There was plenty of talk about biodegradable plastics from environmentalists in the 1990s. All the talk was about packaging, and much of the discussion lacked scientific grounding, even though it was embraced by many school science departments on the first one or two Earth Days. Biodegradability actually made little sense for much packaging because landfills are anaerobic – that is, they allow no oxygen or moisture, which are required for the degradation process. Degradation would allow toxins to leak into aquifers.
Look for biodegradability to move back into the forefront, however, and this time for engineering applications. New research projects, particularly outside the USA, are aimed at development of mechanically stronger plastics, as well as reinforcing fibers, that are made from plants. One reason is environmental: computer or car parts made from the materials would eventually biodegrade. The other is economic: the new materials may be more cost-effective than oil-based plastics given the price trajectory of hydrocarbons. One key player to watch: NetComposites which is leading a UK project valued at more than $1.5 million to develop biodegradable structural prototypes.
NASA's MAVEN spacecraft has entered Mars' atmosphere, carrying instruments to help Earthlings figure out what happened to it. Launched last November, the spacecraft arrived at the red planet right on time after a journey of 442 million miles.
Airbus Defence and Space has 3D printed titanium brackets for communications satellites. The redesigned, one-piece 3D-printed brackets have better thermal resistance than conventionally manufactured parts, can be produced faster, cost 20% less, and save about 1 kg of weight per satellite.
At IMTS last week, Stratasys introduced two new multi-materials PolyJet 3D printers, plus a new UV-resistant material for its FDM production 3D printers. They can be used in making jigs and fixtures, as well as prototypes and small runs of production parts.
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