There’s an interesting new player in the plastics-from-plants arena. A company called OriginOil was formed in Los Angeles last year to develop a technology in which plastics and other chemicals are derived from algae. Algae cells contain up to 60 percent oil—who knew? OriginOil developed a helix bioreactor that speeds algae growth. Low-energy lights are arranged in a helix pattern to enhance algae growth. Last month, the company announced automation of the process, providing real-time monitoring, nutrient injection and carbon dioxide delivery at the micron level. Oil is extracted from the cell walls through a microwave process. Believe it or not, there are actually nine companies involved in algae-to-energy development. All the technical issues aren’t resolved, and it will be fa ew years before production units are ready—if then. The economics are a whole different issue. They’re “under study”, says the company. The price of oil, of course, will be a huge factor.
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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