One of the weirder materials developments from the economic slowdown is a shortage of sawdust. Prices are up some 25 percent in the past two years, if you can get it. Sawdust is not normally considered an engineering material, but it’s often used as an additive for plastic compounds that cover steering wheels and dashboards. Demand for wood plastic composites has grown dramatically and is close to a billion pounds this year, mostly for construction applications. Composites are typically close to half wood flour and high-density polyethylene, with a smattering of other additives such as stabilizers and pigments. Wood plastic composites are favored for automotive applications because they have a lower specific gravity than compounds made with other inorganic materials. They also give an “organic” look and are considered environmentally friendly. The new economics, however, surely will slow penetration. The reason is the slowdown in house construction, which is slowing timber operations. The weakness of the US dollar versus the Canadian dollar also is having an impact.
Plastic bags can become useful as either raw materials for plastics or feedstock for fuel. It's when they're not recycled that they become a major problem. That's what California's bag ban will prevent.
NASA's JPL and Caltech have achieved the mind-boggling feat of 3D printing multiple metals in a single end-part, grading from one alloy to another. They've also developed a method for combining metals with carbon fiber composites in end-production parts.
More and more robots are becoming more autonomous all the time. Now Lockheed Martin has completed a demo mission with two completely autonomous robotic vehicles performing resupply, reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition.
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