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March 2010

Surface Science and the Green Revolution
As far as revolutions go, some would say we're somewhere at the start of the new energy revolution. Compared to other revolutions, this could be a slow one. The PC revolution which seems like it's about 10 years old is really going on 30. But unlike the PC revolution, there is no equivalent to Moore's Law for the green movement. Also, unlike the PC revolution which has been mainly technology-driven, the move toward green is driven heavily by public policy. Stimulus dollars are hard at work building the research facilities that promote technological development of new-generation energy sources.1 Let us examine some of the ways surface science will play a role in the development of new energy sources.


Canadian Researchers at the University of Windsor are studying ways to improve the efficiency of wind turbines used in a variety of environments.2 In Nordic regions, for example, ice build-up can lead to decreased efficiency at best and dangerous load imbalances at worst. In warmer environments, humid (i.e., denser) air results in improved efficiency but brings with it insects which can foul the blades and lower efficiency by as much as 50%. Lastly, in arid regions the winds are often laden with sand and other ground-based abrasive particles. Over time, the natural sand blasting can alter the surface of the blades leading to a reduction in efficiency. Researchers are designing new materials and treatments that will combat and overcome these obstacles. Contact angle plays an important role in characterizing surface behavior in an effort to optimize self-cleaning, anti-stick, and anti-icing properties. Perhaps future research will address the noise issue. People that live near wind turbines complain of headaches, sleep loss, and anxiety - symptoms of a new malady labeled wind turbine syndrome.

In our August 2009 Newsletter, we examined thin films and third-generation solar technology. In short, contact angle plays a vital role in the development of new panel technology and coatings. As contact angle increases so too does cell efficiency and self-cleaning properties which leads to lower maintenance costs.

When we think of new energy sources, we don't usually think of nuclear. But new advances in nuclear technology - as seen in the current generation 3+ reactors and tomorrow's generation 4 reactors - overcome the problem with radioactive waste by recycling spent nuclear fuel and producing less toxic byproducts. Researchers in Korea3 are using contact angle and surface energy to design new epoxy coating systems used in next generation nuclear power plants. Scientists at the US Department of Energy4 are developing processes that are necessary for very high temperature next generation reactor technology. One of these processes is a two-phase heat transfer using a high temperature thermosyphon which transfers process heat from a next generation nuclear plant to a hydrogen plant. The instabilities which are common in natural circulation systems are exacerbated by temperatures much higher than currently used. An understanding of wetting behavior and contact angle of the working fluids and vapors helps scientist develop better performance predictions and design next generation systems that are safe and reliable. Expect generation 3+ reactors to come online in the US by the end of the decade. Generation 4 reactors are not expected to enter commercial development until well after 2020.

The Electric Car

"Who Killed the Electric Car?" is a 2006 documentary5 which explores the demise of General Motor's EV1, an electric car made available by lease only in Southern California during the early 1990's. The underlying objective is to figure out why GM refused to renew the leases and ended up crushing most of EV1's in a rather surreal and secretive product death. The popular Toyota Prius and similar hybrid vehicles represent the current generation of electric cars but are not zero emission. Later this year Nissan will begin selling the LEAF (which, by the way, stands for Leading, Environmentally-friendly, Affordable, Family car). The LEAF will be fueled by an array of thin laminated Lithium Ion cells sealed in a flat enclosure that mounts under the seats and weighs 440 lbs. Contact angle and wettability play a critical role in the design of porous electrodes6, plasma-modified polyethylene7 and micro-porous gel polymer8 used as separators in lithium ion polymer batteries. As advances in materials and battery technology drive down the weight, lower production costs, and increase driving range, the new generation of zero emission electric vehicles will stand a greater chance of surviving than the EV1 had.

Algal and Other Biofuels
Biofuels (such as ethanol) have been around for awhile but are only beginning to gain the attention of the public and scientific community. Currently biofuels provide less than 2% of the world's transportation fuel.9 However, new methods and technologies promise to lower cost and increase production. Waste vegetable oils, for example, can now be be converted to a type of biodiesel fuel. Since standard diesel engines are optimized to burn Number 2 diesel, researchers are studying processes that will lower the viscosity and surface tension of waste vegetable oils in order for optimal atomization and combustion to occur without damaging engines. In a similar light, new production methods are making algae fuel more attractive. Algae grows 20 to 30 times faster and can produce 300 times more oil per acre than conventional crops.

Carbon Capture
One of the more policy-driven new energy technologies involves capturing carbon dioxide from the smokestack of coal plants, pressurizing it, and then pumping it under ground. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin are studying the intricacies of carbon dioxide flow under high pressure which requires an understanding of capillary pressure, interfacial tension, and permeability.10 Carbon capture is expensive and in the end its fate lies with Congress and whether they impose a carbon tax or cap and trade system.

The new energy revolution relies on innovative materials, methods, and processes. Contact angle, wettability, adhesion, and surface tension play a critical role in the development of these technologies with an eye toward lowering productions costs, increasing efficiencies, and bringing to market new energy sources. It's not going to happen quickly...but it will happen eventually.


5http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsJAlrYjGz8 and http://www.whokilledtheelectriccar.com/



Lab Services

ramé-hart instrument co. offers a wide array of lab services. We can take measurements and calculations per your requirements and application. Some of the types of data we can collect include:

  • Contact Angle

  • Surface Energy

  • Surface Tension

  • Interfacial Tension

  • Advancing and Receding Contact Angle

  • Roll-off Angle and Contact Angle Hysteresis

  • Zisman's Plot

  • Work of Adhesion

  • Captive Bubble Studies

  • Elevated Temperature and Environmentally-controlled Studies

  • Surface Dilatational Elasticity and Oscillation Studies

We can take measurements on your samples and with your liquids. We also have a wide variety of common liquids in stock. We can help you design a study if you are not sure of what you need to measure. All results are emailed in a timely manner and the test samples are destroyed or returned per your request. We accept purchase orders, prepayment, and credit card.

If you or your organization are looking to evaluate new materials, coatings, or treatments and do not have access to a goniometer or tensiometer, call on us to do the work for you. More information including the type of information we need to provide you with a quotation, please visit here: http://www.ramehart.com/goniometers/lab.htm

For a no-obligation quotation, please call or contact us today.



Carl Clegg
Director of Sales
Phone 973-448-0305
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