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Newsletter, March 2014

 
MIT Materials News that Matters

March 2014
 
 
Materials Processing Center at MIT MIT Dome
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Faculty Highlight: Antoine Allanore

Extracting materials: Globally important, chemically distinct, lines of research promise easier access to potassium fertilizer, cleaner and purer metals. 

MIT metallurgy professor Antoine Allanore is engineering new methods for separating  potassium and commodity metals.
MIT metallurgy professor Antoine Allanore is engineering new methods for separating potassium and commodity metals.

Developing better methods for extracting materials - from everyday elements like copper to essential nutrients like potassium - keeps MIT Professor Antoine Allanore moving forward.

Allanore, the Thomas B. King Assistant Professor of Metallurgy at MIT, is investigating separating metals such as copper from sulfur compounds using electrolysis, which promises purer metals and less sulfur oxide pollution. 

His lab also developed a new process to extract potassium, a vital agricultural fertilizer, from a mineral rock called feldspar, which is common and available in places like Brazil that rely on imports of potassium from potash salts mined in the Northern Hemisphere. 

For current projects in copper sulfide and potassium feldspar, a team of postdoctoral associates is making headway on individual parts of these materials extraction processes.

Read more. 

VIDEO: Gas evolution with novel anode material operating at 1,565 degrees Celsius. Courtesy of Antoine Allanore.
VIDEO: Gas evolution with novel anode material operating at 1,565°C.
Reinventing copper extraction with electricity
Developments in molten copper sulfide electrolysis promise to improve purity of product, drastically reduce pollutants.
Read more. 
Hydrosyenite
A new source for potassium fertilizer

Allanore lab chemically alters feldspar, an ore closer to home for countries like Brazil, as an alternative to reliance on imports.   

Reconstituting feldspar for fertilizer    
Postdoctoral Associate Taisiya Skorina discovers water-based alkaline process to make potassium more readily available. 
  
MIT Postdoctoral Associate Taisiya Skorina
MIT Postdoctoral Associate Taisiya Skorina developed hydrosyenite powders that  promise to provide an alternate source for potassium fertilizer. 

Just as many nations depend on imports for energy, others rely on imports for essentials like potassium fertilizer. MIT researchers are developing a new process to produce a potassium fertilizer from the mineral ore feldspar, which is widely available in countries like Brazil, but which releases potassium into the soil from natural weathering at much too slow a rate to benefit farmers.

  

MIT Postdoctoral Associate Taisiya Skorina has developed a process based on crushing and chemically altering feldspar to produce a new compound - coined "hydrosyenite" - with a popcorn-like texture in which potassium is contained in water-rich layers that make it more readily available.

The chemical process is based on an alkaline treatment that does not lead to waste generation, a critical criteria for sustainable processes. Read more. 

Upcoming Events

Microphotonics Center Spring Meeting
,
April 1-2, 2014.
(By Invitation Only)


Cambridge Science Festival, various sites in Cambridge and in the Boston area,
April 18-27, 2014


2014 MRS Spring Meeting & Exhibit, San Francisco,
April 21-25, 2014

Aero Astro 100th Anniversary Open House, Building 33, MIT, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., April 23, 2014
Materials Day Symposium and Poster Session will be on October 21, 2014
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Finding the Right Combination for Copper Extraction    
MIT Postdoc Sang-Kwon Lee explores conductivity, yield, from copper sulfides in molten electrolytes.
   
MIT Postdoctoral Associates Guillaume Lambotte, left, and Sang-Kwon Lee work together on high temperature molten electrolysis methods for extracting metals such as steel and copper.
MIT Postdoctoral Associates Guillaume Lambotte, left, and Sang-Kwon Lee work together on high temperature molten electrolysis methods for extracting metals such as steel and copper.
Shifting the copper industry to high temperature liquid electrolysis for its primary method of extracting copper from sulfide ores will require finding the right combination of chemical compounds to make up the electrolyte. 
 

 "The main strategy of our work is using the multi-component molten sulfide in order to change the property of the supporting electrolyte and also reduce the melting temperature of the electrolyte," MIT Postdoctoral Associate Sang-Kwon Lee says.

Read more. 

Microfluidic Potassium Processing

Postdoctoral Associate Davide Ciceri gains insights into microscale potassium release from feldspar ores.

MIT Postdoctoral Associate Davide Ciceri with microscope to analyze thin foil samples of processed feldspar using both reflected and transmitted light.

Laboratory results for potassium fertilizer often don't match well with field trials, so MIT Postdoctoral Associate Davide Ciceri is exploring microfluidic techniques to get more accurate lab results.

"My project is looking at the fundamental science that could explain the difference that we observe between lab and field," Ciceri explains.

Ciceri's work is developing microfluidic devices that can better replicate soil conditions and complex interactions to validate on the bench top how the new material would perform under real world conditions. Read more. 

IN OTHER NEWS
MIT Strong Marathon Team Seeks Volunteers
Students, faculty, staff, and alumni will dedicate 2014 Boston Marathon run to honor slain MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, support memorial fund.
Graduate student Joseph Azzarelli running along the Charles River at MIT. A
Graduate student Joseph Azzarelli runs along the Charles River at MIT. Azzarelli's research involves sensors to detect explosives. Photo courtesy of MIT News Office.
The MIT Strong team is in the final countdown to the Boston Marathon on April 21, and the runners are seeking volunteers to help with their practice run and during marathon weekend.
 
The team needs help on Saturday, Apri 5, for a 20-mile run from Framingham to MIT with set up and water stops along the route. 
 
MIT Strong consists of 38 runners from all parts of the MIT community: students, faculty, staff, and alumni.
Engineers Design 'Living Materials'    
Hybrid materials combine bacterial cells with nonliving elements that can conduct electricity or emit light. 
Anne Trafton, MIT News Office
An artist's rendering of a bacterial cell engineered to produce amyloid nanofibers that incorporate particles such as quantum dots (red and green spheres) or gold nano particles. Image courtesy of Yan Liang.
An artist's rendering of a bacterial cell engineered to produce amyloid nanofibers that incorporate particles such as quantum dots (red and green spheres) or gold nano particles. Image courtesy of Yan Liang.

Inspired by natural materials such as bone - a matrix of minerals and other substances, including living cells - MIT engineers have coaxed bacterial cells to produce biofilms that can incorporate nonliving materials, such as gold nanoparticles and quantum dots.

  

These "living materials" combine the advantages of live cells, which respond to their environment, produce complex biological molecules, and span multiple length scales, with the benefits of nonliving materials, which add functions such as conducting electricity or emitting light.

  

The new materials represent a simple demonstration of the power of this approach, which could one day be used to design more complex devices such as solar cells, self-healing materials, or diagnostic sensors, says Timothy Lu, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and biological engineering. Lu is the senior author of a paper describing the living functional materials in the March 23 issue of Nature Materials. Read more.

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The goals of the Materials Processing Center are to unite the materials research community at MIT and to enhance Institute-industry interactions. Collaboration on research ventures, technology transfer, continuing education of industry personnel, and communication among industrial and governmental entities are our priorities. The MPC 
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