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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2017-08-23 17:05:42
  • Article ID: 679998

Carbon Nanotubes Worth Their Salt

  • Credit: Image by Ryan Chen/LLNL

    An artist’s representation of the promise of carbon nanotube porins for desalination technology. The image depicts a stylized carbon nanotube pipe that delivers clean desalinated water from the ocean to a kitchen sink tap.

Lawrence Livermore scientists, in collaboration with researchers at Northeastern University, have developed carbon nanotube pores that can exclude salt from seawater. The team also found that water permeability in carbon nanotubes (CNTs) with diameters smaller than a nanometer (0.8 nm) exceeds that of wider carbon nanotubes by an order of magnitude.

The nanotubes, hollow structures made of carbon atoms in a unique arrangement, are more than 50,000 times thinner than a human hair. The super smooth inner surface of the nanotube is responsible for their remarkably high water permeability, while the tiny pore size blocks larger salt ions.

Increasing demands for fresh water pose a global threat to sustainable development, resulting in water scarcity for 4 billion people. Current water purification technologies can benefit from the development of membranes with specialized pores that mimic highly efficient and water selective biological proteins.

“We found that carbon nanotubes with diameters smaller than a nanometer bear a key structural feature that enables enhanced transport.  The narrow hydrophobic channel forces water to translocate in a single-file arrangement, a phenomenon similar to that found in the most efficient biological water transporters,” said Ramya Tunuguntla, an LLNL postdoctoral researcher and co-author of the manuscript appearing in the Aug. 24 edition of Science.

Computer simulations and experimental studies of water transport through CNTs with diameters larger than 1 nm showed enhanced water flow, but did not match the transport efficiency of biological proteins and did not separate salt efficiently, especially at higher salinities. The key breakthrough achieved by the LLNL team was to use smaller-diameter nanotubes that delivered the required boost in performance.

“These studies revealed the details of the water transport mechanism and showed that rational manipulation of these parameters can enhance pore efficiency,” said Meni Wanunu, a physics professor at Northeastern University and co-author on the study. 

“Carbon nanotubes are a unique platform for studying molecular transport and nanofluidics,” said Alex Noy, LLNL principal investigator on the CNT project and a senior author on the paper. “Their sub-nanometer size, atomically smooth surfaces and similarity to cellular water transport channels make them exceptionally suited for this purpose, and it is very exciting to make a synthetic water channel that performs better than nature’s own.”

This discovery by the LLNL scientists and their colleagues has clear implications for the next generation of water purification technologies and will spur a renewed interest in development of the next generation of high-flux membranes.

Founded in 1952, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (www.llnl.gov) provides solutions to our nation’s most important national security challenges through innovative science, engineering and technology. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is managed by Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.

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Tiny Lasers from a Gallery of Whispers

Whispering gallery mode resonators rely on a phenomenon similar to an effect observed in circular galleries, and the same phenomenon applies to light. When light is stored in ring-shaped or spherical active resonators, the waves superimpose in such a way that it can result in laser light. This week in APL Photonics, investigators report a new type of dye-doped WGM micro-laser that produces light with tunable wavelengths.

Copper Catalyst Yields High Efficiency CO2-to-Fuels Conversion

Berkeley Lab scientists have developed a new electrocatalyst that can directly convert carbon dioxide into multicarbon fuels and alcohols using record-low inputs of energy. The work is the latest in a round of studies coming out of Berkeley Lab tackling the challenge of a creating a clean chemical manufacturing system that can put carbon dioxide to good use.

Solar-to-Fuel System Recycles CO2 to Make Ethanol and Ethylene

Berkeley Lab scientists have harnessed the power of photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide into fuels and alcohols at efficiencies far greater than plants. The achievement marks a significant advance in the effort to move toward sustainable sources of fuel.

New Evidence for Small, Short-Lived Drops of Early Universe Quark-Gluon Plasma?

UPTON, NY--Particles emerging from even the lowest energy collisions of small deuterons with large heavy nuclei at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC)--a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility for nuclear physics research at DOE's Brookhaven National Laboratory--exhibit behavior scientists associate with the formation of a soup of quarks and gluons, the fundamental building blocks of nearly all visible matter.

New Insights Into Nanocrystal Growth in Liquid

PNNL researchers have measured the forces that cause certain crystals to assemble, revealing competing factors that researchers might be able to control. The work has a variety of implications in both discovery and applied science. In addition to providing insights into the formation of minerals and semiconductor nanomaterials, it might also help scientists understand soil as it expands and contracts through wetting and drying cycles.

Discovery Could Reduce Nuclear Waste with Improved Method to Chemically Engineer Molecules

A new chemical principle discovered by scientists at Indiana University has the potential to revolutionize the creation of specially engineered molecules whose uses include the reduction of nuclear waste and the extraction of chemical pollutants from water and soil.

Biologist Reaches Into Electric Eel Tank, Comes Out with Equation to Measure Shocks

Vanderbilt University researcher Ken Catania stuck his arm into a tank with small electric eel 10 times -- the only way to get accurate measurements of the circuit created by animal, arm and water.

Fungi: Gene Activator Role Discovered

Specific modifications to fungi DNA may hold the secret to turning common plant degradation agents into biofuel producers.

New Study on Graphene-Wrapped Nanocrystals Makes Inroads Toward Next-Gen Fuel Cells

A new Berkeley Lab-led study provides insight into how an ultrathin coating can enhance the performance of graphene-wrapped nanocrystals for hydrogen storage applications.

Getting to the Point (Mutations) in Re-Engineering Biofuel-Producing Bacterial Enzymes

Helping bacteria become more efficient when breaking down fibrous plant waste into biofuel could result in more affordable biofuels for our gas tanks and sustainable products such as bioplastics. One way to achieve this goal is to re-engineer the bacterial enzyme complexes, called cellulosomes, which serve as catalysts in the degradation process. Researchers discuss one method to produce cellulosomes in The Journal of Chemical Physics.


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Tulane Receives Grant to Reduce Auto Emissions

Members of Tulane University's Shantz Lab will work with industrial scientists to assist in the development of next-generation materials designed to reduce harmful automotive emissions. The three-year old lab and its group of students have received a grant and equipment resources from SACHEM, Inc., a chemical science company.

Lab Leads New Effort in Materials Development

Lawrence Livermore National Lab will be part of a multi-lab effort to apply high-performance computing to US-based industry's discovery, design, and development of materials for severe environments under a new initiative announced by the Department of Energy (DOE) on Sept. 19.

Los Alamos Recognized as Top Diversity Employer

For the second straight year, Los Alamos National Laboratory was recognized as a top diversity employer by LATINA Style and STEM Workforce Diversity magazine.

SLAC-Led Project Will Use Artificial Intelligence to Prevent or Minimize Electric Grid Failures

A project led by the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory will combine artificial intelligence with massive amounts of data and industry experience from a dozen U.S. partners to identify places where the electric grid is vulnerable to disruption, reinforce those spots in advance and recover faster when failures do occur.

Chaudhuri named Director of Manufacturing Science and Engineering at Argonne National Laboratory

Argonne National Laboratory announces the appointment of Santanu Chaudhuri, Ph.D., as the Director of the Laboratory's new Manufacturing Science and Engineering initiative, effective Sept. 14, 2017

Boise State Researchers Earn Grants to Manufacture Sensors for Nuclear Reactors, Space

National grants will be used to purchase advanced manufacturing equipment needed to build sensors suitable for extreme environments.

Hewlett Packard's Suhas Kumar Wins 2017 Klein Award

Suhas Kumar, a postdoctoral researcher at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), wants to develop next-generation information storage devices and better computers. His particular interest is a new type of electronic device, called a memristor, that could make future computer memories faster, more durable and more energy efficient than today's flash memory.

University of Arkansas Receives $3.2 Million From the Department of Energy

The U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy has awarded Distinguished Professor Alan Mantooth a total of $3.2 million for two projects that will accelerate the development and deployment of a new class of efficient, lightweight and reliable power converters.

Los Alamos Laboratory Director Charles F. McMillan to Retire at End of Year

Charles F. (Charlie) McMillan today informed employees of Los Alamos National Laboratory that he intends to step down as Laboratory Director at the end of this calendar year.

Binghamton University Opens $70 Million Smart Energy Building

Binghamton University celebrated the grand opening of its new $70 million, 114,000 square-foot Smart Energy Building today, Thursday, Aug. 31, at the Innovative Technologies Complex, on campus.


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Fungi: Gene Activator Role Discovered

Specific modifications to fungi DNA may hold the secret to turning common plant degradation agents into biofuel producers.

First Look at a Living Cell Membrane

Neutrons provide the solution to nanoscale examination of living cell membrane and confirm the existence of lipid rafts.

High Yield Biomass Conversion Strategy Ready for Commercialization

Researchers convert 80 percent of biomass into high-value products with strategy that's ready for commercialization.

Consequences of Drought Stress on Biofuels

Switchgrass cultivated during a year of severe drought inhibited microbial fermentation and resulting biofuel production.

Clay Minerals and Metal Oxides Change How Uranium Travels Through Sediments

Montmorillonite clays prevent uranium from precipitating from liquids, letting it travel with groundwater.

Tundra Loses Carbon with Rapid Permafrost Thaw

Seven-year-study shows plant growth does not sustainably balance carbon losses from solar warming and permafrost thaw.

Crystals Grow by Twisting, Aligning and Snapping Together

Van der Waals force, which that enables tiny crystals to grow, could be used to design new materials.

Vitamin B12 Fuels Microbial Growth

Scarce compound, vitamin B12, is key for cellular metabolism and may help shape microbial communities that affect environmental cycles and bioenergy production.

Carbon in Floodplain Unlikely to Cycle into the Atmosphere

Microbes leave a large fraction of carbon in anoxic sediments untouched, a key finding for understanding how watersheds influence Earth's ecosystem.

Bacterial Cell Wall Changes Produce More Fatty Molecules

New strategy greatly increases the production and secretion of biofuel building block lipids in bacteria able to grow at industrial scales.


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