square meter in 2013, leading to a patent and a spin-off.

Now, Swiss and US researchers have discovered something even better – a MoS2 membrane punctured with pores that has an estimated power generation two to three orders of magnitude greater than boron nitride nanotubes, and could be as much as a million times greater than traditional RED osmotic power membranes.

Positive power

‘This is the thinnest membrane for this purpose,’ explains Jiandong Feng who led the work at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology at Lausanne (EPFL). ‘As transport through a membrane scales inversely with membrane thickness, our single layer MoS2 nanopore, produced substantial power density.’

Feng’s team used transmission electron microscopy to drill 5nm wide pores into their MOS2 sheets © Nature Publishing Group

The new RED-based osmotic nanogenerator has a 0.65nm thick MoS2 membrane with a single nanopore that separates two reservoirs containing potassium chloride solutions of different concentrations.

A chemical potential gradient forms at the pore where the two solutions can mix and this drives potassium and chloride ions over the pore. Since the pore’s surface is negatively charged, it acts as a screen to usher through many more positive than negative ions which produces a current.

The team showed off the nanogenerator’s capabilities by connecting two sheets together to power a MoS2 transistor. Although the team only demonstrated this small scale application, Feng says the nanogenerators have potential for scaling up for sea water power generation.

‘This shows that new materials, with a diverted use from nanoelectronics towards fluid transport, can make a breakthrough in this field,’ comments Lydéric Bocquet at France’s National Center for Scientific Research in Paris who was behind the boron nitride nanotube research.2

However, he suggests that making metre square MoS2 membranes, which to his knowledge has never been achieved, could limit large-scale power production. But he adds it is still worth a try.

Even if it’s possible to make large MoS2 sheets, this natural power source may still be out of reach, suggests Ngai Yin Yip who studies membrane technologies at Columbia University in New York, US. ‘

There are other practical and technical obstacles in accessing the energy of natural salinity gradients on a large scale, such as the presence of naturally-occurring foulants in river water and seawater clogging up nanopores,’ he explains.


However, both Bocquet and Yip think the nanogenerators could find use in low energy, small-scale niche applications. ‘If the system can be further developed to draw from two separate reservoirs of different salinity with minimal energy consumption using innovative techniques, the nanogenarator system can be perpetually self-powered,’ says Yip. ‘These nanogenerators could be deployed in remote locations without having to be recharged or have batteries replaced, to power devices such as nanosensors.”

Read Genesis Nanotech Online: Latest ‘Nano’-News and Updates: Articles Like …


cropped-microbots-water.jpgGenesis Nanotechnology ~ “Great Things from Small Things”

Read Genesis Nanotech Online (Click Here)

Articles Like …

Nano Antennas 072016 160718161257_1_540x360Rice University: Technology marries light-harvesting nanoantennas to high-reaction-rate catalysts: Could transform some of the world’s most energy-intensive manufacturing processes



auto thin trans 072016 berkeleylabsU.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory: Scientists grow atomically thin transistors and circuits




tHIS TRANSISTORS 072016 578d2684a1c34NC State U: Faster-More Precise Silica coating process for Quantum Dot nanorods: Makes Nano-scale Semi-Conductor materials less likely to degrade – keeps optical properties.





Genesis Nanotechnology, Inc. ~ “Great Things from Small Things”

Facebook 042616.jpgFollow Us on Facebook

Twitter Icon 042616.jpgUp to the Minute Nanotech News on Our Twitter Feed

LinkedIn IconA 042316.jpg‘Link-Up” with Us on LinkedIn


   Website Icon 042616Connect with Our Website

YouTube small 050516Watch Our YouTube Video 

Electricity generated with water, salt and a three-atoms-thick membrane: NEW Osmotic Power

Electricity from Water Salt - 3 Atoms 072016 578660a2f2413A molybdenum 3-atoms-thick selective membrane. Credit: © Steven Duensing / National Center for Supercomputing Applications, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Proponents of clean energy will soon have a new source to add to their existing array of solar, wind, and hydropower: osmotic power. Or more specifically, energy generated by a natural phenomenon occurring when fresh water comes into contact with seawater through a membrane.

Researchers at EPFL’s Laboratory of Nanoscale Biology have developed an osmotic power generation system that delivers never-before-seen yields. Their innovation lies in a three atoms thick membrane used to separate the two fluids. The results of their research have been published in Nature.

The concept is fairly simple. A semipermeable membrane separates two fluids with different salt concentrations. Salt- travel through the membrane until the salt concentrations in the two fluids reach equilibrium. That phenomenon is precisely osmosis.

If the system is used with seawater and fresh water, salt ions in the seawater pass through the membrane into the fresh water until both fluids have the same salt concentration. And since an ion is simply an atom with an electrical charge, the movement of the can be harnessed to generate electricity.

A 3 atoms thick, selective membrane that does the job

EPFL’s system consists of two liquid-filled compartments separated by a thin membrane made of molybdenum disulfide. The membrane has a tiny hole, or nanopore, through which seawater ions pass into the until the two fluids’ salt concentrations are equal. As the ions pass through the nanopore, their electrons are transferred to an electrode – which is what is used to generate an electric current.

Thanks to its properties the membrane allows positively-charged ions to pass through, while pushing away most of the negatively-charged ones. That creates voltage between the two liquids as one builds up a positive charge and the other a negative charge. This voltage is what causes the current generated by the transfer of ions to flow.

“We had to first fabricate and then investigate the optimal size of the nanopore. If it’s too big, can pass through and the resulting voltage would be too low. If it’s too small, not enough ions can pass through and the current would be too weak,” said Jiandong Feng, lead author of the research.

What sets EPFL’s system apart is its membrane. In these types of systems, the current increases with a thinner membrane. And EPFL’s membrane is just a few atoms thick. The material it is made of – molybdenum disulfide – is ideal for generating an osmotic current. “This is the first time a two-dimensional material has been used for this type of application,” said Aleksandra Radenovic, head of the laboratory of Nanoscale Biology

Powering 50’000 energy-saving light bulbs with 1m2 membrane

The potential of the new system is huge. According to their calculations, a 1m² membrane with 30% of its surface covered by nanopores should be able to produce 1MW of electricity – or enough to power 50,000 standard energy-saving light bulbs. And since (MoS2) is easily found in nature or can be grown by chemical vapor deposition, the system could feasibly be ramped up for large-scale power generation. The major challenge in scaling-up this process is finding out how to make relatively uniform pores.

Until now, researchers have worked on a membrane with a single nanopore, in order to understand precisely what was going on. ” From an engineering perspective, single nanopore system is ideal to further our fundamental understanding of -based processes and provide useful information for industry-level commercialization”, said Jiandong Feng.

The researchers were able to run a nanotransistor from the current generated by a single nanopore and thus demonstrated a self-powered nanosystem. Low-power single-layer MoS2 transistors were fabricated in collaboration with Andreas Kis’ team at at EPFL, while molecular dynamics simulations were performed by collaborators at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Harnessing the potential of estuaries

EPFL’s research is part of a growing trend. For the past several years, scientists around the world have been developing systems that leverage osmotic power to create electricity. Pilot projects have sprung up in places such as Norway, the Netherlands, Japan, and the United States to generate energy at estuaries, where rivers flow into the sea. For now, the membranes used in most systems are organic and fragile, and deliver low yields. Some systems use the movement of water, rather than ions, to power turbines that in turn produce electricity.

Once the systems become more robust, osmotic power could play a major role in the generation of renewable energy. While solar panels require adequate sunlight and wind turbines adequate wind, osmotic energy can be produced just about any time of day or night – provided there’s an estuary nearby.

More information: Jiandong Feng et al, Single-layer MoS2 nanopores as nanopower generators, Nature (2016). DOI: 10.1038/nature18593

Provided by: Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne

Washington State U: Key improvement for fuel cells: Work improves understanding of process that improves one of the primary failure points

Fuel Cell II o72016 photo_stationary_fuel_cell

Washington State University researchers have determined a key step in improving solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs), a promising clean energy technology that has struggled to gain wide acceptance in the marketplace.

The researchers determined a way to improve one of the primary failure points for the fuel cell, overcoming key issues that have hindered its acceptance. Their work is featured on the cover of the latest issue of Journal of Physical Chemistry C.

Fuel cells offer a clean and highly efficient way to convert the chemical energy in fuels directly into electrical energy. They are similar to batteries in that they have an anode, cathode and electrolyte and create electricity, but they use fuel to create a continuous flow of electricity.

Fuel cells can be about four times more efficient than a combustion engine because they are based on electrochemical reactions, but researchers continue to struggle with making them cheaply and efficiently enough to compete with traditional power generation sources.

An SOFC is made of solid materials, and the electricity is created by oxygen ions traveling through the fuel cell. Unlike other types of fuel cells, SOFCs don’t require the use of expensive metals, like platinum, and can work with a large variety of fuels, such as gasoline or diesel fuel.

When gasoline is used for fuel, however, a carbon-based material tends to build up in the fuel cell and stop the conversion reaction. Other chemicals, in particular sulfur, can also poison and stop the reactions.

In their study, the WSU researchers improved understanding of the process that stops the reactions. Problems most often occur at a place on the anode’s surface, called the triple-phase boundary, where the anode connects with the electrolyte and fuel.

The researchers determined that the presence of an electric field at this boundary can prevent failures and improve the system’s performance. To properly capture the complexity of this interface, they used the Center for Nanoscale Materials supercomputer at the Argonne National Laboratory to perform computations.

The researchers studied similar issues in solid oxide electrolysis cells (SOECs), which are like fuel cells that run in reverse to convert carbon dioxide and water to transportation fuel precursors.

The work provides guidance that industry can eventually use to reduce material buildup and poisoning and improve performance of SOFCs and SOECs, said Jean-Sabin McEwen, assistant professor in the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering, who led the project.

The research is in keeping with WSU’s Grand Challenges, a suite of research initiatives aimed at large societal issues. It is particularly relevant to the challenge of sustainable resources and its theme of energy.

Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided byWashington State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Fanglin Che, Su Ha, Jean-Sabin McEwen. Elucidating the Role of the Electric Field at the Ni/YSZ Electrode: A DFT Study. The Journal of Physical Chemistry C, 2016; 120 (27): 14608 DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpcc.6b01292

NC State U: Faster-More Precise Silica coating process for Quantum Dot nanorods: Makes Nano-scale Semi-Conductor materials less likely to degrade – keeps optical properties.

Silica Coating for QD 072016 160711121519_1_540x360Morphological control of the silica shell on CdSe/CdS core/shell quantum dot nanorods is reported, giving single or double lobes of silica or a uniform silica shell.
Credit: Joe Tracy

Materials researchers at North Carolina State University have fine-tuned a technique that enables them to apply precisely controlled silica coatings to quantum dot nanorods in a day — up to 21 times faster than previous methods. In addition to saving time, the advance means the quantum dots are less likely to degrade, preserving their advantageous optical properties.

Quantum dots are nanoscale semiconductor materials whose small size cause them to have electron energy levels that differ from larger-scale versions of the same material. By controlling the size of the quantum dots, researchers can control the relevant energy levels — and those energy levels give quantum dots novel optical properties. These characteristics make quantum dots promising for applications such as opto-electronics and display technologies.

But quantum dots are surrounded by ligands, which are organic molecules that are sensitive to heat. If the ligands are damaged, the optical properties of the quantum dots suffer.

“We wanted to coat the rod-shaped quantum dots with silica to preserve their chemical and optical properties,” says Bryan Anderson, a former Ph.D. student at NC State who is lead author of a paper on the work. “However, coating quantum dot nanorods in a precise way poses challenges of its own.”

Previous work by other research teams has used water and ammonia in solution to facilitate coating quantum dot nanorods with silica. However, those techniques did not independently control the amounts of water and ammonia used in the process.

By independently controlling the amounts of water and ammonia used, the NC State researchers were able to match or exceed the precision of silica coatings achieved by previous methods. In addition, using their approach, the NC State team was able to complete the entire silica-coating process in a single day — rather than up to one to three weeks needed for other processes.

“The process time is important, because the longer the process takes, the more likely it is that the quantum dot nanorods being coated will degrade,” says Joe Tracy, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at NC State and senior author on the paper. “The time factor may also be important when we think about scaling this process up for manufacturing processes.”

That said, researchers still have a problem.

The process of applying the silica coating etches the cadmium sulfide surface of the quantum dot nanorods, which shortens the length of the nanorods by as much as four or five nanometers. That shortening is indicative of etching, which reduces the brightness of the light emitted by the quantum dot nanorods.

“We think ammonia may be the culprit,” Tracy says. “We have some ideas that we’re pursuing, focused on how to substitute another catalyst for ammonia in order to minimize the etching and better preserve the quantum dot nanorod’s optical properties.”

The paper, “Silica Overcoating of CdSe/CdS Core/Shell Quantum Dot Nanorods with Controlled Morphologies,” is published online in the journal Chemistry of Materials. The paper was co-authored by Wei-Chen Wu, a former Ph.D. student in Tracy’s lab. The work was done with support from the National Science Foundation under grant number DMR-1056653.

Tracy has previously published related research in Chemistry of Materials on coating gold nanorods with silica shells.

Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by North Carolina State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Bryan D. Anderson, Wei-Chen Wu, Joseph B. Tracy. Silica Overcoating of CdSe/CdS Core/Shell Quantum Dot Nanorods with Controlled Morphologies. Chemistry of Materials, 2016; DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemmater.6b01225

Rice University: Technology marries light-harvesting nanoantennas to high-reaction-rate catalysts: Could transform some of the world’s most energy-intensive manufacturing processes

Nano Antennas 072016 160718161257_1_540x360A composite image shows a scanning transmission electron microscope view of an antenna-reactor catalyst particle (top left) along with electron energy loss spectroscopy maps that depict the spatial distribution of individual plasmon modes around the palladium islands. These plasmon modes are responsible for capturing light energy and transferring it to the catalyst particles.
Credit: D. Swearer/Rice University

In a find that could transform some of the world’s most energy-intensive manufacturing processes, researchers at Rice University’s Laboratory for Nanophotonics have unveiled a new method for uniting light-capturing photonic nanomaterials and high-efficiency metal catalysts.

Each year, chemical producers spend billions of dollars on metal catalysts, materials that spur or speed up chemical reactions. Catalysts are used to produce trillions of dollars worth of chemical products. Unfortunately, most catalysts only work at high temperatures or high pressure or both. For example, the U.S. Energy Information Agency estimated that in 2010, just one segment of the U.S. chemical industry, plastic resin production, used almost 1 quadrillion British thermal units of energy, about the same amount of energy contained in 8 billion gallons of gasoline.

Nanotechnology researchers have long been interested in capturing some of the worldwide catalysis market with energy-efficient photonic materials, metallic materials that are tailor-made with atomic precision to harvest energy from sunlight. Unfortunately, the best nanomaterials for harvesting light — gold, silver and aluminum — aren’t very good catalysts, and the best catalysts — palladium, platinum and rhodium — are poor at capturing solar energy.

The new catalyst, which is described in a study this week in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the latest innovation from LANP, a multidisciplinary, multi-investigator research group headed by photonics pioneer Naomi Halas. Halas, who also directs Rice’s Smalley-Curl Institute, said a number of studies in recent years have shown that light-activated “plasmonic” nanoparticles can be used to increase the amount of light absorbed by adjacent dark nanoparticles. Plasmons are waves of electrons that slosh like a fluid across the surface of tiny metallic nanoparticles. Depending upon the frequency of their sloshing, these plasmonic waves can interact with and harvest the energy from passing light.

In summer 2015, Halas and study co-author Peter Nordlander designed an experiment to test whether a plasmonic antenna could be attached to a catalytic reactor particle. Graduate student Dayne Swearer worked with them, Rice materials scientist Emilie Ringe and others at Rice and Princeton University to produce, test and analyze the performance of the “antenna-reactor” design.

Swearer began by synthesizing 100-nanometer-diameter aluminum crystals that, once exposed to air, develop a thin 2- to 4-nanometer-thick coating of aluminum oxide. The oxidized particles were then treated with a palladium salt to initiate a reaction that resulted in small islands of palladium metal forming on the surface of the oxidized particles. The unoxidized aluminum core serves as the plasmonic antenna and the palladium islands as the catalytic reactors.

Swearer said the chemical industry already uses aluminum oxide materials that are dotted with palladium islands to catalyze reactions, but the palladium in those materials must be heated to high temperatures to become an efficient catalyst.

“You need to add energy to improve the catalytic efficiency,” he said. “Our catalysts also need energy, but they draw it directly from light and require no additional heating.”

One example of a process where the new antenna-reactor catalysts could be used is for reacting acetylene with hydrogen to produce ethylene, Swearer said.

Ethylene is the chemical feedstock for making polyethylene, the world’s most common plastic, which is used in thousands of everyday products. Acetylene, a hydrocarbon that’s often found in the gas feedstocks that are used at polyethylene plants, damages the catalysts that producers use to convert ethylene to polyethylene. For this reason, acetylene is considered a “catalyst poison” and must be removed from the ethylene feedstock — often with another catalyst — before it can cause damage.

One way producers remove acetylene is to add hydrogen gas in the presence of a palladium catalyst to convert the poisonous acetylene into ethylene — the primary component needed to make polyethylene resin. But this catalytic process also produces another gas, ethane, in addition to ethylene. Chemical producers try to tailor the process to produce as much ethylene and as little ethane possible, but selectivity remains a challenge, Swearer said.

As a proof-of-concept for the new antenna-reactor catalysts, Swearer, Halas and colleagues conducted acetylene conversion tests at LANP and found that the light-driven antenna-reactor catalysts produced a 40-to-1 ratio of ethylene to ethane, a significant improvement in selectivity over thermal catalysis.

Swearer said the potential energy savings and improved efficiency of the new catalysts are likely to capture the attention of chemical producers, even though their plants are not currently designed to use solar-powered catalysts.

“The polyethylene industry produces more than $90 billion of products each year, and our catalysts turn one of the industry’s poisons into a valuable commodity,” he said.

Halas said she is most excited about the broad potential of the antenna-reactor catalytic technology.

“The antenna-reactor design is modular, which means we can mix and match the materials for both the antenna and the reactor to create a tailored catalyst for a specific reaction,” she said. “Because of this flexibility, there are many, many applications where we believe this technology could outperform existing catalysts.”

Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Rice University. The original item was written by Jade Boyd. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. D. F. Swearer, H. Zhao, L. Zhou, C. Zhang, H. Robatjazi, J. M. P. Martirez, C. M. Krauter, S. Yazdi, M. J. McClain, E. Ringe, E. A. Carter, P. Nordlander, N. J. Halas.Heterometallic Antenna-Reactor Complexes for Photocatalysis. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., 2016 DOI:10.1073/pnas.1609769113

U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory: Scientists grow atomically thin transistors and circuits

auto thin trans 072016 berkeleylabsThis schematic shows the chemical assembly of two-dimensional crystals. Graphene is first etched into channels and the TMDC molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) begins to nucleate around the edges and within the channel. On the edges, MoS2 slightly …more

In an advance that helps pave the way for next-generation electronics and computing technologies—and possibly paper-thin gadgets —scientists with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) developed a way to chemically assemble transistors and circuits that are only a few atoms thick.

What’s more, their method yields functional structures at a scale large enough to begin thinking about real-world applications and commercial scalability.

They report their research online July 11 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

The scientists controlled the synthesis of a transistor in which narrow channels were etched onto conducting graphene, and a semiconducting material called a transition-metal dichalcogenide, or TMDC, was seeded in the blank channels. Both of these materials are single-layered crystals and atomically thin, so the two-part assembly yielded electronic structures that are essentially two-dimensional. In addition, the synthesis is able to cover an area a few centimeters long and a few millimeters wide.

“This is a big step toward a scalable and repeatable way to build atomically thin electronics or pack more computing power in a smaller area,” says Xiang Zhang, a senior scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division who led the study.

Zhang also holds the Ernest S. Kuh Endowed Chair at the University of California (UC) Berkeley and is a member of the Kavli Energy NanoSciences Institute at Berkeley. Other scientists who contributed to the research include Mervin Zhao, Yu Ye, Yang Xia, Hanyu Zhu, Siqi Wang, and Yuan Wang from UC Berkeley as well as Yimo Han and David Muller from Cornell University.

Their work is part of a new wave of research aimed at keeping pace with Moore’s Law, which holds that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. In order to keep this pace, scientists predict that integrated electronics will soon require transistors that measure less than ten nanometers in length.

Transistors are electronic switches, so they need to be able to turn on and off, which is a characteristic of semiconductors. However, at the nanometer scale, likely won’t be a good option. That’s because silicon is a bulk material, and as electronics made from silicon become smaller and smaller, their performance as switches dramatically decreases, which is a major roadblock for future electronics.

Researchers have looked to two-dimensional crystals that are only one molecule thick as alternative materials to keep up with Moore’s Law. These crystals aren’t subject to the constraints of silicon.

In this vein, the Berkeley Lab scientists developed a way to seed a single-layered semiconductor, in this case the TMDC molybdenum disulfide (MoS2), into channels lithographically etched within a sheet of conducting graphene. The two atomic sheets meet to form nanometer-scale junctions that enable graphene to efficiently inject current into the MoS2. These junctions make atomically thin transistors.

“This approach allows for the chemical assembly of electronic circuits, using two-dimensional materials, which show improved performance compared to using traditional metals to inject current into TMDCs,” says Mervin Zhao, a lead author and Ph.D. student in Zhang’s group at Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley.

Optical and electron microscopy images, and spectroscopic mapping, confirmed various aspects related to the successful formation and functionality of the two-dimensional transistors.

In addition, the scientists demonstrated the applicability of the structure by assembling it into the logic circuitry of an inverter. This further underscores the technology’s ability to lay the foundation for a chemically assembled atomic computer, the scientists say.

“Both of these two-dimensional crystals have been synthesized in the wafer scale in a way that is compatible with current semiconductor manufacturing. By integrating our technique with other growth systems, it’s possible that future computing can be done completely with atomically thin crystals,” says Zhao.

Explore further: Excitonic dark states shed light on TMDC atomic layers

More information: Large-scale chemical assembly of atomically thin transistors and circuits, Nature Nanotechnology, DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2016.115

Read more at:

Read more at:

U of Texas – Austin: Scientists glimpse inner workings of atomically thin transistors

tHIS TRANSISTORS 072016 578d2684a1c34

With an eye to the next generation of tech gadgetry, a team of physicists at The University of Texas at Austin has had the first-ever glimpse into what happens inside an atomically thin semiconductor device. In doing so, they discovered that an essential function for computing may be possible within a space so small that it’s effectively one-dimensional.

In a paper published July 18 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers describe seeing the detailed inner workings of a new type of transistor that is two-dimensional.

Transistors act as the building blocks for computer chips, sending the electrons on and off switches required for computer processing. Future tech innovations will require finding a way to fit more on computer chips, so experts have begun exploring new semiconducting materials including one called molybdenum disulfide (MoS2). Unlike today’s silicon-based devices, transistors made from the new material allow for on-off signaling on a single flat plane.

Keji Lai, an assistant professor of physics, and a team found that with this new material, the conductive signaling happens much differently than with silicon, in a way that could promote future energy savings in devices. Think of as light bulbs: The whole device is either turned on or off at once. With 2-D transistors, by contrast, Lai and the team found that electric currents move in a more phased way, beginning first at the edges before appearing in the interior. Lai says this suggests the same current could be sent with less power and in an even tinier space, using a one-dimensional edge instead of the two-dimensional plane.

“In physics, edge states often carry a lot of interesting phenomenon, and here, they are the first to turn on. In the future, if we can engineer this material very carefully, then these edges can carry the full current,” Lai says. “We don’t really need the entire thing, because the interior is useless. Just having the edges running to get a current working would substantially reduce the power loss.”

Researchers have been working to get a view into what happens inside a 2-D transistor for years to better understand both the potential and the limitations of the . Getting 2-D transistors ready for commercial devices, such as paper-thin computers and cellphones, is expected to take several more years. Lai says scientists need more information about what interferes with performance in devices made from the new materials.

“These transistors are perfectly two-dimensional,” Lai says. “That means they don’t have some of the defects that occur in a silicon device. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean the new material is perfect.”

Lai and his team used a microscope that he invented and that points microwaves at the 2-D device. Using a tip only 100 nanometers wide, the microwave microscope allowed the scientists to see conductivity changes inside the transistor. Besides seeing the currents’ motion, the scientists found thread-like defects in the middle of the transistors. Lai says this suggests the new material will need to be made cleaner to function optimally.

“If we could make the material clean enough, the edges will be carrying even more current, and the interior won’t have as many defects,” Lai says.

The paper’s other authors are postdoctoral researchers Di Wu and Xiao Li; research scientist Lan Luan, and graduate students Xiaoyu Wu and Zhaodong Chu, and professor Qian Niu in UT Austin’s Department of Physics; and graduate student Wei Li, former graduate student Maruthi N. Yogeesh, postdoctoral researcher Rudresh Ghosh, and associate professor Deji Akinwande of UT Austin’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Earlier this year, both Lai and Akinwande won Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the U.S. government’s highest honor for early-stage scientists and engineers.

Explore further: Researchers using germanium instead of silicon for CMOS devices

More information: Uncovering edge states and electrical inhomogeneity in MoS2 field-effect transistors,