Archive for July 2012
You are browsing the archives of 2012 July.
You are browsing the archives of 2012 July.
I’ve covered the topic of thin, tough, bendable ceramic sheets and foils in the past, and a lot of what I have seen until now has been in the early developmental stages. However, as can be seen in the videos above and below, a company in New York State, ENrG, has been seeking commercial opportunities after perfecting their ability to produce these 3%mol YZT foils in a variety of shapes and production sizes (currently the largest is 10 cm x 15 cm), including foils that are 40 micrometers thick. Foils as thin as 20 μm are anticipated for later in 2012.
Foils like these are not useful by themselves (aside from instilling some awe in the materials community), but they are expected to be a highly useful enabling platform for any application that would require a ceramic membrane. Kathy Olenick, director of technical applications for ENrG, tells me that opportunities for using these foils is wide open because they have so many useful properties. “The idea is, for example, that you can have a flexible support that is dielectric, too,” says Olenick. “Instead of applying a dielectric material onto a substrate, the foils have it already integrated with support. In addition, the foil’s ability to retain its electrical and mechanical properties through thermal cycling makes it a prime materials for electrolyte-supported fuel cells.”
Olenick says the foil’s other properties open some unprecedented materials choices for applications engineers, especially where there are high temperatures and chemically harsh environments. And, the translucency, for example, means it is easy to align double-sided coatings. She says the foils are essentially transparent at mid-IR range wavelengths. She also notes that custom textures can be given to the foils, and holes can be added in the green state if air or fuel passages need to be structured. (The foils are made by tape casting followed by sintering.)
In particular, Olenick touts her company’s Thin E-Strate product (pdf) as having a good potential for thin-film photovoltaic applications. Along these lines, she says that the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority recently gave ENrG an award to explore the product’s potential in the solar energy markets. She says Thin E-Strate would be a more efficient backing for solar cells than materials used currently.
The flexibility of the product apparently causes some doubletakes. Olenick says, “When ceramic technologists see Thin E-Strate at our trade shows or in our video, they question if it’s really a ceramic!”
John Olenick, who also works at ENrG, made a 20-minute presentation on the foils and the company’s capabilities at the 2012 ICACC meeting held in January. For anyone wishing to know more about the technology, he has converted his ICACC presentation into a “Brainshark” online presentation (an oral presentation combined with a video version of PowerPoint). This Brainshark presentation requires an “invitation”-type password, but company officials say they will be happy to provide a free invitation to any interested parties.
The ENrG website says the company has received support in the past from NYSERDA and NIST to work on large-area ceramic fuel cell development and fabrication capabilities.
The National Science Foundation has announced a cross-directorate initiative in Sustainable Chemistry, Engineering, and Materials. Created in response to the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (which called for NSF to establish a Green Chemistry Basic Research program), SusChEM will focus on opportunities for advances in research and education related to sustainable synthesis, use and reuse of chemicals and materials.
The research funded under SusChEM will aim to enable the basic science and engineering discoveries that will reduce dependence on nonrenewable resources and toxic materials, enable economical recycling of chemicals and materials and improve the efficiency and environmental impact of industrial processes.
The Division of Materials Research will participate in SusChEM through the Sustainable Materials effort, which encourages researchers to design materials and devices with their entire life cycle and environmental footprint in mind. Specific research topic suggestions include: materials and material systems for enhanced preservation and extension of natural resources; sustainability through material replacement; improved lifetime, performance and operational range of materials in extreme or harsh conditions; and materials designed for zero waste. In addition to the new science required to advance this initiative, success in improving materials sustainability will require a paradigm shift that encourages researchers to go beyond materials optimization by broadening their exposure to other disciplines and approaching sustainability from a total systems perspective.
Five divisions intend to participate in SusChEM in FY 2013: the Divisions of Chemistry and Materials Research in the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate; the Divisions of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems, and Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation in the Engineering Directorate; and the Division of Earth Sciences in the Geosciences Directorate.
The president’s 2013 budget request to Congress included $27.2 million for SusChEM across NSF, of which $7.4 million is for DMR’s Sustainable Materials effort.
A Dear Colleague Letter announcing the SusChEM program can be found here.
More specific information regarding DMR’s interests in SusChEM (Sustainable Materials) can be found in a separate DCL here.
Additionally, NSF has sponsored some recent events on SusChEM-related topics. A forum entitled “The Many Facets of Sustainable Development” was held at the 2012 MRS Spring Meeting that highlighted the importance of multidisciplinary, holistic approaches to the science and engineering of sustainable development. More information on that event, including video recordings of keynote talks and panel discussions, is available here. A follow-up workshop is planned for the 2012 MRS Fall Meeting in conjunction with Symposium G: Materials as Tools for Sustainability. Also, an NSF-sponsored workshop was held in January in Arlington, Va., to assist in designing the SusChEM initiative by identifying key research approaches and advances necessary to advance its goals. A workshop report is expected to be published sometime this summer and will be available here.
The SusChEM activity is one of five slated for Fiscal Year 2013 under the NSF-wide Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability investment, and it is expected to continue in future years. Activities under the SEES umbrella are designed to advance science, engineering and education to inform societal actions aimed at environmental and economic sustainability.
Ashley White is a AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow at the National Science Foundation. Any opinion, finding, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
Owens-Illinois has reported second quarter net sales of $1.766 billion in 2012, down from $1.959 billion in the prior year second quarter, primarily due to unfavourable foreign currency translation.
Corning Singapore Holdings is to build a $600 million site for the manufacture of TFT-LCD glass substrates in China. The Corning Inc. subsidiary has signed a deal with Samsung Display and the provincial government of Wuxi New District, to build the site in Jiangsu Province, China.
Libbey Inc. is to make 5 percent of its managerial, professional and administrative workforce worldwide redundant as part of a restructuring. It said it will attempt to strengthen and grow its business by changing its business strategy to one based on regional leadership, instead of a global leadership.
PPG Industries’ glass segment sales were $273 million for Q2 2012, down $1 million from the prior year. Higher flat-glass volumes were offset by lower pricing and the negative impact of foreign currency translation. Fiber glass pricing declined from previous levels, driven by reduced European and Asian demand.
RHI AG successfully completed the placement of a €130 million bonded loan on July 25, 2012. The Schuldscheindarlehen was placed in tranches with tenors ranging from three to ten years with Austrian, German and Eastern European investors. RHI will use the proceeds from the transaction to secure liquidity in the long term.
Check ‘em out:
Electrical engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Texas at Arlington have devised a new laser for on-chip optical connections that could give computers a huge boost in speed and energy efficiency. At just 2 micrometers in height-smaller than the width of a human hair - the surface-emitting laser’s vastly lower profile could make it cheaper and easier for manufacturers to integrate high-speed optical data connections into the microprocessors powering the next generation of computers. But since mirrors are hard to form in such lasers and because the lasers occupy a large chip area, researchers have been challenged to find a practical way to monolithically integrate the mirrors on silicon chips. Surface-emitting lasers necessary for a high-speed optical links between computer cores could be 20 to 30 micrometers tall. Yet the research team’s engineers say that on a 1.5-micrometer wavelength optically connected chip, lasers of that size dwarf their silicon surroundings. As a solution, the researchers propose replacing layers and layers of reflectors necessary in the traditional distributed Bragg reflector laser design with two highly reflective photonic crystal mirrors. Composed of compound semiconductor quantum well materials, each mirror is held in place with silicon nanomembranes, extremely thin layers of a silicon.
(NIST Tech Beat) A new versatile measurement system devised by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) accurately and quickly measures the electric power output of solar energy devices, capabilities useful to researchers and manufacturers working to develop and make next-generation solar energy cells. As reported in the journal Applied Optics, the NIST team has combined 32 LEDs-each generating light from different segments of the solar spectrum-and other off-the-shelf equipment with their custom-made technologies to build a system that measures the wavelength-dependent quantum efficiency of solar devices over a relatively large area. Anticipated advantages over current approaches,most of which use incandescent lamps or xenon arc and other types of discharge lamps, are greater speed and ease of operation, more uniform illumination, and a service life that is about 10 times longer. The new NIST system for measuring spectral response easily accommodates two unique but complementary methods for determining how much electric current a solar device generates when hit by a standard amount of sunlight. Both methods are straightforward, and they use the same hardware setup. With either method, the automated system produces measurements more rapidly than current instruments used to simulate solar radiation and characterize how efficiently a device converts light energy to electric energy.
(PNAS) Most of the dioxygen on earth is generated by the oxidation of water by photosystem II (PS II) using light from the sun. This light-driven, four-photon reaction is catalyzed by the Mn4CaO5 cluster located at the lumenal side of PS II. Various X-ray studies have been carried out at cryogenic temperatures to understand the intermediate steps involved in the water oxidation mechanism. However, the necessity for collecting data at room temperature, especially for studying the transient steps during the O-O bond formation, requires the development of new methodologies. In this paper we report room temperature X-ray diffraction data of PS II microcrystals obtained using ultrashort (< 50 fs) 9 keV X-ray pulses from a hard X-ray free electron laser, namely the Linac Coherent Light Source. The results presented here demonstrate that the “probe before destroy” approach using an X-ray free electron laser works even for the highly-sensitive Mn4CaO5 cluster in PS II at room temperature. We show that these data are comparable to those obtained in synchrotron radiation studies as seen by the similarities in the overall structure of the helices, the protein subunits and the location of the various cofactors. This work is, therefore, an important step toward future studies for resolving the structure of the Mn4CaO5 cluster without any damage at room temperature, and of the reaction intermediates of PS II during O-O bond formation.
UCLA researchers have developed a new transparent solar cell that is an advance toward giving windows in homes and other buildings the ability to generate electricity while still allowing people to see outside. The team describes a new kind of polymer solar cell that produces energy by absorbing mainly infrared light, not visible light, making the cells nearly 70 percent transparent to the human eye. They made the device from a photoactive plastic that converts infrared light into an electrical current. The solar cells incorporate a near-infrared light-sensitive polymer and use silver nanowire composite films as the top transparent electrode. The near-infrared photoactive polymer absorbs more near-infrared light but is less sensitive to visible light, balancing solar cell performance and transparency in the visible wavelength region. Another breakthrough is the transparent conductor made of a mixture of silver nanowire and titanium dioxide nanoparticles, which was able to replace the opaque metal electrode used in the past. This composite electrode also allows the solar cells to be fabricated economically by solution processing. With this combination, 4% power-conversion efficiency for solution-processed and visibly transparent polymer solar cells has been achieved.
The Program Executive Office realized through its multiple studies that the typical torso length for women was for the most part shorter than that of men. The female Improved Outer Tactical Vest will be shorter at the bottom. The new design will keep the IOTV from rubbing on the hips, which can cause chafing while walking. Female Soldiers had also advised PEO Soldier that the standard IOTV, with its longer torso, causes the front armor plate to press into their thighs when they are seated. This cuts off blood flow to their legs. The female version of the IOTV, with its shortened torso, will address this issue. Additionally, a new exterior plate pocket will allow the armor plate to be inserted from the side in a more diagonal fashion. Though not part of the female version of the IOTV design, the Army is also looking for ways to develop armor plating that better conforms to the human body. “The challenge right now is that when you bring in those complex curvatures, the plate loses some of its strength,” Lt. Col. Frank J. Lozano, the product manager for Soldier Protective Equipment. “We’re working with some armor manufacturers to invest in a manufacturing capability that finds the right chemistry to develop the soft and hard armor necessary to have a complex curved plate at a light weight that still defeats the threats.”
Evidence of a community of prehistoric artists and craftspeople who “invented” ceramics during the last Ice Age—thousands of years before pottery became commonplace—has been found in modern-day Croatia. The finds consist of 36 fragments, most of them apparently the broken-off remnants of modelled animals, and come from a site called Vela Spila on the Adriatic coast. Archaeologists believe that they were the products of an artistic culture which sprang up in the region about 17,500 years ago. Their ceramic art flourished for about 2,500 years, but then disappeared. The study, which is published in the journal PLoS ONE, adds to a rapidly-changing set of views about when humans first developed the ability to make ceramics and pottery. Most histories of the technology begin with the more settled cultures of the Neolithic era, which began about 10,000 years ago. Now it is becoming clear that the story was much more complex. Over thousands of years, ceramics were invented, lost, reinvented and lost again. The earliest producers did not make crockery, but seem to have had more artistic inclinations.
(GizMag) Nano Retina has now developed the Bio-Retina, a tiny (3 x 4 mm) microchip implant that is inserted into the eye and glued to the retina in a minimally invasive procedure. It does not treat age-related macular degeneration, but rather seeks to relieve the blindness resulting from AMD. A small slit is cut in the eye under local anesthesia, and the implant is inserted and pressed against the damaged macula. The Bio-Retina uses the optical system (lens, iris, and pointing and focusing musculature) of the eye. It consists of an integrated circuit with a grid of photodetectors, microelectrodes and microelectronic circuitry that replace the eye’s natural photoreceptors and feed visual information through the healthy retinal structures to the optic nerve and the visual centers of the brain. The patient does not have to learn to interpret jumbled images, as the photodetectors measure the incoming light in a particular location on the image, and then stimulate the optical neurons immediately below the spot where the light would have hit in any case. In most cases immediate, normal feeling sight will be returned to the patient. The image is only in grayscale at this point, but color implants are not beyond the reach of this basic technology.
Mimicking the way mother of pearl is created in nature, scientists have for the first time synthesised the strong, iridescent coating found on the inside of some molluscs. By recreating the biological steps that form nacre in molluscs, the scientists were able to manufacture a material which has a similar structure, mechanical behaviour, and optical appearance of that found in nature. In order to create the artificial nacre, the scientists followed three steps. First, they had to take preventative measure to ensure the calcium carbonate, which is the primary component of nacre, does not crystallise when precipitating from the solution. This is done by using a mixture of ions and organic components in the solution that mimics how molluscs control this. The precipitate can then be adsorbed to surfaces, forming layers of well-defined thickness. Next, the precipitate layer is covered by an organic layer that has 10-nm wide pores, which is done in a synthetic procedure. Finally, crystallisation is induced, and all steps are repeated to create a stack of alternating crystalline and organic layers.
The New York Times and other major newspapers are reporting that the United States economy grew in the second quarter of 2012, but at a paltry (annualized) rate of 1.5 percent (first quarter growth was two percent). The concern, of course, is that the economic recovery from the recession is losing some of its momentum. However, the NYT article also cites updated statistics from the Commerce Department indicating that the recession was not as deep as previously thought.
But, being in the shallow end of a recession can be as unpleasant as the deep end; hopefully it just means less energy is needed to pull out. New initiatives recommended by a report out of the White House to support advanced manufacturing may provide some of the needed boost.
The report “Capturing Domestic Competitive Advantage in Advanced Manufacturing,” is the product of the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Steering Committee of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. The AMP was announced last summer by President Obama when he visited Carnegie Mellon University, and is a “national effort bringing together industry, universities, and the federal government to invest in the emerging technologies that will create high quality manufacturing jobs and enhance our global competitiveness,” says a press release from the CMU event.
According to a fact sheet released by the White House, the US manufacturing sector has grown by 500,000 jobs since 2010, bringing the number of jobs connected to manufacturing to about 12 million. The manufacturing sector is responsible for much more than blue-collar jobs, though. The document also says that 70 percent of all private sector R&D is in the manufacturing sector and that about 60 percent of the R&D workforce is employed by the private manufacturing sector.
The fact sheet says, “… our nation’s ability to make things is inextricably linked to our ability to innovate,” and few would argue. At the recent ICC4-CLS meeting in Chicago, plenary speaker Delbert Day, professor at Missouri S&T and entrepreneur, showed several maps that correlated investment to discovery in his home state of Missouri. The “hot spots” of cities where patents were issued in Missouri from 1975-1999 were cities that have research universities, and similarly, the number of SBIRs awarded was much higher in those same cities. The link is pretty clear: investment begets innovation, which begets spin-off companies and jobs. Day’s spin-off company, Mo-Sci, is a good example. In his talk, Day chronicled the role of sponsored research and SBIR funding that led to a company that today manufactures bioglass and employs about 40.
Innovation is not necessarily a “blank-slate-to-product” process, either, as work by University of Buffalo professor, Sarbajit Banerjee testifies. As we reported earlier, the goal of his work was to adapt existing coating manufacturing processes to the application of novel graphene corrosion-prevention coatings to standard. His research was supported by industrial powerhouse, Tata Steel, and a university research consortium.
The AMP Steering Committee—led by Andrew Liveris, president/chair/CEO of Dow Chemical and Susan Hockfield, recent past president of MIT—recognized that there are many pathways to innovation. The executive summary of the report opens with, “Advanced manufacturing is not limited to emerging technologies; rather, it is composed of efficient, productive, highly integrated, tightly controlled processes across a spectrum of globally competitive US manufacturers and suppliers.” It goes on to say that the growth and health of advanced manufacturing will “require the active participation of communities, educators, workers, and business,” as well as all levels of government.
The 18 member committee is comprised of the top brass from manufacturing business and research universities, skewing a bit toward industry with 16 members from companies like Honeywell, Intel, Procter & Gamble, etc. The committee spent about a year holding regional meetings across the US and consulted over 1,200 stakeholders from industry and all levels of education and government, according to a press release.
The report makes 16 recommendations organized into three categories that it hopes will provide the framework for a national advanced manufacturing strategy. The AMP Steering Committee also endorsed Obama’s $1 billion proposal to establish a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation back in March. The NNMI’s purpose is to “catalyze up to 15 manufacturing institutes nationwide.”
The recommendations, taken from the report, are:
Securing the Talent Pipeline
Improving the Business Climate