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UH expanding into Micro-CT for Advanced Materials development, thanks to Naval Research grant

March 10, 2021
UH expanding into Micro-CT for Advanced Materials development, thanks to Naval Research grant
Congrats to Prof. Venkat Selvamanickam on ONR grant for Micro-CT Imaging

Dr. Venkat “Selva” Selvamanickam, the M.D. Anderson Chair Professor of Mechanical Engineering, has secured a $904,554 grant to procure equipment for Micro-CT imaging.

Professors at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering have received a $904,554 grant from the Office of Naval Research to procure equipment that will allow Micro-CT imaging, which utilizes x-rays to see inside of an object and will allow for significant improvements in the development of advanced materials.

The grant, “Micro-Computed Tomography (Micro-CT) for Non-destructive Evaluation of Advanced Materials and Devices for Defense Applications,” was approved in September. According to Dr. Venkat “Selva” Selvamanickam, the M.D. Anderson Chair Professor of Mechanical Engineering, the imaging equipment will be delivered in March and installed in April.

Micro-CT works similar to hospital CT or CAT scans. However, it typically works at a much finer resolution, and without destroying the sample. Micro-CT is also known as microtomography or micro computed tomography.

According to Selva's proposal, Micro-CT combines x-ray absorption imaging with a single or multiple axes goniometer, advanced 2D solid state detectors and advanced x-ray sources to obtain a sequence of position-dependent images or frames. Based on the knowledge of spatial orientation of each frame, a 3D image of a sample under investigation can then be computed, based on reconstruction of the original 2D frames into a 3D map.

In the awarded proposal, Selva identified seven different application areas that Micro-CT equipment would help the research at the University of Houston. Some specific uses for the Micro-CT highlighted by Selva included as a characterization tool for the development of high-performance superconductor wires and high-energy density and safer lithium solid-state batteries; as an education tool for quality assurance and control manufacturing; and to optimize smart thermal sensors.

For more information, read the original news release.


New Catalyst Moves Seawater Desalination, Hydrogen Production Closer to Commercialization

January 28, 2021
New Catalyst Moves Seawater Desalination, Hydrogen Production Closer to Commercialization
Congrats to Zhifeng Ren.

Researchers from the University of Houston have reported an oxygen evolving catalyst that takes just minutes to grow at room temperature on commercially available nickel foam. Paired with a previously reported hydrogen evolution reaction catalyst, it can achieve industrially required current density for overall seawater splitting at low voltage. The work is described in a paper published in Energy & Environmental Science.

Zhifeng Ren, director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH (TcSUH) and corresponding author for the paper, said speedy, low-cost production is critical to commercialization.

“Any discovery, any technology development, no matter how good it is, the end cost is going to play the most important role,” he said. “If the cost is prohibitive, it will not make it to market. In this paper, we found a way to reduce the cost so commercialization will be easier and more acceptable to customers.”

For more information, read the original news release.


Grabow nets another $2M for research projects on small reactors, catalysts

January 21, 2021
Grabow nets another $2M for research projects on small reactors, catalysts
Congrats to Lars Grabow.

Dr. Lars C. Grabow, the Dan Luss Professor in the Cullen College of Engineering’s William A. Brookshire Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, will be furthering his research into developing small, modular reactor systems and tuning the properties of catalysts after receiving a pair of grants expected to total more than $2 million in funding.

Dr. Lars C. Grabow, the Dan Luss Professor in the Cullen College of Engineering’s William A. Brookshire Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, is the primary investigator for “Resilient Ammoxidation of Small Hydrocarbons (R-ASH) Using Forced Dynamic Operation for Maximal Flexibility.” While the exact budget is still being negotiated, roughly $1.3 million of the $3.6 million project will fund work at UH. Other team members are at the Idaho National Laboratory, the University of Virginia, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and KX2 Development.

Grabow is a co-PI for the second grant, “Catalyst Evaluation for Deactivation and Remediation (CEDAR): Development of Robust Materials and Resilient Processes via Transient Measurement and Data-driven Multiscale Models,” which is led by the INL. About $690,000 of the roughly $6.5 million project is earmarked for research at UH.

For more information, read the original news release.


Researchers Call for Renewed Focus on Thermoelectric Cooling

December 07, 2020
Researchers Call for Renewed Focus on Thermoelectric Cooling
Congrats to Zhifeng Ren and Jun Mao for Nature Materials article

Almost 200 years after French physicist Jean Peltier discovered that electric current flowing through the junction of two different metals could be used to produce a heating or cooling effect, scientists continue to search for new thermoelectric materials that can be used for power generation.

Researchers writing in Nature Materials, however, say it is time to step up efforts to find new materials for thermoelectric cooling. Bismuth tellurium compounds have been used for thermoelectric cooling for more than 60 years, and the researchers say the fact that there is already a commercial demand for the technology suggests better materials can expand the market.

“Most work is focused on high temperature materials for power generation, but there’s no market there yet,” said Zhifeng Ren, director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at the University of Houston and corresponding author for the paper. “Cooling is an existing market, a billion dollar market, and there has not been much progress on materials.”

For more information, read the original news release.


Discoveries Highlight New Possibilities for Magnesium Batteries

November 30, 2020
Discoveries Highlight New Possibilities for Magnesium Batteries
Congratulations to Prof. Yan Yao, Dr. Hui Dong, and colleagues for their achievements, outlined in Nature Energy.

Magnesium batteries have long been considered a potentially safer and less expensive alternative to lithium-ion batteries, but previous versions have been severely limited in the power they delivered.

Researchers from the University of Houston and the Toyota Research Institute of North America (TRINA) report in Nature Energy that they have developed a new cathode and electrolyte – previously the limiting factors for a high-energy magnesium battery – to demonstrate a magnesium battery capable of operating at room temperature and delivering a power density comparable to that offered by lithium-ion batteries.

For more information, read the original news release.


Implantable Device Can Monitor and Treat Heart Disease

November 02, 2020
Implantable Device Can Monitor and Treat Heart Disease
Congrats to Cunjiang Yu

Congrats to Cunjiang Yu and first authors Kyoseung Sim, Faheem Ershad and Yongcao Zhang, all with UH, and colleagues at Texas Heart Institute and University of Chicago, who have reported in Nature Electronics a patch made from fully rubbery electronics that can be placed directly on the heart to collect electrophysiological activity, temperature, heartbeat and other indicators, all at the same time.

Cunjiang Yu, Bill D. Cook Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at UH and corresponding author for the paper, said the device marks the first time bioelectronics have been developed based on fully rubbery electronic materials that are compatible with heart tissue, allowing the device to solve the limitations of previous cardiac implants, which are mainly made out of rigid electronic materials.

“For people who have heart arrhythmia or a heart attack, you need to quickly identify the problem,” Yu said. “This device can do that.” Yu is also a principle investigator with the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH.

For more information, read the original news release.


Medical Robotic Hand? Rubbery Semiconductor Makes It Possible

September 16, 2020
Medical Robotic Hand? Rubbery Semiconductor Makes It Possible
Congratulations to Cunjiang Yu.

A medical robotic hand could allow doctors to more accurately diagnose and treat people from halfway around the world, but currently available technologies aren’t good enough to match the in-person experience.

Researchers report in Science Advances that they have designed and produced a smart electronic skin and a medical robotic hand capable of assessing vital diagnostic data by using a newly invented rubbery semiconductor with high carrier mobility.

Cunjiang Yu, Bill D. Cook Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Houston and corresponding author for the work, said the rubbery semiconductor material also can be easily scaled for manufacturing, based upon assembly at the interface of air and water.

That interfacial assembly and the rubbery electronic devices described in the paper suggest a pathway toward soft, stretchy rubbery electronics and integrated systems that mimic the mechanical softness of biological tissues, suitable for a variety of emerging applications, said Yu, who also is a principal investigator at the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH.

For more information, read the original news release.


Inexpensive, Non-Toxic Nanofluid Could Be a Game-Changer for Oil Recovery

September 10, 2020
Inexpensive, Non-Toxic Nanofluid Could Be a Game-Changer for Oil Recovery
Congrats to Zhifeng Ren, Dan Luo for Paper on Non-Toxic Nanofluid, a Possible Game-Changer for Oil Recovery

Researchers from the University of Houston have demonstrated that an inexpensive and non-toxic nanofluid can be used to efficiently recover even heavy oil with high viscosity from reservoirs.

The nanofluid, made in a common household blender using commercially available sodium, allowed for recovery in lab tests of 80% of extra-heavy oil with a viscosity of more than 400,000 centipoise at room temperature. Zhifeng Ren, director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH and corresponding author for a paper describing the work, said recovery in the field is expected to be less than the 80% shown in the lab; how much less will depend on oilfield conditions.

The work, published in Materials Today Physics, suggests a breakthrough in the use of nanotechnology to provide cost-effective and environmentally sustainable ways to produce oil.

The researchers note that so-called heavy oil – the result of the molecular structure of the oil – makes up 70% of global oil reserves, suggesting it will be needed to meet increasing energy demands until clean energy sources are fully developed. Current extraction technologies that involve the use of steam are expensive and environmentally damaging.

For more information, read the original news release.