Plastics remain the bane of many environmentalists, but aspiring venture capitalists seem to see polymers in a different light. Two of the top four finishers in this year’s Rice University Business Plan Competition focus on plastics. The winners get star treatment in the current issue of Fortune Magazine in a section headlined “Venture”.
The first place finisher is a new pharmaceutical and number two is an Internet tool for human authentication. And at number three is a project called PK Clean from two students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Their intriguing idea? Conversion of plastic waste into diesel fuel. That should stop all the trash talk about plastics.
At the fourth spot is a project called cyclewood Plastics from a student team at the University of Arkansas. These students have developed a marketing plan for a biodegradable plastic bag made from a byproduct of paper production. OK. That one sounds like a pretty well tried-and tested idea. Many companies are now selling biodegradable plastic bags from a variety or renewable feedstocks. The one edge for cyclewood is use of a waste byproduct in a technology developed at the University of Minnesota. And who knows–maybe their bags will degrade faster than the competition!
Dealing with plastic bag disposal has been the bane of the retail existence for a long time. In retail, we had seen recyclable bags in the past, but they would stick together causing significant waste. The new generation seems to have better success but do not do well in hot environments or storage.
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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