Notwithstanding all the buzz about renewable energy sources, the dirty facts are that coal accounts for 41% of electricity production worldwide. Since, realistically, coal will be a mainstay of electricity generation for many years to come, research into more environmentally friendly use of coal energy is picking up steam. One technology for more efficient power production centers around the solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC). Especially gasified carbon fuel cells offer great prospects for the most efficient utilization of a wide variety of carbonaceous solids fuels, including coal, biomass, and municipal solid waste. Researchers have now developed a self-cleaning technique that could allow solid oxide fuel cells to be powered directly by coal gas at operating temperatures as low as 750 degrees Celsius.
One enabling technology for printed and flexible electronics devices is the use of a special silver nanoparticle ink that allow the patterning of silver microelectrodes by omnidirectional printing. Taking an important step towards enabling desktop manufacturing - or personal fabrication - using very low cost, ubiquitous printing tools, researchers have now demonstrated a pen-on-paper approach as a low-cost, portable fabrication route for printed electronic and optoelectronic devices. The team demonstrates the fabrication of electronic art, flexible displays, conductive text, and radio frequency antennas with their technique. The printed features can withstand repeated bending and folding while maintaining high conductivity.
Among various technologies, reverse osmosis membranes have been widely used for water reclamation. However, external energy required and high operational pressure used make reverse osmosis membrane water reclamation processes energy intensive - not exactly an advantage given the rising cost of energy and the negative climate impact of fossil fuels. Today, forward osmosis is a well-recognized osmotic process for producing clean water with a bright future as it uses a natural phenomenon and does not require any operational pressure hence it saves large amount of energy compared with reverse osmosis process. Researchers now describe a novel forward osmosis membrane that presents remarkable properties superior over conventional membrane support layers.
It is not often that the prefix multipliers kilo and nano come together, and when they do, it usually is in the opening chapters of physical sciences textbooks where the point is made that the universe around us spans enormous space and time scales while operating in unimaginably small ones. We are truly awestruck and inspired by the tension. Kilometer-long nanowires do have a similar eponymous echo. Researchers have now reported the first successful fabrication of arrays of millions of ordered indefinitely long nanowires and nanotubes in a flexible polymer fiber. The results are kilometer-long nanowires - a novel approach to nanowire fabrication that might bring with it fresh solutions.
Conventional metal patterning in the electronics industry is done by a photo-resist patterning with a photo-mask and metal evaporation in a vacuum chamber. This technology require expensive vacuum conditions, high processing temperatures, many steps, and toxic chemicals to fabricate one layer of a metal pattern. Furthermore, it is almost impossible to change the design of the expensive photomask once it is fabricated. Researchers have now developed a high-resolution metal nano-patterning technique by combining solution deposited metal nanoparticles and a femtosecond laser without using conventional vacuum deposition or photo-masks. With this method, the time and cost associated with high-resolution metal patterning can be reduced dramatically without using time-consuming vacuum processes and the pattern design can be easily changed in a digital manner without using expensive photo-masks.
Researchers demonstrate a new single element nanoscale device, based on the successfully commercialized phase change material technology, emulating the functionality and the plasticity of biological synapses. In the nervous system, a synapse is the junction between two neurons, enabling the transmission of electric messages from one neuron to another and the adaptation of the message as a function of the nature of the incoming signal - something that is called plasticity. Synapses dominate the architecture of the brain and are responsible for massive parallelism, structural plasticity, and robustness of the brain. Therefore, a compact nanoelectronic device emulating the functions and plasticity of biological synapses will be the most important building block of brain-inspired computational systems.
Paper has emerged as a focus area for researchers developing innovative techniques for printed basic electronics components. Another area where paper could lead to low-cost innovative devices and applications is lab-on-a-chip technology. Currently, these microfluidic devices are fairly expensive due to their lithography-based fabrication process with channels patterned in glass or plastic and tiny pumps and valves directing the flow of fluids. Inexpensive paper-based sensing kits already play an important role in ready-to-use diagnostics. Researchers have even managed to create inexpensive microfluidic platforms on hydrophobic paper with laser treatments. In a further advance, scientists have now fabricated a paper-based metamaterial device which can be potentially utilized for quantitative analysis in biochemical sensing applications.
Radiation damage to materials is a major issue for builders of nuclear power plants as well as spacecraft engineers. The former have to worry about material failure due to the destructive radiation created within the reactor; the later are concerned about the exposure to space radiation of both materials and humans during long-term space missions. There is a consensus that interface engineering is the way to go to to improve resistance to extreme conditions in general and to reach radiation tolerance in particular - interfaces are places where defects created by energetic collision in solids can annihilate each other and thus render the material immune to irradiation. All kind of interfaces are being explored, in particular those formed by the contact between two different solid state phases.