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MIT develops nontoxic way of
generating portable power;
Battery substitutes produce current
by burning fuel-coated carbon
nanotubes like a fuse
March 14, 2016: The batteries that
power the ubiquitous devices of modern
life, from smartphones and computers
to electric cars, are mostly made of toxic
materials such as lithium that can be
difficult to dispose of and have limited
global supplies. Now, researchers at MIT
have come up with an alternative system
for generating electricity, which har-
nesses heat and uses no metals or toxic
The new approach is based on a dis-
covery announced in 2010 by Michael
Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor
in Chemical Engineering at MIT, and his
co-workers: A wire made from tiny cylin-
ders of carbon known as carbon nano-
tubes can produce an electrical current
when it is progressively heated from one
end to the other, for example by coating
it with a combustible material and then
lighting one end to let it burn like a fuse.
That discovery represented a previously
unknown phenomenon, but experiments
at the time produced only a minuscule
amount of current in a simple labora-
tory setup. Now, Strano and his team
have increased the efficiency of the
process more than a thousandfold and
have produced devices that can put out
power that is, pound for pound, in the
same ballpark as what can be produced
by today¡¯s best batteries. The research-
ers caution, however, that it could take
several years to develop the concept into
a commercializable product.
The new results were published in the
journal Energy & Environmental Science,
in a paper by Strano, doctoral students
Sayalee Mahajan PhD ¡¯15 and Albert Liu,
and five others. (continued on pg4>>)
The Good News
2016 April/May
Pg 3 - The Sunshine Express
the growing field of cell and gene therapies.
Acoustic wave separation technology was developed with
$1.6 million in NSF funding through the Small Business
Innovation Research (SBIR) program. FloDesign Sonics
currently holds nine patents and has raised more than $25
million of private sector funding. The company has grown
from one employee in 2012 to 28 full-time employees
¡°FloDesign Sonics¡¯ research has led to an elegant and ef-
ficient method to accomplish difficult separations, which
could impact a broad spectrum of manufacturing and pro-
duction processes,¡± said Prakash Balan, a program director
for the NSF SBIR program. ¡°NSF invests in small busi-
nesses like FloDesign Sonics to help promising high-tech
concepts make it to the marketplace.¡±
related to the one used by Meyer at the UNC
Energy Frontier Research Center of Solar Fuels
to tear electrons from water molecules. In the
americium project, Meyer and Dares adapted
the technology to tear electrons from americi-
um, which requires twice as much energy input
as splitting water. By removing those three
electrons, americium behaves like plutonium
and uranium, which is then easy to remove
with existing technology.
Dares describes that nuclear fuel is initially
used as small solid pellets loaded into long, thin
rods. To reprocess them, the used fuel is first
dissolved in acid and the plutonium and ura-
nium separated. In the process, americium will
either be separated with plutonium and ura-
nium or removed in a second step.
Meyer and Dares worked closely with Idaho Na-
tional Laboratory (INL), who provided research
support and technical guidance on working
with nuclear materials. Most of the experi-
ments were carried out in the laboratories at
Idaho, which provided a safe area to work with
radioactive material. At present, INL and UNC-
Chapel Hill are in discussion about extending
the research and to possible scale up of the
¡°With INL working with us, we have a strong
foundation for scaling up this technology,¡± said
Dares. ¡°With a scaled up solution, not only will
we no longer have to think about the dangers
of storing radioactive waste long-term, but we
will have a viable solution to close the nuclear
fuel cycle and contribute to solving the world¡¯s
energy needs. That¡¯s exciting.¡±
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,
the nation¡¯s first public university, is a global
higher education leader known for innovative
teaching, research and public service. A mem-
ber of the prestigious Association of American
Universities, Carolina regularly ranks as the
best value for academic quality in U.S. public
higher education. Now in its third century, the
University offers 77 bachelor¡¯s, 113 master¡¯s,
68 doctorate and seven professional degree
programs through 14 schools and the College of
Arts and Sciences. (source:
Acoustophoresis (continued from pg1)
Americium Problem Solved
UNC-Chapel Hill cracks 50-year-old nuclear waste
problem, making storage safer; researchers figure
out how to remove americium from nuclear waste
pools, opening the door for expanding the use of
one of the cleanest and most efficient energy
sources on the planet
March 16, 2016: Researchers at the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill have adapted a technology devel-
oped for solar energy in order to selectively remove one
of the trickiest and most-difficult-to-remove elements
in nuclear waste pools across the country, making the
storage of nuclear waste safer and nontoxic, solving a
decades-old problem.
The work, published in Science, not only opens the door to
expand the use of one of the most efficient energy sources
on the planet, but also adds a key step in completing the
nuclear fuel cycle - an advance, along with wind and solar,
that could help power the world¡¯s energy needs cleanly for
the future.
¡°In order to solve the nuclear waste problem, you have to
solve the americium problem,¡± said Tom Meyer, Arey Dis-
tinguished Professor of Chemistry at UNC¡¯s College of Arts
and Sciences, who led the study.
Americium doesn¡¯t have the same name recognition as a
plutonium and uranium, but researchers have been try-
ing to remove it from nuclear waste for decades. Several
groups initially succeeded, only to be met with several
subsequent problems down the line, rendering the so-
lution unfeasible. Meyer and his team, including Chris
Dares, who spearheaded the project, have found a way
to remove the radioactive element without encountering
downstream problems that have hindered progress.
The technology Meyer and Dares developed is closely
A New Approach