To design, build or self-assemble objects at the nano scale, or
one one billionth of a meter, you need a series of building blocks,
like the alphabet that goes on to make coherent sentences and
Last Friday I gave a talk on nanotechnology, that looked at
about 17 basic nano-building blocks. Now you can add one more to the growing list.
Here’s another major milestone involving carbon nanotubes. They
can now be used as a memory storage medium, a world first, as far
as I know. This discovery could have far reaching implications.
US Patent 7335408 – CNT with magnetic
or metal inner coating
Electronics manufacturers have a great interest in novel storage
media, especially at the nanoscale . Imagine a nano-magnetic medium
for high density data storage devices. This patent from Fujitsu and
Tohoku University offers a method for coating the inner surfaces of
nanotubes with magnetic or metal material for information storage
and other purposes …. I can think of a range of applications, both
good ones (such as medical and environmental sensors) and bad
Stepping into McLuhan’s shoes, we could ask ourselves.
What does this technology enhance? Instant feedback, our moral,
ethical and ecological conscience
What does it obsolesce? Privacy, as we know it today
What does it retrieve or bring back? Global and local
Sense-making, presencing, wisdom of the ages, back to our
At the extreme, what does it reverse or flip into? A second
layer; nervous-system for the earth?
link to the original post.
By Dick Pelletier
Former National Cancer Institute Director Andrew von Eschenbach
claims that “By 2015, nobody will die of cancer; it may not be
cured at that time,” he says, “but innovative new therapies will
make the disease manageable and finally bring an end to the pain,
suffering, and death that cancer now dishes out.”
In support of von Eschenbach’s claim, 92 US Senators and 275
members of the House signed a “2015 goal letter” that describes how
suffering and death from cancer can be eliminated on such an
Cancer is the leading cause of death in the US for people under
age 85, experts say. One in two men and one in three women will get
cancer in their lifetime, and more than 1,500 Americans die every
day from this horrific disease; and these statistics have changed
very little since America first declared war on cancer in 1950.
So, if in 58 years we have made such little headway in fighting
this disease, how can Eschenbach claim we will eliminate cancer
deaths in seven years? The answer lies in what some refer to as the
“nanotech revolution.” Scientists working with this new technology
are creating an impressive array of new cancer therapies and
The nanotech approach to fighting cancer can be divided into two
parts; detection and therapeutic.
Detection systems identify cancer cells before they become
dangerous, and if cancer is in remission, predict if it might flare
up again; these include:
Quantum Dots – dramatically improves today’s early detection
tests. These tiny particles glow and act as markers on cells and
genes, enabling doctors to visualize cancer when present or
impending. Widespread availability expected within five years.
Researchers from Northwestern University have developed a new class of ‘honeycomb’ gas separation materials to purify hydrogen rich mixtures like methane (natural gas) for generating electricity via fuel cells.
Traditional methods of gas separation use selective membranes that grab molecules by size. But Northwestern's Professor Mercouri G. Kanatzidis and Gerasimos S. Armatas are using a method of polarization. As the gas mixture of (carbon dioxide and hydrogen) travels through the inner walls of the ‘mesopourous’ membrane, the carbon dioxide (CO2) molecules are slowed down and pulled towards the wall as the hydrogen molecules pass through the holes.
One type of membrane consisting of heavy elements germanium, lead and tellurium showed to be approximately four times more selective at separating hydrogen than traditional methods using lighter elements such as silicon, oxygen and carbon. The process is reported to work at “convenient temperature range” -- between zero degrees Celsius and room temperature.
“We are taking advantage of what we call ‘soft’ atoms, which form the membrane’s walls,” said Kanatzidis. “These soft-wall atoms like to interact with other soft molecules passing by, slowing them down as they pass through the membrane. Hydrogen, the smallest element, is a ‘hard’ molecule. It zips right through while softer molecules, like carbon dioxide and methane take more time.”
Ever since buckyballs were discovered in 1986, an event that liberated nanotechnology from being an on-paper-only concept and graduated it into a hands-on (or at least electron microscope-on) practice, nanotechnology has been gaining momentum exponentially, despite aggressive anti-tech litigation.
In 2009 the EPA was sued by a collection of tech corporations for failing to enforce federal restrictions on the import and development of carbon nanotubes imposed one year earlier, and for completely failing to make any laws whatsoever regarding other similar carbon-based materials or those of other metals like titanium-dioxide and silver. Although the EPA was cleared of any wrong-doing, the following year three more laws were initiated, and several companies and research facilities were fined.
But then, in 2010, President Obama reversed the ban on stem cell research enacted by former president George W. Bush, stating, “The potential benefits greatly outweigh the moral dilemma. It is not for me to say whether God would have us utilize a dead fetus. But I do believe God would ask us to help to save the sick and dying, if there was any way we could.”
In his famous 2012 re-election speech that earned him the nickname Nanobama, he said:
A group of researchers from Boston College and MIT have created a new catalyst that could reduce the negative environmental impact of hydrocarbon or ‘petrochemical’ derived materials found in everyday products.
[Don’t run away! Big words, but simple concepts!]
The new catalyst is used in a very common and energy intensive process known as olefin metathesis. Just think of olefins as simple carbon and hydrogen packets (image of ethylene) that are used to make more complex chains that form the backbone of materials used in everything from cleaner fuels, soaps, bags, to pharmaceuticals. The process, ‘metathesis’, simply means transforming the order of AB + CD into AD +BC
How does a simple packet of hydrogen and carbon vary so much in
different industry applications? In the most simple terms – the difference between a ‘good’ compound for people and the Earth, from a ‘bad’ compound is the use of additives (other elements) and the shape of the molecule chain (polymers). These variations make materials more or less reactive to things like light, water, and heat. It also makes it more or less soluble, biodegradable or toxic. The goal is to create compounds that break down into non-toxic elements that do not harm ecosystems. The more precise we are in building key polymer materials, the less harmful waste we produce.
Why is this important to the future?
Another step towards ‘greener’ hydrocarbon materials
The BC/MIT catalyst will help to reduce the waste and hazardous by products of this massive industrial chemical reaction as we try to make chemistry more ‘green’ and environmentally friendly.
“In order for chemists to gain access to molecules that can enhance the quality of human life, we need reliable, highly efficient, selective and environmentally friendly chemical reactions,” said Amir Hoveyda, Professor and Chemistry Department chairman at BC. “Discovering catalysts that promote these transformations is one of the great challenges of modern chemistry.”
What to watch- Applied Engineering
Researchers from Northeastern University and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have improved the efficiency of clustered nanotubes used in solar cells to produce hydrogen by splitting water molecules.
By layering potassium on the surface of the nanotubes made of titanium dioxide and carbon, the photocatalyst can split hydrogen gas from water using ‘about one-third the electrical energy to produce the same amount of hydrogen as an equivalent array of potassium-free nanotubes.’
Rethinking the Possibilities at the Nanoscale
Energy is about manipulating the interactions of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, metals, biological enzymes and sunlight.
When we design core enabling energy systems (e.g. catalysts, membranes, cathodes/anodes, et al) at the nanoscale (billionth of a meter) we find performance that is fundamentally different from the same systems designed at the 'microscale' (millionth of a meter).
Because smaller is better when it comes to manipulating molecules and light, the research teams used ‘tightly packed arrays of titania nanotubes’ with carbon that ‘helps titania absorb light in the visible spectrum.’ Arranging catalysts in the form of nanoscale-sized tubes increases the surface area of the catalyst which in turn increases the reactive area for splitting oxygen and hydrogen.
Hydrogen - Moving Beyond Hype and Skepticism
Carbon is a getting a lot of attention!
You’ve seen the references – carbon emissions, carbon footprint, carbon credits, carbon offsets, carbon calculators, carbon caps, carbon tax, low-carbon economy, post-carbon economy…
This should be a good thing for Eric Roston author of The Carbon Age.
Why is this an important book?
Let’s start with Steven Colbert who asked Eric Roston- Is carbon the ‘Al Qaeda’ of elements?
What is The Carbon Age?
An accessible story of carbon across the ages – from its universal origins to the first biochemical bonds formed with hydrogen, to its combustion in our gasoline gas tank, and a bright future with new nanoscale applications. Roston tells the story of carbon through the lenses of physical cosmology, geochemistry, biology, engineering, energy science, and above all else- how this element has shaped human societies.
Why read it?
I always speak highly of this book! But be prepared. The subtitle ‘How Life’s Core Element Has Becomes Civilization’s Greatest Threat’ is misleading. This is not a book about a crisis. Is not anti-carbon. Roston is not trying to shock you. He is trying to reach your head, not your heart. Roston does not avoid the seriousness of climate change, but does not fall back on simple strategies that avoid the complexities of carbon science.
Roston’s voice and perspective on carbon is fresh. He is incredibly balanced in his delivery, and the undertones of how the carbon age story ends are optimistic. But the first step in addressing the challenges of this Industrial Age’s massive release of carbon into the atmosphere is to understand how it got there- and why chemical bonds of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen are so important to society. All this is delivered in under 250 pages!
[Continue – on my reaction to ‘The Carbon Age’ and the importance of chemical energy, time and biology.]
Oil Supply Crunch ahead
The world's leading authority on oil markets is warning that these days of cheap ($40 barrel) oil are just a mirage and that the world is likely to experience 'an oil supply crunch' next year (2010) as markets begin to recover.
Reuters reports on IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka describing a potential short-term reality: "Currently the demand is very low due to the very bad economic situation, but when the economy starts growing, recovery comes again in 2010 and then onward, we may have another serious supply crunch if capital investment is not coming."
The Real Problem with Oil - No Alternative
Oil's biggest problem is 'lack of substiitutability'. There is no other 'reserve' of liquid fuel that can compare to the energy locked up inside the hydrogen-carbon bonds of oil.
If we talk about using oil as gasoline for the transportation sector there is no commercially viable alternative that offers the same volume and performance. Even 'Next Generation' biofuels from algae and cellulose-eating bacteria cannot provide the scale to fill even a tiny gap in global oil production vs demand.
People who push 'solar', 'wind' or 'nuclear' (which produce electricity) as an 'alternative to oil' simply do not understand the combustion engine. You cannot put electricity inside your gas tank. We must either produce massive amounts of liquid fuel substitutes, or take a bolder step to kill the combustion engine.
Is the world ready to confront the real problem? The Combustion Engine
Metals, like platinum, palladium and nickel, play a key role as catatysts that change the quality of reactions of gases like carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.
Designing catalysts at the nanoscale (billionth of a meter) will help to improve interactions within fuel cells that convert chemical energy into electricity. But achieving precise control over nano-sized particles has been difficult.
Now Brown University researchers have designed fuel cell catalysts using palladium nanoparticles that have about 40 percent greater active surface area, and ‘remain intact four times longer’.
A New Binding Agent & Surface Area
The researchers have learned how to bind the 4.5 nanometer sized metal pieces to a carbon support platform using weak binding amino ligands that keep the nanoparticles separate. After they are set, the ligand links are ‘washed away’ without negatively changing the catalysts.
“This approach is very novel. It works,” said Vismadeb Mazumder, a graduate researcher who joined chemistry professor Shouheng Sun “It’s two times as active, meaning you need half the energy to catalyze. And it’s four times as stable. It just works better.”
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?
By Ami Sampat
The International Energy Agency has released a report describing a challenging future ahead for the energy industry and planet. The IEA’s annual World Energy Outlook highlights an uncertain future shaped by tightening oil supply, higher energy prices, and rising emissions of greenhouse gases.
Why is this important to the future?
"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: