Researchers use nanomaterial to develop a renewable alternative for crude oil


3D rendered Molecule (Abstract) with Clipping Path(Nanowerk News) Ben-Gurion University of the Negev  (BGU) researchers have developed an innovative process to convert carbon dioxide  and hydrogen into a renewable alternative for crude oil, which could transform  fuels used in gas and diesel-powered vehicles and jets.
The “green feed” crude oil can be refined into renewable liquid  fuels using established technologies and can be transported using existing  infrastructure to gas stations.  The highly efficient advance is made possible  in part using nanomaterials that significantly reduce the amount of energy  required in the catalytic process to make the crude oil.
“We can now use zero cost resources, carbon dioxide, water,  energy from the sun, and combine them to get real fuels,” said BGU’s Prof. Moti  Hershkowitz, presenting the new renewable fuel process at the Bloomberg Fuel  Choices Summit in Tel Aviv on November 13.  Carbon dioxide and hydrogen are two  of the most common elements available on earth.
“Ethanol (alcohol), biodiesel and/or blends of these fuels with  conventional fuels are far from ideal,” Hershkowitz explains. “There is a  pressing need for a game-changing approach to produce alternative, drop-in,  liquid transportation fuels by sustainable, technologically viable and  environmentally acceptable emissions processes from abundant, low-cost,  renewable materials.”
“BGU has filed the patents and we are ready to demonstrate and  commercialize it,” Hershkowitz says.  “Since there are no foreseen technological  barriers, the new process could become a reality within five to10 years,” he  adds.
The BGU crude oil process produces hydrogen from water, which is  mixed with carbon dioxide captured from external sources and synthetic gas  (syngas). This green feed mixture is placed into a reactor that contains a  nano-structured solid catalyst, also developed at BGU, to produce an organic  liquid and gas.
Prof. Moti Herskowitz is the Israel Cohen Chair in Chemical  Engineering and the vice president and dean of research and development at BGU.   He led the team that also includes Prof. Miron Landau, Dr. Roxana Vidruk and  others at BGU’s Blechner Center for Industrial Catalysis and Process  Development.
The Blechner Center, founded in 1995, has the infrastructure and  expertise required to deal with a wide variety of challenging topics related to  basic and applied aspects of catalysis and catalytic processes. This was  accomplished with major funding from various sources that include science  foundations, industrial partners and individual donors such as the lateNorbert  Blechner. Researchers at the Blechner Center have also developed a novel process  for converting vegetable and algae oils to advanced green diesel and jet fuels,  as well as a novel process for producing zero-sulfur diesel.
“Ben-Gurion University’s Blechner Center has been at the  forefront of alternative fuel research and development, working with major  American oil and automotive companies for more than 20 years,” says Doron  Krakow, executive vice president, American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of  the Negev.  “We applaud these new developments and BGU’s focus on giving the  world new technologies for more efficient, renewable fuel alternatives.”
Source: American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the  Negev

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Self-steering particles go with the flow


Asymmetrical particles could make lab-on-a-chip diagnostic devices more efficient and portable.

Anne Trafton, MIT News Office

stretchy-electronics-4MIT chemical engineers have designed tiny particles that can “steer” themselves along preprogrammed trajectories and align themselves to flow through the center of a microchannel, making it possible to control the particles’ flow through microfluidic devices without applying any external forces.

 

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A slightly asymmetrical particle flows along the center of a microfluidic channel

Such particles could make it more feasible to design lab-on-a-chip devices, which hold potential as portable diagnostic devices for cancer and other diseases. These devices consist of microfluidic channels engraved on tiny chips, but current versions usually require a great deal of extra instrumentation attached to the chip, limiting their portability.

Much of that extra instrumentation is needed to keep the particles flowing single file through the center of the channel, where they can be analyzed. This can be done by applying a magnetic or electric field, or by flowing two streams of liquid along the outer edges of the channel, forcing the particles to stay in the center.

The new MIT approach, described in Nature Communications, requires no external forces and takes advantage of hydrodynamic principles that can be exploited simply by altering the shapes of the particles.

Lead authors of the paper are Burak Eral, an MIT postdoc, and William Uspal, who recently received a PhD in physics from MIT. Patrick Doyle, the Singapore Research Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT, is the senior author of the paper.

Exploiting asymmetry

The work builds on previous research showing that when a particle is confined in a narrow channel, it has strong hydrodynamic interactions with both the confining walls and any neighboring particles. These interactions, which originate from how particles perturb the surrounding fluid, are powerful enough that they can be used to control the particles’ trajectory as they flow through the channel.

The MIT researchers realized that they could manipulate these interactions by altering the particles’ symmetry. Each of their particles is shaped like a dumbbell, but with a different-size disc at each end.

When these asymmetrical particles flow through a narrow channel, the larger disc encounters more resistance, or drag, forcing the particle to rotate until the larger disc is lagging behind. The asymmetrical particles stay in this slanted orientation as they flow.

Because of this slanted orientation, the particles not only move forward, in the direction of the flow, they also drift toward one side of the channel. As a particle approaches the wall, the perturbation it creates in the fluid is reflected back by the wall, just as waves in a pool reflect from its wall. This reflection forces the particle to flip its orientation and move toward the center of the channel.

Slightly asymmetrical particles will overshoot the center and move toward the other wall, then come back toward the center again until they gradually achieve a straight path. Very asymmetrical particles will approach the center without crossing it, but very slowly. But with just the right amount of asymmetry, a particle will move directly to the centerline in the shortest possible time.

“Now that we understand how the asymmetry plays a role, we can tune it to what we want. If you want to focus particles in a given position, you can achieve that by a fundamental understanding of these hydrodynamic interactions,” Eral says.

“The paper convincingly shown that shape matters, and swarms can be redirected provided that shapes are well designed,” says Patrick Tabeling, a professor at the École Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles in Paris, who was not part of the research team. “The new and quite sophisticated mechanism … may open new routes for manipulating particles and cells in an elegant manner.”

Diagnosis by particles

In 2006, Doyle’s lab developed a way to create huge batches of identical particles made of hydrogel, a spongy polymer. To create these particles, each thinner than a human hair, the researchers shine ultraviolet light through a mask onto a stream of flowing building blocks, or oligomers. Wherever the light strikes, solid polymeric particles are formed in the shape of the mask, in a process called photopolymerization.

During this process, the researchers can also load a fluorescent probe such as an antibody at one end of the dumbbell. The other end is stamped with a barcode — a pattern of dots that reveals the particle’s target molecule.

This type of particle can be useful for diagnosing cancer and other diseases, following customization to detect proteins or DNA sequences in blood samples that can be signs of disease. Using a cytometer, scientists can read the fluorescent signal as the particles flow by in single file.

“Self-steering particles could lead to simplified flow scanners for point-of-care devices, and also provide a new toolkit from which one can develop other novel bioassays,” Doyle says.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, Novartis, and the Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies through the U.S. Army Research Office.