Form Energy – A formidable (and notable) Startup Company Tackling the Toughest Problem(s) in Energy Storage

Industry veterans from Tesla, Aquion and A123 are trying to create cost-effective energy storage to last for weeks and months.

A crew of battle-tested cleantech veterans raised serious cash to solve the thorniest problem in clean energy.

As wind and solar power supply more and more of the grid’s electricity, seasonal swings in production become a bigger obstacle. A low- or no-carbon electricity system needs a way to dispatch clean energy on demand, even when wind and solar aren’t producing at their peaks.

Four-hour lithium-ion batteries can help on a given day, but energy storage for weeks or months has yet to arrive at scale.

Into the arena steps Form Energy, a new startup whose founders hope for commercialization not in a couple of years, but in the next decade.

More surprising, they’ve secured $9 million in Series A funding from investors who are happy to wait that long. The funders include both a major oil company and an international consortium dedicated to stopping climate change.

“Renewables have already gotten cheap,” said co-founder Ted Wiley, who worked at saltwater battery company Aquion prior to its bankruptcy. “They are cheaper than thermal generation. In order to foster a change, they need to be just as dependable and just as reliable as the alternative. Only long-duration storage can make that happen.”

It’s hard to overstate just how difficult it will be to deliver.

The members of Form will have to make up the playbook as they go along. The founders, though, have a clear-eyed view of the immense risks. They’ve systematically identified materials that they think can work, and they have a strategy for proving them out.

Wiley and Mateo Jaramillo, who built the energy storage business at Tesla, detailed their plans in an exclusive interview with Greentech Media, describing the pathway to weeks- and months-long energy storage and how it would reorient the entirety of the grid.

The team

Form Energy tackles its improbable mission with a team of founders who have already made their mark on the storage industry, and learned from its most notable failures.

There’s Jaramillo, the former theology student who built the world’s most recognizable stationary storage brand at Tesla before stepping away in late 2016. Soon after, he started work on the unsolved long-duration storage problem with a venture he called Verse Energy.

Separately, MIT professor Yet-Ming Chiang set his sights on the same problem with a new venture, Baseload Renewables. His battery patents made their mark on the industry and launched A123 and 24M. More recently, he’d been working with the Department of Energy’s Joint Center on Energy Storage Research on an aqueous sulfur formula for cost-effective long-duration flow batteries.

He brought on Wiley, who had helped found Aquion and served as vice president of product and corporate strategy before he stepped away in 2015. Measured in real deployments, Aquion led the pack of long-duration storage companies until it suddenly went bankrupt in March 2017.

Chiang and Wiley focused on storing electricity for days to weeks; Jaramillo was looking at weeks to months. MIT’s “tough tech” incubator The Engine put in $2 million in seed funding, while Jaramillo had secured a term sheet of his own. In an unusual move, they elected to join forces rather than compete.

Rounding out the team are Marco Ferrara, the lead storage modeler at IHI who holds two Ph.D.s; and Billy Woodford, an MIT-trained battery scientist and former student of Chiang’s.

The product

Form doesn’t think of itself as a battery company.

It wants to build what Jaramillo calls a “bidirectional power plant,” one which produces renewable energy and delivers it precisely when it is needed. This would create a new class of energy resource: “deterministic renewables.”

By making renewable energy dispatchable throughout the year, this resource could replace the mid-range and baseload power plants that currently burn fossil fuels to supply the grid.

Without such a tool, transitioning to high levels of renewables creates problems.

Countries could overbuild their renewable generation to ensure that the lowest production days still meet demand, but that imposes huge costs and redundancies. One famous 100 percent renewables scenario notoriously relied on a 15x increase in U.S. hydropower capacity to balance the grid in the winter.

The founders are remaining coy about the details of the technology itself.

Jaramillo and Wiley confirmed that both products in development use electrochemical energy storage. The one Chiang started developing uses aqueous sulfur, chosen for its abundance and cheap price relative to its storage ability. Jaramillo has not specified what he chose for seasonal storage.

What I did confirm is that they have been studying all the known materials that can store electricity, and crossing off the ones that definitely won’t work for long duration based on factors like abundance and fundamental cost per embodied energy.

“Because we’ve done the work looking at all the options in the electrochemical set, you can positively prove that almost all of them will not work,” Jaramillo said. “We haven’t been able to prove that these won’t work.”

The company has small-scale prototypes in the lab, but needs to prove that they can scale up to a power plant that’s not wildly expensive. It’s one thing to store energy for months, it’s another to do so at a cost that’s radically lower than currently available products.

“We can’t sit here and tell you exactly what the business model is, but we know that we’re engaged with the right folks to figure out what it is, assuming the technical work is successful,” Jaramillo said.

Given the diversity of power markets around the world, there likely won’t be one single business model.

The bidirectional power plant may bid in just like gas plants do today, but the dynamics of charging up on renewable energy could alter the way it engages with traditional power markets. Then again, power markets themselves could look very different by that time.

If the team can characterize a business case for the technology, the next step will be developing a full-scale pilot. If that works, full deployment comes next.

But don’t bank on that happening in a jiffy.

“It’s a decade-long project,” Jaramillo said. “The first half of that is spent on developing things and the second half is hopefully spent deploying things.”

The backer says

The Form founders had to find financial backers who were comfortable chasing a market that doesn’t exist with a product that won’t arrive for up to a decade.

That would have made for a dubious proposition for cleantech VCs a couple of years ago, but the funding landscape has shifted.

The Engine, an offshoot of MIT, started in 2016 to commercialize “tough tech” with long-term capital.

“We’re here for the long shots, the unimaginable, and the unbelievable,” its website proclaims. That group funded Baseload Renewables with $2 million before it merged into Form.

Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the entity Bill Gates launched to provide “patient, risk-tolerant capital” for clean energy game-changers, joined for the Series A.

San Francisco venture capital firm Prelude Ventures joined as well. It previously bet on next-gen battery companies like the secretive QuantumScape and Natron Energy.

The round also included infrastructure firm Macquarie Capital, which has shown an interest in owning clean energy assets for the long haul.

Saudi Aramco, one of the largest oil and gas supermajors in the world, is another backer.

Saudi Arabia happens to produce more sulfur than most other countries, as a byproduct of its petrochemical industry.

While the kingdom relies on oil revenues currently, the leadership has committed to investing billions of dollars in clean energy as a way to scope out a more sustainable energy economy.

“It’s very much consistent with all of the oil supermajors taking a hard look at what the future is,” Jaramillo said. “That entire sector is starting to look beyond petrochemicals.”

Indeed, oil majors have emerged as a leading source of cleantech investment in recent months.

BP re-entered the solar industry with a $200 million investment in developer Lightsource. Total made the largest battery acquisition in history when it bought Saft in 2016; it also has a controlling stake in SunPower. Shell has ramped up investments in distributed energy, including the underappreciated thermal energy storage subsegment.

The $9 million won’t put much steel in the ground, but it’s enough to fund the preliminary work refining the technology.

“We would like to come out of this round with a clear understanding of the market need and a clear understanding of exactly how our technology meets the market need,” Wiley said.

The many paths to failure

Throughout the conversation, Jaramillo and Wiley avoided the splashy rhetoric one often hears from new startups intent on saving the world.

Instead, they acknowledge that the project could fail for a multitude of reasons. Here are just a few possibilities:

• The technologies don’t achieve radically lower cost.

• They can’t last for the 20- to 25-year lifetime expected of infrastructural assets.

• Power markets don’t allow this type of asset to be compensated.

• Financiers don’t consider the product bankable.

• Societies build a lot more transmission lines.

• Carbon capture technology removes the greenhouse gases from conventional generation.

• Small modular nuclear plants get permitting, providing zero-carbon energy on demand.

• The elusive hydrogen economy materializes.

Those last few scenarios face problems of their own. Transmission lines cost billions of dollars and provoke fierce local opposition.

Carbon capture technology hasn’t worked economically yet, although many are trying.

Small modular reactors face years of scrutiny before they can even get permission to operate in the U.S.

The costliness of hydrogen has thwarted wide-scale adoption.

One thing the Form Energy founders are not worried about is that lithium-ion makes an end run around their technology on price. That tripped up the initial wave of flow batteries, Wiley noted.

“By the time they were technically mature enough to be deployed, lithium-ion had declined in price to be at or below the price that they could deploy at,” he said.

Those early flow batteries, though, weren’t delivering much longer duration than commercially available lithium-ion. When the storage has to last for weeks or months, the cost of lithium-ion components alone makes it prohibitive.

“Our view is, just from a chemical standpoint, [lithium-ion] is not capable of declining another order of magnitude, but there does seem to be a need for storage that is an order of magnitude cheaper and an order of magnitude longer in duration than is currently being deployed,” Wiley explained.

They also plan to avoid a scenario that helped bring down many a storage startup, Aquion and A123 included: investing lots of capital in a factory before the market had arrived.

Form Energy isn’t building small commoditized products; it’s constructing a power plant.

“When we say we’re building infrastructure, we mean that this is intended to be infrastructure,” Wiley said.

So far, at least, there isn’t much competition to speak of in the super-long duration battery market.

That could start to change. Now that brand-name investors have gotten involved, others are sure to take notice. The Department of Energy launched its own long-duration storage funding opportunity in May, targeting the 10- to 100-hour range.

It may be years before Form’s investigations produce results, if they ever do.

But the company has already succeeded in expanding the realm of what’s plausible and fundable in the energy storage industry.

* From Greentech Media J. Spector


Turbocharge for lithium batteries: A NEW Nanocomposite material that can Increase Storage Capacity, Lifetime and Charging Speed for Li-Io Batteries: 3X More Energy in ONE Hour

renaissanceoA team of material researchers has succeeded in producing a composite material that is particularly suited for electrodes in lithium batteries. The nanocomposite material might help to significantly increase the storage capacity and lifetime of batteries as well as their charging speed. 

Lithium-ion batteries are the ultimate benchmark when it comes to mobile phones, tablet devices, and electric cars. Their storage capacity and power density are far superior to other rechargeable battery systems. Despite all the progress that has been made, however, smartphone batteries only last a day and electric cars need hours to be recharged. Scientists are therefore working on ways to improve the power densities and charging rates of all-round batteries. “An important factor is the anode material,” explains Dina Fattakhova-Rohlfing from the Institute of Energy and Climate Research (IEK-1).

“In principle, anodes based on tin dioxide can achieve much higher specific capacities, and therefore store more energy, than the carbon anodes currently being used. They have the ability to absorb more lithium ions,” says Fattakhova-Rohlfing. “Pure tin oxide, however, exhibits very weak cycle stability — the storage capability of the batteries steadily decreases and they can only be recharged a few times. The volume of the anode changes with each charging and discharging cycle, which leads to it crumbling.”

One way of addressing this problem is hybrid materials or nanocomposites — composite materials that contain nanoparticles. The scientists developed a material comprising tin oxide nanoparticles enriched with antimony, on a base layer of graphene. The graphene basis aids the structural stability and conductivity of the material. The tin oxide particles are less than three nanometres in size — in other words less than three millionths of a millimetre — and are directly “grown” on the graphene. The small size of the particle and its good contact with the graphene layer also improves its tolerance to volume changes — the lithium cell becomes more stable and lasts longer. turbocharge batt 1

Three times more energy in one hour

“Enriching the nanoparticles with antimony ensures the material is extremely conductive,” explains Fattakhova-Rohlfing. “This makes the anode much quicker, meaning that it can store one-and-a-half times more energy in just one minute than would be possible with conventional graphite anodes. It can even store three times more energy for the usual charging time of one hour.”

“Such high energy densities were only previously achieved with low charging rates,” says Fattakhova-Rohlfing. “Faster charging cycles always led to a quick reduction in capacity.” The antimony-doped anodes developed by the scientists, however, retain 77 % of their original capacity even after 1,000 cycles.

“The nanocomposite anodes can be produced in an easy and cost-effective way. And the applied concepts can also be used for the design of other anode materials for lithium-ion batteries,” explains Fattakhova-Rohlfing. “We hope that our development will pave the way for lithium-ion batteries with a significantly increased energy density and very short charging time.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by Forschungszentrum JuelichNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Florian Zoller, Kristina Peters, Peter M. Zehetmaier, Patrick Zeller, Markus Döblinger, Thomas Bein, Zdeneˇk Sofer, Dina Fattakhova-Rohlfing. Making Ultrafast High-Capacity Anodes for Lithium-Ion Batteries via Antimony Doping of Nanosized Tin Oxide/Graphene CompositesAdvanced Functional Materials, 2018; 28 (23): 1706529 DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201706529

Are Sustainable Super-capacitors from Wood (yes w-o-o-d) the Answer for the Future of Energy Storage? Researchers at UST China Think ‘Nano-Cellulose’ may Hold the Key

Supercapacitors are touted by many as the wave of the future when it comes to battery storage for everything from cell phones to electric cars.

Unlike batteries, supercapacitors can charge and discharge much more rapidly — a boon for impatient drivers who want to be able to charge their electric cars quickly.

The key to supercap performance is electrodes with a large surface area and high conductivity that are inexpensive to manufacture, according to Science Daily.

Carbon aerogels satisfy the first two requirements but have significant drawbacks. Some are made from phenolic precursors which are inexpensive but not environmentally friendly. Others are made from  graphene and carbon nanotube precursors but are costly to manufacture.

Researchers at the University of Science and Technology of China have discovered a new process that is low cost and sustainable using nanocellulose, the primary component of wood pulp that gives strength to the cell walls of trees.

Once extracted in the lab, it forms a stable, highly porous network which when oxidized forms a micro-porous hydrogel of highly oriented cellulose nano-fibrils of uniform width and length.

Like most scientific research, there was not a straight line between the initial discovery and the final process.

A lot of tweaking went on in the lab to get things to work just right. Eventually, it was found that heating the hydrogel in the presence of para-toluenesulfonic acid, an organic acid catalyst, lowered the decomposition temperature and yielded a “mechanically stable and porous three dimensional nano-fibrous network” featuring a “large specific surface area and high electrical conductivity,” the researchers say in a report published by the journal Angewandte Chemie International.

The chemists have been able to create a low cost, environmentally friendly wood-based carbon aerogel that works well as a binder-free electrode for supercapacitor applications with electro-chemical properties comparable to commercial electrodes currently in use.

Now the hard work of transitioning this discovery from the laboratory to commercial viability will begin. Contributed by Steve Hanley

Watch Tenka Energy’s YouTube Video

Tenka Energy, Inc. Building Ultra-Thin Energy Dense SuperCaps and NexGen Nano-Enabled Pouch & Cylindrical Batteries – Energy Storage Made Small and POWERFUL!

Graphene smart contact lenses could give you thermal infrared and UV vision

A breakthrough in graphene imaging technology means you might soon have a smart contact lens, or other ultra-thin device, with a built-in camera that also gives you infrared “heat vision.” By sandwiching two layers of graphene together, engineers at the University of Michigan have created an ultra-broadband graphene imaging sensor that is ultra-broadband (it can capture everything from visible light all the way up to mid-infrared) — but more importantly, unlike other devices that can see far into the infrared spectrum, it operates well at room temperature.

As you probably know by now, graphene has some rather miraculous properties — including, as luck would have it, a very strong effect when it’s struck by photons (light energy). Basically, when graphene is struck by a photon, an electron absorbs that energy and becomes a hot carrier — an effect that can be measured, processed, and turned into an image. The problem, however, is that graphene is incredibly thin (just one atom thick) and transparent — and so it only absorbs around 2.3% of the light that hits it. With so little light striking it, there just aren’t enough hot carrier electrons to be reliably detected. (Yes, this is one of those rare cases where being transparent and super-thin is actually a bad thing.)

Zhaohui Zhong and friends at the University of Michigan, however, have devised a solution to this problem. They still use a single layer of graphene as the primary photodetector — but then they put an insulating dielectric beneath it, and then another layer of graphene beneath that. When light strikes the top layer, the hot carrier tunnels through the dielectric to the other side, creating a charge build-up and strong change in conductance. In effect, they have created a phototransistor that amplifies the small number of absorbed photons absorbed by the top layer (gate) into a large change in the bottom layer’s conductance (channel).

In numerical terms, raw graphene generally produces a few milliamps of power per watt of light energy (mA/W) —  the Michigan phototransistor, however, is around 1 A/W, or around 100 times more sensitive. This is around the same sensitivity as CMOS silicon imaging sensors in commercial digital cameras.

The prototype device created by Zhong and co. is already “smaller than a pinky nail” and can be easily scaled down. By far the most exciting aspect here is the ultra-broadband sensitivity — while the silicon sensor in your smartphone can only register visible light, graphene is sensitive to a much wider range of wavelengths, from ultraviolet at the bottom, all the way to far-infrared at the top.

In this case, the Michigan phototransistor is sensitive to visible light and up to mid-infrared — but it’s entirely possible that a future device would cover UV and far-IR as well.

There are imaging technologies that can see in the UV and IR ranges, but they generally require bulky cryogenic cooling equipment; the graphene phototransistor, on the other hand, is so sensitive that it works at room temperature. [Research paper: doi:10.1038/nnano.2014.31 – “Graphene photodetectors with ultra-broadband and high responsivity at room temperature”]

Now, I think we can all agree that a smartphone that can capture UV and IR would be pretty damn awesome — but because this is ultra-thin-and-light-and-efficient graphene we’re talking about, the potential, futuristic applications are far more exciting. For me, the most exciting possibility is building graphene imaging technology into smart contact lenses. At first, you might just use this data to take awesome photos of the environment, or to give you you night/thermal vision through a display built into the contact lens. In the future, though, as bionic eyes and retinal implants improve, we might use this graphene imaging tech to wire UV and IR vision directly into our brains.

Imagine if you could look up at the sky, and instead of seeing the normal handful of stars, you saw this:

The Milky Way, as seen by NASA’s infrared Spitzer telescope

That’d be pretty sweet.

New Simple Blood Test can Detect Alzheimer’s 30 Years in Advance + Can Also Detect 8 Cancers: Videos

New Simple Blood Test can Detect Alzheimer’s 30 Years in Advance + Can Also Detect 8 Cancers


Watch the Videos Below

Detecting Alzheimer’s 30 Years in Advance

8 Cancers Detected with ONE Simple Blood Test

Paper Biomass Could Yield Lithium-Sulfur Batteries

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

A byproduct of the papermaking industry could be the answer to creating long-lasting lithium-sulfur batteries.

A team from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has created a method to use sulfonated carbon waste called lignosulfonate to build a rechargeable lithium-sulfur battery.

Lignosulfonate is typically combusted on site, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere after sulfur has been captured for reuse. A battery built with the abundant and cheap material could be used to power big data centers, as well as provide a cheaper energy-storage option for microgrids and the traditional electric grid.

“Our research demonstrates the potential of using industrial paper-mill byproducts to design sustainable, low-cost electrode materials for lithium-sulfur batteries,” Trevor Simmons, a Rensselaer research scientist who developed the technology with his colleagues at the Center for Future Energy Systems (CFES), said in a statement.

Rechargeable batteries have two electrodes—a positive cathode and a negative anode. A liquid electrolyte is placed in between the electrodes to serve as a medium for the chemical reactions that produce electric current. In a lithium-sulfur battery, the cathode is made of a sulfur-carbon matrix and the anode is comprised of a lithium metal oxide.

Sulfur is nonconductive in its elemental form. When combined with carbon at elevated temperatures it becomes highly conductive, but can easily dissolve into a battery’s electrolyte, causing the electrodes on either side to deteriorate after only a few cycles.

Different forms of carbon, like nanotubes and complex carbon foams, have been tried to confine the sulfur in place, but have not been successful.

“Our method provides a simple way to create an optimal sulfur-based cathode from a single raw material,” Simmons said.

The research team developed a dark syrupy substance dubbed “brown liquor,” which they dried and then heated to about 700 degrees Celsius in a quartz tube furnace.

The high heat drives off most of the sulfur gas, while retaining some of the sulfur as polysulfides—chains of sulfur atoms—that are embedded deep within an activated carbon matrix. The heating process is then repeated until the correct amount of sulfur is trapped within the carbon matrix.

The researchers then ground up the material and mix it with an inert polymer binder to create a cathode coating on aluminum foil.

Thus far, the team has created a lithium-sulfur battery prototype the size of a watch battery that can cycle approximately 200 times.

They will now attempt to scale up the prototype to markedly increase the discharge rate and the battery’s cycle life.

“In repurposing this biomass, the researchers working with CFES are making a significant contribution to environmental preservation while building a more efficient battery that could provide a much-needed boost for the energy storage industry,” Martin Byrne, CFES director of business development, said in a statement.

Canadian Nanotechnology Firm Finds Water in the Driest of Air

A Canadian startup could have a new breakthrough in pulling moisture from the driest of places. For years, researchers around the world have been looking for new technology and methods of making drinkable water out of the atmosphere.

The company Awn Nanotech, based out of Montreal, have been leveraging the latest in nanotechnology to make that water harvesting a reality. Awn Nanotech, most recently, released new information about their progress at the American Physical Society’s March meeting — the world’s largest gathering of physicists.

Founder Richard Boudreault made the presentation, who is both a physicist and an entrepreneur with a sizeable number of other tech-based startup companies under his belt. He said the company got its inspiration after hearing about the water crises in southern California and South Africa. While most others were looking to solve the problem by desalination techniques and new technologies, he wanted to look to the sky instead.

He also wondered if he could create a more cost-efficient alternative to the other expensive options on the market. By tapping into nanotechnology, he could pull the particles toward each other and use the natural tension found in the surface as a force of energy to power the nanotechnology itself.

“It’s extremely simple technology, so it’s extremely durable,” Boudreault said at the press conference.

Boudreault partnered with college students throughout Canada to develop a specific textile. The fine mesh of carbon nanotubes would be both hydrophilic (attracts water to the surface) on one side and hydrophobic (repels water away from the surface) on the other.

Water particles hit the mesh and get pushed through the film from one side to the other. This ultimately forms droplets.

“Because of the surface tension, (the water) finds its way through,” Boudreault explained. The water then gets consolidated into storage tanks as clean water where it can await consumption. While there’s no need for power with the system, the Awn Nanotech team realized they could significantly speed up the water harvesting process by adding a simple fan. The team quickly added a small fan of a size that cools a computer. To make sure the fan also kept energy usage low, the fan itself runs on a small solar panel.

There have been some other attempts around the world to scale up water harvesting technology. In April 2017, a team from MIT partnered with University of California at Berkeley to harvest fog. They turned their attention to already very moist air and created a much cheaper alternative to other fog-harvesting methods using metal-organic frameworks.

However, unlike the small frameworks developed by the MIT researchers, Boudreault said that they’ve quickly scaled up their technology. In fact, the Awn Nanotech team has already created a larger alternative to their smaller scale that can capture 1,000 liters in one day. They’re currently selling their regular-scale water capture systems for $1,000 each, but the company intends on partnering with agricultural companies and farms for the more extensive systems.


One of the biggest challenges to the recovery of someone who has experienced a major physical trauma such as a heart attack is the growth of scar tissue.

As scar tissue builds up in the heart, it can limit the organ’s functions, which is obviously a problem for recovery.

However, researchers from the Science Foundation Ireland-funded Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research (AMBER) Centre have revealed a new biomaterial that actually ‘grows’ healthy tissue – not only for the heart, but also for people with extensive nerve damage.

In a paper published to Advanced Materials, the team said its biomaterial regenerating tissue responds to electrical stimuli and also eliminates infection.

The new material developed by the multidisciplinary research team is composed of the protein collagen, abundant in the human body, and the atom-thick ‘wonder material’ graphene.

The resulting merger creates an electroconductive ‘biohybrid’, combining the beneficial properties of both materials and creating a material that is mechanically stronger, with increased electrical conductivity.

This biohybrid material has been shown to enhance cell growth and, when electrical stimulation is applied, directs cardiac cells to respond and align in the direction of the electrical impulse.

Could repair spinal cord

It is able to prevent infection in the affected area because the surface roughness of the material – thanks to graphene – results in bacterial walls being burst, simultaneously allowing the heart cells to multiply and grow.

For those with extensive nerve damage, current repairs are limited to a region only 2cm across, but this new biomaterial could be used across an entire affected area as it may be possible to transmit electrical signals across damaged tissue.

Speaking of the breakthrough, Prof Fergal O’Brien, deputy director and lead investigator on the project, said: “We are very excited by the potential of this material for cardiac applications, but the capacity of the material to deliver physiological electrical stimuli while limiting infection suggests it might have potential in a number of other indications, such as repairing damaged peripheral nerves or perhaps even spinal cord.

“The technology also has potential applications where external devices such as biosensors and devices might interface with the body.”

The study was led by AMBER researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in partnership with Trinity College Dublin and Eberhard Karls University in Germany.

Programmable and Highly Scalable Molecular Fabrication of Trillions of Carbon-Nanotubes (CNT’s) for: Carbon-zero fuels, health & performance optimized air, water and precision medicine

Mattershift designs and manufactures nanotube membranes carbon-zero fuels, health and performance optimized air and water, and precision medicine.

ThOe startup was founded in 2013 to realize the potential of molecular factories, with the ultimate goal of printing matter from the air.

Science Advances – Large-scale polymeric carbon nanotube membranes with sub–1.27-nm pores


Mattershift reports the first characterization study of commercial prototype carbon nanotube (CNT) membranes consisting of sub–1.27-nm-diameter CNTs traversing a large-area nonporous polysulfone film. The membranes show rejection of NaCl and MgSO4 at higher ionic strengths than have previously been reported in CNT membranes, and specific size selectivity for analytes with diameters below 1.24 nm. The CNTs used in the membranes were arc discharge nanotubes with inner diameters of 0.67 to 1.27 nm. Water flow through the membranes was 1000 times higher than predicted by Hagen-Poiseuille flow, in agreement with previous CNT membrane studies. Ideal gas selectivity was found to deviate significantly from that predicted by both viscous and Knudsen flow, suggesting that surface diffusion effects may begin to dominate gas selectivity at this size scale.

The most basic building block of a Mattershift Molecular Factory is the Programmable Molecular Gateway. It consists of a carbon nanotube fixed within a flexible polymer sheet and aligned so that both of its ends are open.

The gateways are called “programmable” because a great variety of gates can be added to their openings, allowing them to manipulate molecules in specific ways.

One example is a NEMS gate, which is a gateway with a Nano Electro Mechanical System (NEMS) attached. It’s similar to a Micro Electro Mechanical System (MEMS), like the kind used to create accelerometers in smartphones, for example, but NEMS are much smaller. The one shown above is a gate that can be opened and closed by sending an electrical signal through the nanotube to which it’s attached.

Another example is a catalyst gate. This is a gateway with a catalyst attached to the opening of the nanotube. All molecules passing through the gateway must interact with the catalyst, which may be active or passive, removing or adding electrons, combining or splitting molecular parts.

Protein gates may be used to allow only specific molecules to pass through the gateways, like therapeutically useful antibodies, ions, or anything else protein channels may select for. Protein gates consisting of enzymes may also be used for highly specific catalysis of reactions, like those involved in molecular assembly.

A great many types of gates are possible, and many have already been demonstrated in laboratories around the world

Each sheet is embedded with a large number of gateways to transform and transport molecules. A typical density of gateways is 250 Trillion per square meter of sheet.

By creating a series of gateway sheets that perform different functions — purification, catalysis, separation, concentration, further reactions, and so on, complex chemical synthesis can be achieved in compact, inexpensive devices. These factories may be as small as a shoebox or as large as a warehouse.

The key innovation at Mattershift has been to create an inexpensive and scalable platform for this library of gates. With the ability to deploy Programmable Molecular Gateways at scale, we believe practical molecular factories are now possible.

New York-based Mattershift has managed to create large-scale carbon nanotube (CNT) membranes that are able to combine and separate individual molecules.

Research Focus: “BIG” Things Coming from Nanotechnology (very small things)

It may be a cliché, but in the world of nanotechnology, big things really do come in small packages.

The study and application of nanotechnology—science, engineering, and technology conducted at 1 to 100 nanometers—is rapidly growing across medicine, chemistry, physics, materials science, engineering and more.

According to the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), nanotechnology as we now know it has only been around approximately 30 years. Despite the field’s relatively young lifespan, it has already made significant strides.

Today, researchers are developing everything from next-generation electronics to more effective drug delivery systems at the nanoscale. In February, R&D Magazine took a special focus on this up-and-coming area of research.


We kicked off our nanotechnology coverage highlighting a new method to enhance the capabilities of the memristor—an emerging nanotechnology that offers a simpler and smaller alternative to the transistor. In our article, “Memristor Could Enable More Data Storage” we outlined a new memristor technology that can store up to 128 discernible memory states per switch, which is almost four times higher than what has been previously reported.

In another article, “Achieving Printed Power Electronics Means Going Beyond Silver Nanoparticles we outlined the limitations of 3D printed electronics using silver nanoparticle inks for systems that use high-current density known as “power electronics.” In the article, Greg Fritz, a material scientist in the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, outlined the challenges with silver nanoparticle inks and his team’s research into alternative nano-layered materials for printing power electronics.

Expert contributor Ahmed A. Busnaina, the director of the Center for High-rate Nanomanufacturing (CHN) at Northeastern University, also shared an article outlining his research on nanoscale high-throughput printing technology. He explained a directed assembly-based printing processes developed by CHN in his article, “Scalable Printing Sensors and Electronics at the Nanoscale.”

In Researchers Use Tin Oxide Nanocrystals to Improve Battery Performance, we highlighted scientists at Washington State University’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering who utilized tin oxide nanocrystals to improve the performance of both sodium-ion and lithium-ion batteries.


Nanotechnology is not limited to applications within traditional ‘technology.’ Nanoscale science also has a growing presence in the medical field, as nanomaterials are being formulated with conventional pharmaceutical agents to create more effective, safer, and more targeted drug delivery systems. We outlined the overall benefits of this approach in “Nanotechnology Can Improve Safety, Effectiveness in Drug Delivery.”The article highlights the work of the Center for Nanotechnology in Drug Delivery at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy which is investigating nanotechnology to treat stroke, neurodegenerative and neurodevelopmental disorders, nerve agent and pesticide poisoning and other diseases and injuries.

One disease area at the forefront of nanomedicine is oncology. We spoke with Piotr Grodzinski, PhD, the Chief of Nanodelivery Systems and Devices Branch at the Cancer Imaging Program of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), to learn more about the role of nanotechnology in oncology for our article, Nanoparticle-Based Cancer Treatment: A Look at its Origins and What’s Next.” The first nanoparticle-based cancer treatment—a formulation of the chemotherapy agent doxorubicin delivered via the nanoparticle material liposome—was approved in 1995. Today, researchers are working on more complex innovations, such as nanoparticle combination therapies and nanoparticles for delivery of immunostimulatory or immunomodulatory molecules.

Material Science

Graphene—a 2D nanomaterial consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice—has a host of applications. We highlighted one that could improve food safety in, New Lasing Method Enables Edible Graphene Food Trackers.” The article highlighted researchers from Rice University who had enhanced their laser-induced graphene technique to “write” graphene patterns onto food and other materials, enabling embed conductive identification tags and sensors onto products.

We also highlighted a way nanotechnology could be used to create a safer and cleaner environment in, Nano-Crystals Key to Continuously Self-Cleaning Surfaces.”  The article features New Clean NanoSeptic Self-Cleaning Surfaces—skins and mats that can be adhered to most any surface that utilize mineral nano-crystals to create an oxidation reaction stronger than bleach, without using poisons, heavy metals or chemicals. The nano-crystals, charged by visible light, act as a catalyst and the oxidation reaction breaks down organic material into base components including CO2, enabling the surface to continuously oxidize organic contaminants at the microscopic level.


Finally, we tackled the benefits of nanotechnology in the field of chemistry. In the article “Membrane Allows More Precise Chemical Separation Using Charged Nanochannels,” we highlighted a new type of filter has been designed to allow manufacturers to separate organic compounds not only by their size, but also by their electrostatic charge. The highly selective membrane filters could enable manufacturers to separate and purify chemicals in ways that are currently impossible, allowing them to potentially use less energy and cut carbon emissions.

Next Month’s Special Focus

Next month, R&D Magazine is focusing on technologies that are sustainable and clean, known as “green” technologies. Green technologies are created to mitigate or reverse the effects of human activity on the environment, providing a better future for all.

Check back in April for more on what’s happening within the green technology space in R&D.

Watch Our YouTube Video: Nano-Enabled Energy Storage: Super Capacitors and Batteries