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iRAP PATENT BRIEF

 

April 2009

 

By Alton Parrish, Senior Industry Analyst, iRAP, Inc

 

NANOTECHNOLOGY

 

Nanoparticles to Foil Crime

 

Nanoparticles as encoded, machine readable, covert security tags for currency, bank notes and other valuable documents is the basis for UK nanotechnology company Oxonica, Inc’s U.S. Patent Application #20070165209.  According to inventors Michael J. Natan, Scott Norton, R. Griffith Freeman, Sharron Gaynor Penn and Ian Walton, attaching a metal nanoparticle with a Raman active molecule that has a measurable Surface-Enhanced Raman Scattering (SERS) spectrum to valuable items will provide anti-counterfeit measures as well as tracking and verification abilities.  The tag may is applied by various methods, including application from an absorbent pad, sprayed from an atomizer, dispensed with a pen, an electrophotographic printing machine, an ink jet printing machine, offset lithography, letterpress, gravure, heliogravure, xerography, photography, silk-screening, a system for imagewise deposition of discrete quantities of a marking material on a substrate surface, film deposition system; or textile printing system. Ratios of SERS nanotags can be used as unique codes for authentication.

 

Nano-Peptide Fiber Stronger Than Spider Silk

 

Two Ramot At Tel Aviv University Ltd scientists have discovered an economical way to manufacture fibers, films and other articles made of peptide nanostructures. Similar to carbon nanotubes, the peptide nanostructures are formed as individual entities. For industrial applications, the self-assembled peptide nanostructures are favored over carbon nanotubes and spider silk from the standpoint of cost, production means and availability.  According to Ehud Gazit (Ramat-HaSharon, IL) and Meital Reches (RaAnana, IL), in U.S. Patent Application # 20090061190, the self-assembled peptide nanostructures are well ordered assemblies of various shapes with persistence length on the order of micrometers. The formation of the peptide nanostructures is very efficient and the nanostructures solution is very homogeneous., although the sequences of these peptides are diverse, they share a common chemical property, i.e., a hydrophobic tail and a hydrophilic head. These peptide nanotubes, like carbon and lipid nanotubes, also have a very high surface area to weight ratio.  The fibers can be woven into electronic textiles and may be tougher than any other known natural or synthetic organic fiber. 

 

Tubular and planar nanostructures were formed from four different dipeptides: (Pentafluoro-Phenylalanine)-(Pentafluoro-Phenylalanine). (Iodo-Phenylalanine)-(Iodo-Phenylalanine), (4-Phenyl phenylalanine)-(4-Phenyl phenylalanine) and (P-nitro-Phenylalanine)-(P-nitro-Phenylalanine).  Such nanotubes have been shown to form transmembrane channels capable of transporting ions and small molecules The fiberizing is achieved by one or more of the following processes: an electrospinning process, a wet spinning process, a dry spinning process, a gel spinning process, a dispersion spinning process, a reaction spinning process or a tack spinning process.

 

Smaller, More Powerful Explosive

 

Lockheed Martin Corporation (Bethesda, MD) received U.S. Patent # 7,494,705 for new more powerful explosives made from hydride based nano-structured energy dense energetic materials. The nanomaterials increase the amount of energy per unit volume of energetic material over conventional CHNO based explosives. Traditional mixed powder thermite type compositions are energetically dense but are limited in application due to the relatively slow reaction velocities and the amount of work energy available from the reaction.

 

Researchers Reduce Nano Theta Phase Alumina Costs

 

Alumina (Al2O3) is one of the most popular ceramic materials in a diverse array of industrial applications and above all, nano-scale alumina powder exhibits many advantages, such as high surface area, low sintering temperature and excellent toughness, so it can be applied in sintered monolith, catalyst carriers, composite material fillers, paints, and even chemical mechanical polishing solutions. Alumina is an essential material in the modern industry.

 

National Cheng Kung University (Tainan, TW) researchers Fu-Su Yen and Rung-Je Yang discovered a clean, cost saving process for producing nano-scale theta (.theta.)-phase alumina microparticles. The nano-scale .theta.-phase alumina microparticles are uniform in particle size, ranging from 30 nm to 150 nm,  and are highly phase-pure. They are obtained by controlling the ratio of boehmite mixed with the .theta.-phase alumina initial powders, followed by at least one phase transformation. Compared to existing production methods,  the new manufacturing method saves more process time and cost, and it provides an environmentally clean production method, according to U.S. Patent 7,491,379.

 

Nano-Cooler Could Replace Microprocessor Fans

 

CJP IP Holdings, Ltd. (Austin, TX)  received U.S. Patent 7,495,350 for nanometer scale electromechanical systems that efficiently convert molecular-level energy from one form into another form by reducing the velocity of the molecules within the working substance. These systems may include, for example, a heat engine that converts molecular-level heat energy into useful mechanical or electrical energy. Such systems may also include a heat pump that utilizes molecular-level energy to either heat or cool a substance. For example, a system may be mounted to a microprocessor as the primary cooling device, so that little or no fans would be necessary, according to inventors Joseph F Pinkerton and John C Harlan. In addition, these systems may also include propulsion systems in which molecular-level energy is utilized to create a pressure differential on the surface of an object, thereby providing the ability to propel that object in a controllable direction.

 

Nanocrystals Clear Water of Heavy Metals 

 

Stevens Institute of Technology (Hoboken, NJ) researchers have developed a surface-activated titanium oxide product  that includes nano-crystalline anatase in the range of 1-30 nm for use in water treatment processes. The product removes dissolved inorganic contaminants from water to below regulatory limits, as low as 2 parts per billion. Substances removed include antimony, arsenite, arsenate, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, tungsten, uranium, and zinc, and low-molecular weight organic arsenic compounds, such as monomethylarsonic acid, dimethylarsinic acid, or phenylarsonic acid, according to its twelve inventors (Xiaoguang Meng et al).   The material earned U.S. Patent 7,497,952

 

ENERGY

 

Nano-Spheres to “Prop Up” Oil Production

 

Ceramic proppants are widely used as propping agents to maintain permeability in oil and gas formations. Conventional proppants offered for sale exhibit exceptional crush strength but also extreme density. Typical densities of ceramic proppants exceed 100 pounds per cubic foot. Proppants are materials pumped into oil or gas wells at extreme pressure in a carrier solution (typically brine) during the fracturing process. Once the pumping-induced pressure is removed, proppants “prop” open fractures in the rock formation and thus preclude the fracture from closing. As a result, the amount of formation surface area exposed to the well bore is increased, enhancing recovery rates. Proppants also add mechanical strength to the formation and thus help maintain flow rates over time. Three grades of proppants are typically employed: sand, resin-coated sand and ceramic proppants. Proppants are principally used in gas wells, but do find application in oil wells.

 

Oxane Materials, Inc. (Houston, TX) believes its nanosphere proppants could dominate current proppant solutions on all relevant quality dimensions.  According to U.S. Patent 7,491,444, the nanoproppants exhibit neutral buoyancy, high crush strength, high sphericity, narrow size distribution, and/or high smoothness. These materials have the ability to materially reduce and/or possibly eliminate the need to employ expensive and reservoir permeability-destroying polymer carrier gels, says its eight inventors Russell J Smith, John R Loscutova, Elizabeth A Whitsitt, Christopher E. Coker, Andrew R. Barron, Mark Wiesner, Stephen A Costantino and  Rajendra Bordia.

 

Equally important, the optimal shape, size, size distribution, pore size distribution, and/or surface smoothness properties of suggest that flow resistance through the proppant pack could be reduced, such as by more than 50%. Neutral buoyancy enhances proppant transport deep into the formation increasing the amount of fracture-area propped thereby increasing the mechanical strength of the reservoir. Due to the above issues, proppants of the Oxane’s nanospheres can achieve substantially increased flow rates and/or enhanced hydrocarbon recovery. The low-cost of the  nanoparticles, and the reduced material requirements (on a per pound basis) are advantages.  The low density of the present invention's proppants may enable reductions in transportation costs in certain situations.

 

The nanoproppants present oil and gas producers with the following benefits: improved flow rates, improved productive life of wells, improved ability to design hydraulic fractures, and/or reduced environmental impact. The proppants are designed to improve flow rates, eliminating or materially reducing the use of permeability destroying polymer gels, and/or reducing pressure drop through the proppant pack, and/or the ability to reduce the amount of water trapped between proppants thereby increasing hydrocarbon "flow area."

 

Nanocatalyst Powers Membraneless Fuel Cell

 

Cornell Research Foundation, Inc. (Ithaca, NY) scientists have developed a planar microfluidic membraneless flow fuel cell. According to inventors Jamie Lee Cohen, David James Volpe, Daron A Westly, Alexander Pechenik,  Hector D. Abruna, the design eliminates the need for a mechanical membrane, such as a polyelectrolyte membrane (PEM) in a fuel cell, by providing a flow channel in which laminar flow regimes exist in two fluids flowing in mutual contact to form a "virtual interface" in the flow channel. In the flow cell, diffusion at the interface is the only mode of mass transport between the two fluids. In a fuel cell embodiment, a planar design provides to large contact areas between the two streams, which are fuel and oxidant streams, and between each stream and a respective electrode. In some embodiments, silicon microchannels, of fixed length and variable width and height, have been used to generate power using formic acid or ethanol as fuel and oxygen as oxidant. Power densities on the order of 180 .mu.W/cm2 have been obtained using this planar design.

 

Cornell’s design earned U.S. Patent 7,435,503. The fuel cell designs incorporate Pt and PtRu nanoparticles, as well as intermetallic micro-, and nano-, particles such as PtBi and PtPb which can be used as anode catalysts. Alternative substrates for the microchannels can be employed, such as polyimides, such as Kapton, or poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS). Both of these materials will facilitate the development of flexible planar devices that are very thin. There is a great emphasis on movement towards using polymers for micro-devices because of their ease of fabrication, cost efficiency, and physical flexibility. Cornell’s device design is conducive to fabrication of a flexible planar micro-fuel cell.

 

Carbon Nanotubes Reduce Fuel Cell Costs

 

Panasonic scientists developed low-cost conductive fuel cell separator plates with a low volume resistivity by improving conductive separator plates composed of a binder and a conductive material consisting mainly of conductive carbon particles such as carbon nanotubes or carbon nanohorns. According to U.S. Patent 7,452,624, the separator plates do not require conventional cutting processes for gas flow channels, etc., and can be easily mass produced by injection molding and achieve a reduction in the cost.. Moreover, it is possible to minimize the increase in the volume resistivity. Furthermore, the separator plates have toughness, abrasion resistance and impact resistance, and contribute to an improvement in the yield of the assembly of fuel cells.

 
Fuel Cell Power Boosted by Molecular Sieve

 

Industrial Technology Research Institute (Hsinchu, TW) researchers Chun-Chieh Huang, Man-Yin Lo, and Hong-Pin Lin deposited nano particles of platinum and ruthenium (Pt—Ru) on the surface of hollow mesoporous carbon material to form a novel electrode-catalyst for direct methanol fuel cells. The catalyst is prepared by introducing a carbon precursor into pores of a wormhole-like molecular sieve template, carbonizing the carbon precursor, removing the molecular sieve template to obtain a wormhole-like mesoporous carbon with a high specific surface of 800-1000 m2/g and a pore size of 4-5 nm, and depositing catalyst metal such as Pt--Ru on the mesoporous carbon.  According to U.S. Patent 7,488,699, the efficiency of the catalyst metal is increased, the production cost of the electrode-catalyst is reduced, and the activity of the electrode-catalyst is increased. Other than increasing the surface area of a catalyst's activation center, the catalyst's activity is also affected by the mass transfer rate of methanol and the capability in discharging the carbon dioxide generated by the reactions. Therefore, the pore size, sterical structure and surface properties (surface functional groups, hydro-affinity, etc.) of a carbon carrier have a significant influence on the performance of a cell. Thus, research on the carbon material is one of the key factors in increasing the performance of a fuel cell.

 

Nano-Foam Stores More Hydrogen for Fuel Cells

 

Energy Conversion Devices, Inc. (Rochester Hills, MI) reveals a nano-particulate reticulated foam-like structure of 10-200 nanometers which are used  as catalysts, and materials for hydrogen storage, battery electrodes and fuel cell electrodes in U.S. Patent 7,491,448. The particles are joined together to form a reticulated foam-like structure. The reticulated foam-like structure is similar to the structure of carbon nano-foam. The nano-particulate reticulated foam-like structure may be a metal, such as a hydrogen storage alloy, either a gas-phase thermal or an electrochemical hydrogen storage alloy. When the nano-particulate reticulated foam-like structure is a hydrogen storage alloy, the material exhibits substantial immunity to hydrogen cycling decrepitation and an increase in the reversible hydrogen storage capacity by reduction of trapped hydrogen by at least 10% as compared to the same alloy in bulk form, according to inventors Stanford R., Ovshinsky, Marshall D Muller and  Lin R Higley.

 

Nanodot Films Increase Superconductivity by 10X 

 

Japan Science and Technology Agency (Saitama, JP) and

National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (Tokyo, JP) researchers used nanodots and nanostripes are used to make an improved superconducting thin film which regardless of its type “is at least ten times higher in critical current density” than existing superconducting thin films.  They also can manufacture the improved superconductor “quite inexpensively.”  The superconducting film is advantageously applicable to the technical fields of cryogenic electronics and microwaves, according to U.S. Patent 7,491,678.  The columnar or extended defects on the three-dimensionally shaped nano dots or nano stripes and possibly also the lattice defects on such nano dots or stripes serve as pinning centers to pin a magnetic flux and thereby to make it immobile, thus leading to a sharp rise in the critical current density and critical magnetic field which a superconducting thin film exhibits.

 

NANOFABRICATION

 

Capillography Forms Molecular Sensors

 

California Institute of Technology (Pasadena, CA) Flavio Noca, Elijah B Sansom Jijie Zhou and Morteza Gharib devised a method for assembling large numbers of nanoscale structures in pre-determined ways using fluids and capillary lithography to control the patterning and arrangement of the individual nanoscale objects and nanostructures. The method, detailed in U.S. Patent #7,491,628, uses the controlled dispersion and evaporation of fluids to form controlled patterns of nanoscale objects and features anchored on a substrate such as nanoscale fibers like carbon nanotubes or dense carpets of carbon nanotubes, which can then form a number of different real-time, molecule specific sensors.  The manufacturing process is also known as capillography.

 

ASML Improves OPC for Lithography

 

ASML has developed an improved method of providing Optical Proximity Correction features in nanolithography earning U.S. Patent 7,500,218.  Grayscale Optical Proximity Correction device features are added to a mask pattern by convoluting the device features with a two-dimensional correction kernel or two one-dimensional correction kernels to generate grayscale OPC features. The resulting pattern may be used in a projection lithography apparatus having a programmable patterning means that is adapted to generate three or more intensity levels. An iterative process of simulating an aerial image that would be produced by the pattern, comparing the simulation to the desired pattern, and adjusting the OPC features may be used to generate an optimum pattern for projection.

 

Polymer Cuts Semiconductor Packaging Costs

 

California Institute of Technology’s Yu-Chong Tai and Damien C. Rodger developed a method and resulting structure for integrating a chip structure onto a film of flexible material, a process known as packaging.  An example is the invention has been applied to integrated circuit chips provided on polymer based structures such as a film of parylene material. The technique and material have a much broader range of applicability. For example, it can be applied to other chip structures including discrete electronic components, micro-electrical mechanical systems (MEMS), nano-electrical mechanical systems (NEMS), displays, power supplies, biological chips, medical chips, and biomedical chips. Additionally, the integrated chip and film structures can be applied to the fields of electronics, life sciences, publishing, medicine, business, clothing, finance, and other areas of commerce and/or lifestyle. According to U.S. Patent Application # 20080154365,   using parylene rather than conventional substrate materials allows for improvements in performance due to its mechanical and thermal properties.

 

High Power, Inexpensive MEMS Memory

 

In U.S. Patent 7,499,309, Spansion LLC (Sunnyvale, CA) inventors use organic semiconductor memory in conjunction with a MEMS actuator for an ultra high density memory.  According to the Bill Colin, Michael A. Van Buskirk, and Tzu-Ning Fang,  a metal sulfide based non-volatile memory device is comprised of a substrate, a backplane, a planar memory media including a dense array of metal sulfide based memory cells, and a MEMS probe based actuator. The cells of the memory device are operative to be of two or more states corresponding to various levels of impedance. The MEMS actuator is operable to position micro/nano probes over the appropriate cells to enable reading, writing, and erasing the memory cells by applying a bias voltage.  Areal density or the number of bits per square inch, in a probe-based system is a function of probe size, probe resolution, and precision of actuation. The present invention provides tremendous improvements over conventional storage devices by optimizing each of these parameters, resulting in a high capacity, inexpensive, and extremely small non-volatile memory device.

 

New Nanotool Uses Particle Beam Deformation

 

Korea Research Institute of Standards (Daejeon, KR) researchers, using particle beams, devised a deformation method of nanometer scale material to create nano-hooks, other shapes and a critical dimension scanning probe microscope (CD-SPM).   Inventors Byong-Chon Park, Ki-Young Jung, Sang-Jung Ahn,  Dal-Hyun Kim, Jinho Choi, Jae-Wan Hong say the new method of deforming nanometer-scale material for semiconductors and MEMs devices is completely different from conventional methods such as milling, etching, and deposition.  The CD-SPM probe and the nano-hook are examples of what can be manufactured by particle beam deformation. U.S. Patent #7,501,618 details how particle beams can be used to easily deform nanometer-scale material “without applying mechanical force.”

 

Hitachi Harnesses EMR Effect for Improved Hard Disk

 

The minute flux emanating from such nanoscale domains is challenging to detect with current-art sensors, on account of fundamental limitations intrinsic to sensors based on ferromagnetic materials such as magnetic noise and spin torque effects. Furthermore, current-art sector servo schemes while effective for track seeking and synchronization operations, do not permit active feedback of the positioning of the write/read head during data writing and reading. This open-loop operation is expected to be a major source of errors and reliability failures as the track width and spacing fall below 50 nanometers. What is needed is a sensor device for ultrahigh density magnetic recording that allows on-the-fly real time detection of written bits in order to provide precise servo information to the sensor in a closed-loop configuration. Hitachi Global Storage Technologies Netherlands B.V. (Amsterdam, NL) has solved this problem according to U.S. Patent 7,502,193. 

 

Thomas Albrecht, Bruce Gurney and Ernesto Marinero invented a system for providing a Position Error Signal (PES) on a continuous basis using a data track, without the need for a separate servo track or servo sector. The invention advantageously saves valuable media real estate, while providing PES servo information on a continuous real time bases during reading and writing functions. The invention includes the use of a sensor array that includes multiple read sensors each having a unique position on the array relative to a data track (e.i. perpendicular to the data track). The output or response from the sensors can be used to determine the position of the sensor array over the track by comparing correlation functions between pairs of sensors in the array.

 

The PES overcomes the aforementioned drawbacks and provides the desired advantages by employing magnetic sensor elements based on the recently discovered Extraordinary Magneto Resistive (EMR) effect. EMR devices can provide a higher magnetoresistive response than current-art sensors, and as they comprise no ferromagnetic elements, they are free of magnetic noise which is caused by fluctuations of the magnetization direction on account of environmental thermal fluctuations. Two dedicated EMR sensors are employed in the invention: one for data reading and one for servo operations. The sensors are preferably configured in an abutted configuration. The high spatial resolution of the sensor elements is achieved by matching the spacing between the probe leads that detect the magnetic excitations from the recorded medium, as well as the width of the semiconductor stripe to be of comparable dimensions to the track width being read (for the read sensor) and to the recorded information needed to be sensed for servo operations. The system allows on-the-fly real time detection of written bits in order to provide precise servo information to the sensor in a closed-loop configuration.  EMR permits recording at very high densities without the need to employ costly lithography with stringent island positioning requirements.        

 

M.I.T. Creates Small Source for Brilliant X-Rays

 

Hard x-ray sources have been available for nearly 110 years, with a well-established and extraordinary impact on science and technology. From the dozen or more Nobel Prizes recognizing their role in fundamental discovery in chemistry and physics to the medical x-ray, which virtually every citizen of modern developed countries has experienced, x-rays have yielded unparalleled benefits to modern society.

 

In the last thirty years, the production of extremely high brilliance x-ray beams by accelerator-based sources (i.e., synchrotron radiation) has revolutionized the field of x-ray science and technology. The impact of these sources is comparable with that of the original discovery of x-rays. Using these high-brilliance x-ray beams, scientists are able to (a) see single atomic layers, (b) use weak-magnetic scattering routinely, (c) study dynamic phenomena using inelastic and time-dependent techniques with extraordinary resolution, and (d) spectroscopically probe complex molecules with extremely high resolution.

 

Perhaps the largest impact is coming from "structural genomics"--the application of novel synchrotron-radiation-based diffraction methods to solve the full, three-dimensional, atomic-level structure of all known proteins. In the field of imaging science, synchrotron sources have allowed the much-more-subtle angle and energy shifts, which occur as an x-ray penetrates a material, to be the basis for differentiating different material constituents in an image. This method is known as phase-contrast imaging. Remarkable improvements in image resolution and lowering of dose are now well known. Nevertheless, the scientific impact of these sources is now limited by their gigantic size, which leads to their high cost (i.e., over a billion dollars in some cases) and relative scarcity. Virtually everyone who does research at the synchrotron user facilities does so under extremely limiting conditions of travel and available beam time.

 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA) researchers Franz X. Kaertner, William S. Graves, David E. Moncton, and Fatih Omer Ilday developed an x-ray source that can produce high-brilliance x-rays at a much lower cost and with a much smaller footprint (4X6 meters)  than existing billion dollar synchrotron x-ray sources. This compact x-ray source includes a radiofrequency (RF) photoinjector, an accelerator module, and a high-power optical laser apparatus. Both the photoinjector and the accelerator module can be formed of superconducting material. Further, the accelerator module is not a large, ring-type accelerator, but rather can be a compact linear accelerator.  The invention earned U.S. Patent 7,391,850.   

 

The high-power optical laser apparatus includes a passive enhancement cavity (also referred to as an "accumulation cavity" or as a "coherent cavity"). The cavity adds a sequence of photon pulses of low energy (particularly ultra-short--e.g., picosecond--pulses) to add up to one giant pulse of very high energy.

 

This compact x-ray source moves the power of a synchrotron source into individual laboratories, thereby enabling a wide range of technologies and fundamental research central to research communities, such as protein crystallography and nano-structure studies. The compact x-ray source also provides exceptional time resolution for a hard x-ray source, opening opportunities for the study of chemical dynamics beyond any existing technology. Further still, this compact x-ray source, because of its small source size and tunable energy, enables improved x-ray imaging (e.g., via phase-contrast imaging) at a lower radiation dose for medical imaging than is achievable with existing x-ray sources in hospitals.  The technology is available for licensing from M.I.T.  

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