Strong current of energy runs through MIT: Robust community focused on fueling the world’s future +Video


MIT-Energy-Past-Future-borders-01 small_0Top row (l-r): Tata Center spinoff Khethworks develops affordable irrigation for the developing world; students discuss utility research in Washington; thin, lightweight solar cell developed by Professor Vladimir Bulović and team. Bottom row (l-r): MIT’s record-setting Alcator tokamak fusion research reactor; a researcher in the MIT Energy Laboratory’s Combustion Research Facility; Professor Kripa Varanasi, whose research on slippery surfaces has led to a spinoff co-founded with Associate Provost Karen Gleason.

Photos: Tata Center for Technology and Design, MITEI, Joel Jean and Anna Osherov, Bob Mumgaard/PSFC, Energy Laboratory Archives, Bryce Vickmark

Research, education, and student activities help create a robust community focused on fueling the world’s future.

On any given day at MIT, undergraduates design hydro-powered desalination systems, graduate students test alternative fuels, and professors work to tap the huge energy-generating potential of nuclear fusion, biomaterials, and more. While some MIT researchers are modeling the impacts of policy on energy markets, others are experimenting with electrochemical forms of energy storage.

This is the robust energy community at MIT. Developed over the past 10 years with the guidance and support of the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) — and with roots extending back into the early days of the Institute — it has engaged more than 300 faculty members and spans more than 900 research projects across all five schools.

In addition, MIT offers a multidisciplinary energy minor and myriad energy-related events and activities throughout the year. Together, these efforts ensure that students who arrive on campus with an interest in energy have free rein to pursue their ambitions.

Opportunities for students

“The MIT energy ecosystem is an incredible system, and it’s built from the ground up,” says Robert C. Armstrong, a professor of chemical engineering and the director of MITEI, which is overseen at the Institute level by Vice President for Research Maria Zuber. “It begins with extensive student involvement in energy.” MITnano_ 042216 InfCorrTerraceView_label (1)

Opportunities begin the moment undergraduates arrive on campus, with a freshman pre-orientation program offered through MITEI that includes such hands-on activities as building motors and visiting the Institute’s nuclear research reactor.

“I got accepted into the pre-orientation program and from there, I was just hooked. I learned about solar technology, wind technology, different types of alternative fuels, bio fuels, even wave power,” says graduate student Priyanka Chatterjee ’15, who minored in energy studies and majored in mechanical and ocean engineering.

Those who choose the minor take a core set of subjects encompassing energy science, technology, and social science. Those interested in a deep dive into research can participate in the Energy Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), which provides full-time summer positions. UROP students are mentored by graduate students and postdocs, many of them members of the Society of Energy Fellows, who are also conducting their own energy research at MIT.

For extracurricular activities, students can join the MIT Energy Club, which is among the largest student-run organizations at MIT with more than 5,000 members. They can also compete for the MIT Clean Energy Prize, a student competition that awards more than $200,000 each year for energy innovation. And there are many other opportunities.

The Tata Center for Technology and Design, now in its sixth year, extends MIT’s reach abroad. It supports 65 graduate students every year who conduct research central to improving life in developing countries — including lowering costs of rural electrification and using solar energy in novel ways.

Students have other opportunities to conduct and share energy research internationally as well.

“Over the years, MITEI has made it possible for several of the students I’ve advised to engage more directly in global energy and climate policy negotiations,” says Valerie Karplus, an assistant professor of global economics and management. “In 2015, I joined them at the Paris climate conference, which was a tremendous educational and outreach experience for all of us.”

Holistic problem-solving

“What is important is to provide our students a holistic understanding of the energy challenges,” says MIT Associate Dean for Innovation Vladimir Bulović.

Adds Karplus: “There’s been an evolution in thinking from ‘How do we build a better mousetrap?’ to ‘How do we bring about change in society at a system level?’”

This kind of thinking is at the root of MIT’s multidisciplinary approach to addressing the global energy challenge — and it has been since MITEI was conceived and launched by then-MIT President Susan Hockfield, a professor of neuroscience. While energy research has been part of the Institute since its founding (MIT’s first president, William Barton Rogers, famously collapsed and died after uttering the words “bituminous coal” at the 1882 commencement), the concerted effort to connect researchers across the five schools for collaborative projects is a more recent development.

“The objective of MITEI was really to solve the big energy problems, which we feel needs all of the schools’ and departments’ contributions,” says Ernest J. Moniz, a professor emeritus of physics and special advisor to MIT’s president. Moniz was the founding director of MITEI before serving as U.S. Secretary of Energy during President Obama’s administration.

Hockfield says great technology by itself “can’t go anywhere without great policy.”

“It’s the economics, it’s the sociology, it’s the science and the engineering, it’s the architecture — it’s all of the pieces of MIT that had to come together if we were going to develop really impactful sustainable energy solutions,” she says.

This multidisciplinary approach is evident in much of MIT’s energy research — notably the series of comprehensive studies MITEI has conducted on such topics as the future of solar energy, natural gas, the electric grid, and more.

“To make a better world, it’s essential that we figure out how to take what we’ve learned at MIT in energy and get that out into the world,” Armstrong says.

Fostering collaborations

MITEI’s eight low-carbon energy research centers — focused on a range of topics from materials design to solar generation to carbon capture and storage — similarly address challenges on multiple technology and policy fronts. These centers are a core component of MIT’s five-year Plan for Action on Climate Change, announced by President L. Rafael Reif in October 2015. The centers employ a strategy that has been fundamental to MIT’s energy work since the founding of MITEI: broad, sustained collaboration with stakeholders from industry, government, and the philanthropic and non-governmental organization communities.

“It’s one thing to do research that’s interesting in a laboratory. It’s something very different to take that laboratory discovery into the world and deliver practical applications,” Hockfield says. “Our collaboration with industry allowed us to do that with a kind of alacrity that we could never have done on our own.”

For example, MITEI’s members have supported more than 160 energy-focused research projects, representing $21.4 million in funding over the past nine years, through the Seed Fund Program. Projects have led to follow-on federal and industry funding, startup companies, and pilot plants for solar desalinization systems in India and Gaza, among other outcomes.

What has MIT’s energy community as a whole accomplished over the past decade? Hockfield says it’s raised the visibility of the world’s energy problems, contributed solutions — both technical and sociopolitical — and provided “an army of young people” to lead the way to a sustainable energy future.

“I couldn’t be prouder of what MIT has contributed,” she says. “We are in the midst of a reinvention of how we make energy and how we use energy. And we will develop sustainable energy practices for a larger population, a wealthier population, and a healthier planet.”

 

Why Scientists Are So Worried about Brexit – Should They Be?



Funding for British research and innovation is only one reason.

Passions are running high ahead of this Thursday’s vote on Britain’s continued membership in the European Union, with the “Brexit” campaign issuing overwrought warnings of five million Turks poised to invade, while the “Bremain” camp—including the government—warns of economic disaster if the country leaves.

It’s just the kind of mudslinging battle that calm, rational scientists normally avoid.
But the British research community sees Brexit as a serious threat to funding and innovation, so it hasn’t stood silently on the sidelines. Polls say 83 percent of British scientists oppose Brexit. 

Many have spoken out: in March all 159 Fellows of the Royal Society at the University of Cambridge called the move “a disaster for British science,” mainly because it would stop young scientists from migrating freely within Europe. A report by the House of Lords reported in April that “the overwhelming balance of opinion from the UK science community” opposed Brexit.

Why? Partly because the EU funds a lot of science and technology research for its member countries, with 74.8 billion euros budgeted from 2014 to 2020. Brexiters say British taxpayers should simply keep their contribution and spend it at home.

They’d take a serious loss if they did. Britain punches above its weight in research, generating 16 percent of top-impact papers worldwide, so its grant applications are well received in Brussels. Between 2007 and 2013, it paid 5.4 billion euros into the EU research budget but got 8.8 billion euros back in grants.


Illustration by Simon Landrein

British labs depend on that for a quarter of public research funds, a share that has increased in recent years. A cut in that funding after Brexit could drag down every field in which British research is prominent—which is most of them.

“It’s not just funding,” says Mike Galsworthy, a health-care researcher at University College London who launched the social-media campaign Scientists for EU. 

“EU support catalyzes international collaboration.” The EU funds research partly to boost European integration: for most programs you need collaborators in other EU countries to get a grant. This isn’t a bad thing, as collaborative work tends to mean more and higher-impact publications.

Brexiters argue that Britain can continue to participate in EU research from outside, under an “association agreement.” Several non-EU countries, like Norway and Tunisia, do that. Would it work for a major research nation?
Ask the Swiss. They are not in the EU, but in 2004 they allowed free movement of people to and from the EU, partly to qualify for EU research programs. In 2014, under the same anti-immigration pressure that pushed Britain to the Brexit vote, 50.3 percent of Swiss voted to repeal that. At the time, no one mentioned how this might affect science.

But Swiss students were summarily dropped from the EU’s Erasmus University exchange program, which is much used by young scientists. Swiss labs are major participants in EU science—one leads its flagship Human Brain Project—and the research ministry stepped in to rescue work stranded as EU funding was abruptly withdrawn. Brussels agreed to give the Swiss temporary “partial association,” with access to some programs mainly for basic research.

That will end in February, however, and the EU insists that for full association, Switzerland, like Norway, must agree to the free movement of people—putting the Swiss back where they started. Without full association, it will have to pay its own way to participate in EU research projects.

“There is no reason to think the U.K. would do any better,” says Athene Donald of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory and the European Research Council. To get an association agreement and EU research funds, Britain would have to agree to free movement of people from the EU, the very thing most Brexiters object to most.

And then the EU-funded science would cost more. Association countries pay into the EU research budget and then compete for joint projects. This takes more admin than simply competing as a dues-paying member, and the country must pay extra for that, making the science some 20 percent more expensive, researchers estimate. Britain would also lose its right, as an EU member, to help decide how the money is spent.

The economic impact of losing access to EU-funded science has not been lost on the Swiss. Polls in May found that now only 21 percent think free movement is a bad thing. Campaigners are organizing another referendum.
Karlheinz Meier, of the University of Heidelberg in Germany, runs the neuromorphic-computing platform for the Human Brain Project, based in Heidelberg—and in Manchester, England. 

If Brexit happens, he expects Britain to find some way to keep participating. “They won’t destroy their research collaboration with Europe,” he says. “It would be crazy.”




But Britain may not have much choice. British chancellor George Osborne said last week that he would have to slash public spending to pay for the costs of Brexit, estimated to total $100 billion by 2020. That, he says, would include hitherto untouchable budgets for health care. Science seems likely to be even more vulnerable to cuts.

High-tech British companies, including Rolls-Royce and BT, have come out against Brexit, as has Coadec, a confederation of small digital startups. All need the single market and common regulations to cut costs, plus free movement—especially for programmers.

Other R&D players made their views clear at hearings in the House of Lords. The EU runs the world’s most advanced magnetic-containment fusion experiments. The JET reactor, in England, has given British physicists and engineers a unique edge in the technology, the U.K. Atomic Energy Agency told the Lords. If the next phase in this program, the ITER reactor in France, ever delivers fusion power, it will take longer without the Brits. We would all lose.


The EU’s 3.3-billion-euro Innovative Medicines Initiative is not now open to the Swiss
. The pharmaceutical industry, the largest business investor in British R&D, told the Lords it fears Brexit will mean British labs will follow. Britain is a major player in pharmaceutical research; that means slower progress towards badly needed new drugs.

MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW – Guest Contributor Debora MacKenzie June 20, 2016

Israel is the go-to place for nanotech research


Nano Israeil Conference 2016Cornell University professor Richard Robinson says Jewish State is ‘ahead of the curve’ when it comes to nanotechnology.

One day soon, a start-up somewhere – possibly in Israel – will come up with a system to manufacture precisely-formed nanoparticles that, when joined with other particles, will change the way electronics, clothing, computers and almost everything else can be used.

One day, but not yet, according to Richard Robinson, a visiting scholar at Hebrew University’s Institute of Chemistry. Based at Cornell University, Robinson is in Israel to do research in the area of nanotechnology, where scientists manipulate very tiny atomic particles to create surprising and unique effects that are far different than anything observed in physics until now.

“We know a lot about the principles of nanotechnology now, but there is still a lot to do at the research stage, which is one reason why nanotech hasn’t yet made its presence known to a large extent in the greater society,” Robinson told The Times of Israel. “Nevertheless nanotechnology is already having a major impact in certain applications, like lighting.”

In fact, one of the first commercially successful nano-based products to emerge came from the very Hebrew University lab where Robinson is doing research. Using unique quantum materials, Qlight developed semiconductor nanocrystals that can emit and provide extra brilliance to light, such as enhancing the color of display screens.

Last year the company was acquired by Merck, the German chemical and technology company. Qlight’s technology, said Merck CEO Karl-Ludwig Kley, is “far superior to anything currently on the market, and that will help us retain and expand our position as market leader.”

There will likely be many more such announcements and pronouncements in the future, and many of them are set to be based on technology developed in Israel, said Robinson. “Israel is ahead of the curve on nanotechnology research,” said Robinson.

And there’s plenty more research that needs to be done. “Over the past 20 years or so we have essentially been rewriting the textbooks on physics, because the laws that apply to ‘normal’ particles do not apply to nano-sized particles,” he added.

In other words, certain things happen when five nanometer-sized particles are combined with six nanometer-sized particles. “We’re still observing, categorizing and recording the reactions of these particles sizes with each other and others, in different kinds of materials, and their combinations,” said Robinson.

At home in Cornell, Robinson does a lot of work in materials, controlling their size, shape, composition and surfaces, and assembling the resulting building blocks into functional architectures. Among the applications Robinson’s lab is targeting are new materials for printable electronics and electrocatalysis. His group is also pioneering a new method to probe phonon transport in nanostructures.

On practical example of how nanotech will affect energy is to allow for a much more efficient production method for solar energy. In a solar energy system, the sun’s rays hit photovaltic cells that capture the energy and convert it into direct current (DC) electricity, which is then converted to alternating current (AC), for use in home electric systems or for transfer to the grid. But it turns out that the PV cells being used don’t capture as much of the sun’s rays as they can because of fluctuations in the wavelength of the rays due to time of day or time of year; only about 25% of the rays are captured on average.

PV cells are designed to capture the sun at its strongest in midday, but they can’t capture rays at other times of the day. Using nanomaterials that respond to specific wavelengths PV technology can be much more efficient, tripling the usable “bounty” from the sun, said Robinson.

Eventually, said Robinson, nanotech will live up to the hype that has surrounded it for the past two decades.

“The manufacturing process for nanoparticles is not yet precise. In order for nanotech to be fully commercialized, we need a way to produced nanoparticles on a mass basis with the right size needed for each application,” Robinson said. “We’re not there yet, but it’s on the way – and with all the nanotech research here in Israel, it may just be an Israeli start-up that develops it.”

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A “Sponge-Cage” for Purification of Fullerenes (Carbon Molecules)


fullerenesA work in Nature Communications presents a supramolecular nanocage which encapsulates fullerenes of different sizes and allows the extraction of pure C60 and C70 through a washing-based strategy. The work was coordinated from the Universitat de Girona. Contributors include Ramón y Cajal Researcher Dr. Inhar Imaz and ICREA Research Prof. Daniel Maspoch from the ICN2 Supramolecular NanoChemistry & Materials Group.

A fullerene is a molecule made of carbon that can be found in many shapes, such as spheres or tubes. They have a wide range of applications, highlighting their extensive use as electroactive materials in solar cells and with continuously appearing new uses in medicine. Any application, however, is limited in origin by tedious solid-liquid extractions (usually in toluene) and time-expensive chromatographic separations. Even the extraction of small amounts of purified fullerenes for research purposes becomes a complex process.

fullerenes

A work in Nature Communications recently presented a supramolecular nanocage synthesized by metal-directed self-assembly, which encapsulates fullerenes of different sizes. The study was led from the Universitat de Girona and included the participation of the UAB Department of Chemistry, the ALBA Synchrotron and the ICN2 Supramolecular NanoChemistry & Materials Group. RyC Researcher Dr. Inhar Imaz and ICREA Research Prof. Daniel Maspoch are among the authors.

The article provides direct experimental evidence for the 1:1 encapsulation of C60, C70, C76, C78 and C84, fullerene molecules consisting of 60, 70, 76, 78 and 84 carbon atoms respectively. Solid state structures for the caged fullerenes with C60 and C70 have been obtained using X-ray synchrotron radiation. With a washing-based strategy it is possible to exclusively extract pure C60 from a solid sample of cage charged with a mixture of fullerenes.

This tetragonal prismatic supramolecular cage with a high affinity for the inclusion of fullerenes, and a facile ability to release them by solvent washing of the solid inclusion compound, is an attractive methodology to selectively extract C60 and, with a lower efficiency, C70 from fullerene mixtures. Although the method cannot be used to produce big amounts of purified fullerenes, it provides an experimental platform to design tuned cages for selective extraction of higher . The solid-phase fullerene encapsulation and liberation represent a twist in host-guest chemistry for molecular nanocage structures.

Explore further: Molecular striptease explains Buckyballs in space

More information: Cristina García-Simón, Marc Garcia-Borràs, Laura Gómez, Teodor Parella, Sílvia Osuna, Jordi Juanhuix, Inhar Imaz, Daniel Maspoch, Miquel Costas & Xavi Ribas. Sponge-like molecular cage for purification of fullerenes. Nature Communications, 2014. 5, 5557. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms6557

Stanford University: $1.5 Million Seed grants Awarded for Innovative Clean Technology & Energy Research


Stanford_University_seal_2003_svgStanford University’s Precourt Institute for Energy, Precourt Energy Efficiency Center and TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy have awarded eight seed grants totaling about $1.5 million for promising new research in clean technology and energy efficiency.

 
“Seed funding supports early work on concepts that have the potential for very high impact on energy production and use,” said Precourt Institute Director Sally Benson, a professor of energy resources engineering. “This year’s grants support an exciting array of bold, new ideas for advancing energy technology and policy – from revolutionizing power electronics to the energy-neutral conversion of wastewater into drinking water and waste heat from computers into usable energy.”
 
Energy grants
The Precourt Institute for Energy will fund the following three projects on photovoltaics, nanoscale heat transmission and power electronics:
A novel technique for producing high-efficiency photovoltaic devices: Solar cells made of gallium arsenide hold the record for photovoltaic efficiency but are extremely expensive to produce. This project proposes using a novel laser lift-off technique to produce low-cost, single-crystal gallium arsenide films for SA Solar 5 191b940e-6e05-402a-bfbb-3e7be5f8a46f_16x9_600x338photovoltaic applications. Principal investigator: Bruce Clemens, materials science and engineering.
A new approach to understand and control energy conversion processes at the nanoscale: Phonons, quantized collective vibrations of atoms in solids, are the main carriers of heat in non-metallic materials. In this project, researchers will conduct experiments aimed at discovering the fundamental physics that govern phonon propagation and dissipation in nanostructures, and identify how to manipulate them for improved energy-conversion applications. Principal investigators: David Reis, applied physics and photon science, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory; Arun Majumdar, mechanical engineering.
Revolutionizing power electronics with 3D-printed, high-frequency power converters: Power electronics involves the transformation and control of electrical energy. The research team will focus on developing power supplies that can achieve substantial energy saving in the pasteurization of liquids like milk and fruit juice. The long-range goal is to lay the groundwork for a revolution in the design and manufacture of power electronics components. Principal investigator: Juan Rivas-Davila, electrical engineering.2-water nano nano1
Sustainable energy awards
The TomKat Center is supporting three projects on waste heat, wastewater and polygeneration energy systems.
“Stanford researchers continue to look for innovative ways to achieve energy sustainability,” said TomKat Center Director Stacey Bent, a professor of chemical engineering. “These awards will enable proof-of-concept studies that take a new look at how to supply electricity, fuel and drinking water sustainably.”
Low-cost polymer materials for efficient waste heat reclamation: Thermoelectricity, the direct conversion of heat into electrical power, can be used to reclaim otherwise wasted thermal energy from cars, factories and power plants. However, conventional thermoelectric devices are made of exotic and expensive materials. This project will test novel polymers that can be used to develop efficient, low-cost thermoelectric devices at scale. Principal investigators: Zhenan Bao, chemical engineering; Kenneth Goodson, mechanical engineering.
Surfer at Peahi Bay on Maui, HawaiiFrom ‘waste’ water to fresh water: Anaerobic treatment for energy-neutral potable water: Wastewater is typically treated with oxygen-consuming (aerobic) bacteria, an energy-intensive process that converts organic-rich wastewater constituents to carbon dioxide. This project will be conducted at a new experimental treatment plant at Stanford that uses oxygen-averse (anaerobic) bacteria to convert organic waste to methane. The research team will evaluate the viability of capturing and using methane gas for fuel to run treatment processes that convert wastewater to drinking water for human consumption. Principal investigators: William Mitch and Craig Criddle, civil and environmental engineering.
 
Economic assessment of polygeneration energy systems: Polygeneration energy systems use multiple feedstocks (such as coal, natural gas and biomass) to generate multiple products (electricity, hydrogen, ammonia, etc.). These systems offer more flexibility for managing volatile energy prices and changes in end-product demand. This study will examine the impact of using renewable feedstocks (such as solar and wind) in the energy mix, and assess the effect of market and policy uncertainties on the economic competitiveness of polygeneration. Principal investigators: Stefan Reichelstein, Graduate School of Business; Adam Brandt, energy resources engineering.
Precourt Energy Efficiency Center awards
The Precourt Energy Efficiency Center (PEEC) is providing seed funding for research at Stanford on waste heat.
“Both of the new projects we have chosen seek to improve energy efficiency through the use of heat that is currently wasted as a byproduct of electrical systems,” said PEEC director James Sweeney, a professor of management science and engineering. “One looks at this problem on a large scale – neighborhoods, while the other would operate at the micro level – computers – which if successful could be used at server farms around the world.”
Improving the efficiency of combined cooling, heating and power systems: Combined cooling, heating and power systems (CCHP) theoretically use 90 percent of the primary energy going into them, but in reality their efficiency is usually just a little better than large coal-fired power plants. In the spring, electricity demand hums along, but the waste heat from a CCHP generator is mostly not needed for air conditioning or heating. This project will find out how much the efficiency of large CCHP plants (greater than 10 megawatts) can be increased by planning new campuses, neighborhoods, industrial zones, etc., with CCHP in mind, rather than bolting on CCHP after the planning is done. Principal investigator: Martin Fischer, civil and environmental engineering.
Miniature thermoacoustic engines to capture waste heat from computers: This project will first assess the feasibility of miniature thermoacoustic engines to convert waste heat from computers and other electronic devices. The researchers will then design a preliminary version of the device, which they think could recoup at least 20 percent of the wasted heat. If fully commercialized, such technology could save $6 million dollars in electricity per day in the United States alone. Principal investigator: Lambertus Hesselink, electrical engineering; co-investigator: Carlo Scalo, mechanical engineering, Purdue University.

NANOTECHNOLOGY – Energys Holy Grail Artificial Photosynthesis


 

 

 

What is Nanotechnology?
A basic definition: Nanotechnology is the engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale. This covers both current work and concepts that are more advanced.
In its original sense, ‘nanotechnology’ refers to the projected ability to construct items from the bottom up, using techniques and tools being developed today to make complete, high performance products.

Nanotechnology (sometimes shortened to “nanotech”) is the manipulation of matter on an atomic and molecular scale. The earliest, widespread description of nanotechnology referred to the particular technological goal of precisely manipulating atoms and molecules for fabrication of macroscale products, also now referred to as molecular nanotechnology. A more generalized description of nanotechnology was subsequently established by the National Nanotechnology Initiative, which defines nanotechnology as the manipulation of matter with at least one dimension sized from 1 to 100 nanometers.

This definition reflects the fact that quantum mechanical effects are important at this quantum-realm scale, and so the definition shifted from a particular technological goal to a research category inclusive of all types of research and technologies that deal with the special properties of matter that occur below the given size threshold. It is therefore common to see the plural form “nanotechnologies” as well as “nanoscale technologies” to refer to the broad range of research and applications whose common trait is size. Because of the variety of potential applications (including industrial and military), governments have invested billions of dollars in nanotechnology research. Through its National Nanotechnology Initiative, the USA has invested 3.7 billion dollars. The European Union has invested 1.2 billion and Japan 750 million dollars

Nanotechnology to boost economy … In Australia


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Stain resistant clothes, medical breakthroughs, more powerful smartphones and stronger construction materials are a small part of the nanotechnology revolution that’s expected to generate $3 trillion dollars revenue globally by 2020.

Nanotechnology exploits the fact that materials behave differently at scales below about 100 nanometers, which is about 200 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

Scientists launched on Friday a national strategy for nanotechnology development.

They say development could help parts of the manufacturing industry revolutionise its products, develop new products and address the grand challenges facing the nation such as health and ageing.

Professor Chennupati Jagadish, Australian Academy of Science secretary for physical sciences, says the plan will also improve our ability to participate effectively in the Asian Century.

“Concerted effort must also be put into promoting Australian nanotechnology capability on the international stage,” he said in a statement.

The plan’s vision statement says assessments of the impact of nanotechnology on society by 2020 suggest Australia needs to invest more.

“The strong implication is that economies and industries that fail to invest in nano-inspired technology will be left behind as new products with improved or entirely new functionality replace the old,” it says.

China in particular has made nanotechnology research and funding a priority.

Nanotechnology has applications in other areas, such as improving community health, remediation of the environment, clean energy solutions and national security.

The strategy makes eight recommendations, including the setting up of mechanisms to bring industry and researchers together and national coordination by researchers to ensure it all remains on track.

KACST conducted 193 research projects on nanotechnology in four years


Monday 12 November 2012

Last Update 12 November 2012 3:38 am

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RIYADH: During a period of four years ending in 2011, King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) conducted 193 research projects in the field of nanotechnology. These cost SR 574 million, said KACST President Mohammed bin Ibrahim Alsuwaiyel yesterday.
Alsuwaiyel inaugurated the second Saudi International Nanotechnology Conference at KACST headquarters in Riyadh.
More than 300 delegates including speakers from various parts of the world took part in the conference.
Between 2007 and 2011, KACST initiated partnerships with local and international bodies and supported researchers to build partnerships with local and international organizations. It has been cooperating Saudi universities such as King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST) and Princess Nora University, said Alsuwaiyel.
He indicated that nanotechnology has recently attracted the attention of experts for its scientific and business advantages that could benefit society in areas such as medicine, energy, electronics, and the pharmaceutical industry.
KACST has taken practical steps to introduce this technology through the National Plan of Science and Innovation (NPSI) with research findings of strategic importance to the Kingdom, he said.
He added that KACST has set up a national center for nanotechnology to act as a link between governmental and industrial sectors to meet the nation’s needs.
Since 2007, KACST has undertaken infrastructure projects for this technology including laboratories, researches and had also invited Saudi universities to attend specialized courses on nanotechnology, he noted.
Alsuwaiyel referred to applications KACST has developed, including technologies related to solar cells used in water desalination technology, which fall within the initiative of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah on water desalination using solar energy.
KACST set up a unit to produce 3-megawatt flat solar panels at the solar village in Al-Aiyyna, where it began production as from the year 2011 with a production capacity of 12,000 panels per year.
He said KACST aims to set up a world class plant to produce solar panels with a capacity of 120 megawatt in Al-Aiyyna solar village on an area of 75,000 square meters.
KACST researchers applied for registration of 49 patents on nanotechnology. It aims to build a generation of technicians and researchers equipped with the latest technologies to run and implement such projects.
With the help of nanotechnology, plans are underway to have a high-speed camera to monitor different transformations that occur on cancer cells compared to healthy cells, and to take advantage of this feature to distinguish between carcinogens and other cells, said Alsuwaiyel.

Stanford scientists build the first all-carbon solar cell


Stanford Report, October 31, 2012

Researchers have developed a solar cell made entirely of carbon, an inexpensive substitute for the pricey materials used in conventional solar panels.

Stanford University scientists have built the first solar cell made entirely of carbon, a promising alternative to the expensive materials used in photovoltaic devices today. The results are published in today’s online edition of the journal ACS Nano.

“Carbon has the potential to deliver high performance at a low cost,” said study senior author Zhenan Bao, a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford.  “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of a working solar cell that has all of the components made of carbon. This study builds on previous work done in our lab.”

Unlike rigid silicon solar panels that adorn many rooftops, Stanford’s thin film prototype is made of carbon materials that can be coated from solution. “Perhaps in the future we can look at alternative markets where flexible carbon solar cells are coated on the surface of buildings, on windows or on cars to generate electricity,” Bao said.

The coating technique also has the potential to reduce manufacturing costs, said Stanford graduate student Michael Vosgueritchian, co-lead author of the study with postdoctoral researcher Marc Ramuz.

“Processing silicon-based solar cells requires a lot of steps,” Vosgueritchian explained. “But our entire device can be built using simple coating methods that don’t require expensive tools and machines.”

Carbon nanomaterials

The Bao group’s experimental solar cell consists of a photoactive layer, which absorbs sunlight, sandwiched between two electrodes.  In a typical thin film solar cell, the electrodes are made of conductive metals and indium tin oxide (ITO). “Materials like indium are scarce and becoming more expensive as the demand for solar cells, touchscreen panels and other electronic devices grows,” Bao said.  “Carbon, on the other hand, is low cost and Earth-abundant.”

Scientist's hand holding carbon solar cellThe Bao group’s all-carbon solar cell consists of a photoactive layer, which absorbs sunlight, sandwiched between two electrodes.

For the study, Bao and her colleagues replaced the silver and ITO used in conventional electrodes with graphene – sheets of carbon that are one atom thick –and single-walled carbon nanotubes that are 10,000 times narrower than a human hair. “Carbon nanotubes have extraordinary electrical conductivity and light-absorption properties,” Bao said.

For the active layer, the scientists used material made of carbon nanotubes and “buckyballs” – soccer ball-shaped carbon molecules just one nanometer in diameter.  The research team recently filed a patent for the entire device.

“Every component in our solar cell, from top to bottom, is made of carbon materials,” Vosgueritchian said. “Other groups have reported making all-carbon solar cells, but they were referring to just the active layer in the middle, not the electrodes.”

One drawback of the all-carbon prototype is that it primarily absorbs near-infrared wavelengths of light, contributing to a laboratory efficiency of less than 1 percent – much lower than commercially available solar cells.  “We clearly have a long way to go on efficiency,” Bao said.  “But with better materials and better processing techniques, we expect that the efficiency will go up quite dramatically.”

Improving efficiency

The Stanford team is looking at a variety of ways to improve efficiency. “Roughness can short-circuit the device and make it hard to collect the current,” Bao said. “We have to figure out how to make each layer very smooth by stacking the nanomaterials really well.”

The researchers are also experimenting with carbon nanomaterials that can absorb more light in a broader range of wavelengths, including the visible spectrum.

“Materials made of carbon are very robust,” Bao said. “They remain stable in air temperatures of nearly 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit.”

The ability of carbon solar cells to out-perform conventional devices under extreme conditions could overcome the need for greater efficiency, according to Vosgueritchian. “We believe that all-carbon solar cells could be used in extreme environments, such as at high temperatures or at high physical stress,” he said. “But obviously we want the highest efficiency possible and are working on ways to improve our device.”

“Photovoltaics will definitely be a very important source of power that we will tap into in the future,” Bao said. “We have a lot of available sunlight. We’ve got to figure out some way to use this natural resource that is given to us.”

Other authors of the study are Peng Wei of Stanford and Chenggong Wang and Yongli Gao of the University of Rochester Department of Physics and Astronomy. The research was funded by theGlobal Climate and Energy Project at Stanford and the Air Force Office for Scientific Research.

‘Quantum dot’ solar cells offer bright future with reliable, low cost energy


London, July 30 (ANI): Researchers have made a breakthrough in the development of colloidal quantum dot (CQD) films, leading to the most efficient CQD solar cell ever.

Researchers from the University of Toronto (U of T) and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) created a solar cell out of inexpensive materials that was certified at a world-record 7.0 percent efficiency.

“Previously, quantum dot solar cells have been limited by the large internal surface areas of the nanoparticles in the film, which made extracting electricity difficult,” said Dr. Susanna Thon, a lead co-author of the paper.

“Our breakthrough was to use a combination of organic and inorganic chemistry to completely cover all of the exposed surfaces,” Dr. Thon stated.

Quantum dots are semiconductors only a few nanometres in size and can be used to harvest electricity from the entire solarspectrum – including both visible and invisible wavelengths. Unlike current slow and expensive semiconductor growth techniques, CQD films can be created quickly and at low cost, similar to paint or ink.

The researchers, led by U of T Engineering Professor Ted Sargent, paves the way for solar cells that can be fabricated on flexible substrates in the same way newspapers are rapidly printed in mass quantities.

The U of T cell represents a 37 percent increase in efficiency over the previous certified record. In order to improve efficiency, the researchers needed a way to both reduce the number of “traps” for electrons associated with poor surface quality while simultaneously ensuring their films were very dense to absorb as much light as possible. The solution was a so-called “hybrid passivation” scheme.

“By introducing small chlorine atoms immediately after synthesizing the dots, we’re able to patch the previously unreachable nooks and crannies that lead to electron traps. We follow that by using short organic linkers to bind quantum dots in the film closer together,” explained doctoral student and lead co-author Alex Ip.

Work led by Professor Aram Amassian of KAUST showed that the organic ligand exchange was necessary to achieve the densest film.

“The KAUST group used state-of-the-art synchrotron methods with sub-nanometer resolution to discern the structure of the films and prove that the hybrid passivation method led to the densest films with the closest-packed nanoparticles,” stated Professor Amassian.

The advance opens up many avenues for further research and improvement of device efficiencies, which could contribute to a bright future with reliable, low cost solar energy.

Their work featured in a letter published in Nature Nanotechnology. (ANI)