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Ceramic Tech Today

BASF to make U.S./S. Korean team’s new high-energy, long-life cathode material

Published on June 10th, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray

Credit: greendollarsandsense

Credit: greendollarsandsense

Back in April, the Argonne National Laboratory and Hanyang University in South Korea announced that their teamwork has resulted in a new cathode material that can provide high-energy and extend the life of lithium batteries. They said then that the new material as potentially playing an important role in future plug-in hybrid vehicles. Now BASF has announced that it has obtained a license to produce batteries based on the new cathode in a plant in Ohio.

In an ANL news release, Khalil Amine, manager of the advanced battery technology group at Argonne and the project’s co-principal investigator, said, “The new high-energy material that we developed makes up a new class of oxide materials in which the composition of each particle is changing from the bulk to the outer layer. Typically most oxide cathodes have a uniform composition throughout each particle, and offer low capacity and high surface reactivity with the electrolyte.”

He continued, “The basic idea behind our novel approach is to design a particle that has a very high-energy composition at the bulk and an outer layer composition that is very stable against any reactivity with electrolyte. Those two design features will be able to improve significantly the life and safety of lithium battery materials while offering very high-energy characteristics for possible use in PHEVs.”

Regarding the electrical performance of the cathode, Yank-Kook Sun, co-principle investigator and a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Hanyang University, said, “We are able to charge the material to 4.3 and 4.4 volts and attain a very high capacity of more than 210 milliampere hours per gram, with good power capability. Conventional cathodes have a capacity of 140 to160 mAh/g.”

The DOE Office of Vehicles Technologies funded this research. The research is described in the paper, “High-energy cathode materials for long-life and safe lithium batteries,” and is available on the Nature Materials website.

BASF recently said it had reached an agreement with ANL to mass produce and sell advance lithium-ion batteries based on the lab’s technology.

“BASF is excited to begin this partnership with Argonne National Laboratory as we look to advance the lithium-ion battery market in North America,” said Joseph Breunig, BASF Corporation President of Market and Business Development, in a June 3 news release. “The aim of our application development team in Beachwood, Ohio, along with our funding proposal to DOE for a world class facility in Elyria, Ohio is to make lithium-ion battery use realistic, affordable and widely available.”

The company said it believes the facility will be the largest cathode material production facility in North America.

Eric Isaacs, director of ANL, praised the deal and said, “The transfer of Argonne-developed battery technology to BASF provides a stellar example of why DOE invests taxpayer dollars into scientific research and development. When federally funded R&D is commercialized, it enhances our economic competitiveness, energy security and quality of life through innovations in science and technology.”

Ceramic Tech Today

Video of the week – SNL’s Self-Assembling Process for Fabricating Tailored Thin Films

Published on June 10th, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray

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From Sandia National Lab, this video demonstrates what is a relatively simple, economical nanotechnology coating process that enables development of nanoparticle thin films with architectures and properties unattainable by any other processing method.

The video simplifies things a little so, no, the guy on the boardwalk at your favorite beach who makes custom t-shirts with an airbrush won’t be getting a job at SNL anytime soon.

Materials & Innovations

Schott’s new transparent armor

Published on June 8th, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray

Schott DiamondView Armor Products has been demonstrating its transparent armor system over the past few months. This comes after Schott took over full ownership of DiamondView Armor Products in January. DAP had been a joint venture between the company and Dynamic Defense Holdings.

The DAP glass-ceramic armor system is getting notice because of its ability to withstand multiple hits without failure and because of its relatively light weight. Schott claims DAP is cuts weight by 20 percent over currently used systems.

Another plus for the glass-ceramic material is that it blocks UV rays but is not opaque in the IR range. This is key because it allows the use of night-vision equipment. Schott claims DAP panels let in more than twice the IR than Army minimum standards.

The transparent armor was developed in a new application of Schott’s Robax glass-ceramic material. Schott also makes a defense-grade borosilicate glass, Borofloat.

Ceramic Tech Today

Video of the week – Cracking a Safe With Glass Relockers

Published on June 7th, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray

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Never heard of “glass relockers”? That’s okay. Most people haven’t. Relockers are a category of devices intended to block a burglary of a safe. As their name implies, they relock a safe after the primary lock is cracked.

A glass relocker is based on burying a piece of tempered glass within the walls of a safe. It is attached, usually randomly, to one or more spring-loaded bolts. When a burglar tries to penetrate the layer where the glass is located, it shatters and the locking bolts spring into place.

This may not seem like a terribly sophisticated use of tempered glass, but it is to many government agencies who are concerned about security systems, and it is no accident that glass scientists in federal labs continue to study how to develop better and better glass relockers.

This video shows the efforts of the Discovery Channel’s MythBusters team to bypass a safe protected by glass relockers.

Ceramic Tech Today

Do you want cheese and seaweed with your AeroClay?

Published on June 7th, 2009 | Edited By: RussJordan

In this extreme closeup, the clay aerogel's "house of cards" structure is evident. The gaps between the layers of clay were created by freeze-drying the sample. Coating the aerogel's surfaces with a polymer will help retain its spongy shape. Credit: Suneel Bandi/Case Western Reserve University

Freeze drying causes gaps to form between the layers of clay. Credit: Suneel Bandi/Case Western Reserve University

The sustainability of a product often is found in applications not originally considered. A case in point is AeroClay, a product developed by Case Western Reserve University professor David Schiraldi.

AeroClay is a patented foamlike and environmentally friendly clay-based polymer. AeroClay materials feel and act like foam, without injection of gas bubbles or environmentally unfriendly CFCs.

The clay aerogels are produced in a wide variety of shapes using a freeze-drying technique. If the aerogel is later fired to 800ºC, it undergoes a chemical transformation. Depending on additives, the AeroClay can become a hard, lightweight ceramic, a bendable material, a superlightweight magnet, an electrical conductor, or a catalyst.

Schiraldi’s group recently combined clay, water and milk protein (casein) found in wastewater from the cheese-making process. The result was a high-temperature polymer that withstands temperatures to 300ºC. The new material has the potential to insulate pipes that carry high-temperature materials throughout refineries.

They also experimented with the seaweed protein alginate, but the casein resulted in a better product.

Schiraldi told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he’s formed a company, AeroClay Inc. to try to market new AeroClay products. One he mentioned is a light-weight cat litter.

“Grandma goes to the store and has to carry this 30- or 40-pound tub back,” Schiraldi told the newspaper. “What if you could get the same function, and instead of 30 or 40 [pounds], it was 3 or 4? Would you pay an extra dollar for that tub? A lot of people would.”


There could be a virus in your battery

Published on June 7th, 2009 | Edited By: RussJordan

Angela Belcher holds a display of the virus-built battery she helped engineer. The battery -- the silver-colored disc -- is being used to power an LED. Credit: Donna Coveney

Angela Belcher holds a display of the virus-built battery she helped engineer. The battery – the silver-colored disc – is being used to power an LED. Credit: Donna Coveney

But don’t worry. It is a common bacteriophage. It can infect bacteria but is harmless to humans.

You might find this virus someday in the battery of your plug-in hybrid car.

What has happened is that MIT researchers now can genetically engineer viruses to build the anodes and cathodes of a lithium-ion battery. These batteries have the same energy capacity and power performance as state-of-the-art rechargables being considered for hybrid automobiles. They also might be used to power personal electronics.

The new batteries could be manufactured using an inexpensive and environmentally friendly process, at and below room temperature, and without harmful organic solvents. In fact, all of the materials in the battery are nontoxic.

Three years ago, an MIT research team led by Angela Belcher engineered viruses that could build an anode by coating themselves with cobalt oxide and gold and self-assembling to form a nanowire. Cathodes are more difficult to build because they must be highly conducting to be a fast electrode. MIT professors Gerbrand Ceder and Michael Strano genetically engineered viruses that first coat themselves with iron phosphate, then attract carbon nanotubes to create a highly conductive material.

Incorporating carbon nanotubes increases cathode conductivity without adding much weight. The new batteries can be charged and discharged 100 times without losing capacitance. This is fewer cycles than current lithium-ion batteries, but Belcher expects them to be able to go much longer.

Ceramic Tech Today

Europium’s superconductivity discovered

Published on June 7th, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray

Inside of the diamond cell: In the middle is the coil system around the diamond anvil, which picks up the shielding signal from the superconducting sample.

Inside of the diamond cell: In the middle is the coil system around the diamond anvil, which picks up the shielding signal from the superconducting sample. Credit: James Schilling, Washington Univ.

A duo from Washington University in St. Louis reports they have for the first time found a way to tap superconductivity properties of europium.

In work funded by the materials research division of NSF, WUSTL professor James Schilling and then-doctoral student Mathiewos Debessai found that europium becomes superconducting at 1.8 K (-456°F) and 80 GPa (790,000 atmospheres) of pressure, making it the 53rd known elemental superconductor and the 23rd at high pressure. Schilling and Debessai used a diamond anvil and coil system to conduct their measurements.

“It has been seven years since someone discovered a new elemental superconductor,” Schilling said. “It gets harder and harder because there are fewer elements left in the periodic table.”

Europium isn’t an obvious superconductor. As a rare earth element, its natural magnetic properties actually run counter to superconductivity. “Superconductivity and magnetism hate each other. To get superconductivity, you have to kill the magnetism,” Schilling explained.

However, armed with the insight that europium should be the easiest of the rare earths to lose magnetic properties under high compression, the researchers. “When europium atoms condense to form a solid, only two electrons per atom are released and europium remains magnetic. Applying sufficient pressure squeezes a third electron out and europium metal becomes trivalent. Trivalent europium is nonmagnetic, thus opening the possibility for it to become superconducting under the right conditions,” Schilling said.

“Theoretically, the elemental solids are relatively easy to understand because they only contain one kind of atom,” Schilling said. “By applying pressure, however, we can bring the elemental solids into new regimes, where theory has difficulty understanding things. When we understand the element’s behavior in these new regimes, we might be able to duplicate it by combining the elements into different compounds that superconduct at higher temperatures.”

Schilling and Debessai’s findings are published in a recent issue of Physical Review Letters in an article titled “Pressure-induced Superconducting State of Europium Metal at Low Temperatures.” Schilling is also presenting their research at the International Conference on High Pressure Science and Technology in July, 2009, in Tokyo, Japan.

Ceramic Tech Today

Air-lithium battery in the works?

Published on June 7th, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray

Credit: Peter Bruce

Credit: Peter Bruce

Using something of the same concept behind zinc-air batteries, a group of scientists in the UK have attained a proof-of-concept version of a lithium-air battery that they say could significantly increase a batteries energy capacity or decrease its bulkiness

A story in New Scientist quotes St. Andrews University researcher Peter Bruce as saying, “The major barrier to increasing the energy density of these batteries is the positive electrode,” he says. “Everyone wants to find a way to push up the amount of lithium stored there, which would raise the capacity.”

Bruce’s lithium-air battery has a positive electrode composed of porous (and therefore low weight) carbon and a lithium salt electrolyte solution. The electrolyte can easily soak into the porous carbon electrode. As the battery discharges, a membrane allows oxygen into the battery. The lithium reacts with the oxygen to form lithium oxide in the openings in the electrode. Under recharging conditions, the lithium oxide reverts to lithium ions and oxygen.

“By using oxygen from the environment instead you save weight and volume because you don’t have to carry the reagents around inside the battery – you just need the carbon scaffold,” Bruce told New Scientist.

Bruce says a prototype (400 milliamp hours per gram)  has already beaten the capacity-to-weight ratios of small conventional lithium batteries by a factor of eight, and says a 10-fold improvement is still attainable.


New method for dating ceramic materials

Published on June 7th, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray

Schematic of rehydoxylation dating method. Credit: Moira

Schematic of rehydoxylation dating method. Credit: Moira

Carbon dating has been used for decades to provide accurate ages of ancient organic materials. Now archeologists have a similar – and fairly simple – technique for accurately dating heat-fired ceramic materials: rehydroxylation dating.

The method exploits the ceramic property of chemically reacting with atmospheric moisture after firing. This reaction causes the material to very slowly gain weight over its lifetime.

A team of members from the Universities of Manchester and Edinburgh discovered rehydroxylation dating and is currently working with the Museum of London. Together, they have been able to date brick samples from a number of historical eras with great accuracy.

The breakthrough actually began in 2003 when the groups discovered a framework for calculating how the rate of reaction between ceramic and water varies over time. They take a small sample of the ceramic and then weigh it with a microbalance. They then heat the sample to 500ºC (thus removing the water). The sample is again monitored with a microbalance to establish the rate at which the ceramic rehydrates. Then, it is a relatively simple matter to calculate the age of the ceramic by extrapolating the information to calculate the time it will take to regain the mass lost on heating

Thus far, they have much success with objects up to 2,000 years old and believe they can extend the technique another 8,000 years.

Tests included a ‘mystery brick.” Archeologists had already knew the age of the brick was between 339 and 344 years. The rehydroxylation method predicted that the brick was 340 years old.

The full research team  was comprised of  Moira Wilson, Margaret Carter, William Hoff, Ceren Ince, Shaun Savage and Bernard McKay from UM, and Chris Hall from UE plus Ian Betts from the Museum, and the team’s findings have been published online by the Proceedings of the Royal Society A.

Wilson noted that their method might be useful if several other applications. One obvious one she mentioned would be to detect forgeries in the archeological world. But she also raised another intriguing application. “The method could also be turned on its head and used to establish the mean temperature of a material over its lifetime, if a precise date of firing were known,” said Wilson. “This could potentially be useful in climate change studies.”


ACerS launches new glass research journal

Published on May 31st, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray

After nearly a year of behind-the-scenes planning, the American Ceramic Society just announced that it is launching a new journal on advanced glass research. This new peer-reviewed quarterly will be called the International Journal of Applied Glass Science.

The journal’s debut is timely as new generations of glass and glass-related materials are increasingly being called upon to play a role in many of the world’s emerging technologies, including energy, medical, transportation, construction, environmental, optical and defense technologies spheres.

ACerS President John Kaniuk says IJAGS will encompass the description, application, modeling, experimental investigation and manufacture of glass materials.

L. David Pye, dean and professor of glass science, emeritus, at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University has agreed to serve as the founding editor of IJAGS. Pye will be aided by an international advisory board. Pye, who is the past president of ACerS, says the new journal “will advance all of the branches of materials science and engineering, and it will support the growing role of glass applications throughout society.” He said the first issue will be released in March 2010.

ACerS says the production of IJAGS will be done in partnership with leading science publisher Wiley-Blackwell. ACerS and Wiley-Blackwell already have a strong publishing track record and jointly produce two other peer-reviewed journals: The Journal of the American Ceramic Society and the International Journal of Applied Ceramic Technology. These journals are among the most cited ceramic publications in the world.

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