Photonic crystals increase solar efficiency: Video: U of Toronto: Dr. Sajeev John

photonic-crystals-image1Gains are derived from nanowires and light trapping for better energy conversion.

Sajeev John is a University Professor at the University of Toronto and Government of Canada Research Chair holder. He received his bachelor’s degree in physics in 1979 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his PhD in physics at Harvard in 1984. His PhD work introduced the theory of classical wave localization and in particular the localization of light in three-dimensional strongly scattering dielectrics.sajeev-john-u-of-t-maxresdefault

Watch the Video Here

His groundbreaking work in the field of light localization that enables light to be controlled at the microscopic level has earned him an international reputation. He is a pioneering theoretician in photonic band gap (PBG) materials. This new class of optical materials presents exciting possibilities in the fields of physics, chemistry, engineering and medicine. PBG materials could eventually be used for optical communications/information processing, clinical medicine, lighting and solar energy harvesting.

John has received numerous awards, including the King Faisal International Prize in Science (2001), the IEEE Nanotechnology Pioneer Award (2008), and the Killam Prize in Natural Sciences (2014) from the Canada Council for the Arts. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, OSA, the Royal Society of Canada, and a member of the Max-Planck Society of Germany.


Sajeev John current research (Univ. of Toronto)



Flying drones could soon re-charge whilst airborne with new (old) technology: Inductive Coupling



Scientists have demonstrated a highly efficient method for wirelessly transferring power to a drone while it is flying.

The breakthrough could in theory allow flying drones to stay airborne indefinitely – simply hovering over a ground support vehicle to recharge – opening up new potential industrial applications.

The technology uses inductive coupling, a concept initially demonstrated by inventor Nikola Tesla over 100 years ago. Two copper coils are tuned into one another, using electronics, which enables the wireless exchange of power at a certain frequency. Scientists have been experimenting with this technology for decades, but have not yet been able to wirelessly power flying technology.

Now, scientists from Imperial College London have removed the battery from an off-the-shelf mini- and demonstrated that they can wirelessly transfer power to it via inductive coupling. They believe their demonstration is the first to show how this wireless charging method can be efficiently done with a flying object like a drone, potentially paving the way for wider use of the technology.

To demonstrate their approach the researchers bought an off-the-shelf quadcopter drone, around 12 centimetres in diameter, and altered its electronics and removed its battery. They made a copper foil ring, which is a receiving antennae that encircles the drone’s casing. On the ground, a transmitter device made out of a circuit board is connected to electronics and a power source, creating a .

The drone’s electronics are tuned or calibrated at the frequency of the magnetic field. When it flies into the magnetic field an alternating current (AC) voltage is induced in the receiving antenna and the drone’s electronics convert it efficiently into a direct current (DC) voltage to power it.

The technology is still in its experimental stage. The drone can only currently fly ten centimetres above the magnetic field transmission source. The team estimate they are one year away from a commercially available product. When commercialised they believe their breakthrough could have a range of advantages in the development of commercial drone technology and other devices.

The use of small drones for commercial purposes, in surveillance, for reconnaissance missions, and search and rescue operations are rapidly growing. However, the distance that a drone can travel and the duration it can stay in the air is limited by the availability of power and re-charging requirements. Wireless power transfer technology may solve this, say the team.

Dr Samer Aldhaher, a researcher from the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Imperial College London, said: “There are a number of scenarios where wirelessly transferring power could improve drone technology. One option could see a ground support vehicle being used as a mobile charging station, where drones could hover over it and recharge, never having to leave the air.”

Wirelessly transferring power could have also applications in other areas such as sensors, healthcare devices and further afield, on interplanetary missions.

Professor Paul Mitcheson, from the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Imperial College London, explains: “Imagine using a drone to wirelessly transmit power to sensors on things such as bridges to monitor their structural integrity. This would cut out humans having to reach these difficult to access places to re-charge them.

“Another application could include implantable miniature diagnostic medical devices, wirelessly powered from a source external to the body. This could enable new types of medical implants to be safely recharged, and reduce the battery size to make these implants less invasive.

“In the future, we may also be able to use drones to re-charge science equipment on Mars, increasing the lifetime of these billion dollar missions.

“We have already made valuable progress with this technology and now we are looking to take it to the next level.”

The next stage will see team exploring collaborations with potential industrial partners.

Explore further: Drone safety: User-centric control software improves pilot performance and safety


Quantum Bit MRI Machine to See Shapes of Individual Biomolecules for Drug Research



Drug discovery is a long and difficult process that requires a comprehensive understanding of the molecular structures of compounds under investigation. It’s difficult to have an idea of the precise shape of complex molecules such as proteins, but researchers at University of Melbourne in Australia have come up with a way of seeing the location of individual atoms within biomolecules.

Using quantum bits, most notably utilized in quantum computer research, the investigators offer a way of producing a magnetic resonance sensor and a magnetic field gradient that can work as a tiny MRI machine. The machine would have the resolution capable of seeing single atoms components of larger molecules. This MRI machine has yet to be actually built, but the steps have been laid out based on comprehensive theoretical work. If it proves successful in practice, the technology may overcome current imaging techniques that rely on statistical averages and don’t work well on molecules that don’t crystallize well.

“In a conventional MRI machine large magnets set up a field gradient in all three directions to create 3D images; in our system we use the natural magnetic properties of a single atomic qubit,” said lead author of the research Viktor Perunicic. “The system would be fabricated on-chip, and by carefully controlling the quantum state of the qubit probe as it interacts with the atoms in the target molecule, we can extract information about the positions of atoms by periodically measuring the qubit probe and thus create an image of the molecule’s structure.”

From the study abstract in Nature Communications:

Signals corresponding to specific regions of the molecule’s nuclear spin density are encoded on the quantum state of the probe, which is used to produce a 3D image of the molecular structure. Quantum simulations of the protocol applied to the rapamycin molecule (C51H79NO13) show that the hydrogen and carbon substructure can be imaged at the angstrom level using current spin-probe technology. With prospects for scaling to large molecules and/or fast dynamic conformation mapping using spin labels, this method provides a realistic pathway for single-molecule microscopy.

Read More …

Study in Nature Communications: A quantum spin-probe molecular microscope…



SolarWindow™ Surpasses Critical Milestone for Manufacturing Electricity-Generating Windows

Quantum Dot Window 082515 id41125

Columbia, MD – October 26, 2016  – SolarWindow Technologies, Inc. (OTCQB: WNDW), the developer of electricity-generating coatings for commercial glass and flexible plastics, announced today that its SolarWindow™ coatings successfully performed under test conditions designed to simulate the high pressure and temperatures of the ‘autoclave’ manufacturing processes used by commercial glass and window producers.

“Today’s announcement marks a major milestone for the production of commercial electricity-generating windows, our early target market,” said John A. Conklin, President and CEO of SolarWindow Technologies. “It’s important for our customers, such as window manufacturers, to have confidence that our SolarWindow™ products perform under such rigorous autoclave conditions.”

About SolarWindow Technologies, Inc.

SolarWindow Technologies, Inc. creates transparent electricity-generating liquid coatings. When applied to glass or plastics, these coatings convert passive windows and other materials into electricity generators under natural, artificial, low, shaded, and even reflected light conditions.

Our liquid coating technology has been presented to members of the U.S. Congress and has received recognition in numerous industry publications. Our SolarWindow™ technology has been independently validated to generate 50-times the power of a conventional rooftop solar system and achieves a one-year payback when modeled on a 50-story building.

The company’s Proprietary Power Production & Financial Model (Power & Financial Model) uses photovoltaic (PV) modeling calculations that are consistent with renewable energy practitioner standards for assessing, evaluating and estimating renewable energy for a PV project. The Power & Financial Model estimator takes into consideration building geographic location, solar radiation for flat-plate collectors (SolarWindow™ irradiance is derated to account for 360 degree building orientation and vertical installation), climate zone energy use and generalized skyscraper building characteristics when estimating PV power and energy production, and carbon dioxide equivalents.

Actual power, energy production and carbon dioxide equivalents modeled may vary based upon building-to-building situational characteristics and varying installation methodologies. More About SolarWindow Technologies

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Investors and others should note that we announce material financial information to our investors using SEC filings and press releases. We use our website and social media to communicate with our subscribers, shareholders and the public about the company, SolarWindow™ technology development, and other corporate matters that are in the public domain. At this time, the company will not post information on social media could be deemed to be material information unless that information was distributed to public distribution channels first. We encourage investors, the media, and others interested in the company to review the information we post on the company’s website.



Next-generation Lithium-Sulphur smart battery inspired by Our Stomachs: Proof of Principle for Now

new-lithium-battery-102616-id44921A new prototype of a lithium-sulphur battery – which could have five times the energy density of a typical lithium-ion battery – overcomes one of the key hurdles preventing their commercial development by mimicking the structure of the cells which allow us to absorb nutrients.

Researchers have developed a prototype of a next-generation lithium-sulphur battery which takes its inspiration in part from the cells lining the human intestine. The batteries, if commercially developed, would have five times the energy density of the lithium-ion batteries used in smartphones and other electronics.



The new design, by researchers from the University of Cambridge, overcomes one of the key technical problems hindering the commercial development of lithium-sulphur batteries, by preventing the degradation of the battery caused by the loss of material within it. The results are reported in the journal Advanced Functional Materials (“Advanced Lithium-Sulfur Batteries Enabled by a Bio-Inspired Polysulfide Adsorptive Brush”).


Computer visualisation of villi-like battery material
Computer visualisation of villi-like battery material. (Image: Teng Zhao)


Working with collaborators at the Beijing Institute of Technology, the Cambridge researchers based in Dr Vasant Kumar’s team in the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy developed and tested a lightweight nanostructured material which resembles villi, the finger-like protrusions which line the small intestine. In the human body, villi are used to absorb the products of digestion and increase the surface area over which this process can take place.
In the new lithium-sulphur battery, a layer of material with a villi-like structure, made from tiny zinc oxide wires, is placed on the surface of one of the battery’s electrodes. This can trap fragments of the active material when they break off, keeping them electrochemically accessible and allowing the material to be reused.
“It’s a tiny thing, this layer, but it’s important,” said study co-author Dr Paul Coxon from Cambridge’s Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy. “This gets us a long way through the bottleneck which is preventing the development of better batteries.”
A typical lithium-ion battery is made of three separate components: an anode (negative electrode), a cathode (positive electrode) and an electrolyte in the middle. The most common materials for the anode and cathode are graphite and lithium cobalt oxide respectively, which both have layered structures. Positively-charged lithium ions move back and forth from the cathode, through the electrolyte and into the anode.
The crystal structure of the electrode materials determines how much energy can be squeezed into the battery. For example, due to the atomic structure of carbon, each carbon atom can take on six lithium ions, limiting the maximum capacity of the battery.
Sulphur and lithium react differently, via a multi-electron transfer mechanism meaning that elemental sulphur can offer a much higher theoretical capacity, resulting in a lithium-sulphur battery with much higher energy density. However, when the battery discharges, the lithium and sulphur interact and the ring-like sulphur molecules transform into chain-like structures, known as a poly-sulphides. As the battery undergoes several charge-discharge cycles, bits of the poly-sulphide can go into the electrolyte, so that over time the battery gradually loses active material.
The Cambridge researchers have created a functional layer which lies on top of the cathode and fixes the active material to a conductive framework so the active material can be reused. The layer is made up of tiny, one-dimensional zinc oxide nanowires grown on a scaffold. The concept was trialled using commercially-available nickel foam for support. After successful results, the foam was replaced by a lightweight carbon fibre mat to reduce the battery’s overall weight.
“Changing from stiff nickel foam to flexible carbon fibre mat makes the layer mimic the way small intestine works even further,” said study co-author Dr Yingjun Liu.
This functional layer, like the intestinal villi it resembles, has a very high surface area. The material has a very strong chemical bond with the poly-sulphides, allowing the active material to be used for longer, greatly increasing the lifespan of the battery.
“This is the first time a chemically functional layer with a well-organised nano-architecture has been proposed to trap and reuse the dissolved active materials during battery charging and discharging,” said the study’s lead author Teng Zhao, a PhD student from the Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy. “By taking our inspiration from the natural world, we were able to come up with a solution that we hope will accelerate the development of next-generation batteries.”
For the time being, the device is a proof of principle, so commercially-available lithium-sulphur batteries are still some years away. Additionally, while the number of times the battery can be charged and discharged has been improved, it is still not able to go through as many charge cycles as a lithium-ion battery. However, since a lithium-sulphur battery does not need to be charged as often as a lithium-ion battery, it may be the case that the increase in energy density cancels out the lower total number of charge-discharge cycles.
“This is a way of getting around one of those awkward little problems that affects all of us,” said Coxon. “We’re all tied in to our electronic devices – ultimately, we’re just trying to make those devices work better, hopefully making our lives a little bit nicer.”
Source: University of Cambridge


“Back to the Future” ~ Nanotechnology offers new approach to increasing storage ability of Capacitors: Applications for Portable Electronics & EV’s

back-to-the-future-bttf2For Back to the Future fans, this week marked a milestone that took three decades to reach.

Oct. 21, 2015, was the day that Doc Brown and Marty McFly landed in the future in their DeLorean, with time travel made possible by a “flux capacitor.”

While the flux capacitor still conjures sci-fi images, capacitors are now key components of portable electronics, computing systems, and electric vehicles.

In contrast to batteries, which offer high storage capacity but slow delivery of energy, capacitors provide fast delivery but poor storage capacity.

A great deal of effort has been devoted to improving this feature — known as energy density — of dielectric capacitors, which comprise an insulating material sandwiched between two conducting metal plates.

Now, a group of researchers at the University of Delaware and the Chinese Academy of Sciences has successfully used nanotechnology to achieve this goal.

dialectric Capacitor id41672.jpgDielectric Capacitor: A diagram of the dielectric capacitor research developed by a University of Delaware-led research team.

The work is reported in a paper, “Dielectric Capacitors with Three-Dimensional Nanoscale Interdigital Electrodes for Energy Storage”, published in Science Advances, the first open-access, online-only journal of AAAS.

“With our approach, we achieved an energy density of about two watts per kilogram, which is significantly higher than that of other dielectric capacitor structures reported in the literature,” says Bingqing Wei, professor of mechanical engineering at UD. (Article continues below)

Also Read About

Rice Nanoporus Battery 102315 untitledRice Nanoporous Nickel Super Capacitors

Researchers at Rice University in Houston, Texas, have developed a nanoporous material that has the energy density (the amount of energy stored per unit mass) of an electrochemical battery and the power density (the maximum amount of power that can be supplied per unit mass) of a supercapacitor. It’s important to note that the energy storage device enabled by the material is not claimed to be either of these types of energy storage devices.

Watch a New Video about a New Energy Storage Company commercializing the Rice University Technology: 




(Article Continued from above)

“To our knowledge, this is the first time that 3D nanoscale interdigital electrodes have been realized in practice,” he adds. “With their high surface area relative to their size, carbon nanotubes embedded in uniquely designed and structured 3D architectures have enabled us to address the low ability of dielectric capacitors to store energy.”

One of the keys to the success of the new capacitor is an interdigitated design — similar to interwoven fingers between two hands with “gloves” — that dramatically decreases the distance between opposing electrodes and therefore increases the ability of the capacitor to store an electrical charge.

Another significant feature of the capacitors is that the unique new three-dimensional nanoscale electrode also offers high voltage breakdown, which means that the integrated dielectric material (alumina, Al2O3) does not easily fail in its intended function as an insulator.

“In contrast to previous versions, we expect our newly structured dielectric capacitors to be more suitable for field applications that require high energy density storage, such as accessory power supply and hybrid power systems,” Wei says.

Source: By Diane Kukich, University of Delaware

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Big renewable energy source could be at our feet – literally: U of Wisconsin

energy-at-our-feet-161020131916_1_540x360Associate Professor Xudong Wang holds a prototype of the researchers’ energy harvesting technology, which uses wood pulp and harnesses nanofibers. The technology could be incorporated into flooring and convert footsteps on the flooring into usable electricity.
Credit: Stephanie Precourt/UW-Madison
Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison




Flooring can be made from any number of sustainable materials, making it, generally, an eco-friendly feature in homes and businesses alike. Now, flooring could be even more “green,” thanks to an inexpensive, simple method that allows them to convert footsteps into usable electricity.

Flooring can be made from any number of sustainable materials, making it, generally, an eco-friendly feature in homes and businesses alike.

Now, flooring could be even more “green,” thanks to an inexpensive, simple method developed by University of Wisconsin-Madison materials engineers that allows them to convert footsteps into usable electricity.

Xudong Wang, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at UW-Madison, his graduate student Chunhua Yao, and their collaborators published details of the advance Sept. 24 in the journal Nano Energy.

The method puts to good use a common waste material: wood pulp. The pulp, which is already a common component of flooring, is partly made of cellulose nanofibers. They’re tiny fibers that, when chemically treated, produce an electrical charge when they come into contact with untreated nanofibers.

nano-fiber-flooring-button-3When the nanofibers are embedded within flooring, they’re able to produce electricity that can be harnessed to power lights or charge batteries. And because wood pulp is a cheap, abundant and renewable waste product of several industries, flooring that incorporates the new technology could be as affordable as conventional materials.


While there are existing similar materials for harnessing footstep energy, they’re costly, nonrecyclable, and impractical at a large scale.

Wang’s research centers around using vibration to generate electricity. For years, he has been testing different materials in an effort to maximize the merits of a technology called a triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG). Triboelectricity is the same phenomenon that produces static electricity on clothing. Chemically treated cellulose nanofibers are a simple, low-cost and effective alternative for harnessing this broadly existing mechanical energy source, Wang says.

The UW-Madison team’s advance is the latest in a green energy research field called “roadside energy harvesting” that could, in some settings, rival solar power — and it doesn’t depend on fair weather. Researchers like Wang who study roadside energy harvesting methods see the ground as holding great renewable energy potential well beyond its limited fossil fuel reserves.

“Roadside energy harvesting requires thinking about the places where there is abundant energy we could be harvesting,” Wang says. “We’ve been working a lot on harvesting energy from human activities. One way is to build something to put on people, and another way is to build something that has constant access to people. The ground is the most-used place.”

Heavy traffic floors in hallways and places like stadiums and malls that incorporate the technology could produce significant amounts of energy, Wang says. Each functional portion inside such flooring has two differently charged materials — including the cellulose nanofibers, and would be a millimeter or less thick. The floor could include several layers of the functional unit for higher energy output.grand-central-station-footsteps

“So once we put these two materials together, electrons move from one to another based on their different electron affinity,” Wang says.

The electron transfer creates a charge imbalance that naturally wants to right itself but as the electrons return, they pass through an external circuit. The energy that process creates is the end result of TENGs.

Wang says the TENG technology could be easily incorporated into all kinds of flooring once it’s ready for the market. Wang is now optimizing the technology, and he hopes to build an educational prototype in a high-profile spot on the UW-Madison campus where he can demonstrate the concept. He already knows it would be cheap and durable.

“Our initial test in our lab shows that it works for millions of cycles without any problem,” Wang says. “We haven’t converted those numbers into year of life for a floor yet, but I think with appropriate design it can definitely outlast the floor itself.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Wisconsin-Madison. Original written by Will Cushman. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Chunhua Yao, Alberto Hernandez, Yanhao Yu, Zhiyong Cai, Xudong Wang. Triboelectric nanogenerators and power-boards from cellulose nanofibrils and recycled materials.Nano Energy, 2016; 30: 103 DOI:10.1016/j.nanoen.2016.09.036

Columbia U: New Method increases energy density in lithium batteries – as much as 10 to 30 %

Graphite/PMMA/Li trilayer electrode before (left) and after (right) being soaked in battery electrolyte for 24 hours. Before soaking in electrolyte, the trilayer electrode is stable in air. After soaking, lithium reacts with graphite and …more

Yuan Yang, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Columbia Engineering, has developed a new method to increase the energy density of lithium (Li-ion) batteries. He has built a trilayer structure that is stable even in ambient air, which makes the battery both longer lasting and cheaper to manufacture. The work, which may improve the energy density of lithium batteries by 10-30%, is published online today in Nano Letters.

“When are charged the first time, they lose anywhere from 5-20% energy in that first cycle,” says Yang. “Through our design, we’ve been able to gain back this loss, and we think our method has great potential to increase the operation time of batteries for portable electronics and electrical vehicles.”

During the first charge of a lithium after its production, a portion of liquid electrolyte is reduced to a solid phase and coated onto the negative electrode of the battery. This process, usually done before batteries are shipped from a factory, is irreversible and lowers the energy stored in the battery. The loss is approximately 10% for state-of-the-art negative electrodes, but can reach as high as 20-30% for next-generation negative electrodes with high capacity, such as silicon, because these materials have large volume expansion and high surface area. The large initial loss reduces achievable capacity in a full cell and thus compromises the gain in and cycling life of these nanostructured electrodes.

The traditional approach to compensating for this loss has been to put certain lithium-rich materials in the electrode. However, most of these materials are not stable in ambient air. Manufacturing batteries in dry air, which has no moisture at all, is a much more expensive process than manufacturing in ambient air. Yang has developed a new trilayer electrode structure to fabricate lithiated battery anodes in ambient air. In these electrodes, he protected the lithium with a layer of the polymer PMMA to prevent lithium from reacting with air and moisture, and then coated the PMMA with such active materials as artificial graphite or silicon nanoparticles. The PMMA layer was then dissolved in the battery electrolyte, thus exposing the lithium to the electrode materials. “This way we were able to avoid any contact with air between unstable lithium and a lithiated electrode,” Yang explains, “so the trilayer-structured electrode can be operated in . This could be an attractive advance towards mass production of lithiated battery electrodes.”

New method increases energy density in lithium batteries
Illustration showing the procedure to fabricate the trilayer electrode. PMMA is used to protect lithium and make the trilayer electrode stable in ambient air. PMMA is dissolved in battery electrolyte and graphite contacts with lithium to …more

Yang’s method lowered the loss capacity in state-of-the-art graphite electrodes from 8% to 0.3%, and in silicon electrodes, from 13% to -15%. The -15% figure indicates that there was more lithium than needed, and the “extra” lithium can be used to further enhance cycling life of batteries, as the excess can compensate for capacity loss in subsequent cycles. Because the energy density, or capacity, of lithium-ion batteries has been increasing 5-7% annually over the past 25 years, Yang’s results point to a possible solution to enhance the capacity of Li-ion batteries. His group is now trying to reduce the thickness of the polymer coating so that it will occupy a smaller volume in the lithium battery, and to scale up his technique.

“This three-layer electrode structure is indeed a smart design that enables processing of lithium-metal-containing electrodes under ambient conditions,” notes Hailiang Wang, assistant professor of chemistry at Yale University, who was not involved with the study. “The initial Coulombic efficiency of electrodes is a big concern for the Li-ion battery industry, and this effective and easy-to-use technique of compensating irreversible Li ion loss will attract interest.”

Explore further: Lithium-ion batteries: Capacity might be increased by six times

More information: Zeyuan Cao et al, An Ambient-air Stable Lithiated Anode for Rechargeable Li-ion Batteries with High Energy Density, Nano Letters (2016). DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.6b03655



Rice University: Boron nitride-graphene hybrid may be right for next-gen green cars: Applications for Hydrogen-Fuel Storage: DOE

nitride-boron-graphene-hybridnanostSimulations by Rice University scientists show that pillared graphene boron nitride may be a suitable storage medium for hydrogen-powered vehicles. Above, the pink (boron) and blue (nitrogen) pillars serve as spacers for carbon graphene …more


Layers of graphene separated by nanotube pillars of boron nitride may be a suitable material to store hydrogen fuel in cars, according to Rice University scientists.

The Department of Energy has set benchmarks for storage materials that would make a practical fuel for light-duty vehicles. The Rice lab of materials scientist Rouzbeh Shahsavari determined in a new computational study that pillared boron nitride and graphene could be a candidate.

The study by Shahsavari and Farzaneh Shayeganfar appears in the American Chemical Society journal Langmuir.

Shahsavari’s lab had already determined through computer models how tough and resilient pillared graphene structures would be, and later worked boron nitride nanotubes into the mix to model a unique three-dimensional architecture. (Samples of seamlessly bonded to graphene have been made.)

Just as pillars in a building make space between floors for people, pillars in boron nitride graphene make space for hydrogen atoms. The challenge is to make them enter and stay in sufficient numbers and exit upon demand.

In their latest molecular dynamics simulations, the researchers found that either pillared graphene or pillared boron nitride graphene would offer abundant surface area (about 2,547 square meters per gram) with good recyclable properties under ambient conditions. Their models showed adding oxygen or lithium to the materials would make them even better at binding hydrogen.

They focused the simulations on four variants: pillared structures of boron nitride or pillared boron nitride graphene doped with either oxygen or lithium. At room temperature and in ambient pressure, oxygen-doped boron nitride graphene proved the best, holding 11.6 percent of its weight in hydrogen (its gravimetric capacity) and about 60 grams per liter (its volumetric capacity); it easily beat competing technologies like porous boron nitride, metal oxide frameworks and carbon nanotubes.

At a chilly -321 degrees Fahrenheit, the material held 14.77 percent of its weight in hydrogen.

The Department of Energy’s current target for economic storage media is the ability to store more than 5.5 percent of its weight and 40 grams per liter in hydrogen under moderate conditions. The ultimate targets are 7.5 weight percent and 70 grams per liter.

Shahsavari said adsorbed to the undoped pillared boron nitride graphene, thanks to weak van der Waals forces. When the material was doped with oxygen, the atoms bonded strongly with the hybrid and created a better surface for incoming hydrogen, which Shahsavari said would likely be delivered under pressure and would exit when pressure is released.

“Adding oxygen to the substrate gives us good bonding because of the nature of the charges and their interactions,” he said. “Oxygen and hydrogen are known to have good chemical affinity.”

He said the polarized nature of the where it bonds with the graphene and the electron mobility of the graphene itself make the material highly tunable for applications.

“What we’re looking for is the sweet spot,” Shahsavari said, describing the ideal conditions as a balance between the material’s surface area and weight, as well as the operating temperatures and pressures. “This is only practical through computational modeling, because we can test a lot of variations very quickly. It would take experimentalists months to do what takes us only days.”

He said the structures should be robust enough to easily surpass the Department of Energy requirement that a hydrogen fuel tank be able to withstand 1,500 charge-discharge cycles.

Explore further: ‘White graphene’ structures can take the heat

More information: Farzaneh Shayeganfar et al, Oxygen and Lithium Doped Hybrid Boron-Nitride/Carbon Networks for Hydrogen Storage, Langmuir (2016). DOI: 10.1021/acs.langmuir.6b02997


China’s New Silk Road initiative could impact European trade

This is how China’s New Silk Road initiative could impact European trade

Special To the WEF: Vehicles are seen on a main avenue during the evening rush hour at sunset in Beijing.

The regional potentially affected covers as many as 63 countriesthe regional potentially affected covers as many as 63 countries.

Much has been written about the Belt and Road initiative since Xi Jinping made it Beijing’s flagship initiative in September 2013. There are many interpretations of the initiative’s ultimate objectives, but one objective is clear. The belt and road scheme will bring huge improvements in regional and international connectivity through infrastructure upgrades and trade facilitation across a massive geographic area.

Indeed, the regional potentially affected covers as many as 63 countries (even if vaguely defined), sixty percent of the world’s population and thirty percent of global GDP.

This massive project is centered in two main routes, along which connectivity is to be fostered: land and sea. On land the focus is on transportation infrastructure and energy. For the sea, investment in ports and new trade routes are the main pillars. Both routes will have a major impact on Europe. In fact, the land route ends up in Europe, while the sea route is currently the most heavily used for trade between Europe and China. 

Undoubtedly, the belt and road initiative will affect Europe and the European Union (EU).

New Silk Roads: Image: Wall Street Journal

The designations employed and the presentation of material on this map do not imply the expression of any opinion on the part of the World Economic Forum concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. 

More specifically, the huge investments in infrastructure have the potential to ease bottlenecks in cross-border transportation. 
Among the many benefits of improved connectivity, trade stands out. The idea that improved transport infrastructure should generally foster trade is of course very intuitive. However, it is less sure that such benefits can be spread across countries and, more specifically, which countries stand to win/lose the most depending on their proximity to/distance from the improved infrastructure, among other considerations.
In a working paper recently published by Bruegel, we addressed exactly this question by assessing empirically how the belt and road initiative, through a substantial reduction in transportation costs, may foster trade. Beyond the relevance of trade for Europe, our results show that a reduction in transportation cost can indeed increase international trade. 

A 10 percent reduction in railway, air and maritime costs would increases trade by 2 percent, 5.5 percent and 1.1 percent respectively (see on this scenario and others below).

While the current belt and road initiative is centered on building infrastructure, there are other ways in which it may evolve. One obvious objective, as far as trade is concerned, is dismantling trade barriers. 

In fact, Chinese authorities have started considering free trade agreements (FTA) with the belt and road countries[1]. Because most of the EU countries are not directly included in the initiative, and it is only possible for China to jointly strike an FTA with all EU countries, the chance for the EU to benefit from an FTA is slim. The previously mentioned Bruegel working paper also develops this scenario by focusing on the impact on EU trade of China-centered free trade bloc among belt and road countries. 

As one could imagine, a scenario where the belt and road initiative focuses on trade barriers is much less appealing than the previous one in which only transport infrastructure is built. In fact, the EU would no longer benefit from a free lunch (we are assuming that China and the belt and road countries will finance the infrastructure and not the EU – indeed, this is the case so far) and would be excluded from a very large free trade area just outside its borders.

Finally, the paper develops a third scenario in which both transport infrastructure is improved and a FTA is agreed among belt and road countries. This scenario is relatively neutral for the EU as a whole, although there are clear winners and losers within EU.
Our analysis has special policy implications for the EU. China has been advocating for the EU’s involvement in the project since 2013. We believe it is in the EU’s interest to actively take part in the initiative and push for more emphasis on cooperation in transportation and infrastructure. This makes sense, as it stands at the other end of the road from China and there are clear gains to be made. 

In a nutshell, if we focus on trade, the belt and road is very good news for Europe under the current set up, namely one in which the EU benefits from the infrastructure without a financial cost attached to it, because it is so far being financed by China and other belt and road countries.

It is, thus, quite striking that the discussion on the impact of the belt and road on Europe is still very embryonic. It goes without saying that more research is needed on the topic, as trade is only one of the many channels through which the belt and road initiative may affect Europe. Financial channels, such as FDI and portfolio flows are also very relevant and should also be analysed.

Some more details on our three scenariosScenario I: Simulating the impact on EU trade of a reduction in transportation costs with the belt and road:
From a regional perspective, the EU is the largest winner from the belt and road initiative, with trade rising by more than 6%. Trade in the Asian region is also positively affected by the reduction in transportation costs, with trade increasing 3%, but this is only half as much as for the EU. In fact, Asian countries are found to be neither the top winners nor losers. 

This is probably explained by the fact that the estimated reduction in maritime transportation costs is quite moderate. Conversely, the cost of railway transportation is halved, which is behind the large gains for rail transit to Europe — in particular for landlocked countries. 

The rest of the world suffers from the deviation of trade towards the belt and road area but only with a very slight reduction in trade (0.04%). As a whole, our results point to the belt and road being a win-win in terms of trade creation, as the gains in the EU and Asia clearly outweigh the loss in the rest of the world.
Scenario II: Simulating the impact on EU trade of an FTA within the belt and road area

If China established a FTA zone in the belt and road area, the EU, which would be the biggest winner from the reduction in transportation costs, now suffers slightly. This result is intuitive, because we assume that EU members are left out of this trade deal and that no bilateral trade agreement with China is signed either. 

The rationale for such negative impact is that EU trade with China and other belt and road countries would be substituted by enhanced integration among them. This is true even for countries within the EU which are formally included in the belt and road initiative, such as Hungary and Poland, because they will not be able to enter any belt and road FTA without the rest of the EU joining. The Asian region thus becomes the biggest winner, followed by non-EU European countries since they can also benefit from the elimination of trade tariffs. 

If we consider countries one by one, the top winners are all from Middle Eastern and Central and East Asian countries, who would see their trade increasing by more than 15%. This compares favorably with the trade gains of 3% stemming from a reduction in transportation costs previously estimated for this group of economies.

Scenario III: Simulating trade gains for both transportation improvement and FTA
Lastly, we consider a combined policy package including both transportation improvement and establishment of an FTA within the belt and road region. Most Asian countries now become the biggest winners since they benefit from both the reduction in transportation costs and the elimination of trade tariffs. 

Some EU countries also benefit quite significantly but less than Asian ones. This is specially the case for some landlocked countries, such as Slovenia and Hungary. Also Germany benefits slightly more than France or Spain. This is actually very intuitive because these EU countries benefit from the transportation cost reduction but not from the FTA as they are not part of it. 

Also, as is in the previous two scenarios, there are always some slight losses for countries far from the belt and road project. The biggest loser is Japan, while the impact on the USA and Canada is close to zero.

[1] Ministry of Commerce of China,