The new Innovative Materials 2023 volume 5

New model to help valorize lignin for bio-based applications
Woody biomass and wheat straw are all sources of the natural polymer lignin with more than 50 megatons of lignin produced annually at commercial scale. However, most is burned to produce energy, which alternatively could be used to make useful chemicals. A major issue with producing chemicals from lignin though is that the properties of lignin vary from source to source and from season to season. Such variability can affect the yield and quality of the chemicals produced from lignin. In a TU/e-led study, researchers have developed and tested a new and efficient model to predict the yield of lignin with specific chemical properties that are important to produce biobased chemicals, materials, or fuels. The research was published last September in the journal Green Chemistry.

Lithium on a string
Researchers at Princeton have developed an extraction technique that slashes the amount of land and time needed to produce lithium, a vital component of the batteries at the heart of electric vehicles and energy storage for the grid. The researchers say their system can improve production at existing lithium facilities and unlock sources previously seen as too small or diluted to be worthwhile. Lithium is key to a clean energy future. But producing the silvery-white metal comes with significant environmental costs. Among them is the vast amount of land and time needed to extract lithium from briny water, with large operations running into the dozens of square miles and often requiring over a year to begin production. And there’s another problem: the limited supply of lithium is one obstacle to the transition to a low-carbon society.

Plasma against PFAS
Harmful PFAS chemicals in both soil and surface water are a growing problem. Removing them using conventional filter techniques is costly and almost infeasible. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB are now successfully implementing a plasma-based technology in the AtWaPlas joint research project. Contaminated water is fed into a combined glass and stainless-steel cylinder where it is then treated with ionized gas, i.e. plasma. This reduces the PFAS molecular chains, allowing the toxic substance to be removed at a low cost.

How to make color-changing ‘Transformers’ with polymers
Shape and color changing are key survival traits for many animals. Chameleons can change their body to hide from predators, to reflect their moods, or even to defend their territory, while some soft-bodied animal-like octopuses, squids, and cuttlefish can change both their color and shape to signal or camouflage. Mimicking these capabilities using artificial polymer materials holds great potential in sensing, soft robotics, and the fashion and art industries. During her research, PhD candidate Pei Zhang has realized some incredible colour changing and shape morphing abilities in polymer materials. Pei Zhang defended her PhD thesis at the department of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry on August 31st.

Nanoscale 3D printing of metals
Late last year, Caltech University researchers revealed that they had developed a new fabrication technique for printing microsized metal parts containing features about as thick as three or four sheets of paper. The team recently presented the technique that allows objects to be printed a thousand times smaller: 150 nanometers, comparable to the size of a flu virus. The work was conducted in the lab of Julia R. Greer, Ruben F. and Donna Mettler Professor of Materials Science, Mechanics and Medical Engineering; and Fletcher Jones Foundation Director of the Kavli Nanoscience Institute. It is described in a paper appearing in the journal Nano Letters.

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