A toothpaste-like composite with hexagonal boron nitride developed by researchers at Rice University is an effective electrolyte and separator in lithium-ion batteries intended for high-temperature applications in a number of industries, including aerospace and oil and gas. (Source: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)
One major and dangerous problem with lithium-ion batteries is that they can catch fire when heated to high temperatures, an issue that has caused damage and even death when devices ignited without warning.
Now researchers at Rice University have come up with a solution to this very serious safety problem in the form of a combined electrolyte and separator for rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that supplies energy at usable voltages and in high temperatures. The material is a toothpaste-like composite that is capable of performing well at and withstanding high temperatures without combusting.
The problem with most current lithium-battery chemistries is that they present safety concerns when heated beyond 50C (122F) due to the electrolyte/separator combination used in them, explained Marco-Tulio Rodrigues, a Rice graduate student and one of the authors of a paper on the research published in Advanced Materials Science.
“The separator is usually a thin polymer film and may deform at high temperatures, causing a short circuit,” Rodrigues told Design News. “The electrolytes are based on organic solvents, which tend to boil at high temperatures, increasing the internal pressure of the cell. Although commercial batteries implement some protection mechanisms to avoid these problems, any damages to the cell case may potentially lead to ignition, since the electrolyte is also highly flammable.”
The work of the Rice team addresses both the issue of developing a separator that will not cause a short circuit and an electrolyte that doesn’t have the tendency to catch fire, he said.
The batteries made with the components they developed functioned as intended in temperatures of 50C (122F) for more than a month without losing efficiency, according to researchers. Moreover, test batteries consistently operated from room temperature to 150C (302F), setting one of the widest temperature ranges ever reported for such devices, they said.
To solve the electrolyte problem, researchers used solutions based on ionic liquids in the electrolytes, which have largely been proposed as substitutes for organic solvents in the electrolyte of lithium-ion batteries because they present a much higher thermal stability, Rodrigues explained.
“These chemicals are basically special salts with a very low melting point, in such a way that they are liquid at room temperatures,” he said. “They are completely nonflammable and they do not evaporate at all until they decompose, which occurs beyond 350C (662F).”
With the electrolyte situation solved, researchers turned their attention to finding a new separator, which they addressed with a material called hexagonal boron nitride, also known as white graphene.
Image: Two membrane-bound protein complexes work together with a synthetic catalyst to produce hydrogen from water by Olivia Johnson and Lisa Utschig via Argonne National Laboratory.
File this one under “W” for “When you’ve lost the heartland.” Something called the Midwest Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Coalition has just launched a mission to bring the renewable hydrogen revolution to a cluster of US states which, for reasons unknown, pop up whenever someone mentions America’s heartland, aka Real America. This is a significant development because until now, hydrogen fans have been dancing all around the perimeters of the Midwest without managing to grab a toehold.
Hydrogen is a zero-emission fuel, practically. When used in fuel cells, it produces nothing but purified water. The problem, though, is cleaning up the source of hydrogen. Currently, fossil natural gas is the primary source of hydrogen, which kind of clonks the zero emission thing in the head.
The good news is that renewable hydrogen technology is rapidly improving. One main pathway is to “split” hydrogen from water using an electrical current (aka electrolysis).
Until recent years electrolysis made no sense because coal and gas have dominated the US energy profile. The advent of low cost renewable energy has changed the game entirely.
In somewhat of an ironic twist, renewable energy critics used to complain that wind and solar were unreliable because they were intermittent. Now that very characteristic has created an opportunity for renewable hydrogen production. The basic idea is to use excess renewable energy to produce hydrogen, which then serves as a transportable energy storage medium.
Some US states have been cultivating the so-named “hydrogen economy” over the past several years, and they are already in a good position to transition from fossil-sourced hydrogen to renewables.
Leading the pack is California. The state’s ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicles) standards already call for a portion of renewable hydrogen in the mix. Eight other states — Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont — have adopted the California ZEV model. Additionally, Colorado, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Washington, and the District of Columbia are following California’s Low Emission Vehicle standards.
So far almost all of this activity is clustered in the coastal and Northeast US states. If all goes according to plan the new MHFCC initiative will bring the hydrogen word to 12 more states smack in the nation’s midsection: Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas.
US Department Of Energy Hearts Renewable Hydrogen
Spearheading MHFCC is the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, in partnership with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The idea is to use the school’s decades-long foundational hydrogen and fuel cell research to jumpstart an R&D program aimed at improving electrolysis technology.
The new initiative will also leverage the Midwest’s considerable renewable energy resources. As Argonne notes, the 12 Midwest states targeted by MHFCC account for 25% of the US population and consume 30% of all electricity generated in the US.
These 12 states also lay claim to 35% of US wind capacity. So far solar has made a dismal showing in the region, but Argonne points out that major new solar projects are finally in the pipeline.
What’s Driving The Midwest Renewable Energy Train
As previously noted by CleanTechnica,the low cost of renewable energy is finally breaking through political barriers in Nebraska and other Midwest states. Considering the region’s large agricultural sector, of particular interest is the emergence of agrivoltaics, in which raised solar panels share space with grazing lands, pollinator habitats, and certain crops.
Fans of natural gas still have a lot to cheer about. Electrolysis is not quite ready for commercial prime time, and meanwhile the demand for hydrogen is growing.
However, if all goes according to plan renewables will squeeze natural gas out of they hydrogen market in the Midwest. In announcing the new initiative, Argonne specifically states that “…the Midwestern states have some of the highest levels of renewable energy on their grids, and that “hydrogen can be used as an effective storage medium to increase utilization of these renewable energy resources.”
Sorry – not sorry.
For that matter, Argonne and the University of Illinois’s Grainger College of Engineering have already ramped up their work on electrolysis over the past couple of years.
Also of interest is the Midwest’s relatively high nuclear energy profile. If a market for renewable hydrogen develops, nuclear power plants could continue pumping out zero emission electricity during off-peak hours and store it in the form of hydrogen.
That’s unlikely to motivate the construction of new nuclear power plants, but the use of excess nuclear energy for electrolysis could enable the region’s current fleet to operate more economically for a longer period of time (and that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms).
Interesting! CleanTechnica is reaching out to the University of Illinois to see what else is cooking in the Midwest renewable hydrogen field, so stay tuned for more on that.
Access to clean, safe drinking water is thought to be a basic human right. Yet, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 785 million people across the globe are without access to a basic drinking-water source. This has researchers around the world researching and developing a series of water treatment solutions and applications using nanotechnology.
Current WHO statistics are damning, making this an issue that must be addressed urgently as it is thought that around 2 billion people are using a contaminated water supply. In addition, over 485,000 people die each year from diarrhoeal related illnesses and diseases such as polio, typhoid, and cholera are once again being transmitted as a further consequence. Based on current trends and data, it is thought that by 2025 half of the total global population will be living in water-stressed or water-scarce areas.
While there are a wide-range of effective water purification methods and techniques including boiling, filtration, oxidation, and distillation, these often require high amounts of energy. Other treatment processes may include the use of chemical agents which is only possible in areas with an infrastructure that is up to par.
The more affordable and portable devices currently available are not always fit for purpose as they cannot guarantee 100% removal of harmful viruses, bacteria, dust, and even microplastics. So, it is thought that nanotechnology could offer affordable and accessible clean water solutions to the world’s most vulnerable populations.
Nanotechnology is a process that involves manipulating and controlling matter on the atomic scale. In the process of water purification, this involves using nanomembranes to soften the water and eradicate biological and chemical contaminants as well as other physical particles and molecules.
What’s more is that nanotechnology is portable and can be incorporated into existing commercial devices which increases the likelihood that nanotech solutions could become a feasible option for areas of the developing world and places with limited infrastructure.
In recent years scientists have improved on conventional methods that use coagulants by taking their cues from nature, notably the ocean dwelling Actinia organism. Traditional coagulants, such as aluminum sulfate and other metallic salts can pull out larger contaminants by causing them to group together and settle. However, this method is not effective for smaller particles and molecules and often requires additional methods to ensure the water is clean. Thereby increasing the cost and use of energy as several techniques are required to ensure the water is safe.
Using nanocoagulants, scientists were able to synthesize organic and inorganic matter to replicate the structure of the Actina sea anemone. The researchers produced a reversable core-shell that can catch larger particles as well as the smaller ones when it turns inside-out. This is also a one-step process which removes the need for additional technologies and opens up the potential for minimizing water purification costs.
Another viable method of water purification currently in development that makes use of nanotechnology includes utilizing magnetically active nanoparticles to extract chemicals from water. The process enables the removal of toxins from drinking-water contaminants attracting nanoparticles that consist of magnetic phases. This solution would also be low-energy and could provide an economic advantage as well as health and environmental benefits.
Other proposals for nanotech solutions include using nanoparticles to break down microplastics and a rapid nano-filter that can clean dirty water 100 times faster than current methods. Researchers are also aware that most water purification methods require access to a constant electricity supply, but this can be a significant obstacle in places with limited infrastructure or areas damaged by extreme weather conditions.
One such approach is the creation of a self-sustaining biofoam that conducts heat and electricity by combining bacteria-produced cellulose with graphene oxide. The graphene-fused foam draws water up to the surface via the cellulose layer which accelerates evaporation. This results in a layer of freshwater which can be easily collected and is safe to drink. The biofoam is also lightweight and relatively inexpensive to manufacture making it an attractive alternative to conventional methods.
Thus, as the need for clean, safe water is very much still an urgent global issue, nanotech solutions offer new and essential possibilities for the water treatment industry. The next phase of development is the scaling up of nanotechnologies to improve access to clean water. Perhaps then the future can be one that offers a new hope to the expanding global population experiencing water-stressed and water-scarce conditions.
IMAGE: IN STUDYING THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE NANOMESH, TWO ANTIBIOTICS, COLISTIN AND VANCOMYCIN, WERE ADDED TOGETHER WITH GOLD NANOPARTICLES TO THE MESH, BEFORE THEY WERE TESTED OVER A 14 DAY PERIOD CREDIT: FLINDERS UNIVERSITY … view more
The fight against global antibiotic resistance has taken a major step forward with scientists discovering a concept for fabricating nanomeshes as an effective drug delivery system for antibiotics.
Health experts are increasingly concerned about the rise in medication resistant bacteria.
Flinders University researchers and collaborators in Japan have produced a nanomesh that is capable of delivering drug treatments.
In studying the effectiveness of the nanomesh, two antibiotics, Colistin and Vancomycin, were added together with gold nanoparticles to the mesh, before they were tested over a 14 day period by PHD student Melanie Fuller.
Flinders Institute for Nanoscience and Technology Associate Professor Ingo Koeper says 20cm by 15cm pieces of mesh were produced which contain fibres 200 nm in diameter. These meshes are produced using a process called electrospinning with parameters being optimised to ensure the mesh material was consistent.
“In order to deliver the antibiotics to a specific area, the antibiotics were embedded into the mesh produced using a technique called electrospinning, which has gained considerable interest in the biomedical community as it offers promise in many applications including wound management, drug delivery and antibiotic coatings,” says Assoc Prof. Koeper
“A high voltage is then applied between the needle connected to the syringe, and the collector plate which causes the polymer solution to form a cone as it leaves the syringe, at which point the electrostatic forces release a jet of liquid.”
“Small charged nanoparticles altered the release of the antibiotics from the nanomesh. The addition of gold nanoparticles likely neutralised charge, causing the antibiotic to migrate toward the centre of the fibre, prolonging its release.”
The results also suggest dosages could be reduced when compared to traditional drugs which can also diminish potential side effects and complications.
“Although the dosage is reduced compared to an oral dosage, the concentration of antibiotics delivered to the infection site can still be higher, ensuring the bacteria cannot survive which will reduce instances of resistance.”
“This research, as a proof of concept, suggests an opportunity for fabricating nanomeshes which contain gold nanoparticles as a drug treatment for antibiotics.”
Working with Dr. Harriet Whiley, a Flinders environmental health scientists, the researchers studied how the release of the drugs affected the growth of E. Coli. The in vitro study confirmed Colistin with negatively charged gold nanoparticles produced the most efficient nanomesh, significantly affecting bacterial growth.
“Further investigation is needed to determine if other small charged particles affect the release of drugs and how it affects the release over time. As it is a pharmaceutical application, the stability of the mesh under different storage conditions as well as the toxicological properties also need to be evaluated.”
Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile seek to join industry boom
They hold 70% of reserves, but don’t make a single battery
South America controls about 70% of the world’s reserves of lithium, the metal used in rechargeable batteries for mobile phones and electric vehicles, but none of the infrastructure needed to put it to work.
Lithium refiningand battery-assembling facilities could help kick start industries in economies that are largely dependent on commodities for revenue, putting them at risk from sharp price swings.
But so far, public and private initiatives in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Chile have failed to deliver even a single lithium cell factory. And none are set to be built through 2025.
Chile, the world’s second-largest lithium producer behind Australia, offers perhaps the best example of an effort gone off track. A $285 millionlithium-cell project by two Korea-based companieswas canceled in June when plunging lithium prices undercut government incentives on the metal.
Meanwhile, a local company that assembles batteries using components from abroad is struggling to get lithium cells to support their sales in Chile.
“The size of the opportunity is huge,” said James Ellis, the head of Latin America research at BloombergNEF. “It makes sense to try to move up the value chain. But when you look at what’s planned globally, there are no battery manufacturing assets in Latin America.”
Other countries in the region face their own challenges. Here’s a breakdown:
The third-largest lithium producer also saw a state-sponsored initiative stall.
Last year, Italy’sSeri Industrial SpA formed a joint venture with state-owned JEMSE, or more formally the Jujuy Energy and Mining State Society. The plan was to build a plant to make lithium cathodes and cells, and assemble battery parts, using raw lithium mined in Argentina’s Jujuy province.
ButArgentina’s economic crisis and the possibility that Peronist candidate Alberto Fernandez could win the upcoming presidential elections has, in the words of JEMSE President Carlos Oehler, “cooled all investment projects in Argentina, including building a battery factory.”
The land and permits are ready, Oehler said, “and we were starting to look for financing, but the project is frozen now.”
In Latin America’s biggest economy, former Tesla Inc. executive Marco Krapels and formerSunEdison Inc. executive Peter Conklin foundedMicroPower-Comercwith the initial goal of providing rechargeable batteries to commercial and industrial facilities. ButBrazil offers almost no government subsidies for renewable energy, and import taxes add about 65% to the cost of the batteries.
That’s driven the company, which is backed bySiemens AG, to consider buying components abroad and assembling them in Brazil as a way to lower their costs.
While the nation’s market for big batteries barely exists, Krapels sees opportunity in a place with an occasionally unstable power grid and a robust market for wind and solar. “This is not for the faint of heart,” he said in an interview last month. “But I think there’s an advantage on being the first to move into a market.”
Bolivia hasn’t managed to produce significant volumes of lithium or lithium products. But it is home to the world’s largest salt flat, covering 6,437 kilometers (4,000 square miles), and holding more than 15% of the world’s unmined lithium resources.
A pilot plant run by state-owned Yacimientos de Litio Bolivianos, or YLB, produced close to 250 tons of lithium carbonate in 2018, and the country’s goal is to generate 150,000 tons within five years,partnered with German and Chinese companies. If it succeeds, Bolivia would become one of the top-producing nations.
Last month, Industrias Quantum Motors SA began sales of the first car ever built in the country, an electric vehicle that answered President Evo Morales’s once-cited wish to see a lithium-powered car “made in Bolivia.”
The problem? Eager buyers aren’t allowed to drive the cars on Bolivia highways until the government can change some existing regulations.
The lithium producer tried to encourage battery companies to build factories in the country by forcing miners to sell lithiumat a discount. That attracted interest from giants includingSamsung SDI Co. andPosco in 2017, when lithium prices were at historic highs.
But since then, prices have fallen by a third, and earlier this year the companies abandoned their plans to build.
Even those embarked in less ambitious initiatives are facing hurdles. In Chile’s south, Andesvolt currently imports battery components from abroad and assembles them in the southern city of Valdivia.
It supplies lithium-ion batteries for electricity companies includingEnel Americas SA, which installs them as back-up power in industrial, commercial and residential facilities across the country.
Andesvolt expects to produce 1,000 kilowatt-hour this year, up from 200 kilowatt-hour last year. But he is finding it so difficult to import lithium cells that he is considering building South America’s first lithium-cell factory.
Dealing with the hiccups of importing the cells from China is just too much, founder and Chief Executive Officer David Ulloa said.
Lithium cells are highly volatile and can explode if not handled properly, which means shipping companies are often reluctant to transport them. Even when they do, there’s no guarantee the cargo will arrive on time — or arrive at all.
“We’ve seen it all,” Ulloa said in an interview. “Once a Chinese supplier didn’t do any of the paperwork needed for Chilean customs and later offered to disguise the cargo as shoes — we’re a serious company, we couldn’t accept that and we lost that shipment.”
An international research team has used nanoparticles to convert carbon dioxide into valuable raw materials. The team transferred this mechanism to metallic nanoparticles, also known as nanozymes. The chemists used carbon dioxide to produce ethanol and propanol, which are common raw materials for the chemical industry.
An international research team has used nanoparticles to convert carbon dioxide into valuable raw materials. Scientists at Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany and the University of New South Wales in Australia have adopted the principle from enzymes that produce complex molecules in multi-step reactions. The team transferred this mechanism to metallic nanoparticles, also known as nanozymes. The chemists used carbon dioxide to produce ethanol and propanol, which are common raw materials for the chemical industry.
The team led by Professor Wolfgang Schuhmann from the Center for Electrochemistry in Bochum and Professor Corina Andronescu from the University of Duisburg-Essen, together with the Australian team led by Professor Justin Gooding and Professor Richard Tilley, reported in the Journal of the American Chemical Society on 25 August 2019.
“Transferring the cascade reactions of the enzymes to catalytically active nanoparticles could be a decisive step in the design of catalysts,” says Wolfgang Schuhmann.
Credit: CC0 Public Domain
Particle with two active centres
Enzymes have different active centres for cascade reactions, which are specialised in certain reaction steps. For example, a single enzyme can produce a complex product from a relatively simple starting material. In order to imitate this concept, the researchers synthesised a particle with a silver core surrounded by a porous layer of copper. The silver core serves as the first active centre, the copper layer as the second. Intermediate products formed at the silver core then react in the copper layer to form more complex molecules, which ultimately leave the particle.
In the present work, the German-Australian team showed that the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide can take place with the help of the nanozymes. Several reaction steps on the silver core and copper shell transform the starting material into ethanol or propanol.
“There are also other nanoparticles that can produce these products from CO2 without the cascade principle,” says Wolfgang Schuhmann. “However, they require considerably more energy.”
The researchers now want to further develop the concept of the cascade reaction in nanoparticles in order to be able to selectively produce even more valuable products such as ethylene or butanol.
Peter B. O’Mara, Patrick Wilde, Tania M. Benedetti, Corina Andronescu, Soshan Cheong, J. Justin Gooding, Richard D. Tilley, Wolfgang Schuhmann. Cascade Reactions in Nanozymes: Spatially Separated Active Sites inside Ag-Core–Porous-Cu-Shell Nanoparticles for Multistep Carbon Dioxide Reduction to Higher Organic Molecules. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 2019; 141 (36): 14093 DOI: 10.1021/jacs.9b07310
In a demonstration of the basic chemical reactions used in the new process, electrolysis takes place in neutral water. Dyes show how acid (pink) and base (purple) are produced at the positive and negative electrodes. A variation of this process can be used to convert calcium carbonate (CaCO3) into calcium hydroxide (Ca(OH)2), which can then be used to make Portland cement without producing any greenhouse gas emissions. Cement production currently causes 8 percent of global carbon emissions. Image: Felice Frankel
MIT researchers find a way to eliminate carbon emissions from cement production — a major global source of greenhouse gases.
It’s well known that the production of cement — the world’s leading construction material — is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for about 8 percent of all such releases. If cement production were a country, it would be the world’s third-largest emitter.
A team of researchers at MIT has come up with a new way of manufacturing the material that could eliminate these emissions altogether, and could even make some other useful products in the process.
The findings are being reported today in the journal PNAS in a paper by Yet-Ming Chiang, the Kyocera Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT, with postdoc Leah Ellis, graduate student Andres Badel, and others.
“About 1 kilogram of carbon dioxide is released for every kilogram of cement made today,” Chiang says. That adds up to 3 to 4 gigatons (billions of tons) of cement, and of carbon dioxide emissions, produced annually today, and that amount is projected to grow. The number of buildings worldwide is expected to double by 2060, which is equivalent to “building one new New York City every 30 days,” he says. And the commodity is now very cheap to produce: It costs only about 13 cents per kilogram, which he says makes it cheaper than bottled water.
So it’s a real challenge to find ways of reducing the material’s carbon emissions without making it too expensive. Chiang and his team have spent the last year searching for alternative approaches, and hit on the idea of using an electrochemical process to replace the current fossil-fuel-dependent system.
Ordinary Portland cement, the most widely used standard variety, is made by grinding up limestone and then cooking it with sand and clay at high heat, which is produced by burning coal. The process produces carbon dioxide in two different ways: from the burning of the coal, and from gases released from the limestone during the heating. Each of these produces roughly equal contributions to the total emissions. The new process would eliminate or drastically reduce both sources, Chiang says. Though they have demonstrated the basic electrochemical process in the lab, the process will require more work to scale up to industrial scale.
First of all, the new approach could eliminate the use of fossil fuels for the heating process, substituting electricity generated from clean, renewable sources. “In many geographies renewable electricity is the lowest-cost electricity we have today, and its cost is still dropping,” Chiang says. In addition, the new process produces the same cement product. The team realized that trying to gain acceptance for a new type of cement — something that many research groups have pursued in different ways — would be an uphill battle, considering how widely used the material is around the world and how reluctant builders can be to try new, relatively untested materials.
The new process centers on the use of an electrolyzer, something that many people have encountered as part of high school chemistry classes, where a battery is hooked up to two electrodes in a glass of water, producing bubbles of oxygen from one electrode and bubbles of hydrogen from the other as the electricity splits the water molecules into their constituent atoms. Importantly, the electrolyzer’s oxygen-evolving electrode produces acid, while the hydrogen-evolving electrode produces a base.
In the new process, the pulverized limestone is dissolved in the acid at one electrode and high-purity carbon dioxide is released, while calcium hydroxide, generally known as lime, precipitates out as a solid at the other. The calcium hydroxide can then be processed in another step to produce the cement, which is mostly calcium silicate.
The carbon dioxide, in the form of a pure, concentrated stream, can then be easily sequestered, harnessed to produce value-added products such as a liquid fuel to replace gasoline, or used for applications such as oil recovery or even in carbonated beverages and dry ice. The result is that no carbon dioxide is released to the environment from the entire process, Chiang says. By contrast, the carbon dioxide emitted from conventional cement plants is highly contaminated with nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide and other material that make it impractical to “scrub” to make the carbon dioxide usable.
Calculations show that the hydrogen and oxygen also emitted in the process could be recombined, for example in a fuel cell, or burned to produce enough energy to fuel the whole rest of the process, Ellis says, producing nothing but water vapor.
In a demonstration of the basic chemical reactions used in the new process, electrolysis takes place in neutral water. Dyes show how acid (pink) and base (purple) are produced at the positive and negative electrodes. A variation of this process can be used to convert calcium carbonate (CaCO3) into calcium hydroxide (Ca(OH)2), which can then be used to make Portland cement without producing any greenhouse gas emissions. Cement production currently causes 8 percent of global carbon emissions.
In their laboratory demonstration, the team carried out the key electrochemical steps required, producing lime from the calcium carbonate, but on a small scale. The process looks a bit like shaking a snow-globe, as it produces a flurry of suspended white particles inside the glass container as the lime precipitates out of the solution.
While the technology is simple and could, in principle, be easily scaled up, a typical cement plant today produces about 700,000 tons of the material per year. “How do you penetrate an industry like that and get a foot in the door?” asks Ellis, the paper’s lead author. One approach, she says, is to try to replace just one part of the process at a time, rather than the whole system at once, and “in a stepwise fashion” gradually add other parts.
The initial proposed system the team came up with is “not because we necessarily think we have the exact strategy” for the best possible approach, Chiang says, “but to get people in the electrochemical sector to start thinking more about this,” and come up with new ideas. “It’s an important first step, but not yet a fully developed solution.”
The research was partly supported by the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology.
How a new quantum sensor could improve cancer treatment
The development of medical imaging and monitoring methods has profoundly impacted the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. These non-invasive techniques allow health care practitioners to look for cancer in the body and determine if treatment is working.
But current techniques have limitations; namely, tumours need to be a specific size to be visible. Being able to detect cancer cells, even before there are enough to form a tumour, is a challenge that researchers around the world are looking to solve.
The solution may lie in nanotechnology
Researchers at the University of Waterloo’s Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) have developed a quantum sensor that is promising to outperform existing technologies in monitoring the success of cancer treatments.
Artist’s rendering of the interaction of incident single photon pulses and a tapered semiconductor nanowire array photodetector.
“A sensor needs to be very efficient at detecting light,” explains principal investigator Michael Reimer, an IQC faculty member and professor in the Faculty of Engineering. “What’s unique about our sensor is that the light can be absorbed all the way, from UV to infrared. No commercially available device exists that can do that now.”
Current sensors reflect some of the light, and depending on the material, this reflection can add up to 30 percent of the light not being absorbed.
This next-generation quantum sensor designed in Reimer’s lab is very efficient and can detect light at the fundamental limit — a single photon — and refresh for the next one within nanoseconds. Researchers created an array of tapered nanowires that turn incoming photons into electric current that can be amplified and detected.
When applied to dose monitoring in cancer treatment, this enhanced ability to detect every photon means that a health practitioner could monitor the dose being given with incredible precision — ensuring enough is administered to kill the cancer cells, but not too much that it also kills healthy cells.
Moving quantum technology beyond the lab
Reimer published his findings in Nature Nanotechnology in March and is now working on a prototype to begin testing outside of his lab. Reimer’s goal is to commercialize the sensor in the next three to five years.
“I enjoy the fundamental research, but I’m also interested in bringing my research out of the lab and into the real world and making an impact to society,” says Reimer.
He is no stranger to bringing quantum technology to the marketplace. While completing his post doctorate at the Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands, Reimer was an integral part of the startup, Single Quantum, developing highly efficient single-photon detectors based on superconducting nanowires.
Reimer’s latest sensor has a wide range of applications beyond dose monitoring for cancer treatments. The technology also has the ability to significantly improve high-speed imaging from space and long-range, high-resolution 3D images.
“A broad range of industries and research fields will benefit from a quantum sensor with these capabilities,” said Reimer. “It impacts quantum communication to quantum lidar to biological applications. Anywhere you have photon-starved situations, you would want an efficient sensor.”
He is exploring all industries and opportunities to put this technology to use.
Breakthroughs come in unexpected places
After earning his undergraduate degree in physics at the University of Waterloo, Reimer moved to Germany to play professional hockey. While taking graduate courses at the Technical University of Munich, he met a professor of nanotechnology who sparked his interest in the field.
“I played hockey and science was my hobby,” says Reimer. “Science is still my hobby, and it’s amazing that it is now my job.” Reimer went on to complete his PhD at the University of Ottawa/National Research Council of Canada, and turned his attention to quantum light sources. Reimer is an internationally renowned expert in quantum light sources and sensors. The idea for the quantum sensor came from his initial research in quantum light sources.
“To get the light out from the quantum light source, we had to come up with a way that you don’t have reflections, so we made this tapered shape. We realized that if we can get the light out that way we could also do the reverse — that’s where the idea for the sensor came from.”
Reimer will be at the Waterloo Innovation Summit on October 1, to present his latest breakthrough and its potential impact on the health care sector. And while he works to bring the sensor to market, Reimer’s lab continues to push the boundaries of quantum photonics.
From discovering the path to perfect photon entanglement to developing novel solid-state quantum devices, Reimer’s research is advancing technologies that could disrupt a multitude of industries and research fields.
In the International Energy Outlook 2019 (IEO2019) Reference case, released at 9:00 a.m. today, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that world energy consumption will grow by nearly 50% between 2018 and 2050. Most of this growth comes from countries that are not in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and this growth is focused in regions where strong economic growth is driving demand, particularly in Asia.
EIA’s IEO2019 assesses long-term world energy markets for 16 regions of the world, divided according to OECD and non-OECD membership. Projections for the United States in IEO2019 are consistent with those released in the Annual Energy Outlook 2019.
The industrial sector, which includes refining, mining, manufacturing, agriculture, and construction, accounts for the largest share of energy consumption of any end-use sector—more than half of end-use energy consumption throughout the projection period. World industrial sector energy use increases by more than 30% between 2018 and 2050 as consumption of goods increases. By 2050, global industrial energy consumption reaches about 315 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu).
Transportation energy consumption increases by nearly 40% between 2018 and 2050. This increase is largely driven by non-OECD countries, where transportation energy consumption increases nearly 80% between 2018 and 2050. Energy consumption for both personal travel and freight movement grows in these countries much more rapidly than in many OECD countries.
Energy consumed in the buildings sector, which includes residential and commercial structures, increases by 65% between 2018 and 2050, from 91 quadrillion to 139 quadrillion Btu. Rising income, urbanization, and increased access to electricity lead to rising demand for energy.
The growth in end-use consumption results in electricity generation increasing 79% between 2018 and 2050. Electricity use grows in the residential sector as rising population and standards of living in non-OECD countries increase the demand for appliances and personal equipment. Electricity use also increases in the transportation sector as plug-in electric vehicles enter the fleet and electricity use for rail expands.
With the rapid growth of electricity generation, renewables—including solar, wind, and hydroelectric power—are the fastest-growing energy source between 2018 and 2050, surpassing petroleum and other liquids to become the most used energy source in the Reference case. Worldwide renewable energy consumption increases by 3.1% per year between 2018 and 2050, compared with 0.6% annual growth in petroleum and other liquids, 0.4% growth in coal, and 1.1% annual growth in natural gas consumption.
Global natural gas consumption increases more than 40% between 2018 and 2050, and total consumption reaches nearly 200 quadrillion Btu by 2050. In addition to the natural gas used in electricity generation, natural gas consumption increases in the industrial sector. Chemical and primary metals manufacturing, as well as oil and natural gas extraction, account for most of the growing industrial demand.
Global liquid fuels consumption increases more than 20% between 2018 and 2050, and total consumption reaches more than 240 quadrillion Btu in 2050. Demand in OECD countries remains relatively stable during the projection period, but non-OECD demand increases by about 45%.