October 11, 2008

New Improved Thermoelectric Materials and ImprovingThermoelectric science

1. Large Enhancements in the Thermoelectric Power Factor of Bulk PbTe at High Temperature by Synergistic Nanostructuring

Power was increased by 71% and the figure of merit increased to 1.5

Northwestern University researchers (along with colleagues from University of Michigan and the Jet Propulsion Lab) discovered that adding two metals, antimony and lead, to the well-known semiconductor lead-telluride, produces a thermoelectric material that is more efficient at high temperatures than existing materials. The results are published online in the journal Angewandte Chemie. [H/T Nanowerk

Thermoelectric materials are only 5 to 6 percent efficient today, but the new generation of materials based on recent discoveries including this one at Northwestern, could produce devices with 11 to 14 percent efficiency, says Kanatzidis. The long-term goal is to reach 20 percent.

"The thermal conductivity was not any lower than our earlier results, but we discovered a net gain in electrical conductivity at high temperatures that we didn't expect," said Kanatzidis. "This means we had a net gain in power [71%] coming out of the material that we didn't have before. This was very surprising."

Interestingly, the researchers also discovered that adding lead or antimony alone to the lead-telluride did not produce an improvement. Lead and antimony both had to be present in the lead-telluride to produce the electrical conductivity gain. The electrons scatter less and move faster with the two inclusions than with just one or none.

"This phenomenon will stimulate new scientific inquiries and generate new ideas on how to design even more efficient thermoelectric materials in the future," said Kanatzidis.


2. RTI has been funded for a thermoelectric project with targets in the 20-30% range.

3. The University of Copenhagen is making progress with understanding thermoelectric materials in the group of clathrates, which create crystals full of 'nano-cages'.

Why Thermoelectrics Are Huge for Energy Efficiency
Industrial waste heat is 7 quads in the USA. There is more waste heat from power plants and from cars. Applying thermoelectrics to our current power plants would be like adding 10-30 nuclear power plants and 150-375 coal plants and 500-1500 natural gas plants that would not use any more fuel because it would be from more efficient use of existing power plants.

Heat flows in a car and using thermoelectrics to tap the waste heat. The standard combustion engine is about 30% efficient, but regular diesel engines are about 38% efficient. New diesel engine and free piston engines can reach 50% efficiency or more. The energy for cooling can also be reduced using thermoelectrics.

The 30% energy efficiency is triple the efficiency of todays common thermoelectrics and double most advanced systems and would get to range of using solid state thermoelectrics to replace refrigerators [thermoelectrics can help cool as well as convert heat to electricity] and many small car sized engines. Typical conversion systems become less efficient as they are scaled down to small size. This means there is a crossover point: below some power level thermoelectric technology will tend to be more efficient. Increasing ZT will move the crossover point to higher power levels, increasing the range of applications where thermoelectrics compete. Thus the ZT of 3 to compete with current best car size and refrigerator mechanical systems.

Past coverage of thermoelectrics and refrigerators.

Thermoelectric Figure of Merit
The primary criterion for thermoelectric device viability is the figure of merit given by:

which depends on the Seebeck coefficient, S, thermal conductivity, λ, and electrical conductivity, σ.

High temperature thermoelectrics and ZT, figure of merit

October 10, 2008

One small wall crawling step for a bottle of coke, one giant leap to Spiderman-like wall crawling

4mm square of new carbon nanotube adhesive holds up a bottle of coke. Image: Science/AAAS

Liming Dai, a professor of materials engineering at the University of Dayton, and Zhong Wang, director of the Center for Nanostructure Characterization at Georgia Tech have developed an adhesive made of carbon nanotubes whose structure closely mimics that of gecko feet. It's 10 times more adhesive than the lizards' feet and, like the natural adhesive, easy to lift back up. And it works on a variety of surfaces, including glass and sandpaper.

The adhesive force of these nanotube arrays is about 100 newtons per square centimeter--enough for a four-by-four-millimeter square of the material to hold up a 1,480-gram textbook. [four-by-four-centimeters should hold 148 kilograms. So part of one hand or foot would be able support an average persons weight] And its adhesive properties were the same when tested on very different surfaces, including glass plates, polymer films, and rough sandpaper. One advantage of this adhesive over others is that its strength is strongly direction dependent. When it's pulled in a direction parallel to its surface, it's very strong. That's because the branched nanotubes become aligned, says Dai. But when it's pulled up with little force, as one would peel a piece of Scotch tape, the nanotubes lose contact one by one.

The adhesive sticks best when it is pulled down parallel to the surface it is sticking to--this is called shear adhesion. This action arranges the tips of the curly nanotubes so they have maximum contact with the substrate, thereby maximizing the Van der Waals force. Pulling the adhesive off in a motion perpendicular to the substrate is much easier--at this angle the sticking force is ten times weaker.

Other problems to solve before they're commercially viable:
- Wall-climbing robots will require adhesives that work again and again without wearing out or getting clogged with dirt
- nanotube adhesives will need to be grown on different substrates [not just silicon] than those used so far

Dai says that carbon nanotubes' versatility may help overcome the dirt problem. These structures can readily be functionalized with proteins and other polymers. Dai is developing adhesive nanotube arrays coated with proteins that change their shape in response to temperature changes. A robot could have feet that heat up when they get clogged, shedding dirt so that it can keep walking.

Past coverage of artificial gecko like wall crawling was only one-sixth as good as a gecko, not ten times better.

One of the 156 predictions made by this site in 2006 is gecko wall crawling capability for enthusiasts and the military in the 2008-2012 timeframe.

A current german system the gekkomat uses vacuum engineering.

Ars Technica also has coverage on the latest carbon nanotube adhesive.

the abstract for the research paper:Carbon Nanotube Arrays with Strong Shear Binding-On and Easy Normal Lifting-Off

The ability of gecko lizards to adhere to a vertical solid surface comes from their remarkable feet with aligned microscopic elastic hairs. By using carbon nanotube arrays that are dominated by a straight body segment but with curly entangled top, we have created gecko-foot–mimetic dry adhesives that show macroscopic adhesive forces of 100 newtons per square centimeter, almost 10 times that of a gecko foot, and a much stronger shear adhesion force than the normal adhesion force, to ensure strong binding along the shear direction and easy lifting in the normal direction. This anisotropic force distribution is due to the shear-induced alignments of the curly segments of the nanotubes. The mimetic adhesives can be alternatively binding-on and lifting-off over various substrates for simulating the walking of a living gecko.

Separate research on mimicking gecko's was a hybrid metal/polymer hierarchical structure that mimics all aspects of a gecko’s foot The hybrid nickel/polymer adhesive used an electric field to help release the adhesive. The nickel/polymer material had adhesive forces of roughly 1.4N/cm**2 in the normal direction. [the carbon nanotubbes have 100N/cm**2 adhesion force]

Terahertz microscope can resolve 40 nanometers

Terahertz near field nanoscope has 40 nanometer resolution.

Nanoscale resolution is achieved by THz field confinement at the very tip apex to within 30 nm, which is in good agreement with full electro-dynamic calculations. Imaging semiconductor transistors, we provide first evidence of 40 nm (λ/3000) spatial resolution at 2.54 THz (wavelength λ = 118 μm) and demonstrate the simultaneous THz recognition of materials and mobile carriers in a single nanodevice. Fundamentally important, we find that the mobile carrier contrast can be directly related to near-field excitation of THz-plasmons in the doped semiconductor regions. This opens the door to quantitative studies of local carrier concentration and mobility at the nanometer scale. The THz near-field response is extraordinary sensitive, providing contrast from less than 100 mobile electrons in the probed volume. Future improvements could allow for THz characterization of even single electrons or biomolecules.

Nanowerk has some more information.

This was made possible by the use of extreme THz field concentration at the sharp tip of a scanning atomic force microscope (AFM). The THz nanoscope thus breaks the diffraction barrier by a factor of 1500, and with its 40 nm resolving power matches the needs of modern nanoscience and technology.

THz illumination offers a 100-fold increased sensitivity to the conductivity of semiconducting materials when compared to infrared light. This extreme sensitivity is difficult to achieve by any other optical microscopy technique, rendering the described microscopy technique highly desirable for quality assurance and analysis of failure mechanisms in industrially produced semiconductor nanodevices.

October 09, 2008

Carnival of Space Week 74

Future Giant Telescope News Roundup

1. A team of internationally renowned astronomers and opticians may have found a way to make "unbelievably large" telescopes on the Moon.

- they are synthesizing ionic liquids that remain molten even at liquid-nitrogen temperatures.
- all the materials for an entire lunar telescope 20 meters across would be "only a few tons, which could be boosted to the Moon in a single Ares 5 mission in the 2020s
- Future telescopes might have mirrors as large as 100 meters in diameter—larger than a football field.
- a spinning mirror of an ionic liquid can be coated with an ultrathin (50-100 nanometer) layer of silver just as if it were a solid mirror
- Locating a major liquid-mirror telescope near the lunar poles would be able to scan a good section of the sky
- Optical designers are now experimenting with ways of electromechanically warping secondary mirrors suspended above a liquid mirror—or even slightly warping the liquid mirror itself—to aim at angles away from the vertical. Similar techniques are used to point the great Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico.

2. The Thirty Meter Telescope appears to have found that donor, in Intel's Gordon Moore. The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation pledged $200 million for the construction of the telescope late last year.

The Giant Magellan Telescope at 24.5 meters, the Thirty Meter Telescope, and the 42-meter European Extremely Large Telescope are expected to be completed within a decade. In the glacial world of large 'scope building, this is just around the corner.

Project E-ELT has the aim of observing the Universe in greater detail than even the Hubble Space Telescope. A mirror of approximately 42 meters would allow the study of the atmospheres of extrasolar planets. The 5-mirror anastigmat design is estimated to cost €800 million and could be completed by 2017.

The large earth based telescopes and the ionic liquid telescope look like there is some momentum to actually having them built. The next two are currently just ideas (although they are good ideas).

3. This site previously covered a magnetic flux telescope design which could make space based telescopes that are over 200 meters in size.

4. There was also the plan for a 50 meter or larger telescope made on the moon using new lunar concrete.

Producing Trillions of Copies of artificial DNA Nanotechnology Structures using Living Cell Factories

Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University researcher Hao Yan is making DNA based nanostructures inside a living cell.

“Cells are really good at making copies of double stranded DNA and we have used the cell like a copier machine to produce many, many copies of complex DNA nanostructures.”

DNA nanotechnologists have made some very exciting achievements during the past five to 10 years. But DNA nanotechnology has been limited by the need to chemically synthesize all of the material from scratch. To date, it has strictly been a test tube science, where researchers have developed many toolboxes for making different DNA nanostructures to attach and organize other molecules including nanoparticles and other biomolecules.

Yan acknowledges that this is just the first step, but foresees there are many interesting DNA variations to consider next. “The fact that the natural cellular machinery can tolerate artificial DNA objects is quite intriguing, and we don’t know what the limit is yet.”

Yan’s group may be able to change and evolve DNA nanostructures and devices using the cellular system and the technology may also open up some possibilities for synthetic biology applications.

Yan and his fellow researchers, Chenxiang Lin, Sherri Rinker and Yan Liu at ASU and their collaborators Ned Seeman and Xing Wang at New York University went back to reproducing the very first branched nanostructure made up of DNA- a cross-shaped, four-arm DNA junction and another DNA junction structure containing a different crossover topology.

To copy these branched DNA nanostructures inside a living cell, the ASU and NYU research team first shipped the cargo inside a bacteria cell. They cut and pasted the DNA necessary to make these structures into a phagemid, a virus-like particle that infects a bacteria cell. Once inside the cell, the phagemid used the cell just like a photocopier machine to reproduce millions of copies of the DNA. By theoretically starting with just a single phagemid infection, and a single milliliter of cultured cells, Yan found that the cells could churn out trillions of the DNA junction nanostructures.

The DNA nanostructures produced in the cells were also found to fold correctly, just like the previously built test tube structures. According to Yan, the results also proved the key existence of the DNA nanostructures during the cell’s routine DNA replication and division cycles. “When a DNA nanostructure gets replicated, it does exist and can survive the complicated cellular machinery. And it looks like the cell can tolerate this kind of structure and still do its job. It’s amazing,” said Yan.

DNA nanotechnology at wikipedia

DNA can be folded to create shapes and patterns.

October 08, 2008

Military Laser Technology Roundup

1. Mirrored drones can make jet mounted lasers more effective. [H/T alfin and Tom Craver]

The flying laser cannon could be accompanied by a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) fitted with mirrors. These relay UAVs would be harder to spot and more disposable than a 747, and could bounce the high-energy beam onto targets that might otherwise be out of range, or out of the plane's line-of-sight. With multiple flying drones, a single ABL could cover an exponentially wider area. It would be an entirely new combination of lasers and robots­—and it may be the answer to critics aiming to dismantle ABL before it ever flies.

Snake Oil Baron notes that power lasers that are land based or on large navy ships would also become more effective.

Airborne laser fact sheet. Note: there is a kilowatt beacon laser that allows the main megawatt laser to be adjusted for atmospheric disturbance.

2. Truck mounted battlefield lasers have also gotten more funding but are not expected to be fielded until 2016

Tactical lasers would protect against rockets, artillery, mortars and unmanned airborne vehicles by blasting them out of the sky.

3. Dazzler lasers are being used in Iraq.

"Dazzlers," as they're called, shoot green beams designed to "warn or temporarily incapacitate individuals." The Geneva Conventions ban weapons meant to cause permanent blindness.

4. Northrup Grumman received $128 million for laser rangefinders

5. Grumman demonstrated their solid state laser.

-- Raised its demonstrated lethality by precisely combining two laser chains to produce record power -30 kW - in an excellent beam-beam quality of 2.1 times the theoretical limit
-- Operated at this performance level for more than five minutes continuously and more than 40 minutes total; and
-- Achieved electrical-to-optical efficiency of greater than 19 percent.
-- have proven all aspects of our scalable design for 100kW

6. Grumman has shipped the 15KW Vesta II solid state laser.

This lower power level might suffice against easy targets such as cellphone towers, car engines, unexploded munitions or what have you

7. A new optical fiber material could enable laser-based devices to be built operating at multiple frequencies.

The new material--cesium zirconium phosphorus selenium (CsZrPSe6)--can add, subtract and double laser beam wavelengths, enabling devices with two laser sources to produce many usable wavelengths. With two lasers you could generate all the frequencies.

Argonne researchers claim the new technology could be used in sensors that detect biological and chemical weapons.

The new compound produced frequency-doubled beams 15 times more intense than those produced by the best commercial materials today, according to Kanatzidis.

8. Existing materials limit fiber lasers to 36kW. New materials could increase this power limit

9. High-power fiber lasers at the kilowatt power level are gaining momentum and require higher-brightness pump modules as the target laser power increases, requiring a switch to multi-emitter diode bars.

A 1 kW master-oscillator power-amplifier (MOPA) fiber laser system is based on commercially available fiber, components, and pump diodes.

Free Piston Engines Versus High Efficiency Diesel Engines like Ecomotors

Free piston engines could achieve efficiencies of 50% which is almost double a regular gas combustion engine. However, new super efficient diesel engines could be even better, plus diesels would be more familiar to the market place.

Some small companies are working on free piston engines and there are researchers around the world at Sandia and other places working on them.

There was a discussion at greencarcongress about free piston engines versus the most efficient new diesel engines.

The 14th Diesel Engine-Efficiency and Emissions Research (DEER) Conference was held on August 4-7, 2008, at the Hyatt Regency Dearborn in Dearborn, Michigan discussed the latest research in high efficiency technology for cars.

Vinod Khosla, active venture capitalist investing in green and clean technology, has invested in Ecomotors.

Ecomotors has a two-cylinder diesel engine that's lighter, more powerful, and easier to scale up than today's engines, says Ford Tamer, operating partner at Khosla Ventures. The design could wind up boosting a diesel engine's efficiency—which is already 20% to 40% better than those of gas engines—by half. [Note: this could be as high as 57% efficiency] The two-cylinder units can be clicked together like Legos: by linking them in a series, designers can build the sorts of larger engines with four, six, or eight cylinders that are typically used in cars and trucks.

Details on the patented design are still hush-hush, but the design uses horizontally opposed pistons, like those in Subaru's gas-powered "boxer" engine. Because the pistons are always moving in opposite directions to one another, they cancel out most of the stress they'd otherwise transfer into the engine block. This allows the design to be lighter than conventional engines, where the pistons are inline or in a V configuration. EcoMotor's approach cranks out about 1 hp per pound of engine weight, says Tamer, 20% better than the highly tuned engine on a Porsche 911, and 300% better than many mass-market engine designs.

Notice that the opposing piston looks similar to the free piston engine configuration, but does not have a solid shaft between the two chambers.

Ecomotors is hoping to develop a four-door sedan by 2010 that gets 100 miles per gallon.

EcoMotors International Inc. currently employs seven people, occupying a building in the 2400 block of West Big Beaver, according to city Assessor Nino Licari. The company plans to purchase $3.5 million in new equipment and move into a 30,120-square-foot facility at 1055 W. Square Lake, Licari said. EcoMotors plans to hire 150 new employees in the first two years, according to Licari. They are applying for local tax breaks.

Diesel Engines at wikipedia

Homogeneous Charge Compression Ignition (HCCIP) engines. Up to 15% more efficient than regular engines, while meeting current emissions standards.

BMW advanced diesels are better than some hybrid cars in terms of fuel economy

BMW plans on increasing efficiency by another 15%

Research presentation from the 14th Diesel Engine-Efficiency and Emissions Research (DEER) Conference.

Identification and evaluation of near-term opportunities for efficiency improvement. by Dean Edwards of Oak Ridge National Labs

Optimal efficiency

Brief two slide poster about free piston engine.

October 06, 2008

Power to Overall Weight Ratio of the 2013 Hyperion Power Nuclear Reactor

The Hyperion Power Generation uranium hydride reactor will weigh fifteen to 20 tons, depending on whether you're measuring just the reactor itself or the cask—the container that we ship it in—as well. It was specifically designed to fit on the back of a flatbed truck because most of our customers are not going to have rail. It's about a meter-and-a-half across and about 2 meters tall. It will generate 27-30 Megawatts of electrical power from 70 MW of thermal power. This means 0.5 to 0.75 tons per MWe for the nuclear reactor. The steam turbine to convert the power is counted separately. Using a lot less material (including 10 to 20 times greater efficiency with the Uranium fuel) means that the uranium hydride reactor can be scaled to provide more power. Eventual use of advanced thermoelectrics instead of steam turbines would mean that the weight of the reactor and power conversion would be less than one ton per MWe.

The 15-20 ton 27-30 MWe Hyperion nuclear reactor will be factory mass produced starting in about 2013. It uses ten to twenty times less material and less uranium fuel as current reactors which will allow society to scale this up a lot more. Goal of 12 month from order to finished factory product. Goal is to make hundreds to thousands each year. Here is a description of how Hyperion Power Generation plans to leverage proven Triga reactor safety systems and processes.

The reactor core of an S6G (26MWe) submarine nuclear power plant (just the vessel that holds the fuel and the fuel itself) weighs about 110 +/-3 tons. It needs 20000 gallons (80 tons) of water for coolant. After you add in the rest of its systems you are looking at at least 1000 tons of machinery. The reactor fits in a space about 10m long, 10m wide, and 12m tall. Two hundred times more space than the Hyperion Reactor. The S6G is rated at about 130 megawatts thermal power. The electric output is 26 megawatts.

The Hyperion reactor portion is 9-13 times lighter than the submarine core and water coolant. The Hyperion reactor does not have water coolant.

Current light water nuclear reactor power plants have 36-51 tons of steel per MWe and 324 tons of cement per MWe. 600-800 times less weight for Hyperion UH reactor and probably at least 30 times more material per MWe over a full Hyperion reactor facility.

High temperature (HTR-PB) reactors will use about 118 tons of steel and concrete per MWe. HTR-PB is one third the weight of regular reactors but at least ten times more than the Hyperion Uranium Hydride reactor.

Here is a comparison to help put the system's potential into perspective. A single truck can deliver the HPM heat source to a site. The device is supposed to be able to produce 70 MW of thermal energy for 5 years. That means that the truck will be delivering about 10.5 trillion BTU's to the site. Natural gas costs about $7 per million BTU which would would cost $73 million.

That is about 3 times as much as the announced selling price for an HPM, but the advantage does not stop there - the HPM is targeted for places where there are no gas pipelines to deliver gas, so natural gas is not available at any price.

Instead, it would be better to compare the HPM to diesel fuel, which currently costs about 2 times as much per unit of useful heat as natural gas and still requires some form of delivery for remote locations. In some places, fuel transportation costs are two or three times as much as the cost of the fuel from the central supply points.

In certain very difficult terrains, or in places where there are people who like to shoot at tankers, delivery costs can be 100 times as much as the basic cost of the fuel.

The Hyperion Power Generation reactor is four to five times smaller than one of four coolant pumps in an AP-1000 nuclear reactor


Triga reactors at General Atomics. Triga are teaching reactors that are safe enough to be operated by university students and walk-away safe. Over 60 Triga reactors have been built and some used for decades.

NASA made news with a proposed 10-40KWe RTG for lunar power. The Hyperion power generation nuclear reactor would have 1000 times more power, which would enable real industrialization of the moon. There is nuclear material on the moon, so if transporting a functional nuclear reactor is an issue, then a unit could be delivered which had everything with refined nuclear material sent in separate rocket deliveries. After industrialization of the moon, mining, processing and refinement of nuclear materials can be set up on the moon.

Laser enrichment could be made more compact.

KREEP, an acronym built from the letters K (the atomic symbol for the element potassium), REE (Rare Earth Elements) and P (for phosphorus), is a geochemical component of some lunar impact melt breccia and basalt rocks.

JAXA—Japan's space agency—also announced that the Selene mission has gathered detailed information regarding the mineral composition of parts of the Moon's surface, including thorium, potassium, and uranium sites.

Moonminer looks at mining the 2-6 ppm of uranium from KREEP on the moon.

Uranium concentrations on earth

Getting uranium from low concentration sources.

Millimeter Wave Broadband Wireless, 1 Gbps now and 20 Gigabits per second or More Soon

Bridgewave Communications, the leading supplier of gigabit wireless solutions, has been selling the SLE100 point-to-point bridge that delivers highly reliable, low latency, wire-speed 100 Mbps full-duplex, half-mile (800-meter) connectivity since July 15, 2008. Built around BridgeWave’s field-proven 60 GHz radios, the SLE100 enables enterprise network managers to seamlessly extend LANs and achieve carrier-class performance at an unprecedented price for millimeter wave bridges. The SLE100 wireless bridge is priced at less than $10,000 per link (100mbps, 0.5 mile range). The 60 Ghz wireless bridge with 1 gigabit speed is less than $20,000 per link (1 gps, 0.75-1.5 mile range). The 80Ghz wirless bridge is more expensive but has up 4-6 miles of range.

MIT Technology Review reports that Batelle earlier in 2008, field tested a prototype millimeter communication system. The team was able to send a 10.6-gigabit-per-second signal between antennas 800 meters apart. And more recently, the researchers demonstrated a 20-gigabit-per-second signal in the lab.

Whereas Wi-Fi and cellular networks operate on frequencies of 2.4 to 5.0 gigahertz, millimeter-wave technology exploits a region from about 60 to 100 gigahertz. Much of the millimeter region is unlicensed and open for use; it has only been neglected because of the difficulty and expense involved in generating a millimeter-wave signal, encoding information on it, and then decoding at the other end. Usually, data is encoded by first generating a low-frequency wave of around 10 gigahertz, then converting it into a higher-frequency signal. The drawback is that encoding data on a 10-gigahertz signal limits the data rate to about one gigabit per second.

The Battelle team was able to better this by more than a factor of 10 using off-the-shelf optical telecommunication components. The researchers modulated data on two low-frequency laser beams, then combined the two. When these two beams combine, they create a pattern of interference that acts as a 100-gigahertz signal. "It looks as though we have a laser beam that has a 100-gigahertz frequency," Ridgway says.

Competing technology is free space optics. Free space optics is faster but has more problems with interference from weather at atmospheric disturbance.in early 2008, HP demonstrated a free-space optical connection provided a 240 Gbit/s optical connection that beamed information through the air between boards. HP plans to sell free space optic connection products in 2009.

"We want to expand our photonics business to include all communications in the range of 100 nanometers on a chip all the way up to 100 meters between systems," the HP executive added. "In the near term we want to connect boards and blades with photonic interconnects. In the long-term we want to build on-chip photonic connections which we think will break the core-to-memory bottleneck."

Free space optics performance results showed stable operation when increasing the FSO communication system data rate from 2.5 Gbps to 10 Gbps in Sept 2006.


A record transmission of 1.2 tbps was made with free space optics.

Complete Genomics Will Sequence a Human Genome for $5000 Starting in Spring 2009

An 80-base-pair piece of DNA to be sequenced (shown here in purple) is first inserted into a circular template of DNA, along with four stretches of synthetic DNA, called adaptors (pink and blue). A specialized enzyme then makes hundreds of consecutive copies of the DNA circle. Thanks to chemical properties engineered into the adaptor sequences, this long piece of DNA spontaneously forms into a compact ball of DNA, called the DNA nanoball. Credit:Complete Genomics

Complete Genomics goal is to become the global leader in human genome sequencing. They are a startup that has received $46 million in venture funding to date.

Complete Genomics is working with the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB) to sequence the genomes of 100 individuals in 2009 and 2000 individuals by in 2010. The ISB project with Leroy Hood. The project will use about ten percent of Complete Genomics facilities sequencing capacity in the first two years. So Complete Genomics could sequence 1000 individuals in 2009 and 20,000 individuals in 2010.

MIT Technology Review discusses the company and their plans for sequencing a complete human-genome sequence for just $5,000 starting in the spring of 2009.

Applied Biosystems, the current market leader in DNA sequencing, recently announced a system for sequencing the human genome for $10,000 which they will start selling in early 2009.

Intelligent Biosystems has claimed in 2007 that they would be selling a system for sequencing the human genome for $5000 by the end of 2008. [no recent update]

Complete Genomics says that its cheap price tag comes thanks to two innovations: a way to densely pack DNA, developed by Rade Drmanac, the company's chief scientific officer, and a method to randomly read DNA letters, based on sequencing technology developed at George Church's lab at Harvard.

To start with, an 80-base-pair piece of DNA is inserted into a circular piece of synthetic DNA and replicated 1,000 times with a specialized enzyme. That large aggregate of DNA spontaneously compresses into a tightly packed ball, thanks to chemical characteristics engineered into the synthetic DNA. These DNA "nanoballs" are then packed onto specially fabricated arrays with unprecedented density--about a billion balls fit on a chip the size of a microscope slide. The high density of DNA allows large volumes to be sequenced quickly with few reagents, one of the most costly components of the process.

Next, as with other approaches, Complete Genomics determines the sequence of the target DNA using a series of fluorescently labeled DNA strands designed to bind to corresponding letters. But while advanced sequencing technologies currently in use--including those from Illumina, Applied Biosystems, and 454--read the sequence sequentially, letter by letter, Complete Genomics's labels bind to the target DNA randomly. Both the labels and the DNA circle are designed to allow scientists to deduce the position of each highlighted base--information that is then used to computationally reconstruct the sequence of the target DNA. (With both Complete Genomics's and other companies' methods, the short strands are computationally stitched together to generate the entire genome sequence.

Because the identification of each base in the sequence does not depend on the correct identification of the previous one, individual errors have less impact on the overall result, generating a more accurate sequence with less repeat sequencing

October 05, 2008

Nuclear energy roundup October 5, 2008

1. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on October 1st, 2008 introduced legislation that would pave the way for thorium nuclear-fuel reactors in the United States.

The Thorium Energy Independence and Security Act of 2008 would establish offices at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy to regulate domestic thorium nuclear power generation and oversee possible demonstrations of thorium nuclear fuel assemblies.

There are authorized to be appropriated to the Secretary to carry out this section $250,000,000 for the period of fiscal years 2009 through 2013.

2. India and France have signed a nuclear cooperation deal and the US-India nuclear deal is finally complete as well.

Reports such as one in Indian daily Business Line that indicated up to six Areva EPR units could be built at the new Jaitapur site in Maharashtra - giving some 9600 MWe and more than doubling Indian nuclear capacity - illustrate the potential benefits of nuclear trade to both nations.

The US Chamber of Commerce said with India's 34-year nuclear isolation now history, a potential 150 billion dollars of new investments were expected in terms of new nuclear generating capacity by 2030.

3. Russian engineers announced plans on building high-temperature nuclear reactor with gas cooling in our country by 2020. Temperatures about 1000 degrees Centigrade allow using heat in other field of economy, such as hydrogen synthesis, fertilizer production, and metallurgical industry.

The High Temperature Nuclear REactor Conference just completed on October 1st.

4. The Nine Mile Point Combined Operating License (COL) nuclear plant application is the 25th to be submitted to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

5. The US Department of Energy (DoE) has 14 nuclear power projects to consider in its loan guarantee program. Their combined aggregate value of $188 billion is ten times what the DoE has allocated.

6. Electricite de France SA agreed to buy British Energy Group Plc for 12.4 billion pounds ($23 billion) to gain access to U.K. nuclear plants and sites for new reactors. The takeover, after more than four months of talks, would give EDF control of eight British nuclear plants.

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