Highly porous carbon foam structures bonded with polymers such as polypropylene replace lead plates in typical vehicle batteries in a novel materials’ solution to problems with battery life and weight. The innovation comes from a company called Firefly Energy, using technology developed in the R&D Labs at Caterpillar, which was looking for a better battery for its vehicles. In the invention, carbon-graphite foam “grids” are loaded with lead oxides. The foam structure, creates huge surface-area advantages over conventional lead acid grid structures. Active material utilization levels go from the historical 20-50 percent up into the range of 70-90 percent as well as enhanced fast-recharge capability and greater high-rate / low-temperature discharge times, according to Firefly. Costs to produce energy will be higher than conventional lead acid batteries, but below other new technologies, such as lithium batteries. Firefly hopes the approach will be competitive for electric vehicles under development. North Star Battery will produce prototypes for possible use by the US Army.
To give engineers a better idea of the range of resins and polymers available as alternatives to other materials, this Technology Roundup presents several articles on engineering plastics that can do the job.
The first photos made with a 3D-printed telescope are here and they're not as fuzzy as you might expect. A team from the University of Sheffield beat NASA to the goal. The photos of the Moon were made with a reflecting telescope that cost the research team £100 to make (about $161 US).
A tiny humanoid robot has safely piloted a small plane all the way from cold start to takeoff, landing and coming to a full stop on the plane's designated runway. Yes, it happened in a pilot training simulation -- but the research team isn't far away from doing it in the real world.
Some in the US have welcomed 3D printing for boosting local economies and bringing some offshored manufacturing back onshore. Meanwhile, China is wielding its power of numbers, and its very different relationships between government, education, and industry, to kickstart a homegrown industry.
You can find out practically everything you need to know about engineering plastics as alternatives to other materials at the 2014 IAPD Plastics Expo. Admission is free for engineers, designers, specifiers, and OEMs, as well as students and faculty.
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