Scientists advance cloud-seeding capabilities with nanotechnology

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Dr. Zou leads a groundbreaking analysis undertaking 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 as we speak have been round for a lot of many years. The knowledge and methods are old-fashioned and their effectiveness is just not effectively understood.”

Cloud seeding has strict necessities. To achieve success, scientists want the best air temperature, the best humidity, a floor that pulls water and retains it, after which the right dimension materials to permit condensation to type 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 Evaluation, I am Laurel Ruma, and that is Enterprise Lab. The present that helps enterprise leaders make sense of recent applied sciences popping out of the lab and into the market place.

Our matter as we speak is cloud seeding to extend rainfall. Though cloud seeding has been round for the reason that Nineteen Forties, local weather change and inhabitants development are driving scientists to take a more in-depth take a look at the expertise, which may provide a viable cost-effective complement to present water provides, significantly 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 initiatives from scientists within the discipline of rain enhancement from everywhere in the world, with the profitable 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 as we speak 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 undertaking 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 have been one of many first scientists on the earth to discover the usage of nanotechnology in cloud seeding. Why are you curious about any such analysis?

Dr. Zou: The cloud seeding supplies used as we speak have been round for a lot of many years. The knowledge and methods are old-fashioned and their effectiveness is just not effectively 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. Might 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 comparable to mud particles, volcano flash, or pollens. Sadly, such materials is unpredictable, the place and the way a lot out there. Then again, cloud seeding apply 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 huge droplets till they develop large enough to fall as rain.

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

Laurel: To efficiently cloud seed, you want quite a few issues: the best air temperature, the best humidity, a floor that pulls water and retains it, after which the right dimension materials to permit condensation to type on the particle. Is that right?

Dr. Zou: Sure. Sure.

Laurel: Though cloud seeding has been round for many years, how does as we speak’s expertise transfer it towards a better success price?

Dr. Zou: As we all know, the worldwide water scarcity has repeatedly intensified by speedy inhabitants development and financial improvement all over the world. Standard water assets comparable to rivers, lakes, and groundwater have develop into very restricted, which is driving scientists and engineers to search for various water assets.

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

Nanotechnology can engineer materials and design the fabric with effectively managed dimension, 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 simpler instrument in producing rain from present clouds. What are standard cloud seeding supplies, after which how does nanotechnology come into play?

Dr. Zou: The standard cloud seeding supplies embrace largely 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 system. This salt vapor then will recondense as very small particles. As a result of the method is random and unsure, the shape and dimension of the particle can’t be managed and most are most likely 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, comparable to better than 75% relative humidity. In my undertaking, we have now modified the floor of the fabric to make it extra reactive so it may well work at a decrease and wider relative humidity to make it extra prone to occur.

To realize 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 could be activated at a lot broader relative humidity circumstances comparable to about 65%. As a result of the coated nanolayers are extra hydrophilic and porous, the water could 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 type of expertise, ice nucleating particles. How do these evaluate to cloud seeding supplies?

Dr. Zou: Sure. As you realize, chilly clouds with sub-zero temperatures are additionally current within the ambiance. They’re made from 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 type numerous ice crystals and bypass the liquid water section. In order that they type tremendous cool vapor and crystallize into ice particles.

Ice nucleation is necessary. 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 decreased graphite oxide and silica dioxide nanoparticles. This materials can provoke ice nucleation adopted by speedy development ranging from a temperature of minus 80 levels. This temperature is way increased than most different identified ice nucleate materials. Usually they require minus 25 levels and even decrease.

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

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

Laurel: Previously, one of many challenges scientists encountered when researching cloud seeding was the shortage of a simulation setting. 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 group. The innovation of my undertaking is the traits information we obtained from the experiment. This information 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 attributable to cloud seeding, and the outcomes show fairly profitable.

Laurel: Might 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 setting. They differ in dimension. There’s a small one, a medium one, and a big one. The small one could possibly be 20 meters and the big one could possibly 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 rapidly take many, many pictures 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 dimension of the droplets. We are able to do a spectrum evaluation and to search out out their vapor condensation, the droplet formation, and the dimensions and the variety of the droplets. Utilizing this info is excellent to check 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 type of success.

Dr. Zou: Sure, you might be proper. Within the open setting, it is tougher.

Laurel: Your analysis signifies a milestone towards reaching better water safety on the earth. What sort of impact can cloud seeding doubtlessly have on a rustic, just like the UAE, which usually 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 obtained glorious worldwide publicity.

Immediately, along with the Nationwide Heart 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 interested by 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 undertaking to guage the consequences of those supplies within the open air. A group of pilots is conducting an investigation by releasing the seeding supplies and in actual time capturing and analyzing them. It’s totally promising to know extra in regards to the results of this seeding materials.

Then again, I’m additionally devoted to the dimensions up of the manufacturing, scale 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 functions, however wider functions, comparable to totally different climate modification efforts, together with agriculture or crop safety, hail, or storm suppression, and the synthetic snow making on the ski resort. Sure, such kind of functions.

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

Dr. Zou: We need to transfer the supplies, as I discussed, from laboratory already and scale up, so it has an opportunity of reaching the market and to achieve many various elements of the world as effectively, as a result of there are such a lot of nations worldwide that apply climate modification.

Laurel: Dr. Zou, thanks a lot for being with us right here on the Enterprise Lab. This has been an absolute, incredible 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 Evaluation, 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 Evaluation. We have been based in 1899 on the Massachusetts Institute of Expertise, and you could find us in print on the internet and at occasions annually all over the world. For extra details about us and the present, please take a look at our web site at technologyreview.com.

This present is out there wherever you get your podcasts. Should you loved this episode, we hope you will take a second to price and assessment us. Enterprise Lab is a manufacturing of MIT Expertise Evaluation. 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 Evaluation. It was not written by MIT Expertise Evaluation’s editorial employees.



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