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.
The 100% solar-powered airplane Solar Impulse 2 is prepping for its upcoming flight, becoming the first plane to fly around the world without using fuel. It's able to do so because of above-average performance by all of the technologies that go into it, especially materials.
As the 3D printing and overall additive manufacturing ecosystem grows, standards and guidelines from standards bodies and government organizations are increasing. Multiple players with multiple needs are also driving the role of 3DP and AM as enabling technologies for distributed manufacturing.
A growing though not-so-obvious role for 3D printing, 4D printing, and overall additive manufacturing is their use in fabricating new materials and enabling new or improved manufacturing and assembly processes. Individual engineers, OEMs, university labs, and others are reinventing the technology to suit their own needs.
For vehicles to meet the 2025 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, three things must happen: customers must look beyond the data sheet and engage materials supplier earlier, and new integrated multi-materials are needed to make step-change improvements.
3D printing, 4D printing, and various types of additive manufacturing (AM) will get even bigger in 2015. We're not talking about consumer use, which gets most of the attention, but processes and technologies that will affect how design engineers design products and how manufacturing engineers make them. For now, the biggest industries are still aerospace and medical, while automotive and architecture continue to grow.
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