NRF POC Awardees - 5th Grant Call (Nov 2010)

1. A Supercapacitive Energy Storage Device Based On Proprietary Nanomaterials

In the fight against environment pollution and global warming, clean energy generation and storage is vital to the sustainability of Singapore. Supercapacitors are the major energy storage devices due to their extremely high capacity in storing electric charges and energy. They are superior to batteries because their power density is up to 100 times that of batteries. As clean energy sources, supercapacitors have important applications in electric vehicles and consumer electronic devices including iPods and iPhones. The increasing concerns on energy and environment call for new generation supercapacitors with improved performances and reduced costs.

This project aims to use the research team’s patent-pending nanomaterial to develop novel supercapacitors for energy storage and management. In contrast to commercial supercapacitors containing liquid electrolyte, our recently invented superhydrophilic nanomaterial allows for a different mechanism of energy storage, and thus create the possibility of a new type of solid-state supercapacitor. According to our background IP, the preliminary performance of the proposed supercapacitor is comparable to that of commercial carbon-based devices. Moreover, it has a lot of space for further improvement by optimizing the chemical compositions of the active nanomaterials. To convert the background IP into a commercial reality, further R&D work is proposed in this project to deliver a new generation supercapacitor which has market viability owing to its simpler configuration, lower cost, and higher performances. image

Dr. Xie Xian Ning, PI, Lab Manager, NUS Nanoscience & Nanotechnology Initiative – NanoCore, NUS

Dr. Xie received his PhD degree in Chemistry from National University of Singapore. He is currently Lab Manager/Principle Investigator with NUSNNI-NanoCore. Dr. Xie has more than ten years’ experience in nanoscience and nanotechnology. His research interest is in advanced nanomaterials for energy and environment sustainability. As principle author, Dr. Xie has published more than 40 scientific papers since 2000. He also served as reviewer for premier journals including Adv. Mater., Adv. Funct. Mater. and Small, etc. His current research effort is focused on the development and commercialization of his patent-pending nanomaterial in the water and energy market.

2. An Advanced Adsorption Cycle for Desalination: the AD+MED or ADMED Cycle
Water shortage is a severe problem in many countries and the shortfall in water supply can be aleviated by desalination methods but they are usually energy intensive. Our team at NUS has developed a waste heat or renewable (solar) heat driven desalting cycle which is both energy efficient and environment-friendly. It combines the efficient adsorption desalination (AD) and the modified multi-effect (MED) to form the so called AD+MED cycle or ADMED in short. The cycle operates at a low temperature heat source input and yet produces two useful effects, namely cooling and high-grade potable water. It retains the advantages of both cycles yet giving more than two-fold rise in the water production when compared with the MED alone. The salient features of the ADMED cycle are: (i) its ability to utilize a low temperature heat source, typically from 55oC to 80oC, (ii) it has almost no moving major parts other than the valves and water pumps, rendering low maintenance cost, (iii) it produces cooling and water from only one heat input to the cycle, and (iv) it achieves a lowest total specific energy (thermal-10.52 kWh/m3 plus electric-1.16 kWh/m3 ) consumption of 11.68 kWh/m3. The thermal energy input is deemed as “free” energy as it is recovered from waste or solar sources and if untapped, it would be purged into the ambient environment. One only pays for the electrical energy which is used in parasitic pumping.

The research team will construct a prototype of the ADMED cycle to demonstrate the low specific energy consumption for the production of cooling and potable water. The cycle is powered by a low temperature heat source, typically from 55o to 80o C. Owing to the low energy consumption to produce a cubic meter of water, it can rival the existing methods of desalination, particularly in the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries where the thermal desalination methods are used predominantly, greater than 85% of their desalination capacity in these economies. image2

Dr Ng Kim Choon (3rd from left) and team
Dr. Ng Kim Choon, PI, Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, National University of Singapore

Prof. Ng specializes in design of thermally-driven adsorption cycles for desalination and cooling. He obtained the BSc. (Hons) and PhD from Strathclyde University (UK) in 1975 and 1980, respectively. Prior to joining NUS, he worked as a research engineer in the industry. He has written more than 200 peer-reviewed journal and conference articles, 7 patents and written 3 books. He has close research collaboration with universities in Korea (a WCU programme with the Jeju National University) and Saudi Arabia (a special academic programme with the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology). He has won the Ludwig Mond Prize (2006 by IMECHE, UK) and the Outstanding Engineering Achievements Award (2009 by IES, Singapore).

3. Large-Scale Transparent Graphene-Ferroelectric Devices for Touch Screen Applications
Graphene, the world’s thinnest material, combines material properties, which are of great importance for flat panel displays, solar cell panels and for touch screen applications. Being only one atom thick, it is optically almost transparent. At the same time it is the best known electrical conductor, the strongest known material and yet extremely flexible/bendable. The rapid development of graphene research and its impact on material science culminated in last year’s Nobel Prize in Physics for its discovery in 2004. The unique electronic properties of graphene are also of great interest to technology companies such as IBM, SAMSUNG, LG, Fujitsu and Apple.

Materials, such as as Indium Tin Oxide (ITO), currently widely in use in nearly all flat panel displays including touch screen panels (TSP) are rapidly becoming prohibitively expensive. Furthermore, ITO, being heavy, non-bendable and brittle, cannot meet the future requirements of flexible electronics and displays. Industry experts are forecasting that graphene will play a key role in the replacement of ITO and project for the graphene based flexible display market an exponential growth from a few million US$ today to US$55 billion by 2020. However, a number of formidable challenges remain. Among these, is the need to significantly reduce the electrical resistance of graphene sheets.
The PI has pioneered a hybrid structure consisting of a ferroelectric polymer (PVDF) layer which allows for the necessary reduction of the graphene resistance without compromising its optical transparency. He is planning to produce such high quality graphene sheets ideal for the transparent conducting electrode market on an industrial scale by a Roll-to-Roll process. If successful, it will accelerate the replacement of ITO by graphene.


Dr. Barbaros Özyilmaz, PI, Assistant Professor, Physics Department, NanoCore & Graphene Research Center, National University of Singapore

A German-Turkish Physicist, Barbaros obtained his “Diplom” from the Technical University of Aachen, Germany, and his “Diplomarbeit” at the European High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Generable, France. In 2005, he obtained his PhD at New York University, NYC, for work done on future magnetic data storage concepts at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights. Before joining NUS as an Assistant Professor in 2008, he worked at Columbia University with Prof Philip Kim’s group on pioneering experiments on graphene electronics.

4. A Novel Cryo-Preparation Technique for Near-Instantaneous Vitrification of Biological Samples
The study of biological specimens with charged particles remains integral to the advancement of biological sciences owing to its superior resolution over optical techniques. However, such systems work in a vacuum environment so the specimens must be chemically altered and dehydrated prior to imaging. This presents an obstacle to obtaining reliable information because faithful imaging depends critically on the sample preparation technique and all dehydration techniques produce artifacts (protein loss, shrinkage etc). Imaging the specimens in a pristine hydrated state (even in vacuum) is possible if the sample is frozen, but only if the formation of ice crystals is avoided. Crystal free (vitrified) frozen samples can be achieved if the specimen’s temperature is rapidly quenched below the freezing point (faster than ice crystals can propagate). However, conventional freezing techniques have a number of shortcomings, opening tremendous opportunity for advancing the state-of-the-art of cryo-preparation.

Our invention is a novel device which freezes specimens with a proprietary technique to obtain vitrified samples. The device can be integrated directly on an optical microscope, opening many applications in the biological sciences to rapid artifact free imaging. Moreover, our proposed technique will enable a near instantaneous freeze of the specimen after a key event is initialized or observed. These attributes have the ability to greatly increase the utility of correlative microscopy.


Dr. Daniel S. Pickard, PI, Assistant Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, National University of Singapore

Dr. Daniel S. Pickard’s, faculty member in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Director for the Plasmonics and Advanced Imaging Technology Laboratory, recent research activities with the helium ion microscope have generated significant interest and have resulted in over 20 invited lectures at conferences and universities on this novel technology. Prior to joining NUS, his graduate studies were completed at Stanford University where he earned his M.S. and PhD in Electrical Engineering. A Chancellor’s Scholar, Dr. Pickard graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with degrees spanning two faculties: a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and a B.A. in Physics. His scientific contributions exhibit similar breadth, including electron and ion optics, plasmonics, high brightness charged particle sources, advanced photoemitters, photonics, nanofabrication & characterization techniques and novel imaging techniques. For his research in the field of surface plasmon dynamics, Dr. Pickard was awarded the NUS Young Investigator Award (NUS 2007).

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