Will Nanotechnology be the Answer for the Next Generation of Lithium-Ion Batteries?


Nano LI Batt usc-lithium-ion-batteryDespite the recently reported battery-flaming problem of lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) in Boeing’s 787 Dreamliners and laptops (in 2006), LIBs are now successfully being used in many sectors. Consumer gadgets, electric cars, medical devices, space and military sectors use LIBs as portable power sources and in the future, spacecraft like James Webb Space Telescope are expected to use LIBs.

The main reason for this rapid domination of LIB technology in various sectors is that it has the highest electrical storage capacity with respect to its weight (one unit of LIB can replace two nickel-hydrogen battery units). Also, LIBs are suitable for applications where both high energy density and power density are required, and in this respect, they are superior to other types of rechargeable batteries such as lead-acid, nickel-cadmium, nickel-metal hydride, nickel-metal batteries, etc.

However, LIBs are required to improve in the following aspects: (i) store more energy and deliver higher power for longer duration of time, (ii) get charged in shorter period of time, (iii) have a longer life-time and (iv) be resistant to fire hazards. Figure 1 depicts the basic LIB Characteristics required for different applications and the respective properties that need to be improved.

Basic LIB characteristics required for different applications

Fig. 1: Basic LIB characteristics required for different applications 1,2 (DOD: Depth of Discharge, SOC: State of Charge). (click on image to enlarge)

At present, there is a great deal of interest to upgrade the existing LIBs with improved properties and arrive at a battery technology that would permit smart-storage of electric energy. Futuristic smart electric grids that can provide an uninterruptible power supply to a household for 24 hours can replace the currently used lead acid battery systems by performing better in terms of longer back up time and reduced space requirements.

With the advent of next generation LIBs, electric vehicles are expected to cover longer distances with shorter charging times; mobile phones and laptops are expected to be charged within minutes and last longer.

What Nanotechnology can do to Improve the Performance of LIBs Nanotechnology has the potential to deliver the next generation LIBs with improved performance, durability and safety at an acceptable cost. A typical LIB consists of three main components: an anode (generally made of graphite and other conductive additives), a cathode (generally, a layered transition metal oxide) and electrolyte through which lithium ions shuttles between the cathode and anode during charging and discharging cycles.

On electrodes: The electrodes of LIB, both anode and cathode are made of materials that have the ability to be easily intercalated with lithium ions. The electrodes also should have high electrical conductivity so that the LIB can have high charging rates. Faster intercalation of Li ions can be facilitated by using nanosized materials for electrodes, which offer high surface areas and short diffusion paths, and hence faster storage and delivery of energy. One prominent example is the cathode material of A123 LIBs that use nanosized lithium iron phosphate cathode. Researchers have been trying to increase the electrical conductivity of lithium iron phosphate by doping it with metals.

However, without the need for doping, the conductivity and hence the performance of the cathode material could be improved significantly by using nano-sized lithium iron phosphate. One dimensional vanadium oxide materials, LiCoO2 nanofibers, nanostructured spinels (LiMn2O4) and phosphor-olivines (LiFePO4), etc., are being explored as cathode materials for the next generation LIBs. Similarly, nanosizing the anode materials can make the anode to have short mass and charge pathways (i.e allow easier transport of both lithium ions and electrons) resulting in high reverse capacity and deliver at a faster rate.

Nanostructured materials like silicon nanowires, silicon thin films, carbon nanotubes, graphene, tin-filled carbon nanotubes, tin, germanium, etc., are currently being explored as anode materials for the next generation LIBs.

On electrolyte: Electrolytes in LIB conduct lithium ions to and fro between two electrodes. Using solid electrolytes could render high-energy battery chemistries and better safety (avoids fire hazards) when compared to the conventionally used liquid electrolytes. However, achieving the optimal combination of high lithium-ion conductivity and a broad electrochemical window is a challenge. Also, reduction of interfacial resistance between the solid electrolyte and lithium based anodes also poses a formidable challenge3.

Nanostructuring of solid electrolytes has proven to improve the lithium ion conductivity, for example, when the conventional bulk lithium thiophosphate electrolyte was made nanoporous, it could conduct lithium ions 1000 times faster4. Another example is the nanostructured polymer electrolyte (NPE), which ensures safety. Main advantage of using this benign electrolyte is that it allows the use of lithium metal as anodes (instead of carbon based anodes) and contribute to the increase of energy density of the battery5.

On improving the performance of LIBs: The performance of the LIB is typically measured by its power and energy stored per unit mass or unit volume. The power density of the LIBs can be increased but often at an expense of energy density5. In order to achieve high power density as well as energy density, researchers are using nanotechnology to design electrodes with high surface area and short diffusion paths for ionic transport.

The high surface area provides more sites for lithium ions to make contact allowing greater power density and faster discharging and recharging. Another important parameter known as rate capability, indicates the maximum current output the LIB can provide and it plays an important role in deciding life-cycle of the LIB. In general, higher the rate capability, greater is the power density and longer the cycle-life.

Safety

The demand for the LIBs with increased power/energy density (P/E) ratio is accompanied by the greater safety risk of the battery. Preferably, a P/E ratio of roughly 0.5 along with uncomplicated heat management is proposed for the next generation LIBs. In order to avoid fire hazards, heat generated during the charging and discharging of the battery should be dissipated quickly and non-combustible materials should be used in LIBs.

In case of the LIBs with lithium metal as anodes, the so-called dendrite problem (growth of microscopic fibers of lithium across the electrolyte that leads to short circuits and overheating) remains to be solved. Separators with nanoporous structures can prevent the spreading of dendtrites by acting as a mechanical barrier without hindering the ion-transport during charging and discharging cycles.

Recently, a nanoporous polymer-ceramic composite separator that could prevent the spreading of dendrites has been reported. This novel separator consist of a laminated nanoporous gamma alumina sheet (pore size of 100 nm) sandwiched between macroporous polymer membranes. The nanoporous alumina in this layered composite could effectively impede the proliferation of dendrites and prevent cell failure that are caused by short circuits13. Thermally stable electrolytes, for example, nanoarchitectured plastic crystal polymer electrolytes (N-PCPE) can facilitate the development of safe LIBs.

Owing to its nanoarchitectural structure, N-PCPE is flexible while maintaining high ionic conductance and thermal stability. This makes the material to perform well with high electrochemical stability even in a wrinkled state. As it suffers no internal short-circuit problems even under severely deformed state, N-PCPE can be used in place of currently used flammable carbonate-based liquid electrolytes and polyolefin separator membranes to improve the safety of the LIBs14. In another context, it can be said that nanotechnology, in a way helps to use thermally stable advanced new materials as electrodes.

For example, Li4Ti5O12 spinel, which is a state-of-the-art anode material for LIBs has excellent safety and structural stability during cycling, but suffer from low ionic and electronic conductivities (in bulk form) that hampers the wide-spread use of this material. By making anodes with nanosized Li4Ti5O12 spinel and Li4Ti5O12/carbon nanocomposites, the safety as well as the electrochemical performance of the battery can be improved15. Also, nano-enabled separators with improved stability and low shrinkage properties at high temperatures have proved to improve the safety aspects as well as the performance of the LIBs16.

 For example, separators made of polymeric nanofibers (DuPont™ Energain™ battery separators) can allow automobile LIBs to accelerate quickly but safely due to their excellent stability at high temperatures.

Durability

The cycle life (number of times the LIB can be charged and discharged (one cycle together) by maintaining up to 70-80% of its original capacity) can be improved by the use of nanostructured electrodes.

New nanostructures like mesoporous CNT@TiO2-C nanocable having an inner core of carbon nanotubes encapsulating TiO2 nanoparticles, which are further covered by an outer carbon layer with mesoporous architectures provided superior electrochemical performance as anodes, hence achieving long-term cycling stability at high rates17. A high charge of 122 mA h g-1 even after 2000 cycles at 50 C could be achieved using this material.

Durable high rate LIB anodes, namely, carbon-encapsulated Fe3O4 nanoparticles homogeneously embedded in 2D porous graphitic carbon nanosheets present an excellent cycling performance (a capacity-loss of just 3.47% after 350 cycles at a high rate of 10 C). This is the highest among other conventional as well as nanostructured Fe3O4-based electrodes.

Here, Fe3O4 nanoparticles of size of about 18.2 nm were homogeneously coated with conformal and thin onion-like carbon shells and embedded into 2D carbon nanosheets (thickness <30 nm). The carbon shells prevent the exposure of Fe3O4 nanoparticles to the electrolyte and stabilize the electrode-electrolyte interface18. New 2D and 3D battery designs like forest of nanowires/rods on a thin film electrode and stacked nanorods in a ‘truck bed’ are also being explored to accommodate the volume expansion of new electrode materials and hence improve their stability.
Cost
By the year 2020, the cost of the LIBs for automotive applications are expected to come down by half 19] and almost 70% reduction in the lifetime cost of the LIBs (which brings down the cost of a battery by three times) [20] would be achieved by using nanomaterials (graphene coated silicon) for fabricating the LIB electrodes.
Nano LI Batt usc-lithium-ion-battery
In terms of using high energy electrode materials in a minimal quantity, nanotechnology can help reducing the cost of the next generation LIBs. Also, improvement in the durability (cycle life) of the LIBs using nanostructured components can improve their cost- benefit aspects.
Recent advances in paper-based batteries are attractive for consumer electronics as they enable low cost manufacturing of devices like transistors, smart displays, etc.[21]. Nanotechnology and nanomanufacturing techniques are expected to open up possibilities of low-energy processing methods for fabricating and stacking of the LIB components.

Challenges in Developing Nanoenabled LIBs

Though the LIB technology is about twenty years old now and even with the advent of nanotechnology, it is still a challenge to attain LIBs with optimal combination of energy, reliability, cost and safety[22]. With regard to the anode materials, lithium suffers from the dentrite-formation (leading to an explosion of the battery), high reactivity, etc. Hence, nanostructures of tin, silicon, etc., are being used as new anode materials.
LundFig. 2: Challenges in the development of nano-enabled LIBs.
Various strategies like (i) decreasing the particle size to nano-range (ii) employing hollow nanostructures (iii) making nanocomposites or nanocoatings with carbon and/or inert components, etc., are being used to achieve high capacity and stable cycle-life of electrodes.
However, these approaches reduce the overall energy density of the anode material due to the following reasons: (i) low packing -density of nanosized materials (ii) presence of large voids in the hollow structures (iii) increased weight -percentage of added carbon/or inert components. Lately, smartly-designed nanoparticle agglomerates in micron size range are proposed to be used to solve the above said technical drawbacks of using nano-enabled anodes and similar strategies can also be applied for designing efficient nano-sized cathode materials [23,24].
Other challenges such as lowering the high fabrication cost due to energy- consuming synthetic processes, avoiding undesired reactions at electrode/electrolyte interface that arise due to the large surface areas of nanomaterials, preventing the formation of agglomerates during the fabrication process, etc., can be overcome by careful selection of the fabrication procedure.
Commercialization of Nanoenabled LIBs: Current Scenario
LIBs have already penetrated the consumer electronics market and are now making the move into HEV/EV applications and grid-storage applications. By 2018, global market for LIBs is expected to grow strong and reach $24.2 billion. Unlike before, the industry is ready to develop improved LIBs for diverse and new applications, thanks to the growing knowledge on new materials/technologies.
At present, most of the research efforts to develop advanced electrodes, safe electrolytes, etc., employ nanomaterials/nanotechnology routinely. As discussed in the previous section, there are number of challenges that are yet to be met to achieve 100% reliability and the merit of using nanomaterials for next generation LIBs. Especially, in the case of LIBs for electric vehicles, which is considered as a golden ticket for the commercialization LIBs, some startup companies like A123, Ener1, etc., announced bankruptcies in the past few years in spite of receiving huge capital investment and producing batteries with exceptional properties.
Experts note that this downfall cannot be solely attributed to the new nanotech-enabled LIB technology but also to the issue of replacing internal combustion engine in vehicles [25,26]. At present, LIBs consume the 65% of the total cost of an electric vehicle, and hence in order to be cost-completive with gasoline, LIBs with twice the energy storage of state-of-art LIBs at 30 % of cost are required [27].
Thus, the successful commercialization of nano-enabled LIBs for all-electric vehicles depends on various factors as mentioned above. Apart from these automobile applications, nanoenabled LIBs for powering handheld gadgets and for stationary storage applications are more likely to depend on the improvement in the properties of the LIBs, volume production rates) and usage of abundant, low cost, high energy materials.
Conclusion
LIB technology is rapidly emerging as the most advantageous battery chemistry for transportation as well as consumer electronics. Various research efforts on nanotechnology based LIB technology has already led into the production and use of high performance LIBs (Toshiba, A123 Systems, Altair Nano, Next Alternative Inc., etc.) and yet more improvement with respect to the performance, durability and safety aspects, especially for automotive applications are more likely to be achieved in the future.
Acknowledgement
The author would like to thank Dr. Srinivasan Anandan of ARCI for the insightful discussions on the current research trends on LIBs and Dr. C.K. Nisha of CKMNT for her suggestions on enhancing the content of the article.
References 1. Walter Van Schalkwijk, “Advances in Lithium- Ion Batteries”, Springer (2002), ISBN 0-306-47356-9 2. Battery could find use in mobile applications (26 Feb 2014) 3. Liquid and solid electrolytes in lithium-ion batteries 4. Z. Liu, W. Fu, E.A. Payzant, et al., J. Am. Chem. Soc., 135 (2013) 975-978 5. Berkeley Lab’s Solid Electrolyte May Usher in a New Generation of Rechargeable Lithium Batteries For Vehicles 6. G. Kim, S. Jeong, J-H. Shin, et al., ACS Nano, 8 (2014) 1907-1912 13. Z. Tu, Y. Kambe, Y. Lu, et al., Adv. Energy Mater., 4 (2014) 1300654 14. K-Ho Choi, S-Ju Cho, S-H Kim, et al., Adv. Funct. Mater., 24 (2014) 44-52 15. T-F. Yi, L-J. Jiang, J. Shu, et al., J. Phys. Chem. Solids, 71 (2010) 1236 – 1242 16. DuPont Launches Energain™ Separators for High-Performance Lithium Ion Batteries 17. B. Wang, H. Xin, X. Li, et al., Scientific Reports, 4:3729 (2014) 1-7 18. C. He, S. Wu, N. Zhao et al., ACS Nano, 7 (2013) 4459-4469 19. Battery Executives See Price Drops Ahead (Sep 7 2013) 20. Nanostructured Silicon Li-ion Batteries’ Capacity Figures Are In (26 Oct 2012) 21. Nanotechnology researchers fabricate foldable Li-ion batteries (1 Oct 2013) 22. The Future Requires (Better) Batteries ( 11 Nov 2013) 23. A. Magasinki, P. Dixon, B. Hertzberg, et al., Nature Materials, 9 (2010) 353-358 24. W. Wei, D. Chen D, R. Wang., et al., Nanotechnology, 23 (2012) 475401 25. Is There a Future for Nano-Enabled Lithium Ion Batteries in Electric Vehicles? (14 Dec 2010) 26. Why Ener1 Went Bankrupt (27 Jan 2012) 27. Double Energy Density for Lithium-Ion Batteries By I. Sophia Rani, Centre for Knowledge Management of Nanoscience and Technology (CKMNT).
The full article has appeared in the April 2014 issue of “Nanotech Insights” and the above article is an abridged and revised version of the same.

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Green Fracking? 5 Technologies for Cleaner Shale Energy


green-fracking-05_77808_990x742

Patrick J. Kiger for National Geographic

Published March 19, 2014

It may seem strange to hear the words “fracking” and “environmentally friendly” in the same sentence.

After all, hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which high-pressure chemically treated water is used to crack rock formations and release trapped oil and gas, is a dirty term to many environmentalists. Critics decry the practice for consuming vast amounts of fresh water, creating toxic liquid waste, and adding to the atmosphere’s greenhouse gas burden, mostly because of increased risk of leaks of the potent heat-trapping gas, methane. (See related quiz, “What You Don’t Know About Natural Gas.”)

James Hill, chief executive of the Calgary, Alberta-based energy services firm GasFrac, is one of a handful of technology pioneers determined to change that. Hill’s company has introduced a new fracking method that uses no water at all. Instead, GasFrac uses a gel made from propane—a hydrocarbon that’s already naturally present underground—and a combination of what it says are relatively benign chemicals, such as magnesium oxide and ferric sulfate, a chemical used in water treatment plants. Over the past few years, GasFrac has used the process 2,500 times at 700 wells in Canada and the United States.

“We’re actually using hydrocarbons to produce hydrocarbons,” Hill said. “It’s a cycle that’s more sustainable.”

GasFrac is one of a growing number of companies, including giant GE and the oil services firm Halliburton, that are pioneering technological improvements to mitigate some of the environmental downsides to the process that has spurred a North American energy boom. (See Interactive, “Breaking Fuel From Rock.”) Besides GasFrac’s water-free method, other companies are working on ways to use recycled frack water or non-potable brine in fracking. Some are working on replacing harsh chemicals used in the process with more benign mixtures, or to cleanse water that’s been used in fracking. Other innovators are looking to replace diesel-powered drilling equipment with engines or motors powered by natural gas or solar energy, and to find ways to find and seal leaks that allow methane, a potent greenhouse gas, to escape.

Such efforts have even won cautious support from some environmental activists, who’ve decided that it may be more realistic to mitigate the consequences of fracking than to fight its use.

“Natural gas is a potential energy bounty for the country, and development is probably inevitable,” said Ben Ratner, a project manager for the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund.  (See related “Interactive: Breaking Fuel From Rock” and “The Great Shale Gas Rush.”) “That’s why we’re investing our energy into doing everything, from science to policy to working with companies, to maximize the potential climate advantage that gas has over coal, and minimize the risk to public health and the environment. We think natural gas can be an exit ramp from coal, but we have to do it right.” (See related, “U.S. Energy-Related Carbon Emissions Fall to an 18-Year Low,” and Natural Gas Nation: EIA Sees U.S. Future Shaped by Fracking.”)

Here are a few of the efforts to make fracking greener:

Water-Free Fracking: GasFrac’s fracking system, which uses a gelled fluid containing propane, has other advantages besides eliminating the need for water, according to Hill. Because the gel retains sand better than water, it’s possible to get the same results with one-eighth the liquid and to pump at a slower rate. Because GasFrac says the amount of hydrocarbon in the gel is comparable to what’s in the ground, the fluid can simply merge into the flow being extracted from the ground, eliminating the need to drain contaminated wastewater and haul it away in trucks for disposal, usually at deep-well injection sites. “We present a much smaller footprint,” he said. (See related, “Fracking Waste Wells Linked to Ohio Earthquakes.”)

Using Recycled Water or Brine: While fracking typically uses freshwater, industry researchers have worked to perfect friction-reducing additives that would allow operators to use recycled “gray” water or brine pumped from underground. Halliburton’s UniStim, which went on the market about a year ago, can create a highly viscous fluid from any quality of water, according to Stephen Ingram, the company’s technology manager for North America. In northeastern Canada, one producer has tapped into a deep subsurface saline water aquifer for a portion of its supplies for hydraulic fracturing.

Eliminating Diesel Fumes: The diesel-powered equipment used in drilling and pumping wells can be a worrisome source of harmful pollutants such as particulates, as well as carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. And diesel fuel is expensive. Last year, Apache, a Houston-based oil and gas operator, announced it would become the first company to power an entire fracking job with engines using natural gas. In addition to reducing emissions, the company cut its fuel costs by 40 percent. Halliburton has introduced another innovation, the SandCastle vertical storage silo for the sand used in fracking, which is powered by solar panels. The company also has developed natural-gas-powered pump trucks, which Ingram said can reduce diesel consumption on a site by 60 to 70 percent, resulting in “a sizable reduction in both emissions and cost.”

Drainage water pond, Texas

PHOTOGRAPH BY DENNIS DIMICK, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
Drainage water pours into a settling pond near the booming oil fields of the Midland-Odessa region of West Texas.

Treating Wastewater: At hydraulic fracturing sites, the amount of wastewater typically far exceeds the amount of oil produced. The fluid that returns to the surface through the well bore is not only the chemically treated frack water, but water from the rock formation that can contains brines, metals, and radionuclides. (See related, “Forcing Gas Out of Rock With Water.”) That wastewater must be captured and stored on site, and then often is shipped long distances to deep well injection underground storage facilities. There have been few treatment options. But Halliburton has developed the CleanWave treatment system, which uses positively charged ions and bubbles to remove particles from the water at the fracking site. Last September, GE and its partner Memsys also tested a new on-site treatment system that allows the water to be reused without being diluted with freshwater, by employing a desalination process called membrane distillation. (See related Quiz: What You Don’t Know About Water and Energy.

Plugging Methane Leaks: A major fracking concern has been whether companies are allowing a significant amount of natural gas to escape, because methane—the main component of natural gas—is a potent greenhouse gas, 34 times stronger than carbon dioxide (CO2). A recent study concluded U.S. methane emissions are likely 50 percent higher than official government estimates. (See related, “Methane Emissions Far Worse Than U.S. Estimates.“) New U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations that go into effect next year will require that all U.S. oil and gas sites have equipment designed to cut a wide range of pollutants, a step that the agency expects will cut methane. (See related, “Air Pollution From Fracked Wells Will Be Regulated Under New U.S. Rules.”)

Methane emissions from onshore oil and natural gas production could be reduced by 40 percent by 2018, at a cost that’s the equivalent of just one cent per thousand cubic feet of natural gas produced, concludes a just-released study, conducted by Fairfax, Va.-based consulting firm ICF International for the Environmental Defense Fund. EDF’s Ratner said that inspectors equipped with infrared cameras can spot leaks at fracking sites, which can then be plugged. “The cameras cost about $80,000 to $100,000 apiece,” he noted. “But that can pay for itself, because the more leaks you fix, the more gas you have to sell.” (See related blog post: “Simple Fixes Could Plug Methane Leaks From Energy Industry, Study Finds.”)

Another improvement that can reduce methane emissions: Replacing conventional pressure-monitoring pneumatic controllers, which are driven by gas pressure and vent gas when they operate. A U.S.-wide move to lower-bleed designs could reduce emissions by 35 billion cubic feet annually. And switching out conventional chemical injection pumps used in the fracking process, which are powered by gas pressure from the wells, and replacing them with solar-powered pumps, operators could eliminate an 5.9 billion cubic feet of methane emissions annually, the EDF report concludes.

The Cost-Benefit Equation

Some solutions do not require advanced technology. A study released Wednesday by the Boston-based Clean Air Task Force suggests that almost all of the methane leaks from the oil and gas infrastructure could be reduced at relatively little expense, often by simply tightening bolts or replacing worn seals.

A number of greener fracking technologies already are being implemented, according to industry officials. But one obstacle is economic. The newer, more environmentally friendly technologies generally cost more than the legacy equipment they would replace. Extracting natural gas with water-free fracking, for example, could cost 25 percent more than conventional fracking, according to David Burnett, a professor of petroleum engineering at Texas A&M University who heads that school’s Environmentally Friendly Drilling Systems Program. He said that switching fracking equipment from diesel to natural gas is the innovation that’s catching on most rapidly, because it provides a clear economic benefit as well as helping to lower carbon emissions. With the rising cost of renting fracking rigs, companies are eager to find improvements that will reduce their costs, he said.

Green fracking is “the same as with any industry—if you come out with a game-changing technology, you can get in the market first and ride that,” Burnett said.  (See related, “Can Natural Gas Bring Back U.S. Factory Jobs?“)

But Halliburton’s Ingram said that innovations such as chemical treatments to make brine usable will drop in price as the technology is perfected. “Eventually it will become the lower-cost chemistry,” he said.

A more difficult hurdle might be overcoming what Ingram calls “sociopolitical constraints” around the country. One major issue that reduces incentives to invest in green fracking innovations: the generally low price of freshwater. (See related, “Water Demand for Energy to Double by 2035.”)

This story is part of a special series that explores energy issues. For more, visit The Great Energy Challenge.

A Google Glass app for instant medical diagnostics (w/video)


(Nanowerk Spotlight)  By Michael Berger. Copyright © Nanowerk

2x2-logo-sm.jpgThe integration of consumer electronics with advanced imaging and analytical platforms holds great promises for medical point-of-care diagnostics and environmental rapid field testing for pollutants and viruses. For instance, in a recent Nanowerk Spotlight we reported on the use of smartphones to detect single nanoparticles and viruses.

In this work, a research group led by Aydogan Ozcan, a professor in the Electrical and Bioengineering Department at UCLA and Associate Director of the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI), created a field-portable fluorescence microscopy platform installed on a smartphone for imaging of individual nanoparticles as well as viruses using a light-weight and compact opto-mechanical attachment to the existing camera module of the cellphone.

“This technology allows Google Glass wearers to use the hands-free camera on the device to send images of diagnostic tests that screen for conditions such as HIV or prostate cancer,” Ozcan explains to Nanowerk. “Without relying on any additional devices, Google Glass users can upload these images and receive accurate analysis of health conditions in as little as eight seconds.”

     Labeled Google Glass and demonstration of imaging a rapid diagnostic test

Labeled Google Glass and demonstration of imaging a rapid diagnostic test (RDT). (a) Front-profile view of the Google Glass with various hardware components36 labeled. (b) Example of using the Glass for taking an image of an RDT as part of our RDT reader application. (Reprinted with permission from American Chemical Society) (click image to enlarge)

This is the first biomedical sensing application created through Google Glass. This breakthrough technology takes advantage of gains in both immunochromatographic rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) and wearable computers (such as Google Glass). The team reported their findings in  the February 27, 2014 online edition of ACS Nano (“Immunochromatographic Diagnostic Test Analysis Using Google Glass”).

Over the past decade, RDTs – which are in general based on light scattering off surface-functionalized metallic nanoparticles – have emerged as a quick and cost-effective method to screen various diseases and have provided various advantages for tackling public health problems including more effective tracking/monitoring of chronic conditions, infectious diseases and widespread medical testing by minimally trained medical personnel or community healthcare workers.

The new Google Glass-based diagnostic technology could improve individual tracking of dangerous conditions or diseases, public health monitoring and rapid response in disaster relief areas or quarantine zones. This is how it works: The user takes a photo of the RDT device through the camera system in Google Glass. Using a Quick Response (QR) code identifier, which is custom-designed and attached to each RDT cassette, this custom-written Glass application is capable of automatically finding and identifying the type of the RDT of interest, along with other information (e.g., patient data) that can be linked to the same QR code.

The data is transmitted to a central server which has been set up for fast and high-throughput evaluation of test results coming from multiple devices simultaneously. The data is processed automatically and to create a quantitative diagnostic result, which is then returned to the Google Glass user.

Here is how it looks through the screen of Google Glass during imaging and quantification of a diagnostic test.

This is the first biomedical sensing application on Google Glass.
Achieved a few parts per billion level of sensitivity with Glass.

“We also developed a centralized database and Web interface for visualizing uploaded data in the form of geo-tagged map data, which can be quite useful for short- and long-term spatiotemporal tracking of the evolution,” says Ozcan. “This web portal allows users to view test results, maps charting the geographical spread of various diseases and conditions, and the cumulative data from all the tests they have submitted over time.” He also points out that the precision of the Google Glass camera system permits quantified reading of the results to a few-parts-per-billion level of sensitivity – far greater than that of the naked eye – thus eliminating the potential for human error in interpreting results, which is a particular concern if the user is a health care worker who routinely deals with many different types of tests.

         rapid diagnostic test imaging and processing workflow done by the Google Glass application

Block diagram of the rapid diagnostic test (RDT) imaging and processing workflow (a, c) done by the Google Glass application (red dashed frame) and server processes (green dashed frame). In this case, a single RDT is analyzed. (Reprinted with permission from American Chemical Society) (click image to enlarge)

The team tested their Google Glass-based RDT reader platform through commercially available human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) rapid tests. The researchers took images of tests under normal, indoor, fluorescent-lit room conditions. They submitted more than 400 images of the two tests, and the RDT reader and server platform were able to read the images 99.6 percent of the time. Ozcan notes that, for wide-scale deployment and use of this Google Glass application, the sales price of Glass should be cost-effective enough to compete with mobile phones and low enough to enter developing markets.

“We are quite hopeful on this end as Google is very well aware of all these emerging opportunities.”

Read more: A Google Glass app for instant medical diagnostics (w/video) http://www.nanowerk.com/spotlight/spotid=34615.php#ixzz2vIsTVapx

ACS Nano article:    http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/n…
Created by Ozcan Research Lab at UCLA:

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

Small Particles, Big Findings


Scientists collaborate to maximize energy gains from tiny nanoparticles

We are developing a new ‘micro-reactor’ that enables us to explore many aspects of catalytic function using multiple approaches at Brookhaven’s National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS), the soon-to-be-completed NSLS-II, and the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN),” said Stach, who works at the CFN.  “This approach lets us understand multiple aspects of how catalysts work so that we can tweak their design to improve their function. This work could lead to big gains in energy efficiency and cost savings for industrial processes.”  – Anatoly Frenkel, Yeshiva Univerity

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Sometimes big change comes from small beginnings. That’s especially true in the research of Anatoly Frenkel, a professor of physics at Yeshiva University, who is working to reinvent the way we use and produce energy by unlocking the potential of some of the world’s tiniest structures: nanoparticles.

“The nanoparticle is the smallest unit in most novel materials, and all of its properties are linked in one way or another to its structure,” said Frenkel. “If we can understand that connection, we can derive much more information about how it can be used for catalysis, energy, and other purposes.”

“This work could lead to big gains in energy efficiency and cost savings for industrial processes.”

— Eric Stach, CFN

Frenkel is collaborating with materials scientist Eric Stach and others at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory to develop new ways to study how nanoparticles behave in catalysts—the “kick-starters” of chemical reactions that convert fuels to useable forms of energy and transform raw materials to industrial products.

“We are developing a new ‘micro-reactor’ that enables us to explore many aspects of catalytic function using multiple approaches at Brookhaven’s National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS), the soon-to-be-completed NSLS-II, and the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN),” said Stach, who works at the CFN.  “This approach lets us understand multiple aspects of how catalysts work so that we can tweak their design to improve their function. This work could lead to big gains in energy efficiency and cost savings for industrial processes.”

High-tech tools for science

Until now, the methods for understanding catalytic properties could only be used one at a time, with the catalyst ending up in a different state for each of the experiments. This made it difficult to compare information obtained using the different instruments. The new micro-reactor will employ multiple techniques—microscopy, spectroscopy, and diffraction—to examine different properties of catalysts simultaneously under operating conditions. By keeping particles in the same structural and dynamic state under the same reaction conditions, the micro-reactor will give scientists a much better sense of how they function.

nanoscale catalyst particles Click on the image to download a high-resolution version. This high-resolution transmission electron micrograph taken at the CFN reveals the arrangement of cerium oxide nanoparticles (bright angular “slashes” at the bottom of the image) supported on a titania substrate (background)‹a combination being explored as a catalyst for splitting water molecules to release hydrogen as fuel and for other energy-transformation reactions.

 

“These developments have resulted from the combination of unique facilities available at Brookhaven,” said Frenkel. “By working closely with Eric, we realized that there was a way to make both x-ray and electron-based methods work in a truly complementary fashion.

Each technique has strengths, Stach explained. “At the NSLS, using powerful beams of x-rays, we can tell how the entire group of nanoparticles behaves, while electron microscopy at the CFN lets us see the atomic structure of each nanoparticle.  By having both of these views of the catalysts we can more clearly understand the relationship between catalyst structure and function.”

Said Frenkel, “It was very satisfying for us to conduct the first tests with the reactor at each facility and receive positive results. I am particularly grateful to Ryan Tappero, the scientist who runs NSLS beamline X27A, for his expert help with x-ray data acquisition.”

Frenkel has had an ongoing collaboration with scientists at Brookhaven. Last year, with post-doctoral research associate Qi Wang, Frenkel and Stach measured properties of nanoparticles using the x-rays produced by the NSLS as well as atomic-scale imaging with electrons at the CFN. As reported in a paper published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society earlier this year, they discovered that rather than changing completely from one state to another at a certain temperature and size, as had been previously believed, there is a transition zone between states when particles are changing forms.

“This is of significance fundamentally because until now, the structures were known to merely change from one form to another—they were never envisioned to coexist in different forms,” Frenkel said. “With our information we can explain why catalysts often don’t work as expected and how to improve them.”

Training for young scientists

Anatoly Frenkel of Yeshiva University Click on the image to download a high-resolution version. Anatoly Frenkel of Yeshiva University with students from Stern College for Women at the National Synchrotron Light Source at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

 

The collaboration also offers opportunities for students to experience the challenges of research, giving them access to the world-class tools at Brookhaven. Frenkel’s undergraduate students at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women help with measurements, data analysis, and interpretation, and many have already accompanied him to Brookhaven to assist in his work using NSLS and other cutting-edge instruments.

“I’m giving them firsthand experience about what a researcher’s life is like early on as they conduct first-rate research,” said Frenkel. “This experience opens doors to any field they want to be in.”

Alyssa Lerner, a pre-engineering major who has been working with Frenkel at Brookhaven, said the research “has helped me develop skills like computational analysis and critical thinking, which are essential in any scientific field. The hands-on experimental experience has given me a better understanding of how the scientific community operates, helping me make more informed career-related choices as I continue to advance my education.”

Pairing up students and mentors to advance education and making use of complementary imaging techniques to enhance energy efficiency—just two of the positive outcomes of this successful collaboration.

“By bringing together multiple complementary techniques to illuminate the same process we’re going to understand how nanomaterials work,” Frenkel said. “Ultimately, this research will create a better way of using, storing, and converting energy.”

The CFN and NSLS facilities at Brookhaven Lab are supported by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The collaborative work of Frenkel and Stach is funded by the Office of Science and Brookhaven’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development program.

The Center for Functional Nanomaterials is one of five DOE Nanoscale Science Research Centers (NSRCs), national user facilities for interdisciplinary research at the nanoscale, supported by the DOE Office of Science.  Together the NSRCs comprise a suite of complementary facilities that provide researchers with state-of-the-art capabilities to fabricate, process, characterize and model nanoscale materials, and constitute the largest infrastructure investment of the National Nanotechnology Initiative.  The NSRCs are located at DOE’s Argonne, Brookhaven, Lawrence Berkeley, Oak Ridge and Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories.  For more information about the DOE NSRCs, please visit http://science.energy.gov.

The National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) provides intense beams of infrared, ultraviolet, and x-ray light for basic and applied research in physics, chemistry, medicine, geophysics, and environmental and materials sciences.  Supported by the Office of Basic Energy Sciences within the U.S. Department of Energy, the NSLS is one of the world’s most widely used scientific facilities. For more information, visit http://www.nsls.bnl.gov.

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov

This story incorporates content from a piece by Perel Skier on the Yeshiva University news blog.

University of Alberta Joins Materials Research Society (MRS)


Nanotubes imagesMaterials science and nanotechnology students at the University of Alberta have recently joined more than 70 universities across the world in becoming members of the internationally known Materials Research Society (MRS).

The newly established MRS chapter at the U of A is the first in Canada and will set an example for other universities in the country to follow, according to its founding member.

Rokib Hassan, PhD student and president of the U of A MRS chapter, said it’s becoming increasingly important for students to get involved with these global organizations, as they help foster a sense of leadership in their fields.

“What happens is the (students can) boost their research and commit to working with the materials research or nanotechnology communities,” he said.

“They’re trying to create a field or a platform for their students, so that they can become more passionate to pursue their interests or their research in the areas of materials research or nanotechnology.”

The idea to establish a chapter at the U of A came to Hassan when he travelled to Cancun for an MRS conference and saw the types of schools that were represented — some of the largest, most prestigious American universities had established chapters, he said, but no Canadian schools.

“I was quite shocked when I went there,” Hassan said. “I started thinking, ‘Why not from Canada?’ We are just beside the U.S., and if the U.S. are leading all the (research), why not Canada?”

Hassan said when he began the process of founding the U of A chapter, he received positive responses from the community, quickly gathering interested undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty members in a matter of weeks.

Going forward, the new chapter aims to host its own symposium next year, and eventually create undergraduate funding and a summer research program. Hassan said the chapter, like the ever-changing fields of nanotechnology and materials science, is looking to build the future.

“In the future, everything is coming up to the materials science and nanotechnology, if you think about making all the devices for your iPhone or smartphone,” he said.“Everything is coming into the materials science and nanotechnology (area).”

Neutrons, electrons and theory reveal secrets of natural gas reserves


OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Oct. 28, 2013 – Gas and oil deposits in shale have no place to hide from an Oak Ridge National Laboratory technique that provides an inside look at pores and reveals structural information potentially vital to the nation’s energy needs.

The research by scientists at the Department of Energy laboratory could clear the path to the more efficient extraction of gas and oil from shale, environmentally benign and efficient energy production from coal and perhaps viable carbon dioxide sequestration technologies, according to Yuri Melnichenko, an instrument scientist at ORNL’s High Flux Isotope Reactor.

shale_300

Scanning electron microscope image illustrating mineralogy and texture of unconventional gas reservoir. Note that nanoporosity is not resolvable with this image. SANS and USANS analysis is required to quantify pore size distribution and interconnectivity.          (hi-res image)

Melnichenko’s broader work was emboldened by a collaboration with James Morris and Nidia Gallego, lead authors of a paper recently published in Journal of Materials Chemistry A and members of ORNL’s Materials Science and Technology Division.

Researchers were able to describe a small-angle neutron scattering technique that, combined with electron microscopy and theory, can be used to examine the function of pore sizes.

Using their technique at the General Purpose SANS instrument at the High Flux Isotope Reactor, scientists showed there is significantly higher local structural order than previously believed in nanoporous carbons. This is important because it allows scientists to develop modeling methods based on local structure of carbon atoms. Researchers also probed distribution of adsorbed gas molecules at unprecedented smaller length scales, allowing them to devise models of the pores.

“We have recently developed efficient approaches to predict the effect of pore size on adsorption,” Morris said. “However, these predictions need verification – and the recent small-angle neutron experiments are ideal for this. The experiments also beg for further calculations, so there is much to be done.”

While traditional methods provide general information about adsorption averaged over an entire sample, they do not provide insight into how pores of different sizes contribute to the total adsorption capacity of a material. Unlike absorption, a process involving the uptake of a gas or liquid in some bulk porous material, adsorption involves the adhesion of atoms, ions or molecules to a surface.

This research, in conjunction with previous work, allows scientists to analyze two-dimensional images to understand how local structures can affect the accessibility of shale pores to natural gas.

“Combined with atomic-level calculations, we demonstrated that local defects in the porous structure observed by microscopy provide stronger gas binding and facilitate its condensation into liquid in pores of optimal sub-nanometer size,” Melnichenko said. “Our method provides a reliable tool for probing properties of sub- and super-critical fluids in natural and engineered porous materials with different structural properties.

“This is a crucial step toward predicting and designing materials with enhanced gas adsorption properties.”

Together, the application of neutron scattering, electron microscopy and theory can lead to new design concepts for building novel nanoporous materials with properties tailored for the environment and energy storage-related technologies. These include capture and sequestration of man-made greenhouse gases, hydrogen storage, membrane gas separation, environmental remediation and catalysis.

Other authors of the paper, titled “Modern approaches to studying gas adsorption in nanoporous carbons,” are Cristian Contescu, Matthew Chisholm, Valentino Cooper, Lilin He, Yungok Ihm, Eugene Mamontov, Raina Olsen, Stephen Pennycook, Matthew Stone and Hongxin Zhang. The research, funded by DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences, utilized the following DOE Office of Science user facilities:

ORNL’s Spallation Neutron Source (http://neutrons.ornl.gov/faciliities/SNS/) is a one-of-a-kind research facility that provides the most intense pulsed neutron beams in the world for scientific research and industrial development.

HFIR (http://neutrons.ornl.gov/facilities/HFIR/) at ORNL is a light-water cooled and moderated reactor that is the United States’ highest flux reactor-based neutron source.

The ShaRE User Facility (http://web.ornl.gov/sci/share/) makes available state-of-the-art electron beam microcharacterization facilities for collaboration with researchers from universities, industry and other government laboratories.

As a national resource to enable scientific advances to support the missions of DOE’s Office of Science, the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (http://www.nersc.gov), annually serves approximately 3,000 scientists throughout the United States.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of the time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

Australia Snaps Up Locally Made Nanotechnology Instrument


21 October 2013

Australia Snaps Up Locally Made Nanotechnology Instrument

Nanotubes imagesCrown Research Institute GNS Science has beat off competition from Europe and the United States to supply a nanotechnology fabrication machine to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) in Sydney.

Known as an ion implanter, it is being shipped to Sydney this week in a container.

When installed at ANSTO’s facility at Lucas Heights on the outskirts of Sydney, it will be used to make advanced materials for use in hi-tech industries. ANSTO is the headquarters for Australia’s nuclear science expertise.

The instrument will implant charged atoms into the surface of materials by accelerating them at various energy levels. This gives the implanted material a range of desired properties such as super-hardness, ultra-smoothness, improved electrical conductivity, and greater corrosion resistance.

Potential applications for these ‘new’ materials include industries such as medicine, agriculture, manufacturing, energy production, and transport.

Leader of GNS Science’s Ion Beam Technology Group, Andreas Markwitz, said this was the largest single project his group had undertaken in its 15-year history.

The instrument, measuring 3m by 2m when assembled, was designed and built at GNS Science in Lower Hutt. The only outside component was a 2.4 tonne electro-magnet built by Buckley Systems Ltd in Auckland.

“There are probably fewer than 10 companies in the world that could build an ion implanter such as this from scratch,” Dr Markwitz said.

“This will open the door to other lucrative offshore work and we are already looking at the possibility of supplying a similar instrument to India.”

The ANSTO deal was particularly attractive because it allowed GNS Science to book time on the implanter in Sydney to further its research and development in nanotechnology.

“We already operate three in-house-built implanters in our Lower Hutt facility, and this new one offers a few extra capabilities. It’s the best implanter we have ever built.”

GNS Science had learnt a lot during the project which would help it to offer better science and consultancy services in nanotechnology in the future.

Dr Markwitz believed there were several reasons GNS Science won the contract ahead of US and European companies.

“We have developed a good relationship with ANSTO over many years and they are aware of our expertise in building and operating ion implanters.

“Our package was pretty competitive and it had everything ANSTO was looking for – high performance, low maintenance, reliability, ease of use, and a competitive price.”

The strength of the GNS Science brand in Australia had also helped, Dr Markwitz said.

“It’s a good feeling when Australia looks to us to provide part of its nuclear science infrastructure.”

Rebecca Schwartz: Nanotechnology for the troops


Rising Stars

Schwartz_Rebecca

Much of Rebecca Schwartz’s cutting-edge nanotechnology research at Lockheed Martin is classified, but her work is generally geared toward developing technical solutions to reduce the physical burden of troops in combat. It is part of a larger vision she holds of increasing situational awareness for warfighters while making their equipment smaller, lighter and less power-hungry.

She manages the funding of her research and development projects and has provisional patents for solutions based on her ideas. In short order, Schwartz took her division’s first nanotechnology pursuit from concept to a potential real-world application. As she works to support the Defense Department, she is also helping grow nanotechnology as a business at Lockheed Martin.

The 2013 Rising Stars

Read about all of the winners

“Not only are we looking to advance technology solutions to reduce the burden for warfighters — one of the biggest problems for them today — but we’re looking at strategies…and interfacing with customers to get feedback and really understand what their challenges are,” Schwartz said. “I’m proud seeing a lot of innovations we’re coming up with that are truly things that will help our customers and keep them safe. We’re all about the soldiers, and we’re there to provide technology they need to do their missions.”

Schwartz has been at Lockheed Martin for two years, and the projects she leads often have turnaround times about that long, though some extend for five and even 10 years.

So although she can’t talk about it in detail now, American warfighters might well display and use some of her finest work in the near future.

UC Berkeley, Berkeley Lab announce Kavli Energy NanoSciences Institute


(Nanotubes imagesNanowerk News) The Kavli Energy NanoSciences Institute  (Kavli ENSI) announced today (Thursday, Oct. 3) will be supported by a $20  million endowment, with The Kavli Foundation providing $10 million and UC  Berkeley raising equivalent matching funds. The Kavli Foundation also will  provide additional start-up funds for the institute. The Kavli ENSI will explore  fundamental issues in energy science, using cutting-edge tools and techniques  developed to study and manipulate nanomaterials – stuff with dimensions 1,000  times smaller than the width of a human hair – to understand how solar, heat and  vibrational energy are captured and converted into useful work by plants and  animals or novel materials.
This new Kavli Institute has already received matching fund  gifts from the Heising-Simons Foundation, establishing a Heising-Simons Energy  Nanoscience Fellows program, and a donation from the Philomathia Foundation,  establishing the Philomathia Discovery Fund.
“The field of nanoscience is poised to change the very  foundations of how we should think about future energy conversion systems,” said  Kavli ENSI Director Paul Alivisatos, who is also director of Berkeley Lab and  the Samsung Distinguished Chair in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology in UC  Berkeley’s College of Chemistry. “UC Berkeley and Berkeley Lab stand out  worldwide for their strong efforts in nanoscience and their research activities  related to energy, so energy nanoscience is a particular strength for us.”
“I am delighted to welcome the Kavli ENSI into the community of  Kavli institutes,” said Fred Kavli, Founder and Chairman of The Kavli  Foundation. “By exploring the basic science of energy conversion in biological  systems, as well as building entirely new hybrid and perhaps even completely  artificial systems, the Kavli ENSI is positioned to revolutionize our thinking  about the science of energy, and is positioned to do the kind of basic research  that will ultimately make this a better world for all of us.”
“This new partnership with the Kavli Foundation and Berkeley Lab  is significant and exciting,” said UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks. “The  Kavli Institute will expand our portfolio of research endeavors focused on  alternative sources of energy, one of the planet’s most pressing and complicated  challenges. Progress in the realm of energy nanosciences will be contingent on  successful collaboration across conventional scientific boundaries – the very  approach that has made Berkeley a global leader in alternative energy research.”
“There is simply no better time, given the issues surrounding  energy worldwide, to announce an institute dedicated to the basic science of  energy. This new Kavli Institute will have superb leadership and a large number  of extraordinary faculty affiliated with it,” said Robert W. Conn, President of  The Kavli Foundation. “I’d like as well to thank both the Heising-Simons  Foundation and the Philomathia Foundation for their confidence in Berkeley and  in this new Kavli Institute. Their matching gifts will help the Kavli ENSI at  Berkeley get off to a very strong start.” He added, “There is also no more  important time than now to invest in basic scientific research. History has  shown that discoveries in basic science have a profound impact on the economy of  nations, on the health of people, and on the well-being of societies.”
The Kavli ENSI will be the fifth nanoscience institute worldwide  established by The Kavli Foundation, joining Kavli Institutes at the California  Institute of Technology, Cornell University, Delft University of Technology in  the Netherlands and Harvard University. The foundation funds an international  program that includes research institutes, professorships, symposia and other  initiatives in four fields – astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience and  theoretical physics. It is also a founder of the Kavli Prizes, which recognize  scientists for their seminal advances in astrophysics, nanoscience and  neuroscience.
With the announcement of the Kavli ENSI, The Kavli Foundation  has established 17 institutes worldwide – 11 in the United States, three in  Europe and three in Asia.
Scientists at the Kavli Energy NanoSciences Institute will look  beyond today’s energy conversion approaches to explore unusual avenues found in  biological systems and to build entirely new hybrid or completely artificial  systems. For example, Kavli ENSI scientists plan to explore how plant pigments  capture energy from the sun and transport it for chemical storage, and how the  body’s molecular motors convert chemical energy into motion inside a cell.  Meanwhile, other scientists and engineers plan to build nanodevices that mimic  and improve on nature’s tricks, using materials ranging from graphene and metal  oxide frameworks to nanowires and nanolasers.
UC Berkeley and Berkeley Lab boast a long history of nanoscience  innovation, starting with Alivisatos’ work in the science of nanocrystals,  ranging from studies of their physical properties to synthesis and applications  in biological imaging and renewable energy. Nearly 100 research labs are devoted  to aspects of nanoscience and nanoengineering.
“The new Kavli ENSI institute is intended to allow us to explore  the principles of energy systems on small scales and is not focused on any  particular area of application,” Alivisatos emphasized. “Fred Kavli’s vision is  to support curiosity-driven science. This institute will help to foster a  long-term perspective.”
“Of course, we have all learned that innovative solutions to  pressing problems can often start in the basic sciences,” said institute  co-director Omar Yaghi, the James and Neeltje Tretter Chair and professor of  chemistry at UC Berkeley and a Berkeley Lab researcher. Yaghi’s work on the  nanoscale properties of metal oxide frameworks – porous composites of iron and  organic molecules – proved to have wide application in natural gas and hydrogen  storage and carbon capture.
Alivisatos said that much of today’s energy research focuses on  improving well-known technologies, such as batteries, liquid fuels, solar cells  and wind generators. On the nanoscale, however, energy is captured, channeled  and stored in totally different ways dictated by the quantum mechanical nature  of small-scale interactions.
“We don’t fully understand some foundational issues about how  energy is converted to work on really short length scales,” he said.
Research by UC Berkeley and Berkeley Lab chemist Graham Fleming  has shown, for example, that when leaf pigments capture light in the form of  photons, electrons are excited and interact in a coherent way not seen at larger  scales. This quantum coherence could potentially be incorporated into nanoscale  artificial systems to produce energy on a commercial scale.
While studying nanoscale motors inside cells, UC Berkeley  physicist Carlos Bustamante and Berkeley Lab theorist Gavin Crooks discovered  that energy flow does not always follow the standard rules of macroscopic  systems. Nanomotors can sometimes move backward, for example, akin to a ball  rolling uphill. Such quantum weirdness might be replicated to create more  efficient nanomachines or self-regulating nanoscale energy circuits.
Other Kavli ENSI scientists plan to investigate how heat flows  in nanomaterials and whether the vibrational energy, or phonons, can be  channeled to make thermal rectifiers, diodes or transistors analogous to  electronic switches in use today; develop novel materials, ranging from polymers  to cage structures and nanowires, with unusual nanoscale properties; or design  materials that could sort, count and channel molecules along prescribed paths  and over diverse energy landscapes to carry out complex chemical conversions.
“I think that by bringing together people who make new forms of  matter, others who know how to manipulate matter on a fine scale, and those who  try to understand how electrons or light propagate through these materials, we  will get the kind of out-of-the-box thinking from which whole new areas of  research emerge,” Yaghi said.
The new institute’s co-director, Peidong Yang, who is the S.K.  and Angela Chan Distinguished Professor of Energy in the College of Chemistry,  said that Kavli ENSI’s multidisciplinary, intellectually stimulating environment  will be ideal for learning “how to program the assembly of nanoscopic building  blocks to create the necessary interfaces so that energy flow, molecular and  charge-charge transport can be controlled in a cooperative manner.”
While the institute will not have separate lab space, its  administrative offices will be housed in two new buildings expected to be  completed next year: Campbell Hall on the UC Berkeley campus and the Solar  Energy Research Center at Berkeley Lab.
Source: Kavli Foundation

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