MIT's Biomolecular Materials Group has advanced a technique of using 'genetically engineered viruses that first coat themselves with iron phosphate, then grab hold of carbon nanotubes to create a network of highly conductive material.'
This advanced 'bio-industrial' manufacturing process, which uses biological agents to assemble molecules, could help to evolve key energy material components (e.g. cathodes, anodes, membranes) used in batteries, fuel cells, solar cells and organic electronics (e.g. OLEDs).
Professors Angela Belcher and Michael Strano led the breakthrough bio-engineering work which can now use bacteriophage 'to build both the positively and negatively charged ends of a lithium-ion battery.' While the prototype was based on a typical 'coin cell battery', the team believes it can be adapted for 'thin film' organic electronic applications.
Energy = Interactions
Energy and Materials Science is about manipulating the assembly and interaction of molecules like carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and metals.
Today we are at the beginning of new eras of nanoscale materials science and bio-industrial processes that are certain to change the cost and efficiency equations within alternative energy and biomaterials. And we have a lot to learn about molecular assembly from Mother Nature's genetically driven virus/bacteria and plants. After all, the energy released from breaking the carbon-hydrogen bonds of coal (ancient ferns) and oil (ancient diatoms) was originally assembled by biology (with some help from geological pressures!). So why not tap this bio-industrial potential for building future energy components?
Nanowerk has reported on University of Michigan Professor John Hart’s Nanobama site featuring nanoscale designed faces of Barack Obama. The carbon nanotube faces consist of millions of aligned nanotubes, and shown via a scanning electron microscope.
December 29 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy Year: Beyond Rating: 3
"Whether you think you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right." - Henry Ford
The worst thing we can do when thinking about the future of energy is to look at possible solutions and simply extrapolate today's technologies and scientific assumptions forward about what 'is' or 'isn't possible'.
There is still a lot we do not know about the basics of energy systems dealing with photons, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, enzymes and metals. Our current first phase efforts to design nanoscale materials used in energy production, conversion and storage are certain to yield systems that will change how we live in the world in the decades ahead.
Remember, only a century ago, coal and wood were king, magical 'electric' light intimidated the general public, only a few could see the potential of oil, rockets and nuclear science were beyond our imagination, and the vision of a tens of millions of 'horseless carriages' reshaping the urban landscape was a ridiculous proposition.
So what seemingly novel ideas could shape the next century?
List of 10+ Novel Energy Stories from 2008:
Scientists at Penn State University and Virginia Commonwealth University have discovered a way to produce hydrogen using aluminum nanoparticles (billionth of a meter) that react with water molecules to split oygen and hydrogen bonds.
What does that mean?
The physical arrangment and exposure of the alumninum atoms determines its ability to split certain chemical bonds by binding oxygen and releasing hydrogen.
Three of the tested aluminum clusters produced hydrogen from water at room temperature.
This ground-breaking work is important because it confirms the belief held by catalysis researchers that nanoparticle 'geometries, not just electronic properties', effect the reaction performance of catalytic materials.
Hydrogen Production at Room Temperature (& Confusion of Hype vs Hope)
Scientists at the University of Liverpool and Durham University have developed a new carbon nanotube material that might evolve as a room temperature superconductor used to transmit electricity with no resistance or energy loss.
The use of football-shaped 'Carbon 60' fullerene molecules, or 'Bucky Balls', could change how we look at the quantum flow of electricity over long distance transmission lines as well as within medical equipment and 'molecular electronics'.
The idea of carbon-based electron transmission was widely promoted by carbon fullerene co-founder Rick Smalley (d. 2005) more than a decade ago as the 'quantum armchair wire'. The UK-based research suggests nanostructured carbon materials could evolve as room temperature superconductors.
Shape Matters: Carbon Buckyballs 'Squeezing' Electrons
Liverpool Professor Matt Rosseinsky explains: "Superconductivity is a phenomenon we are still trying to understand and particularly how it functions at high temperatures. Superconductors have a very complex atomic structure and are full of disorder. We made a material in powder form that was a non-conductor at room temperature and had a much simpler atomic structure, to allow us to control how freely electrons moved and test how we could manipulate the material to super-conduct."
Professor Kosmas Prassides, from Durham University, said: "At room pressure the electrons in the material were too far apart to super-conduct and so we 'squeezed' them together using equipment that increases the pressure inside the structure. We found that the change in the material was instantaneous – altering from a non-conductor to a superconductor. This allowed us to see the exact atomic structure at the point at which superconductivity occurred."
October 04 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy Year: 2013 Rating: 2
Trying to make the case that surface area is important to the future of energy is difficult. Surface area is not a sexy concept, and nearly impossible to fit into a media sound clip.
Barack Obama and John McCain do not call for energy systems with high surface area nano-catalysts. Instead they call for cheaper solar, and more powerful batteries and fuel cells for electric vehicles. Energy researchers would say – same thing!
Saying nanoparticles is a little better and certainly ripe for a media sound bite. But what if you could take a picture of molecules on a nanoparticle surface?
Now a group of researchers led by MIT have released the first composite atomic-scale images of the catalytic surface area of platinum-cobalt nanoparticles used in fuel cells. Their efforts could accelerate the development of electric fuel cell vehicles.
Surface area and the future of energy
Energy reactions occur when molecules interact. We simply capture the released energy. The cost and performance of batteries, fuel cells and capacitors depends on how molecules react (or do not interact) on tiny pieces of elements like lithium, carbon, titanium, and platinum.
The smaller the pieces, the more surface area, the more molecule interactions, the better the reaction. It also means lower cost because you use less material(e.g. expensive platinum).
If we can see the surface area of nanoscale designed catalysts we can design better (and cheaper) catalysts used in fuel cells.
First images of nanoparticle platinum-cobalt surface
Today a group of researchers from MIT, UT-Austin and ORNL has released images of nanoscale surface by using a technique known as Scanning Transmission Electron Microscopy.
The researchers analyzed platinum and cobalt nanoparticles to understand why the performance of a combined catalyst was more reactive than simply using platinum alone.
Now the researchers can propose and test theories to why the material is so reactive. If researchers can design catalysts with less platinum, the cost of fuel cells could drop dramatically.
The same principle of surface area applies to building better batteries and capacitors. If we can apply this imaging technique across all devices, we could accelerate commercialization of highly efficient energy storage systems.
October 21 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy Year: 2018 Rating: 2
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have taken the first-ever glimpse of nanoscale catalysts in action.
Why should we care about catalysts?
The future of clean abundant energy depends on our ability to lower the costs of chemical reactions in energy conversions involving light, hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen. These are the foundations of most energy systems, and basis for developing ‘green chemistry’ that avoid harmful byproducts.
If we want to create low cost solar cells or improve batteries and hydrogen fuel cells, we must advance our knowledge and nano-engineering of catalysts. If we want to reduce the impact of harmful emissions from coal, oil and natural gas, we must turn to catalysts.
Nanoscale design of shapes
Catalysts speed up chemical reactions. At the most basic level shape matters. To improve performance we can design catalysts at the ‘nanoscale’ (billionth of the meter) to change properties of low cost abundant elements rather than rely on expensive precious metals. At the nanoscale we design higher surface area to increase chances of molecules reacting, and we can design shapes so that they have high selectivity to deal with a certain type of molecules (e.g. capturing sulfur, releasing hydrogen).
Up until now, scientists have only dealt with snapshot images of catalysts before or after. Never live, in action. Now Berkeley scientists have changed the game. “By watching catalysts change in real time, we can possibly design smart catalysts that optimally change as a reaction evolves,” Gabor Somorjai, a renowned surface science and catalysis expert.
Berkeley researchers are confident that catalysts can be designed to decrease the harmful effects of pollutants, improve performance of energy storage systems like batteries and hydrogen fuel cells and create ‘greener’ liquid fuels and feedstocks associated with ‘green chemistry’ in which waste byproducts are minimized.
What happened? Video explanation?
A North Carolina State University research team led by Afsaneh Rabiei has developed a high-performance metal foam material that uses less energy during production, yet provides a high level of safety in the event of a collision. The material has a higher strength-to-density ratio than any metal foam ever been reported.
Energy use for Manufacturing
Consumers are not the only stakeholders that have incentive to lower the energy consumption. Industries involved in materials manufacturing are working to develop new materials that require less energy yet still provide high performance. Companies that build cars and airplanes are also looking for lighter materials to lower the cost to consumers for fueling over the lifetime of the product.
Metal Foam Applications
This metal foam, which is three times lighter than traditional steel, could be used in the aerospace, medical, automotive and building construction industries. Rabiei’s team conducted tests for automotive applications. ‘Rough traffic accident calculations show that by inserting two pieces of her composite metal foam behind the bumper of a car traveling 28 miles per hour (mph), the impact would feel the same to passengers as the impact if they were traveling at only 5 mph.’
Focusing on Fundamentals of Energy Use
In addition to solutions like ‘changing light bulbs’ and buying more fuel efficient cars, we must focus on the fundamental of materials manufacturing to enable lighter cars and airplanes, and materials used in construction.
December 02 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy Year: 2018 Rating: 2
Let's clear up some confusing concepts...
A 'Hydrogen Economy' is an economy driven by electricity.
A 'Hydrogen' car is a vehicle powered by an electric motor.
H2 is merely a way to store electricity in the form of a chemical bond. Converted in a fuel cell is produces electricity. Simple, but very profound for some market applications that need better energy storage systems.
Why is it hard to talk about hydrogen? Because the enabling systems do not yet exist in the marketplace. We still need to advance disruptive solutions for solid state storage and low cost, efficient production systems that tap nanoscale materials design.
Now we have another example of how new systems can be developed by small teams with bold ambitions.
Global Hydrogen, Inc, is a boutique energy innovation firm led by Dr. Linnard Griffin. GH claims to have developed a hydrogen producing nano-reactor that is less than 5 cubic centimeters (e.g. standard razor blade) and generates hydrogen at a rate of 1.5 cc per minute. [No statement released on scalability of the system]
The Nano Reactor is built around a proprietary nano particle electrolyte and a (low cost, non-precious metal) zinc and metal electrode. Hydrogen is developed on the surface of a newly-invented nano-nickel electrode that releases hydrogen by reacting to the chemicals when the switch electrically connects the nickel electrode to the zinc electrode. Unlike other systems the Nano-Reactor produces pure hydrogen, not hydrogen and oxygen.
Why is this important to the future? Energy Storage is a Growth Sector
December 11 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy Year: 2018 Rating: 2
- Editor's Note -
We cannot ignore, or dismiss hydrogen energy storage
Let's put Hydrogen (e.g. energy storage for electricity) into perspective. Hydrogen was all the hype in the late 90s as Techies rallied behind Ballard Fuel Cell stocks, and buying into the 'hype'. Then as hydrogen startups failed to live up to short term expectations, many of those same people started slamming hydrogen as a waste of time and resources. Too 'inefficient and wasteful - and hard to store.' Early believers had wanted startups to change the world, but really they needed to pay attention to science. Researchers were waving their hands- 'we're not ready yet!'
The hydrogen skeptics' new strategy?
Replace the hype of hydrogen, with hype of lithium ion batteries and capacitors. That's the 'new answer'. Meanwhile hydrogen researchers continue to evolve systems for low cost, high efficiency production, and solid-state storage.
My forecast? Batteries will disappoints us, hydrogen will surprise us.
Nanowerk is reporting that researchers at the University of Oxford have advanced a technique that taps the of biology. Enzymes known as hydrogenase can be used as a cheap, clean and efficient way of producing hydrogen from water using sunlight (artificial photosynthesis).
Hydrogenases are biocatalysts that produce or oxidize hydrogen using clusters of iron ([FeFe]) or nickel and iron ([NiFe]) to facilitate reactions. Enyzmes transport electrons and positively charged molecules through complex chains that are largely unknown to scientists. Now we are trying to overcome challenges of tapping the power of hydrogenase (H2 enyzmes) like keeping oxygen from stopping or slowing down reactions.
Nanowerk reports that Armstrong's group has 'demonstrated a rational photochemical hydrogen cell that produces hydrogen under visible light irradiation without resort to rigorous anaerobicity.'
Why is this important to the future of energy?
Once nanotechnology, stem cell research, and genetic engineering were able to converge upon the same laboratories it became clear that a wide variety of deadly and debilitative diseases share their origin: damaged or failing tissues, organs and bodily systems. Some are chronic due to aging, others are more acute, but they have correlated pathologies after all. The interrelationships between the biggest 20th century killers of humankind became astonishingly clear, as did the road to the regenerative medicine to cure nearly all of them.
January 12 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy Year: 2018 Rating: 2
MIT Technology Review is reporting on a breakthrough in manufacturing thin, dense films of carbon nanotubes that could improve electrodes used in 'super' batteries and capacitors used in portable devices, 'smart grids' and electric vehicles.
Energy Storage: Batteries, Fuel cells & Capacitors Batteries and fuel cells convert chemical energy into electricity in a controlled circuit. Capacitors hold electrons as a physical 'charge' and are used in applications that require rapid discharge of energy. All of these energy storage devices are going to evolve in the coming Era of Nanoscale Engineering.
How do you talk about the Future of Energy?
The MIT breakthrough demonstrates the enormous potential of nanoscale design of material components that facilitate energy reactions. It would be a mistake to merely extrapolate our current energy technologies forward based on the disruptive nature of nanoscale energy systems.
The MIT breakthrough highlights two fundamental areas to focus our conversation:
New Properties at Nanoscale Carbon
The electrical and chemical properties of carbon (and other molecules) change when you shift design from the 'microscale' (millionth of meter) to the 'nanoscale' (billionth of a meter). In recent years, researchers have demonstrated an incredible capacity for carbon nanotubes to capture photons, store electricity and hold hydrogen. Likewise, the performance of metals (e.g. platinum, zinc, nickel) changes dramatically at the nanoscale.
Higher Surface Area at the Nanoscale