In the lab: Bejeweled nanowires, quantum dots & spray-on graphene

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We see a lot of early-stage research coming out of the energy-focused labs of universities around the world. And because we don’t always have time to cover these innovations in stand-alone articles, I’m resurrecting an old column, which I used to do in the early days of this site: In the labs!

Here’s three blue-sky energy innovations I’ve been following this week:

Spray on graphene: A team at the University of Exeter have developed a new material adapted from graphene — called GraphExeter — that they say is the most transparent, flexible, and light weight material that can conduct electricity. The material, which squishes molecules of ferric chloride between two layers of graphene, could be used to create new kinds of wearable electronics as well as dynamic windows that can shade when charged with electricity.

Graphene is one of the thinnest materials that can conduct electricity so a lot of scientists are looking at ways to use it in energy storage devices. The Exeter team, which is out of their Centre for Graphene Science group, is now in the process of developing a spray-on version of GraphExter. The scientists published their findings in the publication Advanced Materials recently.

Shining quantum dots: The Guardian takes a look at quantum dots, which are these little pieces of semiconductor crystals — less than 10 nanometres — that are so small that they have different properties and characteristics than larger semiconductor pieces. The Guardian says these are so important that one day they’ll be in everything from solar cells to light bulbs to imaging technology. A partnership between QD Vision, an MIT spinout, and Nexxus Lighting, are some of the first to commercialize this technology in lighting, specifically LEDs.

Bedazzled by bejeweled nanowires: Stanford engineers are coating nanowires with tiny particles to increase their performance, which could lead to better solar cells and lithium ion batteries. The team’s innovation came in the method to make the bejeweled nanowires. From the Stanford article:

Assistant Professor Xiaolin Zheng “dipped the nanowires in a solvent-based gel of metal and salt, then air-dried them before applying the flame. In her process the solvent burns away in a few seconds, allowing the all-important nanoparticles to crystalize into branch-like structures fanning out from the nanowires.”

Image courtesy of Centre for Graphene Science.

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