Focus on innovation: new episodes of NBC Learn update on batteries built using viruses and explore biomedical applications of 3D printing

Science of Innovation – a video series – documents how researchers “imagine, invent, improve and inspire” to deliver solutions in health care, energy storage and transportation, to highlight just a few of the sectors mentioned.

Launched in 2012 to celebrate the 165th birthday of Thomas Edison, the videos are produced by NBC Learn in partnership with the National Science Foundation and the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

New episodes
This month, the team has added six more episodes, including clips on the work of Angela Belcher at MIT, and also featuring Adam Feinberg’s group at Carnegie Mellon University.

Belcher’s use of genetically engineered viruses to grow better batteries is the application that often hits the headlines, but her team is also looking at using the technique to improve solar cells, fuel cells, biofuels and cancer therapies. Feinberg is part of the research community applying 3D printing to solve challenges in healthcare, which includes accelerating drug development and advancing personalized medicine.

Device applications for genetically engineered viruses

Overcoming challenges in 3D bioprinting

More videos in the Science of Innovation series
Other topics featured in the new episodes include the microfabrication of cochlear implants; the use of friction stir welding as a tool for tailoring the strength of metallic components; the application of origami structures to enable the transport and easy deployment of large area devices (such as solar arrays); as well as the development of microcontrollers for virtual reality displays.

Read next
An interview with Gabor Forgacs: from theoretical physics to the business of 3D bio-printing (published in the journal Translational Materials Research)

Open for submissions: TMR focus collection on biomaterials
Guest Editor – Subbu Venkatraman, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Since the early days of the artificial hip joint, when metallic, polymeric and even ceramic biomaterials were first implanted as hard-tissue replacements, both natural and synthetic biomaterials have become increasingly important for prolonging as well as improving our quality of life. Building functional body parts from many different material types is now commonplace; transplanting these parts with long-term survivability have become reasonably safe procedures for surgeons. Some of these technologies have progressed so far that the concept of a ‘bionic man’ with several replacement body parts is no longer confined to the world of science fiction [more details].

Related stories
Virus creates nanoelectrode for battery (

Mobile World Congress 2016: a big opportunity for graphene

How can 2D materials help mobile device makers and equipment providers to upgrade their core products and grow their business in emerging markets such as wearable technology and the internet of things (IoT)? Visitors at this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) will have the chance to find out thanks to the Graphene Pavilion – a live demo space dedicated to 2D materials that makes its debut at the 2016 show (22-25 Feb). Applications on the radar include better batteries and portable power packs, flexible conductive films for touch and other device functions, solutions for network infrastructure, improved sensors and electromagnetic components.

Technology showcase
The Mobile World Congress is the biggest event on the communications industry’s calendar (over 94,000 people visited the show in 2015) and provides a huge opportunity for the graphene community to pitch its breakthrough materials to key customers in the supply chain. At the event, materials providers and leading researchers will be on-hand to discuss how graphene and its derivatives can be integrated into next generation devices and update attendees on the latest scientific results.

Presenters at the Graphene Pavilion include Aixtron, Avanzare, AMO, FlexEnable, GNext, Graphenea, Libre SRL, nVision and Zap&Go, the University of Cambridge, Chalmers University of Technology, the University of Manchester, ICFO – The Institute of Photonic Sciences, Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2), CNR National Research Council and the Italian Institute of Technology.

Lab to market
Recognising that the mobile industry has much to gain from transformative materials, the congress organizers have invited Nobel Laureate Konstantin Novoselov to give a keynote presentation at this year’s event, and scheduled a panel discussion to highlight major opportunities on the horizon.


Graphene Flagship
Mobile World Congress 2016

Read next

Graphene Week 2015: industry opportunities and more (TMR+)
Graphene Pavilion: Day one (Graphene Flagship News)

A hype-chart for next-gen batteries: mapping the translation of beyond lithium-ion chemistries from lab to market

Reporting their results in the journal Translational Materials Research, scientists in the US and Germany have monitored research output to assess the prospects for emerging electrical energy storage systems such as Li–air, Li–sulphur and Na–air.

“The reliance of modern electronics and vehicular transportation on rechargeable batteries does not guarantee the acceptance of any new system, even if it is more energy-dense,” caution the authors in their paper. “Cooperation between battery manufacturers and device manufacturers will be important, as will be the creation and support of a dependable supply chain to ensure consistent and sustainable delivery of raw materials of high quality.”

Technology tracking
To quantify the status of emerging rechargeable battery technologies, the researchers examined the popularity of each system within the scientific community based on year-by-year publication statistics. From the data, the team was able to identify critical points such as the ‘innovation trigger’ and other characteristic development phases.

Caption goes here

Hype chart derived from publication data showing the status of current and emerging high-energy-density battery systems. A typical technology goes through five phases as it matures and products cycle through different iterations: (i) innovation trigger, (ii) peak of inflated expectations, (iii) trough of disillusionment, (iv) slope of enlightenment and (v) plateau of productivity.

Full details
To find out more about battery design, development and the fundamental materials challenges, view –
Quantifying the promise of ‘beyond’ Li–ion batteries – Oleg Sapunkov et al 2015 Transl. Mater. Res. 2 045002.

Related stories on TMR+

$5 million investment in Angstron Materials accelerates graphene commercialization

$5 million investment in Angstron Materials accelerates graphene commercialization

Angstron Materials, a US supplier of single and few-layer graphene materials, announced this week that it has secured $5 million in capital to increase manufacturing capacity and bring key technologies such as its thermal management products to market. Heat spreaders developed by the firm can reduce hot-spots in mobile phones and other handheld devices, and the funding news follows reports earlier this year that Angstron’s graphene sheets have been qualified for use by a major mobile electronics company.

Graphene foil

Thermal interface material: Angstron Materials supplies graphene-based sheets in thicknesses ranging from 5 µm to 40 µm with thermal conductivity between 800 W/m.K and 1700 W/m.K for use in electronic products such as tablets, laptops and flat screen TVs. The foils can also be used for EMI shielding.

Estimates by market analyst IDTechEx suggest that 55% of electronic failures are caused by over-heating, and enhanced thermal interface materials have a major role to play in helping devices to stay cool, perform better and last longer as developers boost their offerings by packing more processing power into increasingly compact form-factors.

“We use the planar alignment of carbon atoms to make a lightweight, flexible thermal foil with up to 1700 W/m.K in-plane thermal conductivity – substantially higher thermal conductivity than copper and offering weight savings for thermal management,” Claire Rutiser, a member of Angstron’s executive team, told TMR+. “Also, we can load thermally conductive nano graphene platelets (NGP) into a matrix – which could be thermoset, thermoplastic or non-curing (for thermal paste).”

Graphene isn’t the only option for device makers and competing thermal management materials include formulations based on silver flakes or silver nano-wires, but there are economic considerations that may favour the use of NGPs. “Silver is subject to significant price fluctuation and future price uncertainty,” Rutiser comments. “Angstron Materials has known input materials pricing and is able to enter into long term supply agreements with end users.”

Graphene has been linked with various big names in portable electronics. In 2011, Apple noted that the use of graphene thermal dissipators goes beyond cooling. Related applications include transferring heat from onboard electronics to the battery to improve runtime, which can be compromised at low temperatures.

Multiple markets
Rutiser says that Angstron is ready with scalable production capacity and emphasised that the firm is targeting other sectors in addition to thermal management materials. She’s optimistic that over a 10 year period energy storage will grow to become one of the company’s biggest sources of revenue. Driving this are developments in graphene-wrapped silicon anodes by sister company Nanotek Instruments, which allow fabrication of Li-ion batteries with over 400 Wh/kg, and also materials for supercapacitors.

“Affordable, high-capacity energy storage is critical for the transition to electric vehicles and for grid-stabilization as the percentage of energy derived from renewables increases in the coming decades,” Rutiser explained. “These products have comparatively long qualification times due to reliability testing and industry safety standards.”

Currently, Angstron’s graphene-enhanced products and technologies are linked to five distinct portfolios – thermal management materials, energy storage systems, nanocomposites, transparent conductive films, paints and coatings. “Graphene platelets are inert to most chemical species and offer opportunities to improve barrier coatings against corrosion, chemical attack, or oxygen permeation, “ added Rutiser.

Read next

Thermal interface materials: opportunities and challenges for developers (Rachel Gordon, Translational Materials Research)

Show report: IDTechEx Printed Electronics Europe 2015 (TMR+)

Supercapacitors: market factors to consider (TMR+)

Fullerex talks graphene pricing; identifies growth areas and supply targets (TMR+)

Graphene ‘quilts’ cool down transistors (

Nominations now open for 2015 MATERIALICA awards

MATERIALICA has been championing new materials and innovative applications since launching its awards program in 2003. “We honour products which combine outstanding design and high technology expertise,” explained Robert Metzger, jury member and organizer of the MATERIALICA Design + Technology Award.

Boosting the thermal conductivity of plastics

2014 winner SILATHERM (image credit: Quartzwerke Gmbh)

Last year‘s winners include Budenheim’s Excelion material, which is used to advance lithium ion batteries, and SILATHERM from HPF, which improves the thermal conductivity of plastics without downgrading the electrically insulating properties of the host substance. Also recognised in 2014 were LZN Laser Zentrum Nord and EDAG Engineering – co-recipients of the silver award for surface technology. The prize acknowledges the winners’ use of 3D printing to enable a multifunctional aluminium housing for electric vehicles, which weighs just 900 g compared with 1900 g for the reference casting.

In 2013, I-MEET (Institute of Materials for Electronics and Energy Technology, University Erlangen-Nuremberg) won the gold product award for its solution-processed flexible semitransparent organic solar cells. The modules are laser patterned and feature silver nanowire meshes as top and bottom electrodes. Applications for the devices include windows (the cells exhibit 56% transmittance at 550 nm) and skylights.

The deadline for submitting nominations to the selection committee is 17 July 2015. Application forms and further details can be found by visiting

Related stories on TMR+

3D printing (6 stories)

Materials and equipment upgrades add to 3D printing’s appeal

Back in 2013, TMR+ hinted that the arrival of new feedstocks such as TPU 92A-1 – a flexible and durable thermoplastic – would make 3D printers a much more compelling proposition for product developers. Building on this, there are other factors to consider too –

Commercial additive manufacturing (AM) tools with multiple nozzles are paving the way for 3D-printed workpieces with tailored materials properties – the Objet500 Connex3 is a recent example.

In the lab, researchers are exploring AM designs that combine 3D and ink-jet printing, which bring additional functionality through the use of conductive and other custom inks.

3D printers such as the Freeformer from German production tool maker Arburg further extend the choice of starting materials by accepting granulated feedstock rather than specialized spools of pre-formed material that can turn out to be an expensive option for users.

“The mark-up on feedstock for 3D printing can be anywhere from 10 to 100 times the cost of the raw material, so the Arburg tool could be one way around that,” Anthony Vicari of Lux Research told TMR+. “It’s not just about cheaper materials though, there are other benefits,” he added, “you put your material through one less melt cycle, which should reduce product degradation.”

Vicari and his team have recently updated their projections for high-performance thermoplastics and see additive manufacturing as a growth area for this family of materials as 3D printing migrates from prototyping to manufacturing.

Process improvements are also making an impact.

For example, optics specialist LUXeXcel is using a slow curing technique to upgrade the performance of components printed from transparent resins for use in LEDs and other devices. The approach is designed to combat the formation of stepped features that would otherwise occur as a consequence of layer-by-layer fabrication.

Switching from plastics to ceramics, Vicari mentions Ceralink as another example. The US firm has developed a method for producing silicon carbide/silicon carbide composites using powder bed inkjet 3D printers.

The composite material is said to offer lighter weight, higher temperature performance, and higher wear resistance than nickel alloys and titanium alloys for aerospace jet engine components, and this highlights where 3D printing will have the biggest impact – when it brings something different to the process of translating new materials into devices.

Conventional volume manufacturing techniques such as injection molding will always be cheaper on a per unit basis, but this misses the point of 3D printing.

Commercial outlook

3D printing: applications and market size (click on image to enlarge). Source: Lux Research

3D printing: applications and total addressable market (click on image to enlarge). Source: Lux Research

Some of the unique selling points of AM include customization for market segments such as orthapedic implants, prosthetics and sporting goods. Another positive is product assembly.

“With 3D printing you can often manufacture several parts as one piece, which reduces construction costs, but can also save on regulatory filings too,” Vicari points out.

The on-demand nature of AM means that 3D printing could help firms to reduce product inventory (as well as tooling storage) and lower warehouse costs. It also offers supply-chain security in sectors such as space and defence, by enabling on-site production of replacement parts.

Related links

TPU 92A-1 datasheet (PDF via

Stratasys’ Big Announcement — Multi-colour, Multi-material 3D Printing with the New Objet500 Connex3 (

Printing Batteries – new inks and tools allow 3-D printing of lithium-ion technology (MIT Technology review)

3D Printed Silicon Carbide: Ceralink’s Novel Production Process for Jet Engine Material (

World Economic Forum announces top 10 emerging technologies for 2014

3D printing, self-healing materials and energy-efficient water purification were tagged by the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies as breakthroughs last year, but what does the future look like in 2014? Something that won’t come as a surprise is the key role of advanced materials in driving technology to the next level, as illustrated by our highlights from the 2014 list –

  • Body-adapted Wearable Electronics
  • Small, lightweight and flexible components together with specialized coatings to protect products from sweat and rain. Applications include navigation aids, health monitoring devices and surgical tools.

  • Nanostructured Carbon Composites
  • Lighter, stronger materials for more efficient vehicles, which are easy to recover and reuse.

  • Grid-scale Electricity Storage
  • More affordable alternatives to pumped storage hydropower for overcoming the intermittent nature of clean energy. Concepts being explored include flow-batteries and graphene supercapacitors.

  • Nanowire Lithium-ion Batteries
  • Ramping up battery energy density will extend the range of electric vehicles and increase the running time of mobile devices. Results suggest that designs based on silicon nanowires could deliver 30-40% more electricity than today’s lithium-ion batteries.

  • Brain-computer Interfaces
  • The challenges here build on those of body-adapted wearable electronics to include biocompatible materials and thin film technologies to protect implanted electronics.

Barriers to technology translation
As well as announcing its top 10 emerging technologies for 2014, the council has also voiced its thoughts on major hurdles in the translation pipeline –

“Uninformed public opinion, outdated government and intergovernmental regulations, and inadequate existing funding models for research and development are the greatest challenges in effectively moving new technologies from the research lab to people’s lives.”
Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies.

Related stories on the web –

What’s the future for wearable technology? (

Emerging technology as an agent for change (

MRS Fall 2013 highlights – part one

Advanced materials and structures for rechargable batteries is a key track at this year’s MRS Fall conference and drew a large audience from the start.

Bruce Dunn of UCLA opened the presentations by highlighting the potential of 2D forms of TiO2 and TiS2 for upgrading battery performance. He added that there was the possibility of integrating these materials with graphene in a one-step exfoliation step, which could open up device opportunities. Speaking with him after the session though, he was reluctant to make any predictions in terms of translation.

In fact, most of the researchers I met today weren’t keen on talking about when we could expect to see results coming through into the market, which given the number of hurdles that have to be overcome in taking an idea from the lab and turning it into a viable product, isn’t a complete surprise.

Ways of improving the cycling performance of batteries and capacitors remained the talking point both before and after the coffee break. Potential solutions here included deformation tolerant carbon nanotube sponges and a range of electrode designs featuring materials such as core-shell nanoparticles or hollow carbon fibres, which offer void space to accommodate any expansion of the device during operation, to stop cracks from forming.

Smart thinking on the menu
The discussion then moved on to crabs and rice, not because lunch had arrived, but because both crab shells and rice husks offer a readily available and low-cost source of nanoporous material, which could in principle be used as electrolyte supports.

Another way to tackle to problem of cracking in batteries is to develop structures that can heal themselves – an idea that Yi Cui and Zhenan Bao of Stanford University are following up through the addition of a polymer coating, which can re-form when broken, through hydrogen bonding.

Stay tuned for part two, when I promise I will have an update that ticks all of the boxes for translation.

Further reading on TMR+

MRS Fall 2013 highlights – part five (final)
MRS Fall 2013 highlights – part four
MRS Fall 2013 highlights – part three
MRS Fall 2013 highlights – part two

$8 million facility aims to accelerate battery innovation

The University of Michigan (U-M) is establishing an $8 million facility to accelerate the development of more efficient and more durable batteries for use in electric vehicles and for integrating solar and wind energy with national power grids.

Project partners include the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Ford Motor Company.

Typically, researchers test new battery structures and chemistries in so-called “coin cells” that resemble those in a watch or hearing aid, but developers need to know that these concepts will scale up, and this is where the new lab fits in.

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