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It’s a Challenge – New Technology

By Darlene Brezinski, PhD, Technical Editor | February 3, 2016

Keeping up with the changing technology is indeed a true challenge!   There are so many exciting, new developments on the horizon and I find keeping up with them all a daunting task – but certainly of interest and fun to read.  Thought I would just cite some recent examples.

●  A digital tool for the shipping industry that can accurately predict the potential fuel and CO2 savings offered by fouling control coatings has been launched by AkzoNobel's Marine Coatings business. With more than 3.5 billion data points, Intertrac Vision is the first "Big Data" solution to accurately predict the performance of a coatings technology - before it has been applied. It works by analyzing factors such as hull roughness -  the "roughness" associated with biofouling, and computational fluid dynamic studies carried out on different hull types. This vessel-specific information is then processed using proprietary algorithms to provide an accurate assessment of the impact of each potential fouling control coating choice, including a full cost-benefit analysis. The advanced science that underpins Intertrac Vision has taken more than four years to develop in collaboration with leading academic and commercial research institutes, including the University College London Energy Institute, Maritime Research Institute Netherlands (MARIN), Newcastle University and more than 30 ship owners and operators.

●  Engineers at the University of Pittsburgh are leading a national research effort to utilize additive manufacturing in developing stronger coatings for materials used in harsh environments, such as the super-heated interior of a gas turbine. Minking Chyu, PhD, the Leighton and Mary Orr Chair Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at the University of Pittsburgh, will lead the Pitt researchers. This project (Design, Fabrication, and Performance Characterization of Near-Surface Embedded Cooling Channels with an Oxide Dispersion Strengthened Coating Layer) plans to improve thermal protection for materials exposed to intense heat in modern and future gas turbines. Chyu will make use of an oxide-dispersion-strengthened (ODS) coating layer with embedded cooling channels beneath or within the ODS layer to achieve a process called near-wall cooling. The project will employ rapidly advanced additive manufacturing (AM) processes - a more accurate way to describe the professional production technique commonly referred to as "3D printing." Apart from significant cost reduction in raw materials, AM offers enormous design freedom and an innovative approach compared to conventional techniques, which imposed certain limitations in having the ODS layer atop of the turbine components. “Even though ODS has many superb properties for protecting substrate material from oxidation and deteriorated strength in a very high temperature environment, it is very hard for traditional machining or cutting," said Chyu. "Therefore, this technology would not be realizable if not because of AM."

●  Monash University researchers have discovered a revolutionary, new, ultra-light magnesium alloy. Professor Nick Birbilis, Head of Materials Science and Engineering Department, said that the new magnesium-lithium alloy weighs about half as much as already light-weight aluminum, and could potentially be used across a broad range of manufacturing to reduce the weight of motor vehicles and other items such as laptops by up to 40 per cent. Professor Birbilis, who is part of a research team that includes Professor Michael Ferry and key researcher Dr Wanqiang Xu from University of New South Wales, came across the discovery by chance when they noticed that a piece of the magnesium alloy had been resting in a beaker of water for quite some time without corroding. “Normally for magnesium alloys, you walk away and a day later you come back and there's very little left. This particular alloy stunned everyone in that it looked pristine after very lengthy periods of exposure in salt water conditions,” he said. The alloy forms a protective layer of carbonate-rich film upon atmospheric exposure, making it immune to corrosion when tested in laboratory settings. Even when scratched, the metal is able to re-form a protective surface film, making it similar to stainless steel, but at a fraction of the weight. In fact, this magnesium alloy could be the world’s lightest and strongest metal. This discovery is particularly relevant to the transportation industry, where a reduction in the weight of cars, trucks and airplanes could improve fuel efficiency and greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Prof. Birbilis said they hope to better understand how the corrosion process is averted and are working toward imparting the ‘stainless’ effect to a wider range of alloys.

●  In an important step toward creating a practical underwater glue, researchers at UC Santa Barbara have designed a synthetic material that combines the key functionalities of interfacial mussel foot proteins, creating a single, low-molecular-weight, one-component adhesive. “We have successfully mimicked the biological adhesive delivery mechanism in water with an unprecedented level of underwater adhesion,” said UCSB research faculty member Kollbe Ahn.  An adhesive primer that can overcome the barrier of water and contaminant “biofilm” layers to adhere to virtually any mineral or metal oxide surface has a variety of applications, from basic repair of materials regularly exposed to salty water, to biomedical and dental uses, as well as nanofabrication. “More importantly, this less than 2 nanometer-thin layer can be used not only at the nano-length scale, but also in the macro-length scale to boost the performance of current bulk adhesives,” Ahn added.

Inspired by mussels’ ability to cling to surfaces despite the constant pounding of waves and wind, the interdisciplinary group of scientists studied the combination of proteins mussels secrete in the form of byssus threads that extend from their feet and anchor them to rocks, pilings or any other surface in their vicinity. But science had struggled to emulate the ability the molluscs have developed over hundreds of millions of years of evolution. According to Ahn, at least part of the reason for the difficulty has been the lack of a deep and fundamental understanding of the biological mechanism at the molecular level, leading to synthetic adhesives that have generally fallen short in the quality of adhesion and often required complex and somewhat impractical processing and functionalization. While collaborating with colleagues from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, the UCSB research team developed a less complex material that nevertheless demonstrates a record high wet (or underwater) adhesion — up to 10 times the effectiveness previously demonstrated in other such materials.

Key to this technology is the synthesis of a material that combines the key functional molecular groups of several residues found in the biological adhesion proteins. In mussel feet, the amino acid L-Dopa  contains hydrogen-bonding chemical groups called catechols. These are found in especially high quantities at the interface between the plaques at the ends of the byssus threads the mussels secrete, and the often wet and submerged surfaces to which they adhere. By mimicking the characteristics of mussel foot proteins that are particularly rich in this amino acid, Ahn and colleagues designed a molecule that can prime and fuse two surfaces underwater. To date, the researchers have studied the practical electronic and biomedical applications of this and other families of self-assembled monomolecular-layer catechols and have three patents pending. In addition, they launched NanoM Technologies, LLC to further develop this technology. Applications of this catecholic adhesive primer are diverse. It can be used to prime or stick surfaces that regularly come into contact with the elements, or added to materials to make them self-healing in wet situations. Additionally, said Ahn, the small molecules of this adhesive form atomically smooth, ultra-thin glue layers, which hold particular promise for the fabrication of nano-scale electronic devices, including circuits and battery components. The spontaneous coating process, he added, is based on molecular self-assembly in water, without the aid of toxic chemicals, volatile organic solvents or external energy inputs such as heat or light — a sustainable and environmentally friendly process that satisfies the requirements of the emerging discipline of green chemistry. “This finding opens the door to a new generation of nanofabrications,” he said.

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