Rice University: NEWT: New One-Step Catalyst Converts Nitrates to Water and Air


Rice Water Air Nitrates 159751_webRice University’s indium-palladium nanoparticle catalysts clean nitrates from drinking water by converting the toxic molecules into air and water. Credit Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

A simple, one-step catalyst could help yield cleaner drinking water with less nitrates.

A team from Rice University’s Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment (NEWT) Center have discovered that a catalyst made from indium and palladium can clean toxic nitrates from drinking water by converting them into air and water.

“Indium likes to be oxidized,” co-author Kim Heck, a research scientist at Rice, said in a statement. “From our in situ studies, we found that exposing the catalysts to solutions containing nitrate caused the indium to become oxidized.

“But when we added hydrogen-saturated water, the palladium prompted some of that oxygen to bond with the hydrogen and form water, and that resulted in the indium remaining in a reduced state where it’s free to break apart more nitrates,” she added.

In previous research, the researchers discovered that gold-palladium nanoparticles were not good catalysts for breaking apart nitrates. This led to the discovery of indium and palladium as a suitable catalyst.

“Nitrates are molecules that have one nitrogen atom and three oxygen atoms,” Rice chemical engineer Michael Wong, the lead scientist on the study, said in a statement. “Nitrates turn into nitrites if they lose an oxygen, but nitrites are even more toxic than nitrates, so you don’t want to stop with nitrites. Moreover, nitrates are the more prevalent problem.

“Ultimately, the best way to remove nitrates is a catalytic process that breaks them completely apart into nitrogen and oxygen or in our case, nitrogen and water because we add a little hydrogen,” he added. “More than 75 percent of Earth’s atmosphere is gaseous nitrogen, so we’re really turning nitrates into air and water.”

Nitrates, which could also be a carcinogenic, are considered toxic to both infants and pregnant women.

Nitrate pollution is common in agricultural communities, especially in the U.S. Corn Belt and California’s Central Valley, where fertilizers are heavily used. Studies have shown that nitrate pollution is on the rise because of changing land-use patterns. 1-california-drought-farms

The Environmental Protection Agency regulates allowable limits both nitrates and nitrites for safe drinking water. In communities with polluted wells and lakes, that typically means pretreating drinking water with ion-exchange resins that trap and remove nitrates and nitrites without destroying them.

“Nitrates come mainly from agricultural runoff, which affects farming communities all over the world,” Wong said. “Nitrates are both an environmental problem and health problem because they’re toxic.

“There are ion-exchange filters that can remove them from water, but these need to be flushed every few months to reuse them, and when that happens, the flushed water just returns a concentrated dose of nitrates right back into the water supply.”

The researchers will now try to develop a commercially viable water-treatment system.

“That’s where NEWT comes in,” Wong said. “NEWT is all about taking basic science discoveries and getting them deployed in real-world conditions.

“This is going to be an example within NEWT where we have the chemistry figured out, and the next step is to create a flow system to show proof of concept that the technology can be used in the field,” he added.

The study was published in ACS Catalysis.

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Rice University Study Boosts Hope for Cheaper Fuel Cells


Rice_Univ_Better_Fuel_Cells

Rice researchers show how to optimize nanomaterials for fuel-cell cathodes

Nitrogen-doped carbon nanotubes or modified graphene nanoribbons may be suitable replacements for platinum for fast oxygen reduction, the key reaction in fuel cells that transform chemical energy into electricity, according to Rice University researchers.

The findings are from computer simulations by Rice scientists who set out to see how carbon nanomaterials can be improved for fuel-cell cathodes. Their study reveals the atom-level mechanisms by which doped nanomaterials catalyze oxygen reduction reactions (ORR).

The research appears in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Nanoscale.

Theoretical physicist Boris Yakobson and his Rice colleagues are among many looking for a way to speed up ORR for fuel cells, which were discovered in the 19th century but not widely used until the latter part of the 20th. They have since powered transportation modes ranging from cars and buses to spacecraft.

The Rice researchers, including lead author and former postdoctoral associate Xiaolong Zou and graduate student Luqing Wang, used computer simulations to discover why graphene nanoribbons and carbon nanotubes modified with nitrogen and/or boron, long studied as a substitute for expensive platinum, are so sluggish and how they can be improved.

Doping, or chemically modifying, conductive nanotubes or nanoribbons changes their chemical bonding characteristics. They can then be used as cathodes in proton-exchange membrane fuel cells. In a simple fuel cell, anodes draw in hydrogen fuel and separate it into protons and electrons. While the negative electrons flow out as usable current, the positive protons are drawn to the cathode, where they recombine with returning electrons and oxygen to produce water.

The models showed that thinner carbon nanotubes with a relatively high concentration of nitrogen would perform best, as oxygen atoms readily bond to the carbon atom nearest the nitrogen. Nanotubes have an advantage over nanoribbons because of their curvature, which distorts chemical bonds around their circumference and leads to easier binding, the researchers found.

Rice logo_rice3The tricky bit is making a catalyst that is neither too strong nor too weak as it bonds with oxygen. The curve of the nanotube provides a way to tune the nanotubes’ binding energy, according to the researchers, who determined that “ultrathin” nanotubes with a radius between 7 and 10 angstroms would be ideal. (An angstrom is one ten-billionth of a meter; for comparison, a typical atom is about 1 angstrom in diameter.)

They also showed co-doping graphene nanoribbons with nitrogen and boron enhances the oxygen-absorbing abilities of ribbons with zigzag edges. In this case, oxygen finds a double-bonding opportunity. First, they attach directly to positively charged boron-doped sites. Second, they’re drawn by carbon atoms with high spin charge, which interacts with the oxygen atoms’ spin-polarized electron orbitals. While the spin effect enhances adsorption, the binding energy remains weak, also achieving a balance that allows for good catalytic performance.

The researchers showed the same catalytic principles held true, but to lesser effect, for nanoribbons with armchair edges.

“While doped nanotubes show good promise, the best performance can probably be achieved at the nanoribbon zigzag edges where nitrogen substitution can expose the so-called pyridinic nitrogen, which has known catalytic activity,” Yakobson said.

“If arranged in a foam-like configuration, such material can approach the efficiency of platinum,” Wang said. “If price is a consideration, it would certainly be competitive.”

Zou is now an assistant professor at Tsinghua-Berkeley Shenzhen Institute in Shenzhen City, China. Yakobson is the Karl F. Hasselmann Professor of Materials Science and NanoEngineering and a professor of chemistry.

The research was supported by the Robert Welch Foundation, the Army Research Office, the Development and Reform Commission of Shenzhen Municipality, the Youth 1000-Talent Program of China and Tsinghua-Berkeley Shenzhen Institute.

Novel Nanomedicine Inhibits Progression of Pancreatic Cancer in Mice – Tel Aviv University


Nanomedicine I download

Survival rates in pancreatic cancer linked to inverse correlation between specific oncogene and tumor suppressant, Tel Aviv University researchers say

A new Tel Aviv University study pinpoints the inverse correlation between a known oncogene — a gene that promotes the development of cancer — and the expression of an oncosuppressor microRNA as the reason for extended pancreatic cancer survival. The study may serve as a basis for the development of an effective cocktail of drugs for this deadly disease and other cancers.

Nanomedicine III imagesThe study, which was published in Nature Communications, was led by Prof. Ronit Satchi-Fainaro, Chair of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, and conducted by Hadas Gibori and Dr. Shay Eliyahu, both of Prof. Satchi-Fainaro’s multidisciplinary laboratory, in collaboration with Prof. Eytan Ruppin of TAU’s Computer Science Department and the University of Maryland and Prof. Iris Barshack and Dr. Talia Golan of Chaim Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer.

Pancreatic cancer is among the most aggressive cancers known today. The overwhelming majority of pancreatic cancer patients die within just a year of diagnosis. “Despite all the treatments afforded by modern medicine, some 75% of all pancreatic cancer patients die within 12 months of diagnosis, including many who die within just a few months,” Prof. Satchi-Fainaro says.

“But around seven percent of those diagnosed will survive more than five years. We sought to examine what distinguishes the survivors from the rest of the patients,” Prof. Satchi-Fainaro continues. “We thought that if we could understand how some people live several years with this most aggressive disease, we might be able to develop a new therapeutic strategy.”

Nanomedicine I downloadCalling a nano-taxi

The research team examined pancreatic cancer cells and discovered an inverse correlation between the signatures of miR-34a, a tumor suppressant, and PLK1, a known oncogene. The levels of miR-34a were low in pancreatic cancer mouse models, while the levels of the oncogene were high. This correlation made sense for such an aggressive cancer. But the team needed to see if the same was true in humans.

The scientists performed RNA profiling and analysis of samples taken from pancreatic cancer patients. The molecular profiling revealed the same genomic pattern found earlier in mouse models of pancreatic cancer.

The scientists then devised a novel nanoparticle that selectively delivers genetic material to a tumor and prevents side effects in surrounding healthy tissues.

“We designed a nanocarrier to deliver two passengers: (1) miR-34a, which degrades hundreds of oncogenes; and (2) a PLK1 small interfering RNA (siRNA), that silences a single gene,” Prof. Satchi-Fainaro says. “These were delivered directly to the tumor site to change the molecular signature of the cancer cells, rendering the tumor dormant or eradicating it altogether.Nanomedicine II pancreatic-cancer-1140x641

“The nanoparticle is like a taxi carrying two important passengers,” Prof. Satchi-Fainaro continues. “Many oncology protocols are cocktails, but the drugs usually do not reach the tumor at the same time. But our ‘taxi’ kept the ‘passengers’ — and the rest of the body — safe the whole way, targeting only the tumor tissue. Once it ‘parked,’ an enzyme present in pancreatic cancer caused the carrier to biodegrade, allowing the therapeutic cargo to be released at the correct address — the tumor cells.”

Improving the odds

To validate their findings, the scientists injected the novel nanoparticles into pancreatic tumor-bearing mice and observed that by balancing these two targets — bringing them to a normal level by increasing their expression or blocking the gene responsible for their expression — they significantly prolonged the survival of the mice.

“This treatment takes into account the entire genomic pattern, and shows that affecting a single gene is not enough for the treatment of pancreatic cancer or any cancer type in general,” according to Prof. Satchi-Fainaro.

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Research for the study was funded by the European Research Council (ERC), Tel Aviv University’s Cancer Biology Research Center (CBRC) and the Israel Science Foundation (ISF).

American Friends of Tel Aviv University (AFTAU) supports Israel’s most influential, comprehensive and sought-after center of higher learning, Tel Aviv University (TAU). TAU is recognized and celebrated internationally for creating an innovative, entrepreneurial culture on campus that generates inventions, startups and economic development in Israel. For three years in a row, TAU ranked 9th in the world, and first in Israel, for alumni going on to become successful entrepreneurs backed by significant venture capital, a ranking that surpassed several Ivy League universities. To date, 2,400 patents have been filed out of the University, making TAU 29th in the world for patents among academic institutions.

Fisker claims solid-state battery ‘breakthrough’ for electric cars with ‘500 miles range and 1 minute charging’


Fisker battery prototype 6a00d8341c4fbe53ef01b8d2be0382970c-550wi

Representation of the three-dimensional electrodes:

When Henrik Fisker relaunched its electric car startup last year, he announced that their first car will be powered by a new graphene-based hybrid supercapacitor technology, but he later announced that they put those plans on the backburner and instead will use more traditional li-ion batteries.

Now the company is announcing a “breakthrough” in solid-state batteries to power their next-generation electric cars and they are filing for patents to protect their IP.

Get ready for some crazy claims here.

Solid-state batteries are thought to be a lot safer than common li-ion cells and could have more potential for higher energy density, but they also have limitations, like temperature ranges, electrode current density, and we have yet to see a company capable of producing it in large-scale and at an attractive price point competitive with li-ion.

Now Fisker announced that they are patenting a new solid-state electrode structure that would enable a viable battery with some unbelievable specs.

Here’s what they claim (via GreenCarCongress):

“Fisker’s solid-state batteries will feature three-dimensional electrodes with 2.5 times the energy density of lithium-ion batteries. Fisker claims that this technology will enable ranges of more than 500 miles on a single charge and charging times as low as one minute—faster than filling up a gas tank.”

 

 

Fisker has been all over the place with its new Emotion electric car and we have highlighted that in our look at Fisker’s unbelievable claims.

But its latest solid-state project is led by Dr. Fabio Albano, VP of battery systems at Fisker and the co-founder of Sakti3, which adds credibility to the effort.

fisker-emotion

Albano commented on the announcement:

“This breakthrough marks the beginning of a new era in solid-state materials and manufacturing technologies. We are addressing all of the hurdles that solid-state batteries have encountered on the path to commercialization, such as performance in cold temperatures; the use of low cost and scalable manufacturing methods; and the ability to form bulk solid-state electrodes with significant thickness and high active material loadings. We are excited to build on this foundation and move the needle in energy storage.”

Electrek’s Take

Like any battery breakthrough announcement, it should be taken with a grain of salt. Most of those announcements never result in any kind of commercialization.

For this particular technology, Fisker says that it will be automotive production grade ready around 2023.

A lot of things can happen over the next 5 years.

In the meantime, Fisker plans to launch its Emotion electric car at CES 2018 in just 2 months.

 

Fisker has filed patents for solid-state batteries

Henry Fisker download

It seems that we’re on the cusp of a solid-state battery revolution. The latest company to announce progress in developing the new type of battery is Fisker. It has filed patents for solid-state lithium-ion batteries and it expects the batteries to be produced on a mass scale around 2023.

Though Fisker is a very small car company that is currently taking deposits for its upcoming EMotion electric sedan, there are reasons to believe that the company could fulfill this promise. One of the members of the battery-development team was a co-founder of Sakti3a company that formed to develop new batteries and announced its research into solid-state technology back in 2011That company was purchased by Dyson, the vacuum cleaner company, which also intends on producing electric carsthat AutoExpress reports will feature solid-state batteries in 2020. Toyota is also expected to have solid-state batteries just ahead of Fisker around 2022.

The reason all these companies are working on developing solid-state batteries is because they present a whole host of advantages over what you’ll find in today’s phones, computers and cars. The two big ones are greater energy density and rapid charging times. Fisker claims the batteries it’s developing have an energy density 2.5 times that of current batteries, and they should be capable of providing a 500-mile driving range. The company also says the batteries could be recharged in as little as a minute. Both claims are similar to past claims from others, including Sakti3. Other benefits include lower estimated cost than conventional lithium-ion batteries as well as very little risk of fires or explosions.

Fisker also announced that it will display the new battery technology at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. It will be on display along with a close-to-production EMotion, which will be using more conventional lithium-ion batteries from LG Chem. That car has its own impressive claims with a range of more than 400 miles and the ability to regain around 125 miles of range in about 9 minutes. It will also retail for around $130,000, and the company is taking $2,000 reservations now. Fisker intends for it to go into production in 2019.

Fisker battery prototype 6a00d8341c4fbe53ef01b8d2be0382970c-550wi

Fighting Cancer and Drug Resistance – A ‘Nanosystem’ Does Both


Cancer is often referred to as “smart,” and this term often refers to the ability of these cells to proliferate without purpose or restraint.

The ability of cancer cells to develop multidrug resistance (MDR), a major problem that patients can face, making treatment against this disease even more elusive.

In an effort to combat both cancer cell proliferation and MDR, a recent study conducted by researchers from the National Health Research Institutes of Taiwan and the National Science Council of Taiwan have developed a nanosystem capable of addressing both challenges in the field of cancer therapy.

Drug Resistance and Cancer

Patients with several forms of blood cancer and solid tumors in the breast, ovaries, lungs and lower gastrointestinal tract can become untreatable as a result of multidrug resistance (MDR).

In MDR, the cancer cells of these patients become resistant to commonly used therapeutic drugs as a result of an overexpression of ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transporters that effectively push out drug molecules following administration.

P-glycoprotein and what is termed as the multidrug resistance-associated protein (MRP) are two of the most studied pumps present in cancer cells that are capable of rejecting chemotherapeutic drugs.

By avoiding the toxic effects of these drugs, cancer cells are able to continue to proliferate and metastasize to other organs of the body.

Unfortunately, some of the most commonly used cancer therapeutic drugs such as colchicine, vinblastine, doxorubicin, etoposide, paclitaxel, certain vinca alkaloids and other small molecules have shown resistance in various cancer cells.

Current research efforts in the field of anticancer drug discovery have looked towards the administration of combinatorial technology to be administered with cancer to effectively prevent cancer cells from physically removing therapeutic drugs when administered together.

While blocking the action of pumps like MRP and P-glycoprotein has shown some efficacy, transcription factors, such as c-Jun, which plays a role in cell, proliferation and MDR, can still potentiate metastasis.

Therefore, there remains a need to develop cancer therapies that work against drug resistance and simultaneously prevent further metastasis.

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The Efficacy of Administering Doxorubicin Mesoporous Silica Nanoparticles (MSNs)

Mesoporous silica nanoparticles (MSNs) are well-documented drug delivery vehicles that allow for a high drug loading capacity with minimal side effects upon administration.

The tunable size properties, thermal stability, photostability and ease of functionalization to different applications make MSNs one of the most promising options for therapeutic delivery systems.

In the recent study published in Nano Futures, the group of scientists led by Leu-Wei Lo covalently conjugated MSNs with doxorubicin and tested the ability of these nanosystems to be taken up by cancer cells in vitro.

The PC-3 cell line of metastatic human prostate carcinoma cells were treated with 100 μg/ml of either Dox-MSNs that were conjugated with DNAzyme, (Dox-MSN-Dz), Dox-MSNs or control MSNs for 24 hours to study the ability of these cells to survive following treatment.

The researchers found the Dox-MSN-Dz reduced cell survival rates by over 80%, whereas the Dox-MSNs alone still reduced cell survival rates by 60%.

The results of this study confirm the therapeutic potential of the developed multifunctional nanosystem, which incorporates doxorubicin, a widely used chemotherapeutic drug, MSNs and DNAzyme.

Not only did this nanosystem improve the cytotoxicity of doxorubicin to a resistance cancer cell line, but it also successfully reduced migration of cancer cells by inhibiting c-Jun.

While further in vivo studies need to be conducted to fully evaluate the ability of Dox-MSN-Dz to prevent metastasis and invade highly resistance cancer cells, the results of this study are promising.

Future research initiatives that incorporate different chemotherapeutic drugs into a similar nanosystem design could also show similar bifunctional properties as presented here.

Image Credit:

fusebulb/Shutterstock.com

References:

1 “A co-delivery nanosystem of chemotherapeutics and DNAzyme overcomes cancer drug resistance and metastasis” S. Sun, C. Liu, et al. Nano Futures. (2017). DOI: 10.1088/2399-1984/aa996f.

The Death Of Oil: Scientists Eyeball 2X EV Battery Range


For someone who’s all in for fossil fuels, President* Trump sure has a thing for electric vehicles.

Last October the US Energy Department announced $15 million in funding to jumpstart the next generation of “extremely” fast charging systems, and last week the agency’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory announced a breakthrough discovery for doubling the range of EV batteries.

Put the two together, and you have EVs that can go farther than any old car, and fuel up just about as quickly.

Add the convenience factor of charging up at home or at work, and there’s your recipe for killing oil. #ThanksTrump!

A Breakthrough Energy Storage Discovery For Electric Vehicles

Did you know that it’s possible to double the range of today’s electric vehicles?

No, really! The current crop of  lithium-ion batteries use just half of their theoretical capacity, so there is much room for improvement.

To get closer to 100%, all you have to do is “overstuff” the positive electrode — the cathode — with more lithium. Theoretically, that would enable the battery to absorb more ions in the same space. Theoretically.

Unfortunately, previous researchers have demonstrated that supercharged cathodes lose voltage too quickly to be useful in EVs, because their atomic structure changes.

During the charge cycle, lithium ions leave the supercharged cathode and transition metal atoms move in. When the battery discharges, not all of the transition metal atoms go back to where they came from, leaving less space for the lithium ions to return.

It’s kind of like letting two friends crash on your couch, and one of them never leaves.

That’s the problem tackled by a research team based at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (SLAC is located at Stanford University and the name is a long story involving some trademark issues, but apparently it’s all good now).

Here’s Stanford grad student and study leader William E. Gent enthusing over the new breakthrough:

It gives us a promising new pathway for optimizing the voltage performance of lithium-rich cathodes by controlling the way their atomic structure evolves as a battery charges and discharges.

Umm, okay.

In other words, the SLAC team discovered a way to manipulate the atomic structure of supercharged cathodes, so the battery doesn’t lose voltage during the charge/discharge cycle.

And, here’s where oil dies:

The more ions an electrode can absorb and release in relation to its size and weight — a factor known as capacity — the more energy it can store and the smaller and lighter a battery can be, allowing batteries to shrink and electric cars to travel more miles between charges.

No, Really — How Does It Work?

To get to the root of the problem, the research team deployed some fancy equipment at  SLAC’s SSRL (Stanford Synchotron Radiation Lightsource) to track the atomic-level changes that a lithium-rich battery undergoes during charging cycles.

First, they defined the problem:

…clarifying the nature of anion redox and its effect on electrochemical stability requires an approach that simultaneously probes the spatial distribution of anion redox chemistry and the evolution of local structure.

The research team “unambiguously confirmed” the interplay between oxygen and the transition metal, along with the mechanism for controlling that reaction:

Our results further suggest that anion redox chemistry can be tuned through control of the crystal structure and resulting TM migration pathways, providing an alternative route to improve Li-rich materials without altering TM–O bond covalency through substitution with heavier 4d and 5d TMs.

The equipment angle is essential, btw. Apparently, until the new SLAC study nailed it down there was widespread disagreement on the root cause of the problem.

The new research was made possible in part by a new soft X-ray RIXS system, which was just installed at the lab last year (RIX stands for resonant inelastic X-ray scattering).

You can get all the details from the study, “Coupling between oxygen redox and cation migration explains unusual electrochemistry in lithium-rich layered oxides,” which just came out in the journal Nature Communications.

So, Now What?

The SLAC team points out that until now, RIXS has been mainly used in foundational research. The new study goes a long way to confirming the practical application of RIXS.

In other words, the floodgates are open to a new wave of advanced energy storage research leading to better, cheaper EV batteries and faster charging systems.

In that regard its worth noting that along with the Energy Department, Samsung partnered in the new study and chipped in some of the funding.

That’s a pretty clear indication that Samsung is looking to crack open the Panasonic/Tesla partnership and take over global leadership of the energy storage field. Last September, Samsung unveiled a new 600-km (430-mile) battery for EVs, but the company was mum on the details.

Last November, Samsung unveiled a new version of its SM3 ZE sedan, in which the size of the battery was doubled without increasing the weight of the vehicle. That’s a significant achievement and the company has been tight-lipped on that score, too.

Samsung is also exploring graphene for advanced, long range batteries, so there’s that.

“Perhaps News of My (Oil) premature Death has been misreported”

As for the death of oil, electric vehicles are getting their place in the sun, no matter how much Trump talks up fossil fuels.

That still leaves the issue of petrochemicals.

Although the green chemistry movement is gathering steam, the US petrochemical industry has been taking off like a rocket in recent years. That means both oil and natural gas production could continue apace for the foreseeable future, with or without gasmobiles.

ExxonMobil has been making huge moves into the Texas epicenter of US petrochemicals, and just last week the Houston Chronicle noted this development:

Michigan and Delware-based DowDuPont announced earlier this year that it would spend $4 billion expanding its industrial campus in Freeport.

The expansion will give Freeport the largest ethylene plant in the world. Houston-based Freeport LNG is also building an LNG export terminal in the area.

Then there’s this:

By 2019, Freeport’s power demand is expected to be 92 percent higher than it was in 2016, according to ERCOT.

The $246.7 million project will include a new 48 mile transmission line and upgrades to shorter line in the area, according to ERCOT.

Stanford University: Lithium-Graphene “FOIL” makes for a GREAT Battery Electrode


defectfreegrScientists fabricate defect-free graphene, set record reversible capacity for Co3O4 anode in Li-ion batteries

Lithium ion batteries, as the name implies, work by shuffling lithium atoms between a battery’s two electrodes. So, increasing a battery’s capacity is largely about finding ways to put more lithium into those electrodes. These efforts, however, have run into significant problems. If lithium is a large fraction of your electrode material, then moving it out can cause the electrode to shrink. Moving it back in can lead to lithium deposits in the wrong places, shorting out the battery.

Now, a research team from Stanford has figured out how to wrap lots of lithium in graphene. The resulting structure holds a place open for lithium when it leaves, allowing it to flow back to where it started. Tests of the resulting material, which they call a lithium-graphene foil, show it could enable batteries with close to twice the energy density of existing lithium batteries.

Lithium behaving badly

One obvious solution to increasing the amount of lithium in an electrode is simply to use lithium metal itself. But that’s not the easiest thing to do. Lithium metal is less reactive than the other members of its column of the periodic table (I’m looking at you, sodium and potassium), but it still reacts with air, water, and many electrolyte materials. In addition, when lithium leaves the electrode and returns, there’s no way to control where it re-forms metal. After a few charge/discharge cycles, the lithium electrode starts to form sharp spikes that can ultimately grow large enough to short out the battery.Graphene Anodes for LI Batt id35611

To have better control over how lithium behaves at the electrode, the Stanford group has looked into the use of some lithium-rich alloys. Lithium, for example, forms a complex with silicon where there are typically over four lithium atoms for each atom of silicon. When the lithium leaves the electrode, the silicon stays behind, providing a structure to incorporate the lithium when it returns on the other half of the charge/discharge cycle.

While this solves the problems with lithium metal, it creates a new one: volume changes. The silicon left behind when the lithium runs to the other electrode simply doesn’t take up as much volume as it does when the same electrode is filled with the lithium-silicon mix. As a result, the electrode expands and contracts dramatically during a charge-discharge cycle, putting the battery under physical stress. (Mind you, a lithium metal electrode disappears entirely, possibly causing an even larger mechanical stress.)

And that would seem to leave us stuck. Limiting the expansion/contraction of the electrode material would seem to require limiting the amount of lithium that moves into and out of it. Which would, of course, mean limiting the energy density of the battery.

Between the sheets

In the new work, the researchers take their earlier lithium-silicon work and combine it with graphene. Graphene is a single-atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms linked together, and it has a number of properties that make it good for batteries. It conducts electricity well, making it easy to shift charges to and from the lithium when the battery charges and discharges. It’s also extremely thin, which means that packing a lot of graphene molecules into the electrode doesn’t take up much space. And critically for this work, graphene is mechanically tough.

Stanford_University_seal_2003_svgTo make their electrode material, the team made nanoparticles of the lithium-silicon material. These were then mixed in with graphene sheets in an eight-to-one ratio. A small amount of a plastic precursor was added, and the whole mixture was spread across a plastic block. Once spread, the polymer precursor created a thin film of polymer on top of the graphene-nanoparticle mix. This could be peeled off, and then the graphene-nanoparticle mix could be peeled off the block as a sheet.

The resulting material, which they call a foil, contains large clusters of the nanoparticles typically surrounded by three to five layers of graphene. Depending on how thick you make the foil, there can be several layers of nanoparticle clusters, each separated by graphene.

The graphene sheets make the material pretty robust, as you can fold and unfold it and then still use it as a battery electrode. They also help keep the air from reacting with the lithium inside. Even after two weeks of being exposed to the air, the foil retained about 95 percent of its capacity as an electrode. Lower the fraction of graphene used in the starting mix and air becomes a problem, with the electrode losing nearly half of its capacity in the same two weeks.

And it worked pretty well as an electrode. When the lithium left, the nanoparticles did shrink, but the graphene sheets held the structure together and kept it from shrinking. And it retained 98 percent of its original capacity even after 400 charge-discharge cycles. Perhaps most importantly, when paired with a vanadium oxide cathode, the energy density was just over 500 Watt-hours per kilogram. Current lithium-ion batteries top out at about half that.

Normally, work like this can take a while to get out of an academic lab and have a company start looking into it. In this case, however, the head of the research group Yi Cui already has a startup company with batteries on the market. So, this could take somewhat less time for a thorough commercial evaluation. The biggest sticking point may be the cost of the graphene. A quick search suggests that graphene is still thousands of dollars per kilogram, although it has come down, and lots of people are looking for ways to make it even less expensive.

If they succeed, then the rest of the components of this electrode are pretty cheap. And the process for making it seems pretty simple.

Nature Nanotechnology, 2017. DOI: 10.1038/NNANO.2017.129  (About DOIs).

Nikola Motors – Daimler – Toyota Challenge Tesla’s Metrics for the ‘Long-Haul’ – Will the Best Zero-Emissions Semi (Trucks) Run on Fuel Cells? Next-Gen Batteries? Both?


Toyota’s Project Portal and … a possibly “game-changing” semi from upstart Nikola Motors might prove FCEVs are the winning tech for the long-haul industry.

Last month, Tesla CEO Elon Musk rode onto the dais at Tesla’s design studio in Hawthorne, California aboard a futuristic semi truck.

Tesla Elec Semi I 4w2a6750

He exited the vehicle, collar popped, to introduce what looked to be a sleeker version of the colossal, decidedly unsexy commercial vehicles that rumble endlessly across America—and received the type of hysterical fanfare usually reserved for the Beyonces and Biebers of the world.

This marked one of the most anticipated, and curious, new-vehicle reveals of 2017: the Tesla Semi, a battery-electric-powered long-haul truck.

Tesla-Semi-truck-nikola-one

In his signature #humblebrag tone, Musk ticked off the Class 8 truck’s impressive capabilities: It can tow 80,000 pounds, the most allowed on US highways, for a range of 500 miles.

It has aerodynamics better than a Bugatti Chiron, a unique central seating position, and comes standard with enhanced AutoPilot, meaning it should never jackknife.

Also: it’s guaranteed not to break down for one million miles; it has a shatterproof windshield; and it implements a kinetic-energy-recovery system (KERS) in such a way that it will never need brake pads – in short WOW!

Plus, with a motor on each of the four rear wheels, it can rocket from 0-60 mph in five seconds flat—one-third the time of the average diesel semi.

Even fully loaded, that number increases to a scant 20 seconds, or a full minute faster than its smog-belching contemporaries. When towing up a five-percent grade, the Tesla can reach speeds of 65 mph, which is 20 mph faster than a diesel.

Taken in aggregate, these features and numbers would greatly benefit a trucker’s route in both speed and cost savings. They are eye-popping metrics; almost unbelievable. Which is perhaps why some are having a hard time believing them.

More important than what Musk said during his November announcement was what he didn’t say. For instance, there was no mention at all about the battery pack that will power the Tesla Semi to these magical thresholds. There was no mention of total weight or cost, which are arguably the two most important variables for long-haul shippers.

In terms of charging these unknown batteries, Musk promised a 400-mile recharge in the course of about 30 minutes. Based on recent estimates in Bloomberg New Energy Finance, hitting those numbers would require a charging system ten times more powerful than Tesla’s own Superchargers—currently the fastest consumer charging network in the world.

The cost building stations that could hit those figures would be profound, as would be the potential stress on the electrical system from multiple trucks charging simultaneously.

Bloomberg estimated that in order to fulfill Musk’s promises the truck would require a battery capacity between 600 and 1,000 kilowatt-hours.

Assuming a down-the-middle number of 800 kWh, that would necessitate a battery of more than 10,000 pounds, with a likely price tag north of $100,000. Musk also claims the Semi will be 20 percent less expensive than a diesel truck per mile—but that is with customers only paying $0.07/kWh.

Experts estimate that Tesla will have to pay, on average, a minimum of $0.40/kWh* for “green” electricity—meaning the company would have to heavily subsidize charging costs for fleets of trucks sucking down terawatts of electricity.

So, in order to hit Musk’s stated targets, Tesla will require batteries that don’t, as far as anyone knows, exist; charging capability faster than anything on the planet; and rates far below current market value.

 

“I don’t understand how that works,” electric vehicle analyst Salim Morsy told Bloomberg. “I really don’t.” Investor’s Business Daily dubbed Musk’s claims “monuments of envelope pushing.”

“The biggest concern that I have is that this is a typical Elon Musk ‘shiny object’ announcement to prop up Tesla’s stock price and distract from all of the issues he is having with Model 3 production,” an engineer associated with the hydrogen industry, who asked to remain anonymous, told us, referencing recent production delays and Tesla’s loss of over $1.3 billion year-to-date.

“I don’t mean to be negative; I do believe in battery technology and its merits, and I also believe that we will continue to see significant improvements in battery cost and performance during the coming decades.

But as a scientist and engineer I have always found Elon Musk’s lack of scientific accuracy and ability to overstate and exaggerate truth, and get away with it, very annoying and disingenuous.”

Tesla did not respond to requests to clarify these apparent discrepancies for this article.

The Truth About EV Trucks

Musk is not alone in the world of heavy-duty battery-electric trucks. VW recently announced a $1.7 billion investment towards developing electric powertrains for trucks and buses. Daimler, the world’s largest truck maker, unveiled an all-electric heavy-duty concept dubbed the E-FUSO Vision ONE at the Tokyo Motor Show, in late October. Daimler’s Class 8 truck promises a significantly more modest 220-mile range, with a payload 1.8 tons less than its diesel counterpart, and utilizing a 300 kWh battery pack. On paper, these figures make the E-FUSO Vision ONE more plausible than the Tesla Semi.

Project Portal Toyota maxresdefault

Of course Musk, a man who has promised to colonize Mars and builds spaceships to commute to the International Space Station, has never been known for making anything less than bold announcements.

But shorter-range BEV trucks do have a place in the transportation ecosystem. This is known as “last mile” and “short haul,” where deliveries are made inter-city, or within 100 miles. In such a capacity, the Tesla Semi could be greatly successful.

The semi truck business is a $30-billion-per-year industry in the United States alone, so there’s plenty of money to go around. But the Semi’s utility in true long-haul applications remains questionable.

Toyota’s Project Portal

 

Project Portal, a Real-World Zero-Emission Semi

Toyota has logged more than 4,000 development miles in a zero-emission Class 8 truck pulling drayage-rated cargo. This proof-of-concept semi, dubbed Project Portal, boasts 670 horsepower, 1,325 lb-ft of torque, and a 200-mile range. Rather than being powered strictly by battery pack—in this case, a comparatively small, 12kWh unit—Project Portal also utilizes twin fuel cell stacks plumbed from the Toyota Mirai consumer vehicle.

Project Portal II maxresdefault (2)

Project Portal has been moving goods around the Port of Los Angeles since April, and on October 23 expanded its routes to distribution warehouses and nearby rail yards. The idea is to collect data while the truck performs real-world drayage duties, its itineraries increasing as the study progresses.

Like the Tesla Semi, Project Portal also boasts impressive acceleration versus a traditional diesel truck: 8.9 seconds to travel 1/8th of a mile versus 14.6 seconds. Unlike the Tesla Semi, however, it’s already at work in the real world, even moving supplies and auto parts for Toyota throughout Southern California. Its numbers are verifiable.

In order to supply the Project Portal truck, as well as a growing fleet of FCEV semis as the project scales in size, Toyota announced last week that it would build the world’s first megawatt-scale hydrogen power station at the Port of Long Beach.

The power plant will generate 2.35 megawatts of electricity and 1.2 tons of hydrogen each day, enough to supply power and fuel to 2,350 homes and 1,500 FCEVs, respectively. Moreover, the Tri-Gen plant will generate so-called “green hydrogen” because it will be powered by 100-percent renewable sources, like local farm bio-waste. (Currently, most hydrogen is created via “cracking” natural gas, meaning splitting the CH4 into two H2 molecules and a free carbon atom.) Toyota could then claim the Project Portal trucks to be zero-emission from well-to-wheel.

Nikola Motors Arrives on the Scene With Bold Claims

 

A recent surprise player in the FCEV semi game is Utah-based Nikola Motors, makers of an announced Class 8 truck dubbed the Nikola One, a 320 kWh-powered tractor-trailer that will reportedly generate over 1,000-hp and 2,000 lb-ft of torque. Nikola Motors has also set the formidable goal of building a proprietary refueling station network across America, with over 700 planned H2 stations to be constructed in the next 10 years. As ambitious as that sounds, Nikola has an innovative business plan to scale up its stations. 

Nikola I Trevor-Milton-Nikola-Motor-CEO-on-truck

Nikola Motors CEO Trevor Milton

“We’re selling to fleets that run the same route every day,” says Nikola Motors CEO Trevor Milton. “So they’ll put an order in for 500 trucks, and we’ll build the stations before they come online.” A medium-size station will be constructed on each end of the route, allowing Nikola to establish flagship stations in each of those two terminal cities. With a range between 500 and 1,200 miles, depending on terrain, for their Nikola One, these stations can be quite far apart. Nikola plans to start with 16 stations located in the Midwest and East Coast, to be completed by 2019, at a cost of about $10 million apiece. Initially, there will be four test trucks running in 2018, with a planned 250 by 2019, and a total of 750 by 2020. Nikola plans to hit full production in 2021.

Rather than through a traditional lease, Nikola’s business model will be to charge customers solely on a per-mile basis. Nikola estimates the cost of a diesel semi runs between $1 to $1.25 per mile—this includes fuel, lease, tires, warranty, service, maintenance, etc.—though Milton says that with the Nikola One a driver is paying “anywhere between 20 to 40 percent less than that.”

“You don’t have to wait for 3 years to get your money back—you get your money back starting from day one,” Milton says.

While customers pay per mile (from $0.85 per mile for cheaper models up to $1.00/mile for the most expensive) all other costs of running the truck save insurance—from wipers and tires to all maintenance and fuel—are covered by Nikola Motors.

“That’s the golden egg,” Milton says. “How do you provide something that has no emission, that has better performance at less cost? And that’s what we’ve been able to do,” he says. “You won’t even be able to buy a diesel in 10 years because you’re going to be losing over a zero-emission vehicle.”

With over 8,000 trucks reserved in their first month of unveiling, Milton has no doubt they will have the necessary customers to fill out the initial 750 truck order, and more. “We’re on track, probably, to being more than 10-15 years booked out once we hit the assembly line,” he says. “We have more customers than we know what to do with.”

As far as Tesla’s news, Milton believes the Semi will be successful for short-haul work, estimating the truck’s real-world range will probably be around 350 miles—not nearly long enough for long-haul purposes.

“Their battery alone will weigh more than our entire truck,” he says, estimating the Semi’s lithium-ion pack will weigh about 15,000 pounds.

“We don’t really see them as a competitor on our end, just because our truck can outperform their truck in every category, every time, in every situation,” Milton says. “And [Nikola One can do] it two to three times further than they can, at a 10,000-pound weight difference. But it’s good that they’re coming in teaching people that electric can work, because we need all the help we can get in the industry to prove electric trucks work.”

Competitors or colleagues, Musk and Milton share a capacity for eyebrow-raising claims. When we first spoke with Milton in the spring for a longer feature on this site about the current state of the global hydrogen industry, he claimed he would require every Nikola station to produce 100 percent of its hydrogen via renewables like solar energy—a stipulation that would make the Nikola One, like Project Portal trucks fueled by the Tri-Gen bio-waste-powered plant, truly zero-emission from wheel to well.

“We will produce all the H2 on every one of our stations onsite via electrolysis,” Milton said at the time.

The math didn’t appear to add up. Using National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) algorithms of energy production via solar cells, we deduced the lowest-capacity stations, at 12,500 kgs, would require a 540-acre solar farm to produce the necessary H2. We followed up with Nikola for clarification, and the company responded that, according to their calculations, they would each require “just over 218 acres.” Even with this considerable reduction, the idea that 700-plus stations across America would each be connected to a 218-acre solar fields seemed highly unlikely.

When we spoke more recently, Milton had softened his stance.

“I’ve definitely lessened on that, but it’s more of a philosophy, not as an actual message,” he said. “We have to take energy from the grid, but the way we get that energy is guaranteed that it’s zero-emission. We just don’t want a gigantic diesel plant powering our hydrogen.”

Instead, Milton now says, one-third of Nikola’s energy will be produced on-site, while the remainder will be bought from other green sources, whether that means from renewables, from power plants at excess capacity, or the grid via guaranteed zero-emission sources.

“There are multiple ways we’ll be buying and getting energy into our hydrogen production, but it’s not one-size-fits-all, that’s for sure. And if we made it sound like that, we apologize; we were mainly just trying to educate people that we are going to mandate that almost all of our energy is zero-emission from production to consumption.

“We’re evolving every month, as we get all these orders going in. We’re learning. There’s little things we’re tweaking, but ultimately our overall philosophy is it’s our duty and our goal to get rid of all the diesels and all the emissions on the road. And we’ll get there soon, it’ll just take some time.”

Regardless of the historical challenges inherent to starting any automotive brand, some people are hopeful about Nikola’s future.

“Building up a hydrogen eco-system entails many—and very different—elements,” says Yorgo Chatzimarkakis, Secretary General of the hydrogen-advocacy group Hydrogen Europe. After invoking the myriad doubts that Elon Musk faced when launching Tesla, he continues. “Some areas of a hydrogen-based economy need visionaries who have ambitions that do not seem plausible at the moment but are doable, and absolutely make sense in the long run.”

The Realities of a Zero-Emission Future

The point here isn’t to denigrate Tesla specifically, or BEVs in general. In order to achieve a zero emission transportation future—the goal of an increasing number of nations worldwide—many think that we should not have to choose between BEVs and FCEVs. Each has its clear advantages. 

As we’ve outlined in detail before, a zero-emission future will likely require the right solution for specific applications. Battery-electric power excels in smaller vehicles and for shorter ranges, while FCEVs are better suited for heavy-duty jobs that demand intense energy consumption and longer ranges. It need not be a zero-sum game.

Musk has accomplished enough already to warrant the benefit of the doubt for his bold Semi claims. Just this summer, he made a bet on Twitter that he could install a 100-megawatt battery storage facility in the South Australian outback within 100 days—or it would be free. Many doubted the billionaire futurist’s wager, but sure enough, by December 1 the facility was online and functional. During his comet-streak career he has made a habit of unflinching claims doubted by the masses, and has often enough enjoyed the last laugh.

However, Musk also has a history of disparaging hydrogen and FCEVs as legitimate transportation alternatives, calling them “incredibly dumb” and “bullshit.” This position is not only erroneous and misleading, but also dangerous and counterproductive to the same zero-emission future that he repeatedly touts. As the founder and CEO of the most valuable BEV company in the world by far—in fact, Wall Street considers Tesla the most valuable American automaker, having surpassed General Motors in April—it benefits him tremendously if that future is strictly BEV-powered.

The potential problem with Musk’s Semi assertions wouldn’t be that they’re possible embellishments about the capabilities of a BEV truck—he certainly wouldn’t be the first CEO to promise the impossible to prop up stock value—as much as their potential to salt the earth for FCEV semi truck growth. Claiming that BEV semis are a better solution than FCEVs would be fine on a barstool or in a vacuum, but the incredible power of Musk’s voice in the tech and transportation markets could devalue the viability of Class 8 vehicles powered by fuel cells.

Case in point: Bloomberg reported that immediately after Musk’s Tesla Semi announcement, share prices of truck and truck component makers dropped. They recovered when analysts had time to sift through the available information, but Musk potentially hobbling a critical cog of a zero-emission future runs contrary to his stated goals of saving the planet.

In the end, if Tesla, Daimler, Toyota and Nikola can get their respective FCEV and BEV semis off the ground, the impact would be tectonic. Using average estimates, every single alternative-powertrain truck replacing a similar ICE-powered vehicle would remove about 173 tons of CO2 emissions each year. Scale that to a fleet of 1,000, or 100,000, or a million trucks, and the impact on the climate and air quality would be profound. Musk should be free to do what he needs to in order to ensure his company succeeds, except when it values Tesla’s bottom line over that of the planet.

*Note: This article was updated to reflect that the stated price of $0.40/kWh is specifically for so-called “green” electricity harnessed from renewable or zero-emission sources.

Swedish Researchers develop Precision Nanomaterials to selectively kill Cancer Cells


precisionnan cancer cellsDendrimers loaded with organic sulfur compounds (OSC) accumulate in cancer cells, where they are broken down and release reactive oxygen radicals (ROS). The elevation of ROS levels eventually spells death for the cancer cell. Credit: KTH The Royal Institute of Technology

Researchers in Sweden have succeeded in taking the next step toward using man-made nanoscale compounds in the fight against cancer. A recent proof-of-concept study showed that dendrimers, which were first introduced in the 1980s, may be used to introduce compounds that essentially trick cancer cells into performing self-destructive tasks.

Dendrimers, or cascade molecules, are organically synthesized large molecules that match nature’s peptides and proteins with respect to size and structure. Researchers from KTH Royal Institute of Technology took advantage of these qualities – and cancer cells’ appetite for adsorbing large molecules – by loading the material with an organic sulfur compound (OSC) which is also a key ingredient in amino acids, peptides and proteins.

Applying these to cultured human cancer cells sets in motion a process that distracts cancer cells from their normal task of multiplying, and instead go to work on picking apart disulfide bonds in the dendrimers, says Michael Malkoch, a professor of fiber and polymer technology at KTH.

Malkoch says that this activity releases an increased concentration of reactive oxygen radicals (ROS), which eventually induces cell death. Unlike treatments like chemotherapy, the effect is selective toward , leaving the healthy ones unaffected since  have a higher tolerance for ROS.

The nanomaterial is finally broken down by the body, he says.

The article was published in Journal of the American Chemical Society, and is co-authored by Malkoch, KTH doctoral student Oliver Andrén and Aristi P. Fernandes of Karolinska Institutet.

Their results show that the platform is worth continued research with clinical tests in which dendrimers are preprogrammed with large and specific numbers of organic , Malkoch says.

“We’ve just scratched the surface for what you can do with . We have previously tested using similar materials as a part of a leg patch – a type of adhesive that in some cases enables treatment of bone fractures without screws and plates,” he says. “You can imagine future applications where the material is used to coat implants around  tumors and thereby enable therapy treatment at a localized level.”

 Explore further: ‘Spiders’ that battle cancer

More information: Oliver C. J. Andrén et al. Heterogeneous Rupturing Dendrimers, Journal of the American Chemical Society (2017). DOI: 10.1021/jacs.7b10377