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Researchers from AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Advanced Materials and BioEngineering, at Trinity College Dublin, have today announced the development of a new material which has the potential to improve the lifetime of the battery in every day electronics, such as smartphones. The new material also has the potential to significantly improve issues of battery lifetime while also ensuring that batteries can continue to become smaller without loss of performance.

This ink-based nanomaterial, called MXenes, will potentially enhance both the lifetime and energy storage capabilities in rechargeable batteries which users of electronic devices such as mobile phones, laptops and electric cars encounter every day. The new discovery could mean that the average phone battery life, roughly 10 hours of talk time, could increase to 30-40 hours. It could also have significant environmental impact, as the real time range of electric cars could increase to upwards of 500km (from an average range of 180-190km) meaning a car could drive from Cork to Letterkenny on a single charge.

Existing rechargeable Lithium-ion batteries (commonly found in portable electronics like our laptops, tablets or smartphones) rely on internal chemical reactions to store and emit energy. Making batteries smaller, so that they can fit into our phones or devices, means less space for these chemical reactions to take place. Similarly, making an electric vehicle drive further while keeping cars a reasonable size has led to the search for new technology to improve the amount of energy that can be stored, the rate at which the battery takes to emit energy, and ways of managing the physical deterioration inside the battery. One solution has been to increase the surface area inside the battery where the chemical reactions can take place.

Professor Valeria Nicolosi, AMBER lead Investigator on the project, and Professor of Nanomaterials & Advanced Microscopy at Trinity College Dublin, said: “Despite progress in batteries development there has been limited success in extending lifetime and improving their energy storage capabilities. A lot of it has to do with the need to look outside of box for solutions – specifically at new materials capable of surpassing the conventional technologies. A battery is made by two electrodes (anode and cathode) and a liquid electrolyte – this new research looks at improving the anode electrode and we are extremely excited by the potential of this new class of 2D nanomaterials”.

The new study is published in Nature Communications a leading international science journal. The new study is published in Nature

Communications* a leading international science journal. The work was conducted by School of Chemistry post-doctoral researchers, Dr Chuanfang (John) Zhang and Dr Sang-hoon Park, first authors on the paper, alongside researchers at the School of Physics at Trinity College Dublin and in partnership with A. J. Drexel Nanomaterials Institute and Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Drexel University Philadelphia.

Professor Mick Morris, Director of AMBER and Professor in Trinity’s School of Chemistry, said: “Today’s announcement by our researchers in AMBER further enhances our already proven track record of pushing the boundaries of science to discover real solutions that can improve people’s lives. I wish to congratulate Valeria and her team on this exciting development. As a world class research centre, our AMBER researchers discover new materials, control their properties and help deliver products that transform society. This is an excellent example of research with real social impact, with this technology potentially improving the lives of billions of people.”

This new research uses a family of nanomaterials called MXenes. These 2D nanosheets are suspended in a thick liquid for easy processing and can be printed to form a continuous nanoscale metallic network. Battery performance and durability greatly depend on electrodes being electrically conductive and robust, able to withstand hundreds of charging cycles. Traditionally, the addition of conductive agents has ensured the charge transport throughout the electrode, while polymeric binders hold the electrode materials and the conductive agents together during charging cycles. Although these traditional electrode additives have been widely applied in Lithium-ion battery technologies, they fail to perform well in high-capacity electrodes (high-capacity Li-ion batteries). This is because the polymeric binders are not mechanically robust enough to withstand the stress induced during usage (lithiation/delithiation cycling), leading to cracking and severely disrupting the conductivity within the electrode.

AMBER’s approach allows the battery to be both conductive and able to withstand hundreds of charging cycles, using these new class of 2D nanosheets. These novel materials not only are extremely good electrical conductors but are also remarkable in their mechanical properties, achieving unprecedented performance, surpassing anything reported so far.

Funding for the research was through SFI-AMBER research Centre, the European Research Council (StG 2DNanocaps and 3D2Dprint) and Science Foundation Ireland (PIYRA and US-Ireland) grants.

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, and Minister for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan TD, today announced €4.5 million in funding for 38 research projects to support the commercialisation of government-funded research. 47 research positions will be supported through the awards, in areas such as cancer research, preterm infant care, medical devices, agriculture, energy and food technologies, for a duration of 12 months.

The funding is provided through Science Foundation Ireland’s Technology Innovation Development Award (TIDA) programme, which has been running since 2009. The programme provides project development funding and training in entrepreneurship skills to third-level researchers, to support them in exploring commercial opportunities associated with their research. Researchers will demonstrate if an applied research project (that is, research used to find practical solutions to everyday problems, cure illness, etc.), is technically feasible, and has potential for further commercial development.

Speaking of the awards, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, said “I am delighted to announce the recipients of the SFI TIDA Awards and commercialisation support for 38 research projects. The programme is aligned with a number of key Government strategies including Innovation 2020, the National Policy Statement on Entrepreneurship in Ireland and Project Ireland 2040. It will develop important entrepreneurship skills and commercialisation capabilities, ensuring Ireland maintains its position as a leader in cutting-edge research.”

Researchers funded through the TIDA programme will also participate in the new SFI Spark Pre-Accelerator, which is an intensive five-day programme delivered by the DCU Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurs. This will support STEM researchers to develop skills in areas such as evidence-based entrepreneurship, innovation and design thinking and facilitates mentoring and networking.

Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan TD, also welcomed the announcement, adding: “Through the SFI TIDA programme the Irish government is supporting and encouraging innovation and collaborative partnerships, across the regions. Fostering a culture of entrepreneurship and helping researchers in Ireland to realise the commercialisation potential of their work is an important factor in deepening Ireland’s economic resilience.”

Prof Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland said, “Science Foundation Ireland is committed to investing in the translation of world-class research from the laboratory to market. A key objective is to increase the number and quality of discoveries that have strong economic impact potential, that can secure follow-on public or private investment. The TIDA programme plays a key role in this process by providing funding to develop technologies, as well as fostering entrepreneurship skills among our research community.”

A number of AMBER researchers have been successful in securing TIDA awards, including Prof Michael Morris, Director of AMBER, for his project which will engineer substrates that can dramatically improve cooling efficiency in devices such as laptops, tablets and mobile phones, by enhancing the evaporation rate. The substrates provide a technology that would allow reduced running costs, greater performance and a lower energy footprint at a fraction of the cost of other technologies.

AMBER is one of seven SFI research centres to secure UK-Ireland joint investment through the EPSRC-SFI Centres for Doctoral Training linking world-leading SFI Research Centres and UK Higher Education Institutions.

Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan TD, today announced an investment of approximately €39 million to support the involvement of SFI Research Centres in seven new joint Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs). The awards have been made under a new partnership between Science Foundation Ireland and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

The CDTs represent one of the UK’s most significant investments in research skills, supporting over seventy centres that will equip the next generation of doctoral level researchers across engineering and physical sciences. The seven joint awards between Ireland and the UK will enable doctoral students based in Irish institutions to benefit from training opportunities and collaboration with Higher Education Institutions in the UK.

Welcoming the seven awards made to SFI Research Centres, Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan TD, said: “I am pleased to announce this new collaboration that will provide training opportunities for doctoral students in both the UK and Ireland. These new PhD training initiatives will provide opportunities for talented students in SFI Research Centres across Higher Education Institutions. Cultivating and maintaining positive research and development collaborations between Ireland and the UK, as well as the rest of the world, is a priority for the Irish Government, and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation is thrilled to be working with the EPSRC on this programme.”

Under the EPSRC-SFI partnership, Science Foundation Ireland will fund students based at an SFI Research Centre who will be integrated into the CDT, with training taking place in both the UK and Ireland. These joint activities will establish and strengthen collaborations at student, supervisor and institutional levels.

The successful Centres will focus on cohort-based doctoral training and cover a wide range of fields, from Advanced Data Storage to Transformative Pharmaceutical Technologies. AMBER, the SFI Research Centre for Advanced Materials will work with Imperial College London and University College London within the EPSRC CDT in Advanced Characterisation of Materials.

The additional six UK-Ireland collaborations are:

• IPIC, the SFI Research Centre for Photonics with Queens University Belfast and University of Glasgow EPSRC CDT in Photonic Integration and Advanced Data Storage

• I-FORM, the SFI Research Centre for Advanced Manufacturing with University of Sheffield and University of Manchester EPSRC CDT in Advanced Metallic Systems: Metallurgical Challenges for the Digital Manufacturing Environment

• CÚRAM, the SFI Research Centre for Medical Devices with University of Glasgow, Aston University and University of Birmingham EPSRC CDT in Engineered Tissues for Discovery, Industry and Medicine

• SSPC, the SFI Research Centre for Pharmaceuticals with University of Nottingham and University College London EPSRC CDT in Transformative Pharmaceutical Technologies

• MaREI, the SFI Research Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy with University College London and Loughborough University EPSRC CDT in Energy Resilience and the Built Environment

• BEACON, the SFI Research Centre for the Bioeconomy with University of Nottingham EPSRC CDT: Atoms-to-Products an Integrated Approach to Sustainable Chemistry

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said: “Science Foundation Ireland is delighted to collaborate with EPSRC on this excellent programme. Ireland and the UK are key drivers of impactful, world-leading research and it is important that we continue to strengthen our partnerships. The level of investment in the Centres for Doctoral Training is significant, and represents our commitment to prepare graduates for careers in research and beyond, and the emphasis we place on progressing international alliances and global opportunities for our researchers. I would like to congratulate the seven SFI Research Centres on their success in this programme and look forward to working with EPSRC over the coming years.”

A team of researchers led by RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) and with collaboration from AMBER researchers, have developed a new treatment for the particularly difficult-to-treat bone infection, osteomyelitis.

Funded by Irish Research Council, European Research Council and AMBER, the SFI (Science Foundation Ireland) research centre for materials science, the study is published in Biomaterials, the No. 1 ranked scientific journal in the field.

The new treatment has developed a one-step solution that kills bacteria and promotes bone growth without using antibiotics. To do this, researchers combined copper particles with bioactive glass – a type of glass used for bone repair – and incorporated it into an implant designed specifically for bone repair.

The copper-doped bioactive glass in the porous scaffold implant attracts blood vessels and bone cells, which accelerates bone repair. The copper ions in the implant also prevent bacteria growth. The ability of a single implant to improve blood flow and enhance bone healing as well as inhibit infection without antibiotic treatment is a significant advancement over most existing treatments.

“Osteomyelitis is notoriously difficult to treat. Further work on the back of this research could lead to the complete development of a single-stage, off-the-shelf treatment. This in turn could reduce the need for antibiotics and bone grafting – thus also addressing issues with antibiotic resistance” said first author Emily Ryan, a recently qualified PhD student in the RCSI Department of Anatomy.

People can develop this bone infection from broken bones, severe tooth decay and deep puncture wounds, among other causes. In the worst cases, osteomyelitis can result in amputations or be fatal.

The current treatment for osteomyelitis:
• Usually involves weeks of high-dose antibiotic therapy,
• Often requires removing infected bone tissue through surgery,
• May require bone grafting,
• Has a failure rate of up to 30%.

“We are looking forward to developing and testing this treatment for osteomyelitis and for other infections too. This platform system could be further modified and used to deliver a variety of other non-antibiotic antimicrobial metal ion-doped minerals,” said Principal Investigator, Prof Fergal O’Brien, Professor of Bioengineering & Regenerative Medicine in the RCSI Department of Anatomy, Head of the Tissue Engineering Research Group and Deputy Director of the AMBER Research Centre.

An international, interdisciplinary collaboration carried out the research. Among the collaborators were Dr Cathal Kearney, also from the RCSI Department of Anatomy, Tissue Engineering Research Group and AMBER, and Prof Aldo R. Boccaccini, Professor of Biomaterials and Head of the Institute of Biomaterials at the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany. Prof Boccaccini is a world-leading innovator in the area of bio-glasses, ceramics and polymer/glass composites for biomedical, functional and/or structural applications.

Featured above is the study’s first author Emily Ryan, a recently qualified PhD student in the RCSI Department of Anatomy, pictured with Prof Fergal O’Brien, Professor of Bioengineering & Regenerative Medicine in the RCSI Department of Anatomy, Head of the Tissue Engineering Research Group and Deputy Director of AMBER the SFI Research Centre for materials science.