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.
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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