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To better drive industrial reactions and store energy, scientists often start with microscopic particles with tiny pore channels. Because defects between particles can hamper performance, a PNNL research team created a “one-pot” method that produces tiny, complex and well-structured pyramids. This approach offers control over 3D material growth similar to that seen in nature – a vital benchmark for synthesis. Read more at

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To create more efficient catalysts, sensing and separation membrane, and energy storage devices, scientists often start with particles containing tiny pore channels. Defects between the particles can hamper performance. At Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a team created a one-pot method that produces complex, well-structured microscopic pyramids. This approach offers control over three-dimensional material growth similar to that seen in nature, a vital benchmark for material synthesis.

"It's relatively easy to grow thin layers of material," said Dr. Maria Sushko, a PNNL materials scientist who worked on the study. "Now, we can grow supported three-dimensional crystals that have a larger ordered structure on the inside as well -- a crystal within a crystal."

Methods: In the simplest terms, the team's approach takes advantage of a relationship among the atomic ordering of a silicon substrate, structure of organic template, and atomic structure of sodium silicate. When organic molecules and a sodium silicate precursor are combined in the right proportions and the solution is heated in the presence of the silicon surface, the silicon substrate directs the template's self-assembly along a specific crystallographic direction. The template directs the formation of sodium silicate along the same crystallographic direction of the substrate, ensuring near-perfect lattice matching between silicon and sodium silicate.

After a series of transformations, the organic template forms an array of well-defined spherical micelles several nanometers in diameter. The micelles are arranged in a cubic lattice and encapsulated into sodium silicate. The result is an array of oriented ordered porous pyramids with a well-defined cubic lattice of pores, confirmed by electron microscopes at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) EMSL, a scientific user facility.

In nature, proteins direct the growth of complex structures, such as shells, bone and tooth enamel. The team's novel approach provides precise control over materials architecture similar to that seen in nature. The scientists can vary the structure and size of the particles. Their system makes different structures, with different sizes and compositions, as needed. This level of control in the laboratory is a significant benchmark for materials synthesis.

Why is this important? Energy storage materials that are more efficient could the way we use renewable energy. More efficient catalysts, sensors, and separators that last longer and work harder could reduce the energy demands and waste from manufacturing plants and refineries. These technologies require innovative materials, and the team's technique offers a new way to create them. Now, scientists can grow well-defined three-dimensional structures on a surface in a single step. Growing a material directly on the surface eliminates steps in testing new ideas for electrodes or catalysts.

What's next? The team's technique is an important addition to the methods of synthesizing supported three-dimensional structures. The team is exploring ways to expand this technique beyond sodium silicate to other materials.

Acknowledgments: Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Division of Materials Sciences and Engineering at the +U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science under award KC020105-FWP12152 

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Identifying the right algae species for biofuel production can be like finding a needle in a haystack. Now, researchers at PNNL are leading a new project to develop a streamlined process to pare down numerous algae species to just a few – those that hold the most promise for #biofuel production. Learn more at

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A dozen glass cylinders containing a potential payload of bright green algae are exposed to hundreds of multi-colored lights, which provide all of sunlight's natural hues. The tiny LEDs brighten and dim to mimic the outdoors' constantly changing conditions. To further simulate a virtual cloud passing overhead, chillers kick in and nudge the algae a little cooler.

A new, approximately $6-million collaborative project is using this unique climate-simulating laboratory system as part of a new streamlined process to quickly pare down heaps of algae species into just a few that hold the most promise for renewable fuels.

Discovering which algae species is best suited to make biofuel is no small task. Researchers have tried to evaluate algae in test tubes, but often find lab results don't always mirror what happens when green goo is grown in outdoor ponds.

The Algae DISCOVR Project — short for Development of Integrated Screening, Cultivar Optimization and Validation Research — is trying out a new approach that could reduce the cost and the time needed to move promising algal strains from the laboratory and into production. At the end of the three-year pilot project, scientists hope to identify four promising strains from at least 30 initial candidates.

"Algae biofuel is a promising clean energy technology, but the current production methods are costly and limit its use," said the project's lead researcher, Michael Huesemann of the +U.S. Department of Energy's  Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). "The price of biofuel is largely tied to growth rates. Our method could help developers find the most productive algae strains more quickly and efficiently."

The project started this fall and is led by PNNL, out of its Marine Sciences Laboratory in Sequim, Washington. The project team includes three other DOE labs — +Los Alamos National Laboratory, +National Renewable Energy Laboratory - NREL and +Sandia National Labs — as well as +Arizona State University, Tempe Campus Center for Algae Technology and Innovation.

Step by step: The project's early work relies on PNNL's Laboratory Environmental Algae Pond Simulator mini-photobioreactors, also known as LEAPS. The system mimics the frequently shifting water temperatures and lighting conditions that occur in outdoor ponds at any given place on earth. The system consists of glass column photobioreactors that act like small ponds and are placed in rows to allow scientists to simultaneously grow multiple different types of algae strains. Each row of LEAPS mini-photobioreactors is exposed to unique temperature and lighting regimens thanks to heaters, chillers and heat exchangers, as well as colored lights simulating the sunlight spectrum — all of which can be changed every second.

The first phase of the team's multi-step screening process uses PNNL's photobioreactors to cultivate all 30 strains under consideration and evaluate their growth rates. Algae strains with suitable growth will be studied further to measure their oil, protein and carbohydrate content, all of which could be used to make biofuels. The algae will also be tested for valuable co-products such as the food dye phycocyanin, which could make algae biofuel production more cost-effective. The first phase will also involve evaluating how resistant strains are to harmful bacteria and predators that can kill algae.

Next, the team will look for strains that produce 20 percent more biomass, or organic matter used to make biofuel, than two well-studied algae strains. The top-performing strains will then be sorted to find individual cells best suited for biofuel production, such as those that contain more oil. Those strains will also be exposed to various stresses to encourage rapid evolution so they can, for example, survive in the higher temperatures outdoor ponds experience in the summer.

Outside the box: After passing those tests, the remaining strains will be grown in large outdoor ponds in Arizona. Researchers will examine how algae growth in the outdoor ponds compares with the algal biomass output predicted in earlier steps. Biomass will also be harvested from outdoor-grown algae for future studies.

Finally, the team will further study the final algae strains that fare best outdoors to understand how fast they grow in different lighting and temperature conditions. That data will then be entered into PNNL's Biomass Assessment Tool, which uses detailed data from weather stations and other sources to identify the best possible locations to grow algae. The tool will crunch numbers to help the team generate maps that illustrate the expected biomass productivity of each algae species grown in outdoor ponds at any location in the U.S.

Data and strains will be made public in the hopes that algae companies and other researchers will consider growing the most productive strains identified by the project.

This project is supported by DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Potential future work not included in the current project could include converting harvested algae into biofuels, examining operational changes such as crop rotation to further increase biomass growth, and assessing the technical feasibility and economic costs of making biofuel from algae selected through this process.

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A Philosophical Explosion

Previously, we started a tour through Europe that followed the introduction of an item called a "glass drop," "Prince Rupert's drop" or "Dutch tear." [1] Today we will explore the attempt of an enlightenment philosopher to explain the phenomenon. First, take a look at the dramatic video (below) of an actual glass drop exploding in slow motion.

In the late seventeenth century, the demonstration of glass drops was sweeping through the parlors of Europe. Consisting of nothing more than palm sized piece of glass with a bulbous nose and a tail that tapered to a point, this little item became a topic of fascination for intellectuals and experimenters alike. [2] Formed by simply letting a gob of glass drip into a bucket of cold water, the fat end could endure strong blows with a hammer, yet snap off the slender tail and the whole piece would erupt into a hail of glass dust and fragments.

Read the rest:

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In fairy tales, magical spells turn things to stone. In the desert of southeastern Washington state, it's a chemical reaction that converts carbon dioxide to rock. PNNL researchers injected CO2 into basalt lava flows a half mile underground … and in just two years, that carbon dioxide transformed to carbonate minerals. Learn more at

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Conventional wisdom said it would take thousands of years for this to occur. PNNL researchers thought differently after their lab tests demonstrated that the unique geochemical nature of basalts quickly react with CO2 to form carbonate minerals — something akin to limestone.

To prove the process operates the same deep underground, they injected nearly 1,000 tons of CO2 in a field study. The results can help inform the discussion about whether the greenhouse gas can be safely and permanently stored in ancient basalt flows.

From EurekAlert: In November, the Paris Climate Agreement goes into effect to reduce global carbon emissions. To achieve the set targets, experts say capturing and storing carbon must be part of the solution.

Several projects throughout the world are trying to make that happen. Now, a study on one of those endeavors, reported in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, has found that within two years, carbon dioxide (CO2) injected into basalt transformed into solid rock.

Lab studies on basalt have shown that the rock, which formed from lava millions of years ago and is found throughout the world, can rapidly convert CO2 into stable carbonate minerals. This evidence suggests that if CO2 could be locked into this solid form, it would be stowed away for good, unable to escape into the atmosphere.

But what happens in the lab doesn't always reflect what happens in the field.

One field project in Iceland injected CO2 pre-dissolved in water into a basalt formation, where it was successfully stored. And starting in 2009, researchers with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Montana-based Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership undertook a pilot project in eastern Washington to inject 1,000 tons of pressurized liquid CO2 into a basalt formation.

After drilling a well in the Columbia River Basalt formation and testing its properties, the team injected CO2 into it in 2013. Core samples were extracted from the well two years later, and Pete McGrail and colleagues confirmed that the CO2 had indeed converted into the carbonate mineral ankerite, as the lab experiments had predicted. And because basalts are widely found in North America and throughout the world, the researchers suggest that the formations could help permanently sequester carbon on a large scale.

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PNNL materials scientists have innovated a new approach to synthesizing porous materials, leading to the creation of a new class of materials called coordination covalent frameworks (CCFs). This approach uses the combination of metal organic framework and covalent organic framework chemistry in two steps, making the synthesis process faster and easier. With a high surface area, these materials can capture and store large amounts of gas molecules or be used for advanced sensor technology. They also have catalytic properties. Learn more at

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In the materials science realm, porous materials that are small in size, but have the surface area of a football field, are extremely valuable because they can capture and store large amounts of gas molecules, and they have catalytic properties. These materials include covalent organic frameworks (COFs) and metal organic frameworks (MOFs). It’s easy for scientists to manipulate their chemistry to create more materials because of their synthetic tunability.  

However, creating MOF and COF materials is a lengthy, laborious, multistep synthesis process involving linkers and struts—that look a lot like Tinkertoys®—at the molecular scale. The process can be used to design “tailor-made” structures but runs the risk of failure along the way when trying to create a desired MOF or COF.

Results: Materials scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have come up with a new approach to synthesizing porous materials leading to the creation of a new class of materials called coordination covalent frameworks (CCFs). This approach uses the combination of MOF and COF chemistry in two steps, making the synthesis process faster and easier. Their results appear in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.

Dr. Praveen Thallapally, lead author of the paper, used a popular building toy to illustrate the process. “Much like Tinkertoys®, which are sticks and circular pieces with holes drilled in them used to create structures, we substitute metal ions for the circular pieces and organic molecules for the sticks to create MOFs,” he said, “whereas in COFs, the circular pieces were replaced by covalent bonds and sticks with organic molecules. For CCFs we use the MOF chemistry in the first step and COF chemistry in the second step. The result is a CCF with a large surface area.”

According to Thallapally, Dr. Sameh Elsaidi, a postdoctoral researcher in the materials group, came to him one day with a new view of the Tinkertoy model.

“Sameh had created a non-porous (no surface area) molecular building block (MBB) in one step with metal clusters (circular pieces) and organic linker (sticks) that has an amino group at one end of the linkers. This became the basis of the new, two-step approach that resulted in CCFs,” Thallapally said. The condensation reactions were used in COFs between amines and aldehydes to form an extended structure. The same COF approach was used in the second step to create a CCF material.

The MBBs were isolated using 4-aminobenazoic acid and Cr(III) salt. They were then polymerized, a process that forms strong covalent bonds where small organic molecules can connect the MBBs, forming extended porous CCF material with high surface area that can selectively separate gases.

Why is this important? The researchers have basically eliminated the multi-step synthesis to make extended organic linkers that were typically used in the MOF and COF synthesis to form a high-surface-area material. In principle, the two-step method can create high-surface-area materials.

The scientists used Fourier transform infrared analysis to prove the formation of amide or imine bonds in the CCF structures and show how this material is different than the original MOF building block. Gas adsorption measurement revealed that all polymerized CCFs were permanently porous. Thus the two-step approach opens a new avenue to this class of materials that merge coordination (MOF) and covalent synthesis (COF) approaches.

What’s next? The scientists hope to adapt the two-step approach to create CCFs with different catalytic sites within the framework. They hope to patent the process and materials.

Acknowledgments: The work was based on research done on geothermal brine solutions for the +U.S. Department of Energy  Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE).

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Microbial enzymes play an important role in nutrient acquisition through the breakdown of cellulose – a major component of plant cell walls. Scientists working at EMSL have now discovered a glycoside hydrolase protein that breaks down rigid cell walls with ease … and it could be harnessed to convert #biomass to #biofuel and chemicals. Read more at

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Microbes such as fungi and bacteria produce enzymes called glycoside hydrolases to acquire nutrients through the degradation of cellulose—carbohydrates that make up plant cell walls. Some of these enzymes are capable of breaking down the rigid, crystalline form of cellulose and therefore could be especially effective at efficiently converting tough plant biomass to fuels and chemicals. However, they have largely been studied in pure cultures of microorganisms, even though microorganisms break down cellulose as communities in the environment.

To address this gap in knowledge, a multi-institutional team of researchers led by scientists at the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) combined comparative proteomics with biochemical measurements to assess differences in glycoside hydrolases produced by diverse microbes in communities cultivated from green waste compost and grown on crystalline cellulose.

The team used several mass spectrometry instruments at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL), and high-throughput DNA sequencing technologies at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Joint Genome Institute (JGI), both of which are DOE Office of Science user facilities. Their analysis revealed a glycoside hydrolase family 12 protein, produced by the bacterium Thermobispora bispora, plays a previously underappreciated important role in breaking down crystalline cellulose. The new findings suggest glycoside hydrolase family 12 protein could be especially effective at converting plant biomass to fuels and chemicals. More broadly, the study illustrates the power of comparative community proteomics to reveal novel insights into microbial proteins that could be harnessed for fuel production from renewable energy sources.

This research represents collaboration among the DOE Joint BioEnergy Institute, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), EMSL, and the University of Applied Sciences Mannheim.

This work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science (Office of Biological and Environmental Research). It was performed under the Facilities Integrating Collaborations for User Science (FICUS) initiative and used resources at EMSL and DOE JGI, which are DOE Office of Science User Facilities. Both facilities are sponsored by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research.

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It may sound gross, but wastewater treatment plants across the country may one day turn ordinary sewage into #biofuel, thanks to new PNNL research. The technology – hydrothermal liquefaction – mimics the geological conditions the Earth uses to create crude oil with high pressure and temperature to achieve in minutes something that takes Mother Nature millions of years. The resulting material is similar to petroleum pumped out of the ground. It can then be refined using conventional petroleum refining operations. Read more at

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Wastewater treatment plants across the U.S. treat approximately 34 billion gallons of sewage every day. That amount could produce the equivalent of up to approximately 30 million barrels of oil per year. PNNL estimates that a single person could generate two to three gallons of biocrude per year.

Sewage, or more specifically sewage sludge, has long been viewed as a poor ingredient for producing biofuel because it's too wet. The approach being studied by PNNL eliminates the need for drying required in a majority of current thermal technologies which historically has made wastewater to fuel conversion too energy intensive and expensive. HTL may also be used to make fuel from other types of wet organic feedstock, such as agricultural waste.

Using hydrothermal liquefaction, organic matter such as human waste can be broken down to simpler chemical compounds. The material is pressurized to 3,000 pounds per square inch — nearly one hundred times that of a car tire. Pressurized sludge then goes into a reactor system operating at about 660 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat and pressure cause the cells of the waste material to break down into different fractions — biocrude and an aqueous liquid phase.

"There is plenty of carbon in municipal waste water sludge and interestingly, there are also fats," said Corinne Drennan, who is responsible for bioenergy technologies research at PNNL. "The fats or lipids appear to facilitate the conversion of other materials in the wastewater such as toilet paper, keep the sludge moving through the reactor, and produce a very high quality biocrude that, when refined, yields fuels such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuels."

In addition to producing useful fuel, HTL could give local governments significant cost savings by virtually eliminating the need for sewage residuals processing, transport and disposal.

Simple and efficient: "The best thing about this process is how simple it is," said Drennan. "The reactor is literally a hot, pressurized tube. We've really accelerated hydrothermal conversion technology over the last six years to create a continuous, and scalable process which allows the use of wet wastes like sewage sludge."

An independent assessment for the Water Environment & Reuse Foundation calls HTL a highly disruptive technology that has potential for treating wastewater solids. WE&RF investigators noted the process has high carbon conversion efficiency with nearly 60 percent of available carbon in primary sludge becoming bio-crude. The report calls for further demonstration, which may soon be in the works.

Demonstration facility in the works: PNNL has licensed its HTL technology to Utah-based Genifuel Corporation, which is now working with Metro Vancouver, a partnership of 23 local authorities in British Columbia, Canada, to build a demonstration plant.

"Metro Vancouver hopes to be the first wastewater treatment utility in North America to host hydrothermal liquefaction at one of its treatment plants," said Darrell Mussatto, chair of Metro Vancouver's Utilities Committee. "The pilot project will cost between $8 to $9 million (Canadian) with Metro Vancouver providing nearly one-half of the cost directly and the remaining balance subject to external funding."

Once funding is in place, Metro Vancouver plans to move to the design phase in 2017, followed by equipment fabrication, with start-up occurring in 2018.

"If this emerging technology is a success, a future production facility could lead the way for Metro Vancouver's wastewater operation to meet its sustainability objectives of zero net energy, zero odours and zero residuals," Mussatto added.

Nothing left behind: In addition to the biocrude, the liquid phase can be treated with a catalyst to create other fuels and chemical products. A small amount of solid material is also generated, which contains important nutrients. For example, early efforts have demonstrated the ability to recover phosphorus, which can replace phosphorus ore used in fertilizer production.

Development of the HTL process was funded by the +U.S. Department of Energy Bioenergy Technologies Office.

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Our latest paper has just hit the arXiv: "Immigrant community integration in world cities"

"Migrant and hosting communities face long-term challenges in the integration process. Immigrants must adapt to new laws and ways of life, while hosts need to adjust to multicultural societies. Integration impacts many facets of life such as access to jobs, real state and public services and can be well approximated by the extent of spatial segregation of minority group residence. Here we conduct an extensive study of immigrant integration in 53 world cities by using Twitter language detection and by introducing metrics of spatial segregation. In this way, we quantify the Power of Integration of cities (their capacity to integrate diverse cultures), and characterize the relations between cultures when they act in the role of hosts and immigrants."


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The materials needed for the next generation of electronic devices – including cell phones and laptop computers – must be able to operate on a scale much smaller and more energy efficient than is possible with today's materials. Now, scientists have discovered a way to control electrical current in a new ultra-thin layered material. Read more at

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By modifying the composition of ultra-thin layers of dissimilar metal oxides that do not normally conduct electricity, scientists demonstrated how to generate and control an electrical current at the junction where the layers meet. The team made significant advances in one method used to characterize these materials. This work represents a major advance in the field of thin-film engineering. It shows that the properties of materials can be controlled at the level of the individual particles that constitute the materials. Some of the materials in the investigated structures are only one atomic layer thick, and yet their properties can be controlled.  

 Methods: Ultra-thin, alternating layers of neodymium titanium oxide (NdTiO3) and strontium titanium oxide (SrTiO3) were deposited by generating beams of the constituent elements (Nd, Ti, Sr, and O) in an ultra-clean vacuum environment, and aiming these beams at a small wafer of a crystalline oxide. This oxide wafer functioned as the foundation for the layered thin-film material, allowing the atoms to crystallize into the desired structure. The sequencing of the elemental beams allowed the layered structure to be precisely controlled, down to the level of single atomic layers.

They characterized the composite material using a number of materials analysis methods. However, accurate interpretation of some of these data, specifically x-ray photoelectron spectra (XPS), required advanced theoretical modeling. This modeling yielded definitive insights into how changes in composition brought about by both environmental factors and film growth processing conditions were effecting the electronic environment surrounding the titanium atoms. The scientists then measured and interpreted the electrical properties of the multi-layer structure in light of accurate knowledge of the valence and dielectric environment of titanium atoms in the different layers.

The result is unique and a powerful insight into how to make a two-dimensional electron gas in which the carrier concentration can be precisely controlled and engineered to reach a sufficiently high value to enable a new generation of ultra-small transistors to be envisaged.  

Why is this important? The materials required for the next generation of electronic devices, including cell phones and laptop computers, must be able to operate on a size scale much smaller and more energy efficient than is possible with today's materials. This work represents a significant step in that direction.

What's next? The immediate next step is to determine the complex atomic structure of the interface between NdTiO3 and SrTiO3 as this structure determines the density of electrons that can be achieved in the two-dimensional electron gas within the SrTiO3.

Acknowledgments: This work was supported by:
+U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Division of Materials Sciences and Engineering under award 10122.
* Linus Pauling Distinguished Post-doctoral Fellowship at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
* +AFOSR, Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Program (award FA9550-16-1-0205 to University of Minnesota).

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The synthetic aperture radar (SAR) can be a powerful tool for monitoring ocean phenomena or #MarinePollution  as it can produce images as a result of the interaction of radiation with the #SeaSurface .

These #SAR  images produced from +European Space Agency, ESA data show different #slick  signatures. This happens because the surface film reduces water surface roughness, which appears on SAR images as darker areas.

On the left, organic slicks near the coast of Sicily, possibly biogenic slicks from marine plants or animals, or from land products. On the right, by the coast of Singapore, oil slick signatures.

+INFO on the potential of #RemoteSensing  for marine pollution monitoring at
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