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?
Plastic bags can become useful as either raw materials for plastics or feedstock for fuel. It's when they're not recycled that they become a major problem. That's what California's bag ban will prevent.
NASA's JPL and Caltech have achieved the mind-boggling feat of 3D printing multiple metals in a single end-part, grading from one alloy to another. They've also developed a method for combining metals with carbon fiber composites in end-production parts.
More and more robots are becoming more autonomous all the time. Now Lockheed Martin has completed a demo mission with two completely autonomous robotic vehicles performing resupply, reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition.
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