I have blogged here in the past against the use of bioplastics as a solution to the solid waste problem. They don’t degrade in properly built landfills and they can foul recycling streams. I was at a meeting last Wednesday, however, where the biopolymer producers seem to be improving their case.
Stefan Facco of Novamont said that the European Commission ranks composting on an equal level with recycling as a way to reduce waste. The only strategies ranking higher are waste reduction and re-use. Novamont is targeting food-service applications such as fast-food restaurants and cafeterias where it’s too time-consuming or energy intensive to wash food waste off plates or utensils. Those materials would go into a composting stream instead of a recycling stream. The extent to which those types of composting systems will be developed, however, still remains to be seen. That’s the only case to me that may make sense for use of biodegradable plastics for food service products. Use of degradable plastic for agricultural mulch is a no-brainer and is already an important product. The cost of the starch-based bioplastics made by Novamont, however, still cost two to five times more than the commodity plastics they replace. Given that, might incineration of additive-free plastics in a waste-to-energy plant make more sense?
An MIT research team has invented what they see as a solution to the need for biodegradable 3D-printable materials made from something besides petroleum-based sources: a water-based robotic additive extrusion method that makes objects from biodegradable hydrogel composites.
Alcoa has unveiled a new manufacturing and materials technology for making aluminum sheet, aimed especially at automotive, industrial, and packaging applications. If all its claims are true, this is a major breakthrough, and may convince more automotive engineers to use aluminum.
NASA has just installed a giant robot to help in its research on composite aerospace materials, like those used for the Orion spacecraft. The agency wants to shave the time it takes to get composites through design, test, and manufacturing stages.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is working with architects Foster + Partners to test the possibility of using lunar regolith, or moon rocks, and 3D printing to make structures for use on the moon. A new video shows some cool animations of a hypothetical lunar mission that carries out this vision.
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