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.
A new compression molding compound material combines the light weight, strength, and rigidity of carbon fibers with the flexibility and lower cost of glass materials in a composite compatible with automotive production.
Plastic bearings are real and millions of them are in use doing heavy-duty jobs we used to think only metals could do. Some of Germany-based igus's bearings are traveling around the world as functional parts in a car to demonstrate what they can do.
Baxter showed off his 2.0-derived moves at ATX West this year. The big red guy still looks pretty much the same, but has some new abilities, mostly due to software. The research robot version is now being used in corporate R&D departments as a design platform.
End-production using 3D printing, including objects made of multiple materials in one pass, is getting closer to reality as we saw on the exhibit floor at the recent Pacific Design & Manufacturing Show.