Home > Resources > Publications > Weekly News Digest

Foresight Nanotech Institute Weekly News Digest: February 1, 2006

In this issue:

Foresight Nanotechnology Challenges

Foresight has articulated six critical challenges that humanity faces which can be addressed by nanotechnology. In the Weekly News Digest we identify news items, research breakthroughs, and events citing current research and applications providing the stepping stones to solutions to these challenges.

1. Meeting global energy needs with clean solutions

Foresight note: This startup uses nanostructures as catalysts in their process that converts sugars and glycerin to power.

Headline: Virent startup hydrogen from biomass system
News source: Fuel Cell Today & Quote from CEO

Virent Energy Systems today announced that it has successfully started up the first ever demonstration system capable of directly converting sugars and glycerin into power. The system, purchased by Madison, Gas & Electric (MGE), is based on Virent's patented Aqueous Phase Reforming (APR) process, a carbon neutral, one-step method for on-demand production of hydrogen, natural gas and/or other fuel gases for distributed power systems from widely available renewable biomass. The MGE system integrates a Virent APR System with a hydrogen/natural gas fueled generator set provided by City Engines. The system has demonstrated the ability to deliver a minimum of 10kW of environmentally friendly power to the MGE grid since its startup at the beginning of this year at Virent's location in Madison, Wisconsin.

Virent was able to customize the gas production from its APR system to deliver desired compositions of hydrogen, natural gas and other fuel gases to the generator set. The system currently operates on pure glycerin. In the future, the Company will use a lower grade of glycerin that is generated as a byproduct of the biodiesel production process. Virent also intends to use sugar in the form of sorbitol and glucose as a feedstock for this initial unit. Over the next 18 months, this system will generate needed reliability and performance data for an APR system in a live environment.

Quote from Eric Apfelbach, Chief Executive Officer of Virent to Foresight

"Our process is called Aqueous Phase Reforming, which is a new way to process sugars and other liquid feedstocks. Our systems use nanostructured catalysts to enable the high rates of chemical conversion at low temperatures (240 C). This process represents a very high efficiency way to turn sugars or other biomass streams to energy."

Virent Energy Systems

2. Providing abundant clean water globally

Foresight note: This is a case study by ITT Fluid Technology discussing how they use various levels of filtration, including nanofiltration, to get close to zero discharge for a large customer. It is very detailed on what needs to happen to water that is used for bio manufacturing.

Headline: System helps Pfizer plant towards zero discharge
News source: ITT Fluid Technology & Water and Wastewater

Puerto Rico supports a large pharmaceutical manufacturing infrastructure. With favorable tax incentives and a sophisticated communications and transportation system, many of the most prescribed medicines in the U.S. are manufactured in Puerto Rico. Like most islands with modern infrastructure and manufacturing, Puerto Rico faces a finite supply of resources — especially water.

The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has a leading manufacturing presence in Puerto Rico, with five plants employing more than 5,500 people that produce some of the company's top selling medications including Celebrex, Lipitor, Neurontin, Norvasc, Zoloft, and Zithromax. At its facility in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, Pfizer, initiated a water conservation and waste minimization program with a goal of reusing 100 percent of its wastewater.
ITT Fluid Technology

3. Increasing the health and longevity of human life

Foresight note: Here is yet another instance where nature provides blueprints on to how to create things on the nanoscale in the laboratory.

Headline: Secrets of sea yield stronger artificial bone
News source: Physorg.com

The next generation of artificial bone may rely on a few secrets from the sea. Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have harnessed the way seawater freezes to develop a porous, scaffolding-like material that is four times stronger than material currently used in synthetic bone.

Although still in the investigational stages, variations of this substance could also be used in a myriad of applications in which strength and lightness are imperative, such as dental implants, airplane manufacturing and computer hardware.

As reported in the January 27, 2006 edition of the journal Science, the Berkeley Lab scientists developed a composite that mirrors the intricate structure of nacre, which is a finely layered substance found in some mollusk shells, such as oysters and abalone. Scientists have long sought to duplicate nacre's strength and lightness in ceramic materials, but nacre's architecture varies at several length scales, from micrometers to nanometers. Replicating all of these scales — each of which contributes to the overall performance of nacre — in a synthetic substance is extremely difficult. Then, the Berkeley Lab researchers thought of sea ice.

"We allow nature to guide the process. Seawater can freeze like a layered material, so why not use this property to cast ceramics that mimic nacre," says Antoni Tomsia of Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division, who developed the composite with fellow Materials Sciences Division researchers Sylvain Deville, Eduardo Saiz, and Ravi Nalla.
Berkeley Lab article

4. Maximizing the productivity of agriculture

Foresight note: This article discusses using gold-palladium nanoparticles as an environmentally friendly catalyst to produce flavors, spices and perfumes.

Headline: The sweet smell of nano-success — Cleaner method of making spices, perfumes moves one step closer to reality
News source: EurekAlert

Materials scientists at Lehigh University and catalyst chemists at Cardiff University have uncovered secrets of the "nanoworld" that promise to lead to cleaner methods of producing, among other things, spices and perfumes.

The materials scientists, headed by Christopher Kiely of Lehigh, have determined the structure of a type of gold-palladium nanoparticle, which is the active component of a new environmentally friendly catalyst that promotes the oxidation of primary alcohols to aldehydes.

The researchers reported their results Jan. 20 in Science magazine, one of the world's top science journals. The article was titled "Solvent-free oxidation of primary alcohols to aldehydes using titania-supported gold-palladium catalysts."

The oxidation of primary alcohols to aldehydes is of fundamental importance to the chemical, pharmaceutical and perfume industries. The oxidation of aromatic primary alcohols, such as vanillyl and cinnamyl alcohol, is of particular importance in the manufacture of perfumes and flavorings. Almost 95 percent of the worlds' vanilla (vanillyl aldehyde) is synthetically manufactured.
Christopher J. Kiely

5. Making powerful information technology available everywhere

Foresight note: Semiconductor R&D is now highly focused on the nanoscale.

Headline: Philips places its chips on nanowires
News Source: Smalltimes by Collin Ashruf

Despite changes afoot at their troubled semiconductor division, researchers at Dutch multinational Philips Electronics continue to develop technology that will enable the next generation of chips. They are among a handful of companies using nanoscale components to make transistors ever smaller.

"Historically the semiconductor roadmap has always been about more Moore," said Ronald Wolf, group leader at Philips Research, referring to Intel co-founder Gordon Moore. Moore predicted that chips would need to continually shrink to meet consumer demand. "Today, instead, we're looking at more than Moore, trying to equip silicon with added functionality."
Philips Semiconductor

6. Enabling the development of space

Foresight note: Space exploration, particularly when we leave the solar system, will need efficient propellants. This article details breakthroughs that will result in a lower-weight, higher yield propellant.

Headline: Space propulsion breakthrough: new spacecraft ion engine tested
News source: Physorg.com

The European Space Agency and the Australian National University have successfully tested a new design of spacecraft ion engine that dramatically improves performance over present thrusters and marks a major step forward in space propulsion capability.

Ion engines are a form of electric propulsion and work by accelerating a beam of positively charged particles (or ions) away from the spacecraft using an electric field. ESA is currently using electric propulsion on its Moon mission, SMART-1. The new engine is over ten times more fuel efficient than the one used on SMART-1. "Using a similar amount of propellant as SMART-1, with the right power supply, a future spacecraft using our new engine design wouldn't just reach the Moon, it would be able to leave the Solar System entirely," says Dr Roger Walker of ESA's Advanced Concepts Team, Research Fellow in Advanced Propulsion and Technical Manager of the project.
European Space Agency Advanced Concept Team

Productive Nanosystems – News & Events

Productive Nanosystems will be molecular-scale systems that make other useful materials and devices that are nanostructured. In this section of the Weekly News Digest we will cover news, presentations or research that lead to Productive Nanosystems.

Keynote: Engineering from the Bottom Up – Productive Nanosystems and the Future of Technology

K. Eric Drexler, PhD, Chief Technical Advisor, Nanorex, and Founder of Foresight Nanotech Institute will give a keynote at the Nanomanufacturing Conference & Exhibits sponsored by Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME)
Los Angeles, California
March 29, 2006

Progress in molecular and nanoscale technologies has provided components and techniques that enable the engineering of artificial molecular machine systems, including early-generation productive nanosystems. These early generation systems will have a wide range of applications, and can be used to build more advanced systems. Exploratory design and analysis shows this can lead to large-scale productive nanosystems that can make macro products with atomic precision and can greatly exceed the productivity of conventional manufacturing. The recently launched Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems will describe the next steps and longer-term opportunities at this frontier of engineering.

Spotlight on Foresight Members

Foresight Nanotech Institute has several membership levels. One of these levels is the corporate membership. This week we thank our corporate members for their support.

Thank You Corporate Members

Biophan Technologies, Inc.
Dorsey & Whitney LLP
Draper Fisher Jurvetson
Foley & Lardner LLP
Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady-Falk & Rabkin
NanoHoldings LLC
Nanorex, Inc.
Nanosciences Technologies
Sun Microsystems
Tarlton Properites
The Waitt Family Foundation

List of member benefits:

To become a corporate member, follow this link:

Nanotech Events & News

Headline: Leading Nanotechnology Manufacturer Says EPA Draft White Paper Neglects Federal Funding of R&D
News source: PR Newswire

Altair Nanotechnologies Inc. said today that an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) draft white paper on nanotechnology does not go far enough in calling for federal funding of studies on the environmental, health and safety impacts of nanotechnology. The EPA solicited public comment on the paper from Dec. 21, 2005, to Jan. 31, 2006.

"An otherwise excellent report, this draft falls short of our expectations in one area: providing a compendium of federal funding programs that could support private-sector and public/private-sector collaborations to fill current research gaps," said Alan J. Gotcher, Altair Nanotechnologies CEO. "Since nanomaterial innovators and nano-commercializers are the ones 'on the ground,' it's critical to have them collaborating with government and academic research groups in these R&D programs."

Molecular Medicine Tri-Conference
February 21-24, 2006
San Francisco, California

Call for Nominations – Deadline March 1, 2006
Nanotech Briefs – Second Annual Nano50

Nanotechnology Symposium: Nanoparticles in the Workplace
May 13, 2006
AIAH's Aerosol Technology Committee
Chicago, Illinois
Event web site

Headline: FEI's Titan(TM) S/TEM Receives Industry Honors
News source: PharmaLive

Within months of its release, FEI's Titan(TM) scanning transmission electron microscope (S/TEM), the world's most powerful, commercially available microscope, has earned four prestigious awards for its design, performance and innovation. Awards include the coveted iF Design Award bestowed by the International Design Forum (iF) in Hannover, Germany, and the Innovative Product of the Year Award presented by the Oregon Tech Awards in the United States. The Titan S/TEM was also selected by editorial boards as one of the Top Products of 2005 by Solid State Technology magazine and one of the Greatest Hits of 2005 by MICRO magazine.

Editor’s Pick

Dear readers — When reviewing news for this digest, I often read about something that I think is cool, but it doesn't fit within the usual editorial categories of the News Digest. This section highlights a nanotech advance or idea that I think is especially cool.

This writer covers nanotechnology quickly. He discusses the definition of nanotech, carbon nanotubes, fullerenes, coatings, materials, nanomachines, nanotoxicity, grey goo, and the potential benefits. What I like the best are his opening and closing statements.

Headline: Nano this, Nano that, what the...
News source: Phys.org by Philip Dunn

Opening Statement
"Nano has officially become the most misused word in the English language. Everything from the Ipod Nano to anything smaller than a Mac truck gets "nanoed" by clueless — or savvy, take your pick — marketing experts. It's crept into everyday use as well: I'll be there in a nano.' Sure you will."

Closing Statement
"But with all the money flowing into nanotech research, safety concerns will like as not be pushed aside to advance science — much as they have in the past. At what price progress? With all the potential benefits nanotechnology has to offer, it's sure to be a bargain."

Join the discussion – visit our blog Nanodot led by Christine Peterson.

About The Foresight Nanotech Institute Weekly News Digest

The Foresight Nanotech Institute Weekly News Digest is emailed every week to 15,000 individuals in more than 125 countries. Foresight Nanotech Institute is a member-supported organization. We offer membership levels appropriate to meet the needs and interests of individuals and companies. To find out more about membership follow this link:

Judy Conner, Director of Communications at Foresight Nanotech Institute, is the editor of the Foresight Nanotech Institute Weekly News Digest. If you would like to submit a news item or contact her with comments about the news digest, please send an email to: editor@foresight.org.

Special thanks to Foresight Nanotechnology Challenges Research Volunteer Michelle Hubbard, MSc Candidate, Department of Biology, University of Saskatchewan

Foresight Nanotech Institute
PO Box 61058
Palo Alto, CA 94306 USA
tel +1 650 289.0860
fax +1 650.289.0863

If you were forwarded this email from a friend and would like to subscribe yourself, follow this link and sign up for our free electronic membership.

If you wish to no longer receive nanotechnology email from Foresight Nanotech Institute, please send us an email to foresight@foresight.org

Thank you!