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DIRECT METHANE developed a low-temperature direct methane fuel cell

in 1962, and Andrew M. Herring of Colorado School of
FUEL CELL REVIVED Mines and coworkers revived the concept in 2012. But
both designs generated negligible amounts of power.
Now Herring and Brian G. Trewyn at Colorado
A platinum catalyst ENERGY: Catalyst-embedded electrode School of Mines, T. Brent Gunnoe of the University of
attached to an
anode oxidizes
offers promise of converting Virginia, and coworkers have used an organometallic
methane at low methane directly to electricity complex to activate methane C–H bonds in a low-
temperature. The temperature direct methane fuel cell (J. Am. Chem. Soc.
reaction drives 2015, DOI: 10.1021/jacs.5b06392).
a current and NEW DEVICE uses a platinum catalyst to break The team covalently attached a low-temperature
releases protons
that then interact
with oxygen at the
cathode to produce
A down methane to produce electricity at low
temperatures, generating more power than any
previous direct methane fuel cell.
methane-activating platinum catalyst to conductive
carbon and used the material as a fuel-cell anode. The
material catalyzes an oxidation process that releases
water. Currently, methane, a primary constituent of natu- carbon dioxide, electrons, and protons. The protons
ral gas, is burned to produce heat and then react with oxygen at the cathode to produce water.
8e– 8e– other forms of energy for homes The process converts methane directly to electricity
CH4 + 2H2O 2O2
and businesses. Direct methane fuel at 80 °C and generates five times the power of any previ-
cells—in which methane is used di- ous low-temperature direct methane fuel cell. But it has
rectly, without first being converted limitations: The catalyst deactivates over time, diffusion
into hydrogen—could produce energy of methane into the anode is limited, and maximum
more efficiently than combustion- power density is still too low for real-world use.
Electrolyte based methods. The approach demonstrates feasibility, “and there
8H+ But such fuel cells must break is ample room for improvement,” comments catalysis
Anode Cathode methane’s strong C–H bonds, and J. AM. CHEM. SOC. specialist Matteo Cargnello of Stanford University. “It
that generally requires high operat- is an elegant and novel concept that might open new
CO2 4H2O ing temperatures between 650 and perspectives in the efficient and clean use of natural
1,100 °C, which add significantly to a gas,” adds materials scientist Paolo Fornasiero of the
CH4 + 2O2 CO2 + 2H2O device’s operating costs. Researchers University of Trieste, Italy.—STU BORMAN

CHINA FIRM ENTERS microscopy to read DNA or RNA directly, according to

Jiankui He, the firm’s founder and CEO. Unlike compet-
SEQUENCING FRAY ing clinical systems, the GenoCare Analyzer does not
require presequencing amplification.
The technology is a reboot of a sequencing-by-synthe-
DNA TESTING: Direct Genomics
sis method developed a decade ago by Stephen Quake,
revamps single-molecule technology then at Caltech and now at Stanford University. Quake’s
for clinical diagnostics market firm, Helicos Biosciences, began building commercial-
grade whole-genome sequencers around 2008 but was
bankrupt by 2012. Helicos’s hardware assets reportedly
IRECT GENOMICS, a three-year-old Chinese were acquired by sequencing services provider SeqLL.
Direct Genomics’
GenoCare Analyzer
uses a single-
D firm, is taking on Illumina and other instrumen-
tation market leaders with a next-generation se-
quencing (NGS) system designed for clinical diagnos-
He, who is an associate professor at South Univer-
sity of Science & Technology of China, was a postdoc
with Quake after completing his graduate work in the
molecule DNA tics. Three Chinese hospitals are part of an early-access lab of Rice University’s Michael Deem. Both Quake
sequencing method. program using the company’s GenoCare Analyzer. and Deem, as well as former Helicos chief technology
Although NGS is rapidly growing in the officer J. William Efcavitch, are Direct Genomics advis-
clinical testing area and equipment com- ers. Backed by Chinese investors, the firm licensed key
panies are improving the technology, the SMTS patents from Caltech this year.
instruments remain “too complex for use by The new system is much smaller and less expensive
everyday physicians,” Goldman Sachs stock than the Helicos one, He says. Direct Genomics also
analyst Isaac Ro pointed out in a report early continues to improve the chemistry and has published
last month. “The notion of a sequencer in ev- initial data on BioRxiv.org (2015, DOI: 10.1101/029686).

ery hospital is not yet feasible and will require With about 1.4 billion people, China represents huge
another leap in functionality.” opportunity, and Direct Genomics is seeking Chinese
Direct Genomics’ system employs single- FDA approval. Chinese service provider Berry Genom-
molecule targeted sequencing (SMTS) chemis- ics has already received CFDA clearance for using a
try and total internal reflectance fluorescence system developed with Illumina.—ANN THAYER