Nanotechnology to “Super-Size” Green Energy


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Nanotechnology is a field that’s receiving a lot of attention at the moment as scientists learn more every day about the benefits it can bring to both the environment and our health. There are various ways in which nanotechnology has proved itself useful including in developing enhanced solar cells and more efficient rechargeable batteries, and in saving raw materials and energy.

 

When it comes to nanotechnology, even the smallest achievements make huge differences, and on November 23, 2016, future technologies were presented to the international congress as part of the “Next Generation Solar Energy Meets Nanotechnology.” Out of the ten projects, three of them were located in Wurzburg and are explained in a little more detail below:

  • Eco-friendly inks for organic solar cells: Over at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Professors Vladimir Dyakonov and Christoph Brabec have created eco-friendly photovoltaic inks using nanomaterials and have developed a new simulation process at the same time. Dyakonov explains, “They allow us to predict which combinations of solvents and materials are suitable for the eco-friendly production of organic solar cells.”
  • Nanodiamonds for ultra-fast electrical storage: If we want to have powerful, yet highly efficient electric vehicles then we need some way of storing the energy as a standard battery couldn’t handle it. Supercapacitors are great regarding acting as an efficient energy storage system. But, because their energy density is so low they need to be quite large in order to deliver any reasonable amount of energy. However, further work is being done in this area currently, and progress is promising.  Professor Anke Kruger, head of the project, says “Based on these findings, it is now possible to build application-oriented energy stores and test their applicability.”

 

  • Increased storage capacity of hybrid capacitors: Better energy storage systems were also the focus of Professor Gerhard Sextl and his team’s project. Their hybrid capacitors can store more energy due to the embedded lithium ions and can do it quickly through the use of a supercapacitor. Sextl says, “We have managed to develop a material that combines the advantages of both systems. This has brought us one step closer to implementing a new, fast and reliable storage concept.”

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Read the rest of the story (click here) NEW SUPER-BATTERIES ARE FINALLY HERE

Czech Battery NanotechnologyCompany HE3DA President Jan Prochazka shows qualities of a new battery during the official start of a battery production line in Prague, on Monday, Dec. 19, 2016. The new battery is based on nanotechnology and is supposed to be be more efficient, long-lasting, cheaper, lighter and above all safer. The battery is designed to store energy from renewable electric sources and cooperate with smart grids. Next planned type will be suitable for electric cars. (Michal Kamaryt /CTK via AP)

It’s been a long time coming, but the wait is now over for a battery that lasts longer than your milk. Having to replace batteries in games, remotes, and other electrical devices are annoying, especially when you seem to be doing it every month. But, that may all be a thing of the past thanks to the Prague-based company, HE3DA. New superbatteries have finally been created that are capable of charging faster and lasting longer than any other technology out there and are being mass produced as you read this.

 

Why India Needs Nanotechnology Regulation Before it is Too Late


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“For us (India) to fully harness the advances made in nanotechnology and consolidate our leadership in the field, we must work towards building a regulatory framework encompassing public safety.” – Prateek Sibal

India ranks third in the number of research publications in nanotechnology, only after China and the US. This significant share in global nanotech research is a result of sharp focus by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) to research in the field in the country. The unprecedented funding of Rs 1,000 crore for the Nano Mission was clearly dictated by the fact that India had missed the bus on the micro-electronic revolution of the 1970s and its attendant economic benefits that countries like China, Taiwan and South Korea continue to enjoy to this day.

At the same time, the success of the Nano Mission is not limited to research but also involves training the required human resource for further advancement in the field. An ASSOCHAM and TechSci Research study reported in 2014: “From 2015 onwards, global nanotechnology industry would require about two million professionals and India is expected to contribute about 25% professionals in the coming years.”

A missing element in India’s march towards becoming a nanotechnology powerhouse is the lack of focus on risk analysis and regulation. A survey of Indian practitioners working in the area of nano-science and nanotechnology research showed that 95% of the practitioners recognised ethical issues in nanotech research. Some of these concerns relate to the possibly adverse effects of nanotechnology on the environment and humans, their use as undetectable weapon in warfare, and the incorporation of nano-devices as performance enhancers in human beings.

One reason for lack of debate around ethical, and public-health and -safety, concerns around new technologies could be the exalted status that science and its practitioners enjoy in the country. A very successful space program and a largely indigenous nuclear program has ensured that policymakers spend much of their time feting achievements of Indian science than discussing the risks associated with new technologies or improving regulation.

It is not surprising then that products like silver-nano washing machines or insecticides with nanoparticles continue to be sold in the Indian market without any analysis of the risk associated with their use. This – despite the fact that the government itself has acknowledged that nanoparticles of sizes comparable to that of human cells can be deposited in lungs and “may cause damage by acting directly at the site of deposition by translocating to other organs or by being absorbed through the blood.”

A study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, on the toxicity of nano-materials found that carbon nanoparticles inhaled by rats “reached the olfactory bulb and also the cerebrum and cerebellum, suggesting that translocation to the brain occurred through the nasal mucosa along the olfactory nerve to the brain.” This ability to translocate opens up questions about the effect different types of nanoparticles could have on human health.

Many commonly used products have nanoparticles; for instance, titanium dioxide nanoparticles are widely used in sunscreens and cosmetics as sun-protection. In the US, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has issued safe occupational exposure limit of 0.1 mg/m3 for nanoscale titanium dioxide. This was after reports of incidences of lung cancer in rats at doses of 10 mg/m3 and above surfaced. There is also a concern that nano-scale titanium dioxide particles have higher photo-reactivity than coarser particles, and may generate free radicals that can damage cells.

The challenge that remains in front of policymakers is that of regulating a field where vast areas of knowledge are still being investigated and are unknown. In this situation, over-regulation may end up stifling further development while under-regulation could expose the public to adverse health effects. Further, India’s lack of investment in risk studies only sustains the lull in the policy establishment when it comes to nanotech regulations.

The Energy and Resources Institute has extensively studied regulatory challenges posed by nanotechnology and advocates that an “incremental approach holds out some promise and offers a reconciliation between the two schools- one advocating no regulation at present given the uncertainty and the other propounding a stand-alone regulation for nanotechnology.”

Kesineni Srinivas, the Member of Parliament from Vijayawada, has taken cognisance of the need for incremental regulation in nanotechnology from the view point of public health and safety. (Disclosure: The author worked with the Vijayawada MP on drafting the legislation on nanotechnology regulation, introduced in the winter session of Parliament, 2015.)

In December 2015, Srinivas introduced the Insecticides (Amendment) Bill in the Lok Sabha to grant only a provisional registration to insecticides containing nanoparticles with a condition that “it shall be mandatory for the manufacturer or importer to report any adverse impact of the insecticide on humans and environment in a manner specified by the Registration Committee.” This is an improvement over the earlier process of granting permanent registration to insecticides. However, the fate of the bill remains uncertain as only 14 private member bills have been passed in Parliament since the first Lok Sabha in 1952.

More recently, the DST released the ‘Guidelines and best practices for safe handling of nano-materials in research laboratories and industries’. The guidelines which are precautionary in nature lay out methods for safe handling and disposal of nanoparticles by researchers and the industry. Though much delayed, it is a welcome step towards safer nanotechnology research in India.

For us to fully harness the advances made in nanotechnology and consolidate our leadership in the field, we must work towards building a regulatory framework encompassing public safety. Without such a provision, any mishap or catastrophe precipitated by the use of nanotechnology could leave a great opportunity out of our reach.

Prateek Sibal will be joining Sciences Po (the Paris Institute of Political Sciences), Paris, as a Charpak Scholar in 2016.

MIT: “Cool – Smart” Windows Using ‘Nanocrytals’


smartglassx299MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW: A new kind of window glass can selectively block visible sunlight as well as heat-producing invisible light.

Window glass that can tint on demand is pretty slick, but a new advancement has made it even cooler—and that could help the technology finally go mainstream.

Smart glass has been around for decades, but it is quite pricey and has found only niche applications, such as the windows of a new Boeing jetliner. But a new kind of electrochromic window glass, which changes color in response to the addition or removal of electronic charge, is more versatile than the technology now on the market, and it could be cheaper, too.

Commercially available materials can block only the visible component of sunlight, allowing the invisible near-infrared component, which produces heat, to pass through. A new type of glass developed by a group led by Delia Milliron, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, can selectively block the heat-producing component as well as the visible light. Milliron says the performance is now good enough for a startup she cofounded to move forward with plans to build a prototype manufacturing line based on these recent advances.

Key to the smarter window glass is a “framework” of nanocrystals made of an electrically conductive material, embedded in a glassy material. The nanocrystals and the glassy material have distinct optical properties, which change when the materials are electronically charged or discharged. The nanocrystals can either block near-infrared light or allow it to pass through, while the glassy material can transition between a transparent state and one that blocks visible light.

The “nanocomposite” is able to block up to 90 percent of the near-infrared light and 80 percent of the visible light, and in addition to the standard bright and dark modes it features a “cool” one, which could help buildings save energy during hot days. It can switch between modes in just minutes—faster than any commercial electrochromic window material Milliron knows of. Combined with less expensive and potentially more reliable manufacturing techniques, these attributes could bolster the new material.

The manufacturing approach of the startup, called Heliotrope Technologies, is different from that of today’s electrochromic-glass makers, which have struggled with low yields, says Milliron. Whereas conventional manufacturing techniques rely on energy-intensive processes similar to those used to make certain kinds of microelectronics, the technology Heliotrope aims to commercialize is made by depositing solutions onto glass films, which is faster and requires less energy.

Milliron’s technology works much like a rechargeable battery. Imagine that the device starts out in the transparent, bright state. Applying a certain amount of voltage—say, by turning a switch—will charge the nanocrystals, which makes them absorb near-infrared light. If the device is charged for a bit longer, the glassy material also becomes charged, darkening as a result. Discharging the window glass brings back the fully transparent state.

In the latest demonstration, Milliron and her colleagues showed that arranging the nanocrystals in a specific architecture allows electrons and ions to move quickly between the glassy material and the nanocrystals, meaning the composite can switch between modes much faster than before. As an added benefit, whereas a previous iteration had a brownish tint, the new nanocrystal material creates a more neutral blue tint, which Milliron says is considered essential for many consumer applications. Heliotrope’s president, Jason Holt, says the company expects to bring its first products to the market in 2017.

Powering the Spacecraft of the Future


ISS-2_4Engineers at Lancaster University are working on powering future “giant leaps” for mankind.

They are major partners of a consortium working on a new £1 million project to maximize “energy harvesting” on a space craft of the future.
The BAE Systems initiative seeks to find energy-saving and maximizing solutions to enable eco-friendly aircraft to stay in space for long periods of time without the need to return to earth to re-fuel or to avoid carrying vast amounts of heavy fuel on long-stay journeys.
Principal Investigator Professor Jianqiao Ye, of Lancaster University’s Engineering Department, said: “Our role is to look at saving the power used to support the monitoring system. There needs to be frequent communication between the aircraft and earth and power is needed to send huge constant quantities of data as well as receiving instructions from a communications center.”
The Lancaster research, which has just begun, will look at how mechanical energy generated by the vibration of the aircraft’s wings can be transferred, stored and used to support the communications system.
Sensors constructed from special spatial material are adhered to the surface of the aircraft wing panels. Vibration from the wings is then transferred to and collected by the sensor to generate electricity and, therefore, maximizing the energy generated by the craft.
Lancaster Researchers will examine the actual structure of the aircraft and estimate the amount of energy that can be ‘harvested’ in this manner by looking at the location, geometry of the sensor and the distribution of the energy.
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The consortium will also look to see how the process could be improved and built on from, for example, a design perspective and using wireless connections to reduce weight.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council funded project is a three-year collaboration led by Exeter University and including UCLAN in Preston, BAE Systems, the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), Westland Helicopters, the Knowledge Transfer Network and several other companies.
“This is a very exciting project involving fundamental research and industrial impact national and internationally,” Ye added. “There are many potential applications of this technology– not just for the aerospace industry but for others including offshore activity– and the potential for a commercial development. It is the integration of different aspects of sensors, structure design, signals and software support– a full package of technology. We are very excited.”

The ‘Green’ Economy and Nanotechnology


Oahu SnorkelingThere is a general perception that nanotechnologies will have a significant impact on developing ‘green’ and ‘clean’ technologies with considerable environmental benefits. The associated concept of green nanotechnology aims to exploit nanotech-enabled innovations in materials science and engineering to generate products and processes that are energy efficient as well as economically and environmentally sustainable.

These applications are expected to impact a large range of economic sectors, such as energy production and storage, clean up-technologies, as well as construction and related infrastructure industries.

A recent review article in Environmental Health (“Opportunities and challenges of nanotechnology in the green economy”) examines opportunities and practical challenges that nanotechnology applications pose in addressing the guiding principles for a green economy. The authors provide examples of the potential for nanotechnology applications to address social and environmental challenges, particularly in energy production and storage (read more: “Nanotechnology in Energy“) thus reducing pressure on raw materials, clean-up technologies as well as in fostering sustainable manufactured products. The areas covered include:

  • nanomaterials for energy conversion (photovoltaics, fuel cells, hydrogen storage and transportation)
  • nanomaterials for energy storage
  • nanomaterials for water clean-up technologies
  • nanomaterials for the construction industry (read more: “Nanotechnology in the Construction Industry“)

These solutions may offer the opportunities to reduce pressure on raw materials trading on renewable energy, to improve power delivery systems to be more reliable, efficient and safe as well as to use unconventional water sources or nano-enabled construction products therefore providing better ecosystem and livelihood conditions. Conflicting with this positive message is the growing body of research that raises questions about the potentially negative effects of engineered nanoparticles on human health and the environment. This area includes the actual processes of manufacturing nanomaterials and the environmental footprint they create, in absolute terms and in comparison with existing industrial manufacturing processes (read more: “Not so ‘green’ nanotechnology manufacturing“).

 Consequently, the review aims to critically assess the impact that green nanotechnology may have on the health and safety of workers involved in this innovative sector and proposes action strategies for the management of emerging occupational risks.

The authors propose action strategies for the assessment, management and communication of risks aimed to precautionary adopt preventive measures including full lifecycle assessment of nanomaterials (read more: “Evaluation of ‘green’ nanotechnology requires a full life cycle assessment“), formation and training of employees, collective and personal protective equipment, health surveillance programs to protect the health and safety of nano-workers.

Concluding, the scientists emphasize that green nanotechnology should not only provide green solutions, but should also ‘become green’ in terms of the attention paid to occupational safety and health. In this context, a full democratic discussion between expertise should be pursued to carefully balance the benefits of green nanotechnology and the potential costs for the society, particularly in terms of environmental, public and occupational health. This careful consideration will maximize environmental and societal benefits, health gains and cost savings and will increase the likelihood of further investment and sustainable development of this promising technological field. By Michael Berger – Nanowerk

Electrochemical cell converts waste heat into electricity


AAA 3-electrochemiPicture a device that can produce electricity using nothing but the ambient heat around it. Thanks to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science today, this scenario is a step closer – a team from MIT has created an electrochemical cell which uses different temperatures to convert heat to electricity.

The cell only needs low-grade waste – less than 100C – to charge batteries, and is a significant step forward compared to similar devices which either require an external circuit for charging or high temperature heat sources (300C).

“It’s a great idea to be able to recover useful electrical energy from waste heat,” Anthony Vassallo, Delta Electricity Chair in Sustainable Energy Development at The University of Sydney, said.

At higher temperatures (60C), the cell (which is made of Prussian blue nanoparticles and ferrocyanide) was charged, and following cooling to 15C, the cell discharged energy. At lower temperatures the cell discharged more energy than was used to charge it, so converted heat to electricity.

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The amount of heat energy generated is dependent on the temperature and the Carnot limit. The Carnot limit is the maximum absolute amount of heat energy that can be converted to useful electricity.

In cars, engine heat efficiency has reached around 20%, while the Carnot limit – the absolute efficiency which could be reached at that operating temperature – is 37%.

Electrochemical cell converts waste heat into electricity
                                                Credit: Tao Zero/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

This means that most heat energy conversion is based on high temperature, and low-grade heat conversion devices will never be able to achieve high conversion efficiencies.

This first prototype can only convert 2% to electricity, and, Professor Vassallo predicted, will have a Carnot limit of “less than 10%”.

“While this will no doubt be improved, there are thermodynamic limits which basically say the maximum efficiency will always be low at the sort of temperatures these electrochemical cells could work at,” he said.

When dealing with such low conversion efficiencies (generating watts rather than kilowatts), Damon Honnery – a research engineer at Monash University – said that “overcoming system losses can be a significant technical barrier”.

But it’s not all bad, according to Associate Professor Honnery: “There is a demand for low power sources. Lots of electrical systems require low power, and there could be niche uses for smaller devices where the energy density doesn’t need to be so high.”

On the road to application

The researchers want to try use the technology to harvest heat from the environment in remote areas. But as solar arrays already dominate the market, and operate more efficiently, it is unlikely heat conversion technology will supercede them any time soon.

And as the heat conversion battery needs two temperatures to operate, the battery would require fairly extreme fluctuations in in order to function outside the laboratory.

While this would be easy over long 24-hour cycles, rapid discharging is unlikely, so the amount of electricity generated over a day would be small.

Adam Best, a senior research scientist at CSIRO, said: “like all things in batteries, it’s a materials science challenge. Can you get better materials which are able to convert this heat in a more efficient fashion?”

Dr Best suggested the technology may be better used in industrial facilities or in tandem with other energy systems to further enhance production.

Explore further: Electrochemical approach has potential to efficiently turn low-grade heat to electricity