One of the best stories at K 2007 is the effort under way at SABIC Innovative Plastics to develop new technologies that reduce use of oil and natural gas. Yes, that’s the Saudi Arabian Basic Industries Corp., partly owned by the Saudi Arabian government. SABIC Innovative Polymers is the former GE Plastics, and just became part of SABIC earlier this fall. The company is known for its application development work, and its newest development center is aimed at new ideas in energy. One of the three big projects under way is a new concept in photovoltaic cells. The SABIC unit is developing new polycarbonate chemistries that could amplify the energy-producing power of silicon used at the heart of solar cells. In interviews with Design News this morning, three SABIC executives described the effect as a “kind of light pipe”. Polycarbonate in existing solar cells simply protects the silicon with a transparent shield. The new polycarbonate would also boost the efficiency of the cell. No data on efficiency levels are available now. Rick Pontillo, general manager of global application technology, told Design News the concept could go commercial in two years if it proves out. Work began two years ago on the project, and SABIC officials are said to solidly support it.
Artificially created metamaterials are already appearing in niche applications like electronics, communications, and defense, says a new report from Lux Research. How quickly they become mainstream depends on cost-effective manufacturing methods, which will include additive manufacturing.
SpaceX has 3D printed and successfully hot-fired a SuperDraco engine chamber made of Inconel, a high-performance superalloy, using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). The company's first 3D-printed rocket engine part, a main oxidizer valve body for the Falcon 9 rocket, launched in January and is now qualified on all Falcon 9 flights.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and MIT have 3D-printed a new class of metamaterials that are both exceptionally light and have exceptional strength and stiffness. The new metamaterials maintain a nearly constant stiffness per unit of mass density, over three orders of magnitude.
Smart composites that let the material's structural health be monitored automatically and continuously are getting closer to reality. R&D partners in an EU-sponsored project have demonstrated what they say is the first complete, miniaturized, fiber-optic sensor system entirely embedded inside a fiber-reinforced composite.
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