An interesting technology developed in Sweden using biofilms may combine efficient treatment of waste water with low-cost production of bioplastics.
In the MBBRTM biofilm technology, communities of micro-organisms (called biofilms) grow within engineered plastic carriers, which are designed with high internal surface area. Pollutants that need to be removed are food or substrate for growth of the biofilm. Design of the plastic carrier (shown in image above) is critical to rapidly transfer oxygen to the microorganisms. The MBBRTM biofilm technology is patented by AnoxKaldnes, which is now part of Veolia Water Systems and Technologies of St. Maurice, France.
AnoxKaldnes is now researching the potential of using the biofilm technology to produce polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), polymers that are “energy reserves” for these bacterial microorganisms. PHAs have mechanical properties comparable to polypropylene, but are costly because current production systems are based on pure cultures of bacteria.
In the AnoxKaldnes’ approach, the complex bacteria in a wastewater treatment plant are used instead of a pure culture of PHA-producing bacteria. The process configuration and conditions are used to favor the enrichment of PHA production.
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.
More and more -- that's what we'll see from plastics and composites in 2015, more types of plastics and more ways they can be used. Two of the fastest-growing uses will be automotive parts, plus medical implants and devices. New types of plastics will include biodegradable materials, plastics that can be easily recycled, and some that do both.
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