Materials & Coatings

Nano-Engineered Catalysts for Direct Methanol Fuel Cells

Small particle sizes and large surface areas can be produced economically and consistently. Nano-engineered catalysts, and a method of fabricating them, have been developed in a continuing effort to improve the performances of direct methanol fuel cells as candidate power sources to supplant primary and secondary batteries in a variety of portable electronic products. In order to realize the potential for high energy densities (as much as 1.5 W•h/g) of direct methanol fuel cells, it will be necessary to optimize the chemical compositions and geometric configurations of catalyst layers and electrode structures. High performance can be achieved when catalyst particles and electrode structures have the necessary small feature sizes (typically of the order of nanometers), large surface areas, optimal metal compositions, high porosity, and hydrophobicity.

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Nanotip Carpets as Antireflection Surfaces

Reflectance less than 10–3 is readily achieved. Carpetlike random arrays of metal-coated silicon nanotips have been shown to be effective as antireflection surfaces. Now undergoing development for incorporation into Sun sensors that would provide guidance for robotic exploratory vehicles on Mars, nanotip carpets of this type could also have many uses on Earth as antireflection surfaces in instruments that handle or detect ultraviolet, visible, or infrared light.

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Directed Growth of Carbon Nanotubes Across Gaps

Single-walled carbon nanotubes grow aligned along applied electric fields. An experiment has shown that when single- walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs) are grown by chemical vapor deposition in the presence of an electric field of suitable strength, the nanotubes become aligned along the electric field. In an important class of contemplated applications, one would exploit this finding in fabricating nanotube transistors; one would grow SWNTs across gaps between electrodes that would serve, subsequently, as source and drain contacts during operation of the transistors.

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Protective Solid Electrolyte Films for Thin Li-Ion Cells

These films would simplify fabrication and afford greater flexibility in design. Thin films of Li2CO3 are under consideration for use as passivating layers between electrodes and solid electrolytes in advanced thin-film lithium-ion electrochemical cells. By suppressing undesired chemical reactions as described below, the Li2CO3 films could help to prolong the shelf lives, increase the specific energies, and simplify the fabrication of the cells. Batteries comprising one or more cells of this type could be used as sources of power in such miniature electronic circuits as those in “smart” cards, implantable electronic medical devices, sensors, portable communication devices, and hand-held computers.

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Testing Soil for Electrokinetically Enhanced Bioremediation

Data from tests provide guidance for in situ treatment. The term “prefield test” denotes an in situ test of contaminated soil in preparation for in situ treatment of the soil by a method called “electrokinetically enhanced bioremediation” (EEB). A prefield test yields data that are helpful in designing and operating an efficient and cost-effective EEB system.

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Heat-Storage Modules Containing LiNO3•3H2O and Graphite Foam

Heat capacity per unit volume has been increased. A heat-storage module based on a commercial open-cell graphite foam (PocoFoam or equivalent) imbued with lithium nitrate trihydrate (LiNO3•3H2O) has been developed as a prototype of other such modules for use as short-term heat sources or heat sinks in the temperature range of approximately 28 to 30 °C. In this module, the LiNO3•3H2O serves as a phase-change heat-storage material and the graphite foam as thermally conductive filler for transferring heat to or from the phase-change material. In comparison with typical prior heat-storage modules in which paraffins are the phase-change materials and aluminum fins are the thermally conductive fillers, this module has more than twice the heat-storage capacity per unit volume.

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Precipitation-Strengthened, High-Temperature, High-Force Shape Memory Alloys

Shape memory alloys capable of performing up to 400 °C have been developed for use in solidstate actuator systems. Shape memory alloys (SMAs) are an enabling component in the development of compact, lightweight, durable, high-force actuation systems particularly for use where hydraulics or electrical motors are not practical. However, commercial shape memory alloys based on NiTi are only suitable for applications near room temperature, due to their relatively low transformation temperatures, while many potential applications require higher temperature capability. Consequently, a family of (Ni,Pt)1–xTix shape memory alloys with Ti concentrations x ≤ 50 atomic percent and Pt contents ranging from about 15 to 25 at.% have been developed for applications in which there are requirements for SMA actuators to exert high forces at operating temperatures higher than those of conventional binary NiTi SMAs. These alloys can be heat treated in the range of 500 °C to produce a series of fine precipitate phases that increase the strength of alloy while maintaining a high transformation temperature, even in Ti-lean compositions.

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