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Scientists advance cloud-seeding capabilities with nanotechnology


Dr. Zou leads a groundbreaking analysis challenge utilizing nanotechnology to develop cloud-seeding supplies. Cloud seeding is a type of climate modification that mimics what naturally happens in clouds however enhances the method by including particles that may stimulate and speed up the condensation course of. Nonetheless, Dr. Zou explains, “The cloud-seeding supplies used at the moment have been round for a lot of many years. The data and methods are outdated and their effectiveness will not be nicely understood.”

Cloud seeding has strict necessities. To achieve success, scientists want the correct air temperature, the correct humidity, a floor that draws water and retains it, after which the proper measurement materials to permit condensation to kind on the particle.

“By way of the development in nanotechnology and nanoscience, these days we’re working to design and engineer cloud-seeding supplies with optimum properties to make sure water vapor condensation will happen successfully and maximize the rainfall achieved,” explains Dr. Zou.

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Full transcript

Laurel Ruma: From MIT Expertise Evaluate, I am Laurel Ruma, and that is Enterprise Lab. The present that helps enterprise leaders make sense of latest applied sciences popping out of the lab and into the market place.

Our matter at the moment is cloud seeding to extend rainfall. Though cloud seeding has been round because the Nineteen Forties, local weather change and inhabitants progress are driving scientists to take a more in-depth take a look at the expertise, which may provide a viable cost-effective complement to current water provides, notably in arid and semi-arid areas, just like the United Arab Emirates.

To assist advance the science, in 2015 the UAE authorities launched a brand new initiative, the UAE Analysis Program for Rain Enhancement Science. The intention is to get different progressive tasks from scientists within the discipline of rain enhancement from everywhere in the world, with the successful concepts acquiring a grant of $5 million to work and enhance on ideas for a interval of three years. Two phrases for you: nanoengineered supplies.

My visitor at the moment is Dr. Linda Zou, who’s a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Khalifa College of Science and Expertise. Dr. Zou leads a groundbreaking analysis challenge utilizing nanotechnology to develop cloud seeding supplies.

She was awarded a grant by the UAE Analysis Program on rain enhancement science from 2016 to 2019. Dr. Zou’s analysis pursuits embrace making use of nanotechnology and membrane science to the event of low vitality and excessive effectivity novel desalination and water purification options. This podcast is produced in partnership with the UAE Pavilion Expo 2020 Dubai. Welcome, Dr. Zou.

Dr. Zou: Thanks, Laurel.

Laurel: You had been one of many first scientists on the planet to discover the usage of nanotechnology in cloud seeding. Why are you interested by this kind of analysis?

Dr. Zou: The cloud seeding supplies used at the moment have been round for a lot of many years. The data and methods are outdated and their effectiveness will not be nicely understood. By way of the development in nanotechnology and nanoscience, these days we’re working to design and engineer cloud seeding supplies with optimum properties to make sure water vapor condensation will happen successfully and maximize the rainfall achieved.

Laurel: Cloud seeding is a type of climate modification that mimics what naturally happens in clouds however enhances the method by including particles that may stimulate and speed up the condensation course of. May you clarify in additional element how cloud seeding works?

Dr. Zou: Within the pure water cycle on the earth, the solar irradiates on the floor of our planet and the water on the floor is evaporated by the warmth because the vapors. The tiny vapors rise into the ambiance with out condensation nuclei, that are small particles. They continue to be as vapors within the air and transfer increased and additional.

The pure occurring condensation nuclei are resembling mud particles, volcano flash, or pollens. Sadly, such materials is unpredictable, the place and the way a lot obtainable. Alternatively, cloud seeding observe is to launch synthetic seeding supplies as nuclei to provoke the water vapor within the cloud to condense into droplets and promote the formation of enormous droplets till they develop large enough to fall as rain.

The important thing components of a profitable cloud seeding operation embrace, first, figuring out the acceptable cloud for seeding. Second, having the environment friendly seeding materials for water droplet formation.

Laurel: To efficiently cloud seed, you want various issues: the correct air temperature, the correct humidity, a floor that draws water and retains it, after which the proper measurement materials to permit condensation to kind on the particle. Is that right?

Dr. Zou: Sure. Sure.

Laurel: Though cloud seeding has been round for many years, how does at the moment’s expertise transfer it towards a larger success price?

Dr. Zou: As we all know, the worldwide water scarcity has repeatedly intensified by fast inhabitants progress and financial growth all over the world. Standard water sources resembling rivers, lakes, and groundwater have turn out to be very restricted, which is driving scientists and engineers to search for different water sources.

Atmospheric water is one such different useful resource. In the intervening time, all attainable options that might resolve the water scarcity difficulty ought to be examined fastidiously.

Nanotechnology can engineer materials and design the fabric with nicely managed measurement, shapes, and properties. So it has an enormous chance to enhance its effectivity.

Laurel: Your analysis focuses on the cloud seeding materials itself, particularly the nanomaterials as you talked about, which is a more practical device in producing rain from current clouds. What are typical cloud seeding supplies, after which how does nanotechnology come into play?

Dr. Zou: The standard cloud seeding supplies embrace principally hydroscopic salt combination, which may change from salt crystals into water droplets on the proper situation. The supply of this salt is to vaporize them by ignition by a flare machine. This salt vapor then will recondense as very small particles. As a result of the method is random and unsure, the shape and measurement of the particle can’t be managed and most are in all probability too small to be efficient cloud seeding supplies.

The standard cloud seeding materials can solely be activated at a really excessive relative humidity in ambiance within the cloud, resembling larger than 75% relative humidity. In my challenge, we’ve got modified the floor of the fabric to make it extra reactive so it might work at a decrease and wider relative humidity to make it extra more likely to occur.

To attain this, we use the nanotechnology to deposit titanium dioxide nanoparticles as a shell layer and sodium chloride crystal core. This nanoengineered shell core structured materials might be activated at a lot broader relative humidity circumstances resembling about 65%. As a result of the coated nanolayers are extra hydrophilic and porous, the water might be absorbed simply and enhance the native relative humidity of the crystals and enhance the likelihood of forming water droplets. So it’s a synergistic impact.

Laurel: You have additionally developed one other sort of expertise, ice nucleating particles. How do these evaluate to cloud seeding supplies?

Dr. Zou: Sure. As you recognize, chilly clouds with sub-zero temperatures are additionally current within the ambiance. They’re product of many tremendous cooled water vapors, so though they’re under zero, they continue to be as vapor. As soon as such cloud encounters the ice nucleation particles, they quickly kind numerous ice crystals and bypass the liquid water part. In order that they kind tremendous cool vapor and crystallize into ice particles.

Ice nucleation is essential. It should provoke from the skinny water layer fashioned on the floor of the ice nuclease, and the ice will develop quickly on the expense of the water vapor within the cloud. We designed and fabricated a porous nanocomposite of 3D diminished graphite oxide and silica dioxide nanoparticles. This materials can provoke ice nucleation adopted by fast progress ranging from a temperature of minus 80 levels. This temperature is way increased than most different recognized ice nucleate materials. Typically they require minus 25 levels and even decrease.

Laurel: That is very crucial as a result of the cloud seeding supplies go very excessive up into the ambiance the place it is extremely chilly, right?

Dr. Zou: Sure. The upper you progress as much as the ambiance, shortly shifting into subzero and really chilly.

Laurel: Prior to now, one of many challenges scientists encountered when researching cloud seeding was the dearth of a simulation surroundings. You took this on as a part of your analysis. What did you develop and the way will it facilitate future analysis?

Dr. Zou: It’s a problem space and I’ve collaborated with the Cloud Microphysics Modeling Worldwide workforce. The innovation of my challenge is the traits knowledge we obtained from the experiment. This knowledge describing my new seeding supplies property and their interactions in ambiance. So we will use them as enter to develop one-dimensional and three-dimensional modeling of precipitation enhancement brought on by cloud seeding, and the outcomes show fairly profitable.

Laurel: May you describe that climate chamber that you just utilized in your experiments? What are the challenges with then deploying the fabric out in the true world?

Dr. Zou: The cloud chamber is a three-dimensional experimental surroundings. They range in measurement. There’s a small one, a medium one, and a big one. The small one may very well be 20 meters and the massive one may very well be like a constructing. I used an eight cubic meter chamber with managed humidity and temperature. A tool on the prime of the chamber releases the seeding supplies.

Instantly after the seeding is launched, the digital tools, that are digital optical cameras, will shortly take many, many images to file the picture whereas the seeding materials’s falling. Then we will later analyze at what stage the droplets fashioned and at what quantity and measurement of the droplets. We are able to do a spectrum evaluation and to search out out their vapor condensation, the droplet formation, and the scale and the variety of the droplets. Utilizing this data is excellent to match the efficiency of various supplies, and we did that extensively.

Laurel: Then in the true world the place we do not have this managed chamber, it is not fairly as straightforward essentially to measure that sort of success.

Dr. Zou: Sure, you’re proper. Within the open surroundings, it is tougher.

Laurel: Your analysis signifies a milestone towards attaining larger water safety on the planet. What sort of impact can cloud seeding doubtlessly have on a rustic, just like the UAE, which generally solely data 4 inches of rain in a yr?

Dr. Zou: Yeah. UAE is within the arid local weather zone, and the federal government has already taken the initiative of this UAE analysis program for re-enhancement science. We name them UAEREP [United Arab Emirates Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science]. My analysis work has been supported of their first cycle and acquired wonderful worldwide publicity.

In the present day, along with the Nationwide Middle of Meteorology of the UAE, we will see the applying of those new seeding supplies in actual operations in a short time throughout UAE to extend the rainfall.

Laurel: Again to your expertise, you filed a patent on the cloud seeding materials itself. What are you engaged on now, and what are you fascinated about subsequent?

Dr. Zou: Yeah. One patent is filed on the titanium dioxide, sodium chloride materials for heat cloud seeding, and one other patent is filed for porous graphite oxide, silica dioxide, nano compensated for chilly cloud seeding.

In the intervening time, I am working collaboratively on a challenge to judge the consequences of those supplies within the open air. A workforce of pilots is conducting an investigation by releasing the seeding supplies and in actual time capturing and analyzing them. It is very promising to know extra concerning the results of this seeding materials.

Alternatively, I’m additionally devoted to the size up of the manufacturing, cut back the associated fee, and the applying of the supplies. We’re trying ahead to shifting the seeding supplies from laboratory to the industrial enterprise for not solely cloud seeding purposes, however wider purposes, resembling completely different climate modification efforts, together with agriculture or crop safety, hail, or storm suppression, and the factitious snow making on the ski resort. Sure, such sort of purposes.

Laurel: Definitely, various attainable industrial ventures. You might be additionally pursuing funding initiatives at this level too, in your analysis. Is that right?

Dr. Zou: We wish to transfer the supplies, as I discussed, from laboratory already and scale up, so it has an opportunity of reaching the market and to succeed in many alternative components of the world as nicely, as a result of there are such a lot of international locations worldwide that observe climate modification.

Laurel: Dr. Zou, thanks a lot for being with us right here on the Enterprise Lab. This has been an absolute, implausible dialog.

Dr. Zou: Thanks for having me.

Laurel: That was Dr. Linda Zou, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Khalifa College of Science and Expertise, who I spoke with from Cambridge, Massachusetts, the house of MIT and MIT Expertise Evaluate, overlooking the Charles River.

That is it for this episode of Enterprise Lab. I am your host, Laurel Ruma. I am the Director of Insights, the customized publishing division of MIT Expertise Evaluate. We had been based in 1899 on the Massachusetts Institute of Expertise, and yow will discover us in print on the net and at occasions every year all over the world. For extra details about us and the present, please try our web site at technologyreview.com.

This present is obtainable wherever you get your podcasts. In case you loved this episode, we hope you may take a second to price and evaluate us. Enterprise Lab is a manufacturing of MIT Expertise Evaluate. This episode was produced by Collective Subsequent. Thanks for listening.

This podcast episode was produced by Insights, the customized content material arm of MIT Expertise Evaluate. It was not written by MIT Expertise Evaluate’s editorial employees.

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