A (nano-) window that washes itself?

Dec 03, 2009
Tel Aviv University's nanosized "forest of peptides" can be used as the basis for self-cleaning windows and more efficient batteries. Credit: AFTAU

A coating on windows or solar panels that repels grime and dirt? Expanded battery storage capacities for the next electric car? New Tel Aviv University research, just published in Nature Nanotechnology, details a breakthrough in assembling peptides at the nano-scale level that could make these futuristic visions come true in just a few years.

Operating in the range of 100 nanometers and even smaller, graduate student Lihi Adler-Abramovich and a team working under Prof. Ehud Gazit in TAU's Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology have found a novel way to control the and of peptides so that they "grow" to resemble small forests of grass. These "peptide forests" repel dust and water -- a perfect self-cleaning coating for windows or solar panels which, when dirty, become far less efficient.

"This is beautiful and protean research," says Adler-Abramovich, a Ph.D. candidate. "It began as an attempt to find a new cure for Alzheimer's disease. To our surprise, it also had implications for , solar energy and construction."

As cheap as the sweetener in your soda

A world leader in research, Prof. Gazit has been developing arrays of self-assembling peptides made from proteins for the past six years. His lab, in collaboration with a group led by Prof. Gil Rosenman of TAU's Faculty of Engineering, has been working on new applications for this basic science for the last two years.

Using a variety of peptides, which are as simple and inexpensive to produce as the artificial sweetener aspartame, the researchers create their "self-assembled nano-tubules" in a vacuum under high temperatures. These nano-tubules can withstand extreme heat and are resistant to water.

"We are not manufacturing the actual material but developing a basic-science technology that could lead to self-cleaning windows and more efficient energy storage devices in just a few years," says Adler-Abramovich. "As scientists, we focus on pure research. Thanks to Prof. Gazit's work on beta amyloid proteins, we were able to develop a technique that enables short peptides to 'self-assemble,' forming an entirely new kind of coating which is also a super-capacitor."

As a capacitor with unusually high energy density, the nano-tech material could give existing electric batteries a boost -- necessary to start an electric car, go up a hill, or pass other cars and trucks on the highway. One of the limitations of the electric car is thrust, and the team thinks their research could lead to a solution to this difficult problem.

"Our technology may lead to a storage material with a high density," says Adler-Abramovich. "This is important when you need to generate a lot of energy in a short period of time. It could also be incorporated into today's lithium batteries," she adds.

Windex a thing of the past?

Coated with the new material, the sealed outer windows of skyscrapers may never need to be washed again ― the TAU lab's material can repel rainwater, as well as the dust and dirt it carries. The efficiency of solar energy panels could be improved as well, as a rain shower would pull away any dust that might have accumulated on the panels. It means saving money on maintenance and cleaning, which is especially a problem in dusty deserts, where most solar farms are installed today.

The lab has already been approached to develop its coating technology commercially. And Prof. Gazit has a contract with drug mega-developer Merck to continue his work on short peptides for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease ― as he had originally foreseen.

Source: Tel Aviv University (news : web)

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User comments : 9

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ThomasS
5 / 5 (1) Dec 03, 2009
as cheap as aspartame, and then it needs a vacuum and high temperatures.. so probably not so cheap in the end, which of course isnt suprising
tpb
3 / 5 (2) Dec 03, 2009
Sorry guys, but deserts don't have enough rain to wash off the dust and in fact without the rain the nanosized forest may actually collect more dust.

Also since the picture seems to show that the nanosized peptides are not transparent, they will reduce the solar cell efficiency.
RayCherry
not rated yet Dec 03, 2009
Congratulations Tel Aviv. Sincerely hope the optical coating can be commercialised rapidly to provide continued income for your medical peptide research.

Perhaps large optics could also benefit from dust resistant coatings: telescope primaries? Good luck.
Alexa
4 / 5 (1) Dec 03, 2009
..deserts don't have enough rain to wash off the dust
The cleaning effect is sufficient at the case of dew droplets only.
nanosized forest may actually collect more dust
The particles of dust are way larger then the particles of forest. Neither problem in transparency is critical here. But the problem is, needles of nanoforest are very brittle and surface cleaning properties deteriorate with time due the sand dust abrasion.
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (1) Dec 03, 2009
...needles of nanoforest are very brittle and surface cleaning properties deteriorate with time due the sand dust abrasion.
- Alexa

Also, degradation due to urban ozone and solar UV might need to be examined, particularly given that the compounds in question are organic.
Otto1882
5 / 5 (1) Dec 04, 2009
Also since the picture seems to show that the nanosized peptides are not transparent, they will reduce the solar cell efficiency.


These were imaged with a scanning electron microscope (SEM) so they won't appear transparent since electrons, not light like in optical microscopes, is being used to image. An optical microscope couldn't ever image in the 100nm range.
milz
3 / 5 (2) Dec 04, 2009
Euh, dudes.. Self-cleaning windows are OLD news in nanotech ! that's HARDLY any news. not a breakthrough of ANY kind . i think Physorg's could help doing a bit of research themselves... psh.

Just because it was published in NATURE doesn't mean its a breakthrough, which shows you probably missed the point of the paper.
CptWozza
4.5 / 5 (2) Dec 04, 2009
It's not even true nanotechnology - controlling the growth of a crystal is not molecular scale control, it's macro scale control. Same applies to anything which contains "nano particles"(sunscreens, paint etc.). We've been macro-controlling nano-sized molecules for centuries - we call it "chemistry".

The term nano has been so heavily (and prematurely) overused that when real nanotechnology arrives, people will ignore it at first. The proper concept of nanotechnology is the one that physicist Richard Feynman spoke about; that of bottom-up control at the molecular level, the science and engineering of molecular machinery and electronics. Self-assembly is a wonderful first step, but it is nanotechnology's distant relative, and is a pale shadow of the vision of our truly great scientists.
Grave
5 / 5 (1) Dec 10, 2009
superhydrophobic surfaces, e.g. lotus leaf (industrial use since 1999, lotus leaf effect researched back in 1970s). and its achievable at microscale.