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Ceramic Tech Today

Polymer capacitors to match Li-ion batteries?

Published on June 22nd, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray

Credit: Eamax

Credit: Eamax

New developments give hope for producing capacitors with the same energy density performance as lithium-ion batteries.

Researchers at Eamex Corp. of Osaka, Japan, announced that they have produced a solid polymer capacitor with a greater electrode surface area in order to achieve a performance of up to 600 watt hours per liter. Eamex says it hopes the capacitors could ultimately be used in applications such as electric vehicles and notebook computers.

Eamex’s capacitor is a solid polymer electrolyte membrane sandwiched in metal plating electrodes. The company says it has succeeded in increasing the effective surface area of the electrodes, enhancing adsorption.

Capacitors are seen as a possible improvement on battery technology because they could provide higher levels of power and be recharged very quickly (at a fraction of the time a typical Li-ion battery would take).

Although the company admitted, “conditions must be optimized to achieve the 600 Wh/l performance,” the device still provides much greater energy density than existing electric double-layer capacitors.

Eamex claims that in prototypes, it can increase the equivalent surface area by 20,000 times through their proprietary plating techniques. The company announced a capacitor with an energy density per unit volume of 100Wh/L back in December 2008, but the effective surface area was only about 1,000 times larger than that of existing electrodes.

The latest prototype is extremely small, measuring only 0.2 x 0.5 cm with a thickness of 31 μm. In order to commercialize the capacitor, its size must be increased and a stacked structure needs to be developed for larger capacity. Eamax is promoting joint research efforts with other manufacturers that possess the related technologies.


The world’s first controllable molecular gear

Published on June 19th, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray

Researchers in Singapore have advanced the science of nanotechnology by becoming the first in the world to invent a molecular gear of only 1.2 nm in size whose rotation can be deliberately controlled. This achievement was published on June 14 in Nature Materials.

The gear is made of carbon compounds and can freely rotate around a central axis. Scientists from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research’s (ASTAR) Institute of Materials Research and Engineering, led by Christian Joachim, can control the rotation of the molecular gear using a Scanning Tunneling Microscope. It’s the smallest molecular gear yet made, and since its rotation is controlled and not random, scientists are calling it a break-through in nanotechnology.

Researchers are able to turn the gear to nine different and stable positions in either direction. The development could lead to the production of more complex machinery.

In an ASTAR news release,  Joachim says, “Making a gear the size of a few atoms is one thing, but being able to deliberately control its motions and actions is something else altogether. What we’ve done at IMRE is to create a truly complete working gear that will be the fundamental piece in creating more complex molecular machines that are no bigger than a grain of sand.”

Joachim and his team discovered that the control the gear position  by manipulating the electrical connection between the molecule and the tip of a STM while it was “pinned” one of the molecule’s axis.

Also in the ASTAR release, executive director of IMRE, Lim Khiang Wee says, “Christian [Joachim] and his team’s discovery shows that it may one day be possible to create and manipulate molecular-level machines. Such machines may, for example, walk on DNA tracks in the future to deliver therapeutics to heal and cure.”


Center to leverage NC nanobiotech research

Published on June 18th, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray

The Center of Innovation in Nanobiotechnology, located in North Carolina, is going to be using a new $2.5 million grant to bring to market some of the biotech discoveries being made at universities in the state.

The grant – which actually represents a “Phase II” grant – is from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. NCBC started the COI program in 2008, “to together North Carolina’s best scientific and technical minds in the life sciences. This program is designed to focus the state’s efforts in biotechnology research, development and commercialization in targeted industrial sectors important to economic development and job creation . . . (NCBC) will work with university researchers, technology transfer offices, industrial partners, non-profit stake holders as well as regional and state-wide community leaders to establish nine Centers of Innovation (COI). Initial Centers of Innovation will complement efforts already under way in the state to align academic and industrial resources.”

COIN is just one of several “Centers of Innovation” in North Carolina. So far, NCBC has funded four with $100,000 Phase I seed monies. The other centers are the Advanced Medical Technology Center of Innovation, the Marine Biotechnology Center of Innovation and the Drug Discovery Center of Innovation.

COIN used the Phase I funds to hire an executive director and forge a business plan. This Phase II round of funding is to be used to let COIN mature and spin itself off from NCBC as a self-sustaining entity.

Three universities initially played major roles in the in the beginning of COIN: North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Wake Forest University. Now, Duke University, North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and UNC-Charlotte are being brought into the picture.

In a NCBC news release, Gwyn Riddick, director of the Biotechnology Center’s Piedmont Triad Office, is quoted as saying, “This is the first major grant developed jointly by these three research universities. In developing nanobiotechnology, we aim to create a strong, region-specific science brand for the Piedmont Triad and the state.”

Brooks Adams, COIN executive director, says in the release that, “Our mission is to connect the dots in the world of nanobiotechnology, including academic and industry researchers, entrepreneurs, managers and investors. This center will use nanobiotech to add value, meet market needs, solve problems and benefit humanity. The result will be economic growth and job creation across the state.”

According to its website, NCBC is a private, non-profit corporation supported by the state’s General Assembly.

Ceramic Tech Today

Vertical-axis turbines may find a home inside transmission towers

Published on June 18th, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray


Designers' concept of Wind-it: vertical-axis turbines inserted within electrical-transmission towers.

Wind turbines aren’t exactly a “next generation” idea, but three French designers have introduced an innovative pairing of wind turbines and preexisting electrical-transmission towers.

Architects Nicola Delon and Julien Choppin, and engineer Raphaël Ménard’s vertical-axis turbines were awarded architecture and design magazine Metropolis‘ 2009 Next Generation prize. This year’s theme was titled: Fix Our Energy Addiction. The group presented a concept they called Wind-it: “egg-beater” turbines loaded onto the core of transmission towers.

“The genius of the proposal is that it solved probably the biggest issue of wind production, which is where to locate these very large structures,” says Alexandros Washburn, New York’s chief urban designer and judge for the competition.

Horizontal-axis wind turbines are the most common, but simply would not work with the awkward angles of preexisting electrical-transmission towers. Vertical-axis turbines would. Placing the turbine within the existing structure also brings the source of power directly to the transmission lines, eliminating lost energy.

Integrative designs such as these truly have a worldwide appeal. Obama’s energy stimulus package allocates nearly $50 billion to energy, most of it renewable; the EU hopes to draw 20 percent of energy from renewable sources within the next decade; and the Chinese government says it will have 100 gigawatts of wind-power capacity by 2020.

There are of course some technical disadvantages which render the design difficult, if not impossible, to implement. First and foremost, transmission towers aren’t built to withstand the additional weight of the turbines. Structural reinforcements could be a costly and complicated necessity. Also, Wind-it’s design stacks turbines from the ground up, with the largest turbine lowest to the ground. As a rule, the higher in the sky, the stronger the gusts of winds. “There is a slight naivete about wind power’s potential in the design,” says Chris Garvin, a partner with the environmental consultancy Terrapin Bright Green, “but it’s compelling nonetheless.”

In places where infrastructure is broken or sparse, the team proposes building new towers that have the dual responsibility of generating wind power and transmitting electricity. This is where designers believe Wind-it would thrive – areas undergoing complete infrastructure design and/or revitalization. Turkey is looking to retrofit its superannuated transmission lines, and China’s $600 billion stimulus plan promises to help with grid infrastructure. Wind-it could play a key role in emphasizing that clean energy is not a luxury but a necessity.

In the United States, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming are prime wind harvesting grounds, but transmitting that energy to areas where it is most needed is a obstacle facing any wind-power entrepreneur.


Philippines launches 10-year nano initiative

Published on June 18th, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray

The online version of the Philippines-based Inquirer newspaper reported yesterday that the nation is going to attempt to jump start itself into the nanotechnology business.

The publication says that the Philippine’s Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Advanced Science and Technology Research and Development Council (DOST-PCASTRD) has developed a 10-year strategy to create a commercially viable industry in the nanotech field.

PCASTRD’s roadmap targets the semiconductor, information technology, energy, agriculture, medicine and environment protection sectors.

DOST hopes to have annual budget of approximately $52 million for the next 10 years, starting in 2009, however, only $1.2 million has been ponied up so far for the inaugural projects.

The Inquirer reports that the leaders of the initiative say that the nanotech projects selected must have a direct payoff to the nation. “We’ve identified several national issues that have to be addressed and these should be the main focus of nanotechnology development,” says Fabian Dayrit, chairman of PCASTRD’s Technical Panel on Nanotechnology and dean for the Ateneo De Manila University School of Science and Engineering.

Dayrit suggests targets such as food packaging, nanodevice fabrication, environmental sensors and environmental treatment, corrosion resistant ceramics, water purification and in-vitro diagnostics in healthcare.

Importantly, government officials are linking the initiative to an education drive in the 10-year plan and want to integrate nanotechnology into the curriculum of all science and engineering courses. “We also want to spur interests among people that we have the capacity to do great things with nanotechnology,” Dayrit adds.

Materials & Innovations

Global Green New Deal

Published on June 18th, 2009 | Edited By: RussJordan

The United Nations Environment Programme has published a policy brief titled, “Global Green New Deal.” UNEP argues that the multiple crises that we currently face can be compared with those faced by FDR when he launched his “New Deal” in the face of the Great Depression.

FDR’s New Deal included a series of wide-ranging programs to provide employment and social security, reform tax policies and business practices, and stimulate the economy. The Global Green New Deal proposes similar leadership at the global level, while addressing the environment.

UNEP argues that while governments are devising new ways to solve the present crisis and prevent future ones, they should take the opportunity to address the impending crisis and sweeping impact of climate change.

One of the rationales UNEP provides for its GGND proposals is that dedication of even a small part of the enormous fiscal resources being released could achieve a critical mass of investment and employment to initiate sustainable environment programs.

UNEP presents three primary objectives for its GGND: (1) Make a major contribution to reviving the world economy, saving and creating jobs, and protecting vulnerable groups; (2) Reduce carbon deficiency and ecosystem degradation, putting economics on a path to clean and stable development; and (3) Further sustainable and inclusive growth, and end extreme poverty by 2015.

The policy brief suggests that a substantial portion of government “stimulus” funds around the world be directed toward creating a critical mass of infrastructure needed for an environmentally sustainable economy. Projects might include (1) retrofitting public buildings to become energy efficient, (2) greening and weatherizing homes and offices, (3) developing energy-efficient less-polluting mass-transportation modes, (4) using “greener” vehicles, (5) developing renewable energy infrastructures, and (6) investing in sustainable agriculture and freshwater systems, in particular in developing countries.

Some countries – at the national level – are already meeting or exceeding the one per cent suggested target.

For example, Republic of Korea, according to the report, is already spending $36 billion on “Green New Deal” projects, or around 3 per cent of GDP. The ROK claims that one million jobs will be created.

“The energy conservation and green building investments that form part of ROK’s Green New Deal amount to 0.5 per cent of GDP and the full, low carbon strategy accounts for 1.2 per cent of GDP,” says the report. The ROK will spend $7 billion on mass transit and railways over the next three years and $5.8 billion in energy conservation in villages and schools – 170,000 jobs

China, frequently a used by some as a punching bag on environmental issues, is expected to spend $140 billion or around 2 per cent of its GDP (about a quarter of the nations entire stimulus package) on green investments.

The report cites a study by the Peterson Institute of International Economics and the World Resources Institute that estimates that green energy investments in the United States could save the economy an average of $450 million a year for every $1 billion invested.

And that every $1 billion of government spending in this area will create around 30,000 job years and reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by close to 600,000 tons from 2012-2020.

Materials & Innovations

The Living Dead: Awakening nanocapacitors’ dead layer

Published on June 18th, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray

Scientists have taken materials-by-design to the next frontier: devices-by-design at the atomic level.

A recent issue of Nature Materials introduces theoretical developments hypothesizing that there is a way to overcome a big problem when one tries to shrink nanocapacitors. The authors of the paper believe  they can reverse the effects of a “dead layer” that is normally found in nanocapcitors, and believe they can reengineer those characteristics into memory storage capabilities that will lead to greatly improved computer memory, transistor density and speed.

Ferroelectric memory can offer powerful speed, density and permanent retention. However, shrinking capacitors to the nanoscale heretofore has lead to its degradation due to the presence of this dead layer at the interface between the thin film and electrodes.

Massimiliano Stengel

Until now, that pesky dead layer has acted as a nonferroelectric material, lowering capacitance. Massimiliano Stengel and his team have mathematically demonstrated that the dead layer can be rendered harmless in ultra thin capacitors to form an “undead layer.” In fact, the group says that by choosing a particular electrode make up, the undead zone actually can be made to improve capacitance.

Prior thinking regarded the dead layer as a defect caused by impurities. Stengel now confirms that this intrinsic effect exists even in a perfect interface. Further research is needed to determine optimum electrode and interface materials. But, their studies show that when using BaTiO3 ferroelectric film, a switch from SrRuO3 to platinum, the dead layers between film and electrode become undead and actually improve the capacitance of BaTiO3. The added capacitance would provide better stability to a nanocapacitor used as an electronic component.

They conclude that the role of these zones depend more on the force constant of the metal oxide bonds. “This result opens exciting new avenues for engineering the electrical properties of thin-film devices by exploiting the rich chemistry of metal-oxide interfaces. By using appropriate growth conditions, it may be well within the realm of possibility (although certainly challenging) to directly control the structure and termination of perovskite/simple metal interfaces, and thus take advantage of the effects described here.”

Ceramic Tech Today

Video of the week – SLAC’s X-ray laser achieves “first light”

Published on June 17th, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray

[flash http://ceramictechweekly.org/wp-content/video/lcls_laser_xray.flv mode=1 f={image=http://ceramictechweekly.org/wp-content/video/lcls_laser_xrayi.jpg}]

Materials research got a great new tool in late April when the Linac Coherent Light Source high-energy laser came to life at the SLAC National Accelerator Lab in Menlo Park, Calif.

The LCLS provides the world’s brightest, shortest pulses of “hard” X-rays that will be used for studying and understanding the arrangement of atoms in materials such as metals, semiconductors, ceramics, polymers, catalysts, plastics and biological molecules, with wide-ranging impact on advanced energy research and other fields.

“This milestone establishes proof-of-concept for this incredible machine, the first of its kind,” brags SLAC Director Persis Drell. “The LCLS team overcame unprecedented technical challenges to make this happen, and their work will enable frontier research in a host of fields. For some disciplines, this tool will be as important to the future as the microscope has been to the past.”

Initial tests produced laser light with a wavelength of 1.5 Angstroms – the shortest-wavelength, highest-energy X-rays ever created by any laser. To generate that light, the team had to align the electron beam with extreme precision. The beam cannot deviate from a straight line by more than about 5 micrometers per 5 meters – an astounding feat of engineering.

According the project director John Galayda, “This is the most difficult lightsource that has ever been turned on. It’s on the boundary between the impossible and possible, and within two hours of start-up these guys had it right on.”

Unlike conventional lasers, which use mirrored cavities to amplify light, the LCLS is a free-electron laser, creating light using free-flying electrons in a vacuum. The LCLS uses the final third of SLAC’s two-mile linear accelerator to drive electrons to high energy and through an array of “undulator” magnets that steer the electrons rapidly back and forth, generating a brilliant beam of coordinated X-rays. In last week’s milestone, LCLS scientists used only 12 of an eventual 33 undulator magnets to generate the facility’s first laser light.

The LCLS team is now honing the machine’s performance to achieve the beam quality needed for the first scientific experiments, slated to begin in September. With its ultrabright, ultrafast pulses, the LCLS will work much like a high-speed camera, capturing images of atoms and molecules in action. By stringing together many such images, researchers will create stop-motion movies that reveal the fundamental behavior of atoms and molecules on unprecedented timescales.

“The LCLS team saw a vision of a remarkable new tool for science that could be achieved by using the existing SLAC linear accelerator, and they delivered on that vision with remarkable speed and precision,” says Patricia Dehmer, acting director of DOE Office of Science. “The science that will come from the LCLS will be as astounding and as unexpected as was the science that came from the lasers of a few decades ago. We do not yet know all that the LCLS will reveal about the world around us. But we can be sure that the new results will excite and energize the scientific communities that we serve.”

Materials & Innovations

Ceradyne adds helmet capabilities to protection porfolio

Published on June 11th, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray

Credit: Diaphorm

Credit: Diaphorm

The acquisition of company that makes advanced military helmets broadens the strategic position of one of the leading ceramic armor makers in the United States. Ceradyne Inc. has announced that it has purchased the New Hampshire-based Diaphorm Technologies, a company that has been making innovative ballistic combat and non-combat helmets using proprietary technology. Already, Ceradyne is leveraging its new wing to respond to solicitations for new helmets for the Army and Marine Corps.

While business for defense-related businesses hasn’t been great, Ceradyne has been buoyed by recent demand for its ceramic inserts for combat vest. The company has also been sitting on a nice hoard of cash, about $220 million at the end of 2008. It is paying about $10 million for Diaphorm and given its cash position and the bargain prices that some companies might be going for, it wouldn’t be surprising to seem other acquisitions.

Ceradyne’s says its goal is to be “a world class manufacturer of Enhanced Combat Helmets.” With Diaphorm’s technology, Ceradyne hopes use its skill at high-volume technical manufacturing, supply-chain management and defense procurement skills to bring a nice addition to its product line and bottom line. Diaphorm’s uses Continuous Fiber Reinforced Composites to make its personal protection devices.

In a news release, David Reed, Ceradyne vice president and president of North American Operations is optimistic, “The acquisition paves the way for our entry into the protective combat and non-combat helmet market. This acquisition combines excellent technology with our ability to produce high-volume protective products for military applications.”

Indeed, Reed also says, “We’re also pleased to announce that yesterday we submitted the Ceradyne-Diaphorm response to the multi-year U.S. Marine/Army Enhanced Combat Helmet urgent and compelling substantial requirement.”

The Marines recently issued a solicitation for proposals to provide Enhanced Combat Helmets. The solicitation also contains the option to provide helmets to the Army.

Ceramic Tech Today

Fraunhofer making headway on transparent displays

Published on June 11th, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray

A transparent laptop screen? A window as a video display? It’s long been a dream and occasionally an expensive prototype, but Fraunhofer researchers say their light-permeable conductive coatings could soon make transparent displays commonplace and relatively inexpensive.

While some of these display already exist (usually made by a lithographic method) the costs are enormous, but scientists from several Fraunhofer Institutes are working to drive the production costs for conductive transparent coatings via two separate methods.

One method is to directly print the coatings using a sol-gel process, by which the coatings can be simply applied by printing. Direct printing is desirable compared to lithography because it would be relatively simple and far faster. In a Fraunhofer release, project manager Peer Löbmann says, “We have already been able to improve the conductivity of the printed coatings fivefold, which makes them suitable for displays, and we believe we can improve them even further. At present their conductivity is a tenth of that achieved by conventional coatings.”

The second method being tested is to use a p-type of conductive coating instead of the typical n-type. “[With n-type] semiconductors, electrons carry the current flow,” said Löbmann. “We are developing transparent coatings made of p-conducting materials, in which moving gaps between the electrons conduct the current.” P-type coatings, however, are turning out to have some problems with transparency and conductivity, but are likely good enough to be used to manufacture (combined with n-type materials, too) transparent diodes, transistors and solar cells.

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