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.
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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