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?
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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