Nanotechnology BBC Documentary Nano, the Next Dimension

carbon-nanotubeA BBC documentary on nanotechnology advances in Europe “Nano, The Next Dimension”





A very good video to provide “perspective” on how “All Things Nano” have ALREADY impacted our lives and how … the VAST (but tiny!) arena of “Nanotechnologies” (Nano: objects a billionth of a meter in size) will certainly impact ALL of the Sciences, Manufacturing, Communications and Consumer Materials. Impacts such as:

1.  Our abilities to capture and generate abundant renewable sources of energy, (Solar, Hydrogen Fuel Cells)

2. To create abundant sources of CLEAN WATER through vastly improved FILTRATION and WASTE REMEDIATION processes. (Desalination, Oil and Gas Fields)

3. To deliver LIFE SAVING Drug Therapies and provide vastly improved Diagnostics. (Diabetes, Cancer, Alzheimer’s)

4. To create FLEXIBLE SCREENS and PRINTABLE ELECTRONICS that offer vastly improved performance, user experience, with lower energy consumption and with significantly LOWER COSTS. (Flat Panel TV Screens, Smart Phones, Super-Computers, Super-Capacitors, Long-Lived Super Batteries)

5. Completely water, stain proof clothing. Lighter, Stronger Sports Equipment.

6. Coatings and Paints for Buildings, Windows and Highways that capture solar energy. Inks and Sensors that make our everyday life more Secure.

Through the month of January, we will be posting videos, articles and research summaries that focus on the coming accelerated “wave” of nano-supported technologies “that will change the way we innovate everything!”

“Great Things from Small Things!”


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Nanotechnology Today – Fuel Cells, Buckyballs and Carbon Nanotubes

Nanotubes images 

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of National Chemistry Week, we visited the Maryland Nanocenter at the University of Maryland (UMD) to check out the latest research in nanotechnology — this year’s theme for NCW.

Three UMD researchers explain how their work in the nano-scale could lead to better fuel cells, solar cells, cancer treatments and super strong materials made from carbon nanotubes. Check out the video for a first hand look at the exciting applications of nanotechnology available today, and those that are just around the corner.

Drs. Eichhorn and Reutt-Robey at the University of Maryland ‘illuminate’ for us some of the current nano-technology being developed for commercial applications.

Video by Kirk Zamieroski Produced by the American Chemical Society



Nanotechnology Design for micro-sized microbial Fuel Cells

By Michael Berger. Copyright © Nanowerk

QDOTS imagesCAKXSY1K 8(Nanowerk Spotlight) Microbial fuel cells are a prime  example of environmental biotechnology that turns the treatment of organic  wastes into a source of electricity. Fuel cell technology, despite its recent  popularity as a possible solution for a fossil-fuel free future, is actually  quite old – the principle was discovered in 1838 and the first fuel cell was  developed in 1843.

The operating principle of a fuel cell is fairly  straightforward: it is an electrochemical energy conversion device that converts  the chemical energy from fuel (on the anode side) and oxidant (on the cathode  side) directly into electricity.   Today, there are many competing types of fuel cells, depending  on what kind of fuel and oxidant they use. For instance, a hydrogen fuel cell  uses hydrogen as fuel and oxygen as oxidant. In microbial fuel cells (MFCs), the  naturally occurring decomposing pathways of electrogenic bacteria are used to  both clean water and produce electricity by oxidizing biological compounds from  wastewater and other liquid wastes, even urine.

“Micro-sized microbial fuel cells are essentially miniature  energy harvesters requiring only the insertion of a liquid feed source  containing organic materials for the bacteria to feed,” Muhammad Mustafa Hussain, an Associate Professor of Electrical  Engineering at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in  Saudi Arabia, explains to Nanowerk.

“As a new technology, a full range of  microbial fuel cell conditions and materials must be rapidly tested to determine  the optimal parameters for maximum power production and future  commercialization. From that perspective, micro-sized MFCs offer a unique  miniature platform for rapid testing of MFC components.”   In new work, Hussain and his team have now demonstrated a  sustainable and practical design for a micro-sized microbial fuel cell.  Reporting their work in the July 30, 2013 online edition of ACS Nano (“Sustainable Design of High Performance Micro-sized  Microbial Fuel Cell with Carbon Nanotube Anode and Air Cathode”), the team  has successfully integrated multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNT) into the anode  of a completely mobile micro-sized MFC using an air cathode.           microbial fuel cell design (a)  Schematic of the 75 µL micro-sized microbial fuel cell with MWCNT on silicon  chip anode and air cathode. Gold and Nickel on silicon chip anodes were also  tested and compared in the same set up; (b) Photograph of MWCNT on silicon chip  microbial fuel cell in plastic encasing with titanium wire contact visible as  well as the black air cathode compared to a US penny. (Reprinted with permission  from American Chemical Society)

With a focus on sustainability and low-cost usability, the  researchers designed their MFC as a one-chamber device by removing the proton  exchange membrane and replacing the cathode/chemical electron acceptor  combination with an air cathode and ambient oxygen electron acceptor, thus  making the entire device small enough for system-on-chip functionality.   “We have used oxygen instead of hazardous chemical ferricyanide,  which eliminates otherwise required continuous flow of liquid chemicals,” says  Justine Mink, a PhD student in Hussain’s Integrated Nanotechnology Laboratory, and the paper’s first  author. “This is the first time oxygen has been used in micro-sized MFC.

By  comparing the same air cathode set up with the most commonly used but expensive  gold anode as well as an inexpensive metal nickel anode we were able to confirm  that air cathodes in microsized MFCs are feasible even without a membrane and  that the devices are durable and long-lasting.”   She points out that, during their experiments where they tested  their MFCs for over 15 days, the used MWCNT anode outperformed the others in  current and power production most importantly due to its increased surface area.

microbial fuel cell design

Maximum current densities produced by the devices (a) are about 800%  higher for the MWCNT anode compared to the gold and more than 2200% higher  compared to the nickel anode. Maximum power densities (4b) indicate that the  MWCNT anode produced more than 600% the power of the gold anode and 1900% the  power of the nickel anode. Their peak power values over a 10 day period (4c)  show that all devices were able to have reproducible and stable power but not at  the values of their peak power achieved indicating further need for optimization  within the micro-size MFC. (Reprinted with permission from American Chemical  Society)  

Having system-on-chip functionality on their mind, Hussain’s  group used CMOS compatible processes to fabricate their anodes with pure carbon  nanotubes on silicon. The material selection for the cathode, like that of the  anode, requires a highly conductive material and is most typically carbon. In  this case, the team used a specially designed and nano-engineered carbon cloth  air cathode. This is the first time an air cathode has been integrated directly  onto a silicon based MFC chip.

Applications of this new microbial fuel cell design will be  found in two areas: as rapid testing tools for MFC components for macroscale  designs; and as onboard power source for lab-on-chip and point-of-care  diagnostic devices.                       

By Michael Berger. Copyright © Nanowerk

Read more:

Ordered intermetallic core-shell nanocatalysts are promising designs for fuel cells

201306047919620(Nanowerk Spotlight) The Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel  Cells (PEMFC) are certainly promising as energy efficient devices to run  vehicles in a less polluted way. They can burn fuel in such a clean way that the  exhaust would contain nothing but water and dissipated heat.

If fuel cells are  such cool devices empowering next generation automotives then why have they not  yet been commercialized?   The problem lies at the heart of the chemical reactions taking  place inside a fuel cell and unfortunately, they are inherently sluggish. We  need catalysts to make these reactions happen faster.

Platinum, even today, is  being thought of as a wonder catalyst. But such an idea is nothing but  impractical. Simply because platinum metal is scarce, overly expensive and  despite using it in a fuel cell the reactions are still slow.

Fuel cells would  still be expensive, even if we replace big chuncks of platinum metal with an  assemblage of tiny platinum nanoparticles. Hence, a real practical solution  needs to be found in terms of designing nanocatalysts that not just accelerate  the reactions much faster compared to platinum but, are cheaper and durable.  

With this principal motivation, we – researchers at the  Department of Materials Science and Engineering, McMaster University, Canada –   collaborated with Dr. Christina Bock (National Research Council, Ottawa, Canada)  in characterizing platinum-iron alloy nanocatalysts that were found to have the  best catalytic activity among other similar systems reported so far. The work  has been published in the June 17, 2013 online edition of ACS Nano (“Strained Lattice with Persistent Atomic Order in  Pt3Fe2 Intermetallic Core–Shell Nanocatalysts”).

Iron is substantially cheaper than platinum. So, how about  substituting platinum with iron in such a way that in addition to making these  catalysts significantly cheaper, we also achieve a much better activity and  catalytic durability? With this idea, Dr. Bock looked beyond disordered systems  that were reported in the past and synthesized them in a very different way so  as to make them ordered.

About 10,000 electrochemical cycles were run to assess  their activity and it was found that they were not just very active compared to  pure platinum but, remained highly durable during these cycles. But why? We were  puzzled by these results and wanted to explore the reason at an atomic-level.   We studied this using one of the most advanced electron  microscopes in the world, hosted at the Canadian Center for Electron Microscopy (CCEM), McMaster  University.

“This microscope is so powerful that we can easily identify  individual atoms, measure their chemical state, and even probe the electrons  that bind them together,” says Dr. Gianluigi Botton, the scientific director of  CCEM and the senior author of the paper. “When we observed the as-prepared  catalysts – average size of 3.19 nm – under the microscope we found that they  had an ordered intermetallic core encapsulated within a bilayer thick platinum  rich shell.”

intermetallic coreshell nanocatalyst Left:  STEM-HAADF image of Pt3Fe2 intermetallic coreshell (IMCS) nanocatalyst showing  alternating bright and dark intensities for Pt and Fe atomic columns,  respectively, at the core. Right: Three-dimensional model of a typical IMCS  nanocatalyst. Pt and Fe atoms are represented by gray and yellow, respectively.  (Reprinted with permission from American Chemical Society)  

These are the newest members to platinum-iron alloy  nanocatalysts with such intermetallic core-shell (IMCS) design. Furthermore, on  characterizing them after 10,000 cycles we still found them to retain their  structural ordering at the core while the platinum shell got thicker and  thicker.   Such a static core-dynamic shell (SCDS) regime is being reported  for the first time. While the observed enhancement in the activity is attributed  to their strained lattice, our findings on the degradation kinetics establish  that their extended catalytic durability is attributable to a sustained atomic  order.

Although our work was specific to platinum-iron IMCS designs,  the findings carry much broader implications to understand why and how an  ordered IMCS design is better and cost-efficient compared to disordered  core-shell nanocatalysts.

In summary, ordered intermetallic core-shell nanocatalysts are  highly promising designs to realize future fuel cell vehicles and fine-tuning  them at an atomic-scale is a great leap forward.                     

By Sagar Prabhudev, Microscopy of Nanoscale Materials Research Group, McMaster  University

Read more:

Nanoparticles Split Water, Power Fuel Cell

QDOTS imagesCAKXSY1K 8Si Nanoparticles Split Water, Power Fuel Cell

by Tim Palucka

Materials Research Society | Published: 29 January 2013

Generating electricity in the field to power a laptop or night vision goggles could someday be just as simple as adding water to a cartridge containing silicon nanoparticles and a base. Researchers at the University at Buffalo (SUNY) have demonstrated that nanoparticles of Si in a basic solution can split water to release hydrogen and power a portable fuel cell to produce electricity. The ability to split water on-demand without adding heat, light, or electricity to the system could be a significant advance in fuel cell technology.

TEM 10 nm SI - Hydrogen“The reaction rate with these very small 10-nm Si particles is so much faster than with the relatively large 100 nm Si particles,” says Mark Swihart, whose team published their results in a recent issue of ACS Nano Letters. “Because of this fast reaction rate and the fact that there’s no delay between when you add water and when the reaction starts, it makes the technology at least practical in terms of being able to power a device instantaneously.”


While there was some scant evidence in the scientific literature that Si could perform this feat of splitting water to release hydrogen, it was largely ignored because the reaction rate was so slow as to be uninteresting. Using Al, Zn, or metal hydrides for this purpose looked so much more promising that Si fell by the wayside.

But Swihart and his group have been working with Si nanoparticles for more than a decade, mostly in the realm of quantum dot research. In doing so, they frequently had to use a base such as hydrazine for etching, and they noticed that hydrogen was released when aqueous hydrazine reacted with Si. Investigation showed that the hydrogen came not from decomposition of hydrazine, but from the oxidation of Si to release hydrogen from water.

Further investigation of the reaction using Si particles of different sizes, focusing on 10-nm and 100-nm-diameter particles with aqueous KOH, showed a particle size dependent liberation of hydrogen from water. But the factor of 150 increase in the reaction rate for the 10-nm-diameter particles compared to the 100-nm-particles was well in excess of the factor of 6 difference in their specific surface area. Thus, the increase in rate is much greater than expected based on increased surface area alone.

Swihart believes the difference is caused by geometry, not surface area. The 111 lattice planes etch much more slowly than other planes of Si, so crystals terminated entirely by 111 planes react slowly.  “The 10 nm particles etch isotropically—they just get smaller and go away,” he says. There’s no time for faceting to occur in this case. But the 100 nm particles undergo anisotropic etching. The faster-reacting 100 and 110 planes etch away first, leaving a particle with slower-reacting 111 planes behind in what he describes as a “hollow nano-balloon structure.” “With the bigger particles,” Swihart says, “eventually the unreactive 111 surfaces are the ones that end up being left,” thus slowing the reaction rate.

As a proof-of-concept, the research team tested a small fuel cell with a 20 stack polymer electrolyte membrane, comparing the fuel cell’s power output when fed hydrogen from the Si nanoparticle reaction versus hydrogen from a gas cylinder. Stoichiometrically, two moles of H2 should be generated for one mole of Si. In the tests, the fuel cell powered by H2 generated by reaction with Si produced more current and voltage than when the fuel cell was fed a stoichiometric amount of H2 from a gas cylinder. The difference is due to additional hydrogen, beyond the stoichiometric reaction amount, that terminates the Si surfaces after fabrication of the nanoparticles.

While there is much more work to be done, Swihart believes that if this technology is ever to become practical as a portable electricity generator, the KOH (or other base) would have to be mixed in with the Si in a cartridge, so you would not have to carry around a bottle of KOH solution. Such a device would come with the instructions “just add water.” For a soldier in the field needing to power night vision goggles, water from a nearby stream could be all he needs.


Read the abstract in ACS Nano Letters  here.

Blue Nano

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