Next to silicon, germanium (Ge) is the most widely used semiconductor material in the world. But while it’s great at conducting electricity, its inefficiency at turning light into electricity (or electricity into light) restricts the other applications for which it can be used.
Paul Simmonds, an assistant professor with a dual appointment to the departments of physics, and materials science and engineering, wondered if there was a way to fine-tune germanium’s physical properties, and thus improve its optoelectronic characteristics (how well it interfaces between electronics and light).
The Air Force Office of Scientific Research also was intrigued and funded a proposal titled “Optoelectronic Properties of Strain-Engineered Germanium Dots” with a three-year, $622,000 grant. Simmonds is working on the project through a sub-award administered through the University of California, Merced, and the University of California, Los Angeles. Boise State’s share of the award is $206,000.
“If we can turn Ge into an optoelectronic material, then other characteristics would make it attractive as a laser material,” Simmonds said. “It’s a bit like alchemy. We hope to change the fundamental properties of an element on the periodic table simply by stretching it a little.”
For years, scientists have tried putting germanium under tensile strain (stretching it at the atomic level) in order to improve its optoelectronic properties. But germanium is fragile, and crystalline imperfections cause it to break before enough tensile strain can be built up.
Simmonds and his research team have responded to the challenge by developing a new family of self-assembled nanomaterials capable of storing large amounts of tensile strain, without damage to the crystalline structure.
“Self-assembly has allowed us to develop a way for the materials to sustain high tensile strains without falling apart,” Simmonds said. “Instead of remaining flat, the atoms rearrange to form nanoscopic islands, like raindrops on the top of a car but about a million times smaller. The process of rearranging into 3D islands relieves a little of the strain and creates a window that allows us to have high tensile strain without breaking any atomic bonds. We’ve shown this works with other materials and now we want to try it with germanium.”
Doing so would help establish tensile self-assembly as a novel means by which to integrate dissimilar materials and demonstrate to the research community that nanostructure band engineering with tensile strain is an effective tool for discovering and designing materials for technological innovation.
While their work has real-world applications — creating direct band gap Ge nanostructures would be a critical breakthrough in optoelectronic materials research — Simmonds is excited that it’s also an opportunity to simply understand the world a little better.
It is the second-oldest of the general-education campuses of the University of California system. UCLA is one of the two flagship universities in the UC system (alongside the oldest UC campus at Berkeley) The university was founded in 1919 as the second campus of the University of California system. It offers 337 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in a wide range of disciplines. With an approximate enrollment of 29,000 undergraduate and 13,000 graduate students, UCLA is the university with the largest enrollment in the state of California and the most applied to university in the World with over 100,000 applications for fall 2013. The university has been labeled one of the Public Ivies, a publicly funded university considered as providing a quality of education comparable to those of the Ivy League.
The university is organized into five undergraduate colleges, seven professional schools, and four professional health science schools. The undergraduate colleges are the College of Letters and Science; Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science; School of the Arts and Architecture; School of Theater, Film, and Television; and School of Nursing. Fifteen Nobel laureates, one Fields Medalist, and two Turing Award winners have been affiliated with the university as faculty, researchers, or alumni.
Among the current faculty members, 51 have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, 22 to the National Academy of Engineering, 37 to the Institute of Medicine, and 120 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The university was elected to the Association of American Universities in 1974.
UCLA research articles from Innovation Toronto
- UCLA researchers create exceptionally strong and lightweight new metal – December 24, 2015
- New material developed for accelerated skin regeneration in major wounds – December 17, 2015
- FDA approves game-changing immunotherapy drug to fight lung cancer – October 6, 2015
- Completely paralyzed man voluntarily moves his legs – September 2, 2015
- Algae nutrient recycling is a triple win – August 26, 2015
- Paralyzed men move legs with new non-invasive spinal cord stimulation – August 2, 2015
- UCLA chemists devise technology that could transform solar energy storage – June 19, 2015
- An inexpensive device that can turn any smartphone into a DNA-scanning fluorescent microscope – May 4, 2015
- Artificial Haptic Intelligence: Giving Robots the Human Touch – April 10, 2015
- New Compounds Could Offer Therapy for Multitude of Diseases – March 30, 2015
- Lens-free microscope can detect cancer at the cellular level – December 21, 2014
- ‘Treasure in saliva’ may reveal deadly diseases early enough to treat them, UCLA scientists report – November 2, 2014
- Memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s reversed for first time – October 2, 2014
- UCLA biologists delay the aging process by ‘remote control’ – September 9, 2014
- To Eat or Not to Eat: New Disposable Biosensor May Help Physicians Determine Which Patients Can Safely Be Fed Following Surgery – August 9, 2014
- Memory-restoring implants coming from DARPA – July 10, 2014
- 3D Printed, Life-sized Sand Castles Could be the Mobile Homes of the Future – April 15, 2014
- New data compression method reduces big-data bottleneck; outperforms, enhances JPEG
- VIDEO: University of Virginia Engineers are Designing, Building Mechanical Ray
- UCLA, Rice University Make Phase-Change Memory Breakthrough
- UCLA engineers develop new metabolic pathway to more efficiently convert sugars into biofuels
- UCLA researchers invent portable device for common kidney tests
- Microbial team turns corn stalks and leaves into better biofuel
- Researchers Invent New Tools to Organize Information-Overload Threatening Neuroscience
- UCLA researchers double efficiency of novel solar cell
- Brain rewires itself after damage or injury, life scientists discover
- UCLA engineers craft material for high-performance ‘supercapacitor’
- UCLA scientists turn lowly cell phone camera into lab worthy research microscope
- UCLA First to Perform New Procedure on West Coast to Safely Open Blocked Carotid Arteries
- Researchers Unveil Large Robotic Jellyfish That One Day Could Patrol Oceans
- The New Tomato — UCLA Researchers Engineer Tomatoes That Mimic Good Cholesterol
- How internet culture is rewiring us
- Guiding responsible research in geoengineering
- The Future Of Education Eliminates The Classroom, Because The World Is Your Class
- Tiny capsule effectively kills cancer cells
- On-Demand Synaptic Electronics: Circuits That Learn and Forget
- The costs of climate change can be mitigated if economic activity moves in response
- New Class of Power Inverter Could Mean Cheaper, Faster Hybrid Vehicles
- Green Tea Reduced Inflammation, May Inhibit Prostate Cancer Tumor Growth
- Device that busts blood clots in the brain could change treatment for strokes
- Ultrafast Camera Renews Promise of Blood Test for Early Cancer Detection
- UCLA’s new transparent solar film could be game-changer
- UCLA researchers create highly transparent solar cells for windows that generate electricity
- Free Speech for Computers?
- Crowd-sourcing brain research leads to breakthrough
- Brown liquor and solar cells to provide sustainable electricity
- Laser-Engraved Graphene Could Power New Kinds of Electronics
- Phone-based scanner detects harmful bacteria
- Human stem cell therapy works in blind patients in first trial
- Long-Lived Fruit Flies Offer Clues to Slowing Human Aging and Fighting Disease
- The First Fully Stretchable OLED
- Keeping Tabs on the Infrastructure, Wirelessly
- The internet at forty
- Researchers working on batteries smaller than a grain of salt
- Finding a Medical “Silver Bullet” to Disable Many of the World’s Deadliest Viruses
- New compound provides a better cage for carbon dioxide
- Getting It Wrong: Surprising Tips on How to Learn
- Printed supercapacitor could feed power-hungry gadgets
- New study offers hope for halting incurable citrus disease
- UCLA engineers develop a stretchable, foldable transparent electronic display
- New Electron Beam Writer Enables Next-Gen Biomedical and Information Technologies
- Google and NASA Snap Up Quantum Computer D-Wave Two
- Boosting ‘cellular garbage disposal’ can delay the aging process
- UCLA researchers develop new technique to scale up production of graphene micro-supercapacitors
- Smart satnav drives around the blue highway blues
- Electricity and Carbon Dioxide Used to Generate Alternative Fuel
- Drones Set Sights on U.S. Skies
- New ‘Biopsy in a Blood Test’ to Detect Cancer
- Starting up in Chile, not Silicon Valley
- Ant Harm: Can Genetic Weapons Roll Back the Expansion of Argentine Ant Supercolonies?
- Collaborating for Profits in Nanotechnology
- Far From a Lab? Turn a Cellphone Into a Microscope
- ‘Scary’ climate message from past
- Politics in the Guise of Pure Science – Classic Conundrum
By coating tiny gel beads with lung-derived stem cells and then allowing them to self-assemble into the shapes of the air sacs found in human lungs, researchers at the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA have succeeded in creating three-dimensional lung “organoids.” The laboratory-grown lung-like tissue can be used to study diseases including idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, which has traditionally been difficult to study using conventional methods.
“While we haven’t built a fully functional lung, we’ve been able to take lung cells and place them in the correct geometrical spacing and pattern to mimic a human lung,” said Dr. Brigitte Gomperts, an associate professor of pediatric hematology/oncology and the study’s lead author.
Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is a chronic lung disease characterized by scarring of the lungs. The scarring makes the lungs thick and stiff, which over time results in progressively worsening shortness of breath and lack of oxygen to the brain and vital organs. After diagnosis, most people with the disease live about three to five years. Though researchers do not know what causes idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in all cases, for a small percentage of people it runs in their families. Additionally, cigarette smoking and exposure to certain types of dust can increase the risk of developing the disease.
To study the effect of genetic mutations or drugs on lung cells, researchers have previously relied on two-dimensional cultures of the cells. But when they take cells from people with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and grow them on these flat cultures, the cells appear healthy. “Scientists have really not been able to model lung scarring in a dish,” said Gomperts, who is a member of the UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center. The inability to model idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in the laboratory makes it difficult to study the biology of the disease and design possible treatments.
Gomperts and her colleagues started with stem cells created using cells from adult lungs. They used those cells to coat sticky hydrogel beads, and then they partitioned these beads into small wells, each only 7 millimeters across. Inside each well, the lung cells grew around the beads, which linked them and formed an evenly distributed three-dimensional pattern. To show that these tiny organoids mimicked the structure of actual lungs, the researchers compared the lab-grown tissues with real sections of human lung.
“The technique is very simple,” said Dan Wilkinson, a graduate student in the department of materials science and engineering and the paper’s first author. “We can make thousands of reproducible pieces of tissue that resemble lung and contain patient-specific cells.”
Moreover, when Wilkinson and Gomperts added certain molecular factors to the 3-D cultures, the lungs developed scars similar to those seen in the lungs of people who have idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, something that could not be accomplished using two-dimensional cultures of these cells.
Using the new lung organoids, researchers will be able to study the biological underpinnings of lung diseases including idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, and also test possible treatments for the diseases. To study an individual’s disease, or what drugs might work best in their case, clinicians could collect cells from the person, turn them into stem cells, coax those stem cells to differentiate into lung cells, then use those cells in 3-D cultures. Because it’s so easy to create many tiny organoids at once, researchers could screen the effect of many drugs. “This is the basis for precision medicine and personalized treatments,” Gomperts said.
New noninvasive technique may lead to low-cost therapy for patients with severe brain injury
A 25-year-old man recovering from a coma has made remarkable progress following a treatment at UCLA to jump-start his brain using ultrasound. The technique uses sonic stimulation to excite the neurons in the thalamus, an egg-shaped structure that serves as the brain’s central hub for processing information.
“It’s almost as if we were jump-starting the neurons back into function,” said Martin Monti, the study’s lead author and a UCLA associate professor of psychology and neurosurgery. “Until now, the only way to achieve this was a risky surgical procedure known as deep brain stimulation, in which electrodes are implanted directly inside the thalamus,” he said. “Our approach directly targets the thalamus but is noninvasive.”
Monti said the researchers expected the positive result, but he cautioned that the procedure requires further study on additional patients before they determine whether it could be used consistently to help other people recovering from comas.
“It is possible that we were just very lucky and happened to have stimulated the patient just as he was spontaneously recovering,” Monti said.
A report on the treatment is published in the journal Brain Stimulation. This is the first time the approach has been used to treat severe brain injury.
The technique, called low-intensity focused ultrasound pulsation, was pioneered by Alexander Bystritsky, a UCLA professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences in the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and a co-author of the study. Bystritsky is also a founder of Brainsonix, a Sherman Oaks, California-based company that provided the device the researchers used in the study.
That device, about the size of a coffee cup saucer, creates a small sphere of acoustic energy that can be aimed at different regions of the brain to excite brain tissue. For the new study, researchers placed it by the side of the man’s head and activated it 10 times for 30 seconds each, in a 10-minute period.
Monti said the device is safe because it emits only a small amount of energy — less than a conventional Doppler ultrasound.
Before the procedure began, the man showed only minimal signs of being conscious and of understanding speech — for example, he could perform small, limited movements when asked. By the day after the treatment, his responses had improved measurably. Three days later, the patient had regained full consciousness and full language comprehension, and he could reliably communicate by nodding his head “yes” or shaking his head “no.” He even made a fist-bump gesture to say goodbye to one of his doctors.
“The changes were remarkable,” Monti said.
The technique targets the thalamus because, in people whose mental function is deeply impaired after a coma, thalamus performance is typically diminished. And medications that are commonly prescribed to people who are coming out of a coma target the thalamus only indirectly.
Under the direction of Paul Vespa, a UCLA professor of neurology and neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, the researchers plan to test the procedure on several more people beginning this fall at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. Those tests will be conducted in partnership with the UCLA Brain Injury Research Center and funded in part by the Dana Foundation and the Tiny Blue Dot Foundation.
If the technology helps other people recovering from coma, Monti said, it could eventually be used to build a portable device — perhaps incorporated into a helmet — as a low-cost way to help “wake up” patients, perhaps even those who are in a vegetative or minimally conscious state. Currently, there is almost no effective treatment for such patients, he said.
Ions subjected to buffer gas cooling never truly reach the same temperature as the surrounding gas
According to the basic laws of thermodynamics, if you leave a warm apple pie in a winter window eventually the pie would cool down to the same temperature as the surrounding air.
For chemists and physicists, cooling samples of charged particles, also called ions, makes them easier to control and study. So they use a similar approach — called buffer gas cooling — to lower the temperature of ions by trapping them and then immersing them in clouds of cold atoms. Collisions with the atoms cool the originally hot ions by transferring energy from the ions to the atoms — much the same way a warm pie is cooled next to the cold window, said Eric Hudson, associate professor of physics at UCLA.
But new research by Hudson and his team, published in the journal Nature Communications, demonstrates that ions never truly cool to the temperature of the surrounding gas. Also, very surprisingly, they discovered that under certain conditions, two final temperatures exist, and the temperature that the ions choose depends on their starting temperature.
“This apparent departure from the familiar laws of thermodynamics is akin to our warm apple pie either cooling as expected or spontaneously bursting into flames, depending on the pie’s exact temperature when it is placed in the window,” said Hudson, the senior author of the study.
The UCLA researchers have, for the first time, placed fundamental limits on the use of buffer gas cooling in “ion traps.” To perform their experiment, the researchers prepared a microscopic sample of laser cooled ions of the chemical element barium and immersed them in clouds of roughly 3 million laser-cooled calcium atoms. The researchers make molecules extremely cold under highly controlled conditions to reveal the quantum mechanical properties that are normally hidden.
The ions were trapped in an apparatus that levitates charged particles by using electric fields that oscillate millions of times per second, confining the ions to a region smaller than the width of a human hair. Both the atomic and ionic samples were brought to ultra-cold temperatures —just one-thousandth of a degree above absolute zero — via a technique in which the momentum of light in a laser is used to slow particle motion.
After allowing collisions between the atoms and ions to occur and the system to reach its final temperature, the physicists removed the calcium atoms and measured the temperature of the barium ions. The results, which show the existence of multiple final temperatures based on ion number and initial temperature, suggest that subtle non-equilibrium physics is at play.
The researchers trace these strange features to the heating and cooling rates which exist in the system — the peculiar temperature dependence of the interaction among multiple ions in an ion trap. Both simulation and theory support their experimental findings, and paint the buffer-gas cooling process as a fundamentally nuanced, non-equilibrium process rather than the straightforward equilibrium process it was originally understood to be.
Lead author Steven Schowalter, a graduate student researcher in Hudson’s laboratory and now a staff scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said, “Our results demonstrate that you can’t just throw any buffer gas into your device — no matter how cold it is — and expect it to work as an effective coolant.”
Buffer gas cooling is crucial in fields ranging from forensics to the production of antimatter. Hudson’s research group has discovered important nuances that revise the current understanding of the cooling process, explain the difficulties encountered in previous cooling experiments and show a new path forward for creating ultra-cold ion samples. With this framework the researchers showed how troublesome effects can be overcome and even exploited to study the mechanisms at play in molecular motors and single-atom heat engines in a precisely controlled manner.
“Of course, this work does not violate the laws of thermodynamics, but it does demonstrate there are still some interesting, potentially useful things to learn about buffer gas cooling,” said John Gillaspy, a physics division program director at the National Science Foundation, which funds the research. “This is the sort of fundamental research that can really guide a wide range of more applied research efforts, helping other scientists and engineers to avoid going down dead-end paths and illuminating more fruitful directions they might take instead.”
TSRI Study Points Way to Better Vaccines and New Autoimmune Therapies
A new international collaboration involving scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) opens a door to influencing the immune system, which would be useful to boost the effectiveness of vaccines or to counter autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
The research, published August 1, 2016, in The Journal of Experimental Medicine, focused on a molecule called microRNA-155 (miR-155), a key player in the immune system’s production of disease-fighting antibodies.
“It’s very exciting to see exactly how this molecule works in the body,” said TSRI Associate Professor Changchun Xiao, who co-led the study with Professor Wen-Hsien Liu of Xiamen University in Fuijan province, China.
An Immune System Tango
Our cells rely on molecules called microRNAs (miRNAs) as a sort of “dimmer switches” to carefully regulate protein levels and combat disease.
“People know miRNAs are involved in immune response, but they don’t know which miRNAs and how exactly,” explained TSRI Research Associate Zhe Huang, study co-first author with Liu and Seung Goo Kang of TSRI and Kangwon National University.
In the new study, the researchers focused on the roles of miRNAs during the critical period when the immune system first detects “invaders” such as viruses or bacteria. At this time, cells called T follicular helpers proliferate and migrate to a different area of the lymph organs to interact with B cells.
“They do a sort of tango,” said Xiao.
This interaction prompts B cells to mature and produce effective antibodies, eventually offering long-term protection against infection.
“The next time you encounter that virus, for example, the body can respond quickly,” said Xiao.
Identifying a Dancer
Using a technique called deep sequencing, the team identified miR-155 as a potential part of this process. Studies in mouse models suggested that miR-155 works by repressing a protein called Peli1. This leaves a molecule called c-Rel free to jump in and promote normal T cell proliferation.
This finding could help scientists improve current vaccines. While vaccines are life-saving, some vaccines wear off after a decade or only cover around 80 percent of those vaccinated.
“If you could increase T cell proliferation using a molecule that mimics miR-155, maybe you could boost that to 90 to 95 percent,” said Xiao. He also sees potential for using miR-155 to help in creating longer-lasting vaccines.
The research may also apply to treating autoimmune diseases, which occur when antibodies mistakenly attack the body’s own tissues. Xiao and his colleagues think an mRNA inhibitor could dial back miR-155’s response when T cell proliferation and antibody production is in overdrive.
For the next stage of this research, Xiao plans to collaborate with scientists on the Florida campus of TSRI to test possible miRNA inhibitors against autoimmune disease.
Each year, approximately 700,000 people die from drug-resistant bacterial infections. A study by UCLA life scientists could be a major step toward combating drug-resistant infections. The research, reported in the journal Royal Society Interface, found that combinations of three different antibiotics can often overcome bacteria’s resistance to antibiotics, even when none of the three antibiotics on their own — or even two of the three together — is effective.
A small clinical trial of 10 patients with early Alzheimer’s disease has shown that the memory loss and cognitive impairment can be reversed.
Not only were improvements sustained, but some patients returned to work, regained their ability to speak different languages, and showed an increase in brain matter volume after just a few months.
“All of these patients had either well-defined mild cognitive impairment, subjective cognitive impairment, or had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease before beginning the program,” says one of the team, Dale Bredesen, University of California, Los Angeles. “Follow up testing showed some of the patients going from abnormal to normal.”
The study investigated the effects of a new kind of personalised treatment on the cognitive abilities of 10 patients who were experiencing age-related decline.
The treatment – called metabolic enhancement for neurodegeneration, or MEND – is based on 36 different factors, including changes in diet, exercise, and sleeping habits, plus the integration of certain drugs, vitamins, and brain stimulation therapy to their regular routine.
These lifestyle changes and treatments were sustained for five to 24 months, and the team from UCLA and the Buck Institute for Research on Ageing in California reports that many of the patients showed real, life-altering improvements as a result.
According to the researchers, this is the first study to objectively show that memory loss in patients can be reversed, and improvement sustained.
To study certain aspects of cells, researchers need the ability to take the innards out, manipulate them, and put them back. Options for this kind of work are limited, but researchers reporting May 10 in Cell Metabolism describe a “nanoblade” that can slice through a cell’s membrane to insert mitochondria. The researchers have previously used this technology to transfer other materials between cells and hope to commercialize the nanoblade for wider use in bioengineering.
“As a new tool for cell engineering, to truly engineer cells for health purposes and research, I think this is very unique,” says Mike Teitell, a pathologist and bioengineer at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). “We haven’t run into anything so far, up to a few microns in size, that we can’t deliver.”
Teitell and Pei-Yu “Eric” Chiou, also a bioengineer at UCLA, first conceived the idea of a nanoblade several years ago to transfer a nucleus from one cell to another. However, they soon delved into the intersection of stem cell biology and energy metabolism, where the technology could be used to manipulate a cell’s mitochondria. Studying the effects of mutations in the mitochondrial genome, which can cause debilitating or fatal diseases in humans, is tricky for a number of reasons.
“There’s a bottleneck in the field for modifying a cell’s mitochondrial DNA,” says Teitell. “So we are working on a two-step process: edit the mitochondrial genome outside of a cell, and then take those manipulated mitochondria and put them back into the cell. We’re still working on the first step, but we’ve solved that second one quite well.”
UCLA biochemists have devised a clever way to make a variety of useful chemical compounds, which could lead to the production of biofuels and new pharmaceuticals.
“The idea of synthetic biology is to redesign cells so they will take sugar and run it through a series of chemical steps to convert it into a biofuel or a commodity chemical or a pharmaceutical,” said James Bowie, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the UCLA College, and senior author of the new research. “However, that’s extremely difficult to do. The cell protests. It will take the sugar and do other things with it that you don’t want, like build cell walls, proteins and RNA molecules. The cell fights us the whole way.”
As an alternative, Bowie and his research team have developed a promising approach he calls synthetic biochemistry that bypasses the need for cells.
“We want to do a particular set of chemical transformations — that’s all we want — so we decided to throw away the cells and just build the biochemical steps in a flask,” Bowie said. “We eliminate the annoying cell altogether.”
The new building material could transform polluting emissions into a valuable resource
Imagine a world with little or no concrete. Would that even be possible? After all, concrete is everywhere — on our roads, our driveways, in our homes, bridges and buildings. For the past 200 years, it’s been the very foundation of much of our planet.
But the production of cement, which when mixed with water forms the binding agent in concrete, is also one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, about 5 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions comes from concrete.
An even larger source of carbon dioxide emissions is flue gas emitted from smokestacks at power plants around the world. Carbon emissions from those plants are the largest source of harmful global greenhouse gas in the world.
A team of interdisciplinary researchers at UCLA has been working on a unique solution that may help eliminate these sources of greenhouse gases. Their plan would be to create a closed-loop process: capturing carbon from power plant smokestacks and using it to create a new building material — CO2NCRETE — that would be fabricated using 3D printers. That’s “upcycling.”
“What this technology does is take something that we have viewed as a nuisance — carbon dioxide that’s emitted from smokestacks — and turn it into something valuable,” said J.R. DeShazo, professor of public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.
“I decided to get involved in this project because it could be a game-changer for climate policy,” DeShazo said. “This technology tackles global climate change, which is one of the biggest challenges that society faces now and will face over the next century.”
DeShazo has provided the public policy and economic guidance for this research. The scientific contributions have been led by Gaurav Sant, associate professor and Henry Samueli Fellow in Civil and Environmental Engineering; Richard Kaner, distinguished professor in chemistry and biochemistry, and materials science and engineering; Laurent Pilon, professor in mechanical and aerospace engineering and bioengineering; and Matthieu Bauchy, assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering.
This isn’t the first attempt to capture carbon emissions from power plants. It’s been done before, but the challenge has been what to do with the carbon dioxide once it’s captured.
“We hope to not only capture more gas,” DeShazo said, “but we’re going to take that gas and, instead of storing it, which is the current approach, we’re going to try to use it to create a new kind of building material that will replace cement.”
“The approach we are trying to propose is you look at carbon dioxide as a resource — a resource you can reutilize,” Sant said. “While cement production results in carbon dioxide, just as the production of coal or the production of natural gas does, if we can reutilize CO2 to make a building material which would be a new kind of cement, that’s an opportunity.”
The researchers are excited about the possibility of reducing greenhouse gas in the U.S., especially in regions where coal-fired power plants are abundant. “But even more so is the promise to reduce the emissions in China and India,” DeShazo said. “China is currently the largest greenhouse gas producer in the world, and India will soon be number two, surpassing us.”
Thus far, the new construction material has been produced only at a lab scale, using 3-D printers to shape it into tiny cones. “We have proof of concept that we can do this,” DeShazo said. “But we need to begin the process of increasing the volume of material and then think about how to pilot it commercially. It’s one thing to prove these technologies in the laboratory. It’s another to take them out into the field and see how they work under real-world conditions.”
“We can demonstrate a process where we take lime and combine it with carbon dioxide to produce a cement-like material,” Sant said. “The big challenge we foresee with this is we’re not just trying to develop a building material. We’re trying to develop a process solution, an integrated technology which goes right from CO2 to a finished product.
“3-D printing has been done for some time in the biomedical world,” Sant said, “but when you do it in a biomedical setting, you’re interested in resolution. You’re interested in precision. In construction, all of these things are important but not at the same scale. There is a scale challenge, because rather than print something that’s 5 centimeters long, we want to be able to print a beam that’s 5 meters long. The size scalability is a really important part.”
Another challenge is convincing stakeholders that a cosmic shift like the researchers are proposing is beneficial — not just for the planet, but for them, too.
“This technology could change the economic incentives associated with these power plants in their operations and turn the smokestack flue gas into a resource countries can use, to build up their cities, extend their road systems,” DeShazo said. “It takes what was a problem and turns it into a benefit in products and services that are going to be very much needed and valued in places like India and China.”