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Here is what we are hearing:
(GigaOm) Energy giant Siemens is leaving the solar market after investing heavily in solar technology and power plant construction. The decision is bad news for startups looking for corporate VCs. The decision reflects the poor outlook for the solar market by an energy giant, which had previously raced to tackle various segments of the business—including manufacturing, equipment sales and power plant engineering and construction—in order to compete with its big nemesis, GE. But the growth of the global solar market hasn’t met expectations, Siemens said in a statement, adding that changes in government policies and slim profit margins are among the chief causes. Siemens’ exit also likely means it will not be actively looking to invest in any more solar startups, for the time being. The company has poured money into startups by either buying an equity stake of the company or by acquiring products from them. Siemens has invested in North Carolina-based Semprius, which developed a new way of producing highly efficient solar cells, and solar energy equipment to use those cells.
The installation of Guardian Industries UK’s £35 million magnetron coater at its Goole plant is complete. All elements of the coater installation have now been signed off ahead of schedule and handed to Guardian’s Process Group and Production Team. The coater is now operational on three shifts. Over the next few weeks, Guardian’s Process Group and Production team will be working on the characterisation and calibration of all the cathodes ready to produce ClimaGuard A+. The product will undergo product testing at its R&D centers ahead of the start of production in October. David Younker, Guardian Vice President of Engineering, said: “The Guardian team has done an amazing job with the new Coater installation, it is incredible that they have managed to fit such technically advanced equipment into such a restricted area, it is literally like fitting a 12-ounce egg into a 6-ounce shell”.
Dedicated solely to materials and finished components in ceramic and glass, the Goodfellow Ceramic and Glass Division is a newly formed division of Goodfellow, an international supplier of metals and materials for research and industry. “The new Goodfellow Ceramic and Glass Division is a natural extension of our strength as a full-service materials supplier,” says Stephen Aldersley, managing director of Goodfellow. The company has launched a dedicated website to provide technical data, case studies and other information about the ceramics and glasses offered. Goodfellow ceramic specialists can also be reached through the website, by email. In late September, the company also moved facilities from Oakdale to Coraopolis. Pa. Although this is only around 10 miles, the new bigger, facilities will allow the company to expand our shipping operation within the US, and ship from the US to anywhere in the world. Its toll-free phone and fax numbers remain the same, and the company team look forward to helping customers from their new location.
Owens Corning announced that its new furnace in its Gous-Khroustalny, Russia, glass reinforcements facility is operational. This is the latest step the company has taken to increase its global capacity to produce composite material and particularly to service the Russian and CIS markets. Owens Corning is a leading global producer of glass fiber reinforcements for composite systems and residential and commercial building materials. The Gous-Khroustalny plant, now with double production capacity, will manufacture Owens Corning’s corrosion-resistant Advantex glass locally. The facility will produce roving and wet use chopped strands as well as other products.
Zontec Inc., a developer of statistical process control software solutions, announced an update to its Synergy 2000 Multi-function Toolbox. The Multi-function Toolbox automatically collects data in real-time from programmable logic controllers, coordinate measurement machines and similar plant hardware. The Multi-function Toolbox also enables companies to seamlessly transfer legacy data from other applications or databases, integrate data from manufacturing applications such as enterprise resource planning, laboratory management systems, supervisory control and data acquisition systems as well as serve as a communication bridge between open platform connectivity (OPC) servers and the Synergy 2000 OPC client. Features include: Ability to conntect to multiple OPC servers, save selected tags as a group in OPC client, import data from any database through open database connectivity, setup data transfers for multiple comma-separated values files and updated to lastest version of Microsoft Net 4.0.
Scientists at the University of Arizona and in California have completed the most challenging large astronomical mirror ever made. For the past several years, a group of optical scientists and engineers working at the UA Steward Observatory Mirror Laboratory underneath the UA’s football stadium have been polishing an 8.4-meter (27 ½ feet) diameter mirror with an unusual, highly asymmetric shape. By the standards used by optical scientists, the “degree of difficulty” for this mirror is 10 times that of any previous large telescope mirror. The mirror surface matches the desired prescription to a precision of 19 nanometers —so smooth that if it were the size of the continental US, the highest mountains would be little more than a half-inch high. This mirror, and six more like it, will form the heart of the 25-meter Giant Magellan Telescope, providing more than 380 square meters, or 4,000 square feet, of light-collecting area. The Giant Magellan Telescope will lead a next generation of giant telescopes that will explore planets around other stars and the formation of stars, galaxies and black holes in the early universe.
You probably already know there is some really interesting stuff going on in the materials field. Here is some of the latest:
A project in Europe aims to convert urban and agricultural waste into high-performance products for the construction sector. These materials will be developed within the framework of INNOBITE (Innovative Biocomposites), a European Commission FP7 collaborative project co-participated by several research centers and European small and medium-sized enterprises, including the UK’s Exergy. According to a statement, the research, led by Spain’s Tecnalia, is based on two ideas: the revalorisation of the inorganic fraction of wheat straw and the production of cellulose nanofibers out of recycled paper. Once isolated, these two compounds will become high-performance additives in new polymeric composites. The two most abundant fractions of wheat straw—lignin and cellulose—will become, respectively, polymeric matrix and reinforcing material.
(Lux Research) Toyota has triggered electric vehicle alarmism by announcing it will lower sales targets of its iQ EV hatchback to just 100 units of this all-electric vehicle. The news came accompanied by some damning quotes, with Toyota head of vehicle development Takeshi Uchiyamada opining that the “capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet society’s needs.” Many have been quick to misinterpret this as a new development—an unexpected vote of no confidence in EVs. However, the reality is that Toyota has never pursued all-electric vehicles in earnest. While competitors were developing cars like the Nissan Leaf EV and Chevrolet Volt heavy plug-in hybrid, Toyota instead opted to focus on more incremental hybrid electric vehicles and development of a light PHEV with a much smaller battery. It worked— the company hit a 2-million-unit home run with its Prius line of hybrids that now includes a light PHEV. Lux Research predicted this EV disappointment three years ago in the report “Unplugging the Hype Around Electric Vehicles and has held steady in that view. The reality is that HEVs and light PHEVs are simply far more economical now, given high battery costs, and will remain so for years to come. As a result, in 2020 sales of HEVs and light PHEVs will be 16 times greater than those of heavy PHEVs and EVs. The announcement also reinforces that the world’s largest carmaker’s strategy is a rebuke to the investment by the US and other governments in EVs and subsidies. The political fallout could be severe, especially following flops like Solyndra in other areas. Companies can find strong opportunities in battery advances for light PHEVs and hybrids, as well as micro- and mild hybrids, but should remain cautious about the electric vehicle opportunity.
The University of Arizona College of Engineering will lead a $5.5 million, 5-year research project, funded by the DOE, to develop more affordable and efficient concentrated solar power systems. The research program will investigate the composition, properties and costs of new molten-salt-based CSP heat transfer fluids, which must absorb, transport and store solar energy, and generate electrical power efficiently and cost-effectively. To overcome the nocturnal drop in power generation capability, an objective of this research is to develop molten-salt-based CSP heat transfer fluids with low melting points and low corrosivity that can be heated to about 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures thus have much further to fall before the transfer fluid cools and solidifies. Insulating the fluid storage tanks and circulation system will enable the stored heat to generate steam, and electrical power, throughout the night. The salts used in current CSP plants are nitrates, which can operate at a maximum of about 1,000°F before they become unstable, says Peiwen “Perry” Li. “This is not efficient enough, and this research has a requirement to find a salt that reaches about 1,500°F,” Li says. “But if we can stretch to 2,400°F, that will be super.” The current objective for this project is a molten salt that costs less than a dollar per kilo.
Steven A. Klankowski, a doctoral candidate in chemistry, La Crescent, Minn., is working under Jun Li, professor of chemistry, to develop new materials that could be used in future lithium-ion batteries. For his research, Klankowski is developing and testing a high-performance nanostructure of silicon coated onto carbon nanofibers for the use as an electrode in lithium-ion batteries. The electrodes, which look like a dense brush, give the battery greater charge capabilities and storage capacity. This is anticipated to replace current commercial electrodes that are made from simple carbon-based materials. The material being developed and improved by Klankowski helps the electrode store roughly 10 times the amount of energy as current electrodes, giving the batteries a 10-15 percent improvement in current battery technology. “We’re trying to go for higher energy capacity,” Klankowski says. “To do that we’re looking at if we can store more energy per the electrode’s size or mass, and if we can use that energy more quickly to make the battery like a capacitor. Batteries and capacitors are on opposite sides of the energy storage field. We’d like to move them both closer together.”
An international research team has created unique photoluminescent nanoparticles that shine clearly through more than 3 centimeters of biological tissue—a depth that makes them a promising tool for deep-tissue optical bioimaging. Though optical imaging is a robust and inexpensive technique commonly used in biomedical applications, current technologies lack the ability to look deep into tissue, the researchers said. This creates a demand for the development of new approaches that provide high-resolution, high-contrast optical bioimaging that doctors and scientists could use to identify tumors or other anomalies deep beneath the skin. The newly created nanoparticles consist of a nanocrystalline core containing thulium, sodium, ytterbium and fluorine, all encased inside a square, calcium-fluoride shell. The particles are special for several reasons. First, they absorb and emit near-infrared light, with the emitted light having a much shorter wavelength than the absorbed light. This is different from how molecules in biological tissues absorb and emit light, which means that scientists can use the particles to obtain deeper, higher-contrast imaging than traditional fluorescence-based techniques. Second, the material for the nanoparticles’ shell—calcium fluoride—is a substance found in bone and tooth mineral. This makes the particles compatible with human biology, reducing the risk of adverse effects. The shell is also found to significantly increase the photoluminescence efficiency. To emit light, the particles employ a process called near-infrared-to-near-infrared up-conversion, or “NIR-to-NIR.”
(The Engineer) An engineer and a fashion designer have developed a way to make clothes that can clean the air using a special laundry additive. The liquid additive known as CatClo (Catalytic Clothing) adds nanoparticles of titanium oxide to the fabric of clothing. When exposed to sunlight, these particles react with nitrogen oxides in the air and oxidise them into the fabric. The treated pollutants are odourless and colourless and are removed harmlessly as the wearer sweats or when the clothes are next washed, but the catalytic nanoparticles remain because they grip the fabric so tightly. One person wearing clothes treated with CatClo would remove an average of 5g of nitrogen oxides from the air each day, roughly equivalent to the amount produced by the average family car, according to its developers. “If thousands of people in a typical town used the additive, the result would be a significant improvement in local air quality,” says Prof Tony Ryan of Sheffield University, who developed the additive with Prof Helen Storey of the London College of Fashion. “This additive creates the potential for community action to deliver a real environmental benefit that could actually help to cut disease and save lives. In Sheffield, for instance, if everyone washed their clothes in the additive, there would be no pollution problem caused by nitrogen oxides at all.” The team is now working with a manufacturer of environmentally friendly cleaning products to commercialise the additive, he adds.
If you are an assistant professor or postdoctoral associate with research experience, you may want to set aside a few days in August to attend a NSF-sponsored workshop designed to enhance career development for future leaders in ceramic materials research and education.
Senior faculty and junior faculty peers from the international scientific community with expertise in ceramic materials will come together for an intensive two-day technical and professional development workshop. The workshop will touch on areas of research, best practices for training and teaching students and collaborative research opportunities worldwide.
The event will be Aug. 23-24, 2012 at the Westin Arlington Gateway Hotel in Arlington, Va. It is being organized by University of Arizona assistant professor, Erica Corral. (Corral’s research activities were highlighted in the August issue of The Bulletin, by the way.)
Space is limited, so registration is required. To register or for more information, contact Erica Corral at email@example.com.
“Mirror, mirror on the wall/Who’s the best mirror maker of them all?”
In the story of Snow White, the magic mirror is an important supporting character. It sees into places its interrogator cannot and reports back on the who, what and where and shows the action. To create the fantastical mirror, Disney used a talented team of storywriters and celluloid artists.
Similarly, astronomers look out from observatories into places that are inaccessible to humankind, in part because our lifespans are too short. To build the instruments that allow them to do so, they turn to teams of specialists to craft the mirrors that are amazing in their own right. Among the best of the mirror makers is the team at the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory Mirror Laboratory in Tucson.
Last week the lab cast the second of seven massive glass mirrors that will be shipped to Chile for installation in the Giant Magellan Telescope. When completed, GMT will be able to acquire images 10-times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope. The six outer mirrors are off-axis paraboloids, which makes them “the greatest optics challenge ever undertaken in astronomical optics by a large factor,” according to Roger Engel in a press release. Engel is the director of the SOML.
The 8.4-meter-diameter (about 27 feet) mirrors are cast from 21 tons of borosilicate glass provided by the Ohara Corp. Glass chunks weighing 4-5 kilograms are inspected and carefully layed out over a ceramic mold.The glass is melted at 1,165°C (at which point the glass has a honey-like viscosity) in a furnace that rotates at about 4 rpm. (See the spinning furnace in the video.) The spinning helps form the parabolic shape and reduces the amount of finishing needed later. According to a brochure (pdf) from the SOML, the furnace will spin rapidly for four or five days, and then at a much slower rate as the mirror goes through a three-month-long controlled cooling.
Last week’s melting and casting process of the second mirror took about 22 hours and it is now in the lengthy cooling phase. After removal from the furnace, the mirror undergoes a rough grinding step and is polished to a finish that is within 25 nanometer of specifications.
The backs of the mirrors are cast in a honeycomb configuration to reduce their weight, and more importantly, to allow the mirrors to thermally equilibrate quickly. Temperature changes on the mountaintop are rapid and can be fairly large, but the borosilicate glass has a low coefficient of thermal expansion, which allows it to remain stable despite temperature changes.
The facility expects to cast one mirror per year to complete the project. Each mirror will be shipped to Chile after its finishing is completed.
A lot of space is needed to make castings this large and to do the post-processing, and one might wonder where a large, urban university found space for the facility. Under the football field!
The SOML brochure lists the mirrors made by the SOML since 1985. The university has other mirror fabrication projects underway. A recent Eureka Alert press release describes a multi-million dollar project to polish a 4.2-meter-wide mirror for the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope in Hawaii. The mirror blank is being made by Schott in Mainz, Germany.
NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate and the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Office of Scientific Research have tapped the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Texas A&M University in College Station and Teledyne Scientific & Imaging LLC of Thousand Oaks, Calif. to be the nation’s hypersonic science centers.
The new centers will focus on Mach 5 aircraft using “air-breathing” propulsion. Of special interest to people in the ceramics field is that these centers will be spending a lot of time working on the materials and structures of such aircraft.
“NASA and the Air Force Research Laboratory have made a major commitment to advancing foundational hypersonic research and training the next generation of hypersonic researchers,” said James Pittman, principal investigator for the Hypersonics Project of NASA’s Fundamental Aeronautics Program at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. “Our joint investment of $30 million over five years will support basic science and applied research that improves our understanding of hypersonic flight.”
Researchers hope to eventually create an engine that could propel aircraft to speeds exceeding 12 times the speed of sound.
Each center will have a different specialty. The UVA center will be the National Center for Hypersonic Combined Cycle Propulsion. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, George Washington University, Cornell University, Stanford University, Michigan State University, SUNY Buffalo, North Carolina State University, ATK GASL Inc. (Ronkonkoma, N.Y.), NIST and Boeing will join the UVA effort.
Teledyne Scientific & Imaging will be the National Hypersonic Science Center for Hypersonic Materials and Structures. Team members include researchers from the University of California, University of Colorado in Boulder, the University of Miami, Princeton University, Missouri University of Science and Technology, the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Texas.
Texas A&M’s project, the soon-to-be National Center for Hypersonic Laminar-Turbulent Transition will concentrate in boundary layer control research. It’s partners include researchers from the California Institute of Technology, the University of Arizona, the UCLA and Case Western Reserve University.
In the past, the work by NASA and the AFOSR sometimes overlapped. The announcement about establishing the three centers follows a review of each other’s technology portfolios.
“The Air Force Office of Scientific Research is very excited to continue our partnership with NASA,” said John Schmisseur, manager for the Air Force Office of Scientific Research’s Hypersonics and Turbulence Program. “The centers represent our first effort to sponsor research jointly.”
NASA and the AFOSR will each kick in approximately $15 million to fund the centers at the rate of about $2 million per year per center. The funding can be renewed for up to five years. NASA and AFOSR received more than 60 proposal before selecting UVA, Texas A&M and Teledyne.
Teledyne is clearly pleased with making the cut.
“For over three decades, Teledyne Scientific & Imaging has been a leader in the development of novel materials such as ultra-high performance ceramic composites, polymer composites, and multi-functional materials,” said Robert Mehrabian, chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Teledyne Technologies. “Teledyne is honored by our selection as a National Hypersonic Science Center from an extremely competitive group of respondents. This effort supports Teledyne’s strategy of leadership in areas of fundamental science and technology critical to the U.S. Government.”
According to its abstract, Teledyne says it will lead an effort to “[R]evolutionize the design of hypersonic vehicles by creating a new class of hybrid, hierarchical materials that achieve substantial breakthroughs in oxidation resistance, maximum useable temperature, and maximum supportable heat flux.”
The company says this will cover:
- Novel routes for combining different materials in tailored morphologies,
- New experimental methods that will enable the direct visualization of the mechanisms that control a material’s performance,
- Multi-scale probabilistic model formulations that can simulate mechanisms at all length scales with high fidelity,
- Novel methods of net-shape processing, and
- The combination of experiments and multi-scale models into a virtual test system that will transform the way in which materials are designed and qualified.