There are no revolutions under way in the world of engineering plastics. New materials today target very specific problems. One interesting set of materials from BASF helps to better insulate houses, as shown in a demonstration project in England. Michael Guibault, a marketing manager for BASF’s construction polymers business in North America, says architects can now design buildings that have the energy-efficiency advantages that previously only came with thicker, traditional materials. Here’s how it works: Plastic capsules are filled with a wax that absorbs and then releases energy by melting and solidifying. When used in an astronaut’s spacesuit, a soldier’s uniform, or within an interior plaster or plasterboard wall, the capsules boost the thermal capacity of the material and reduce temperature swings. "Manufacturers of interior building materials can utilize BASF’s Micronal phase-change microcapsules to create new product categories that can give them a competitive advantage," says Guibault.
Although plastics make up only about 11% of all US municipal solid waste, many are actually more energy-dense than coal. Converting these non-recycled plastics into energy with existing technologies could reduce US coal consumption, as well as boost domestic energy reserves, says a new study.
This year's Dupont-sponsored WardsAuto survey of automotive designers and other engineers shows lightweighting dominates the discussion. But which materials will help them meet the 2025 CAFE standards are not entirely clear.
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.
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