Green, sustainable materials -- some made out of shrimp shells, silk, and plant trash -- are being used for consumer packaging, shipping, and plastic bag replacements.
In fact, those are the largest applications for bioplastics, which are usually created in a process chain from ethanol to polymer that closely parallels the process for creating their petrochemical equivalents. Today durable-grade bioplastics are blended with petro-based plastics and incorporated into PCs. Engineering-grade bioplastics are being used in extreme, under-hood automotive applications.
Click the image below to start a slideshow highlighting the innovative ways green materials are being used:
Recycled plastic bottles and other waste plastic destined for landfills can be transformed into weight-bearing structural materials for heavy-load bridges, such as this one in Scotland,
shown supporting heavy equipment during its construction. (Source: Axion International)
Very cool presentation, Ann. Really gives you a sense of the varied mix of products and packaging that is now able to take advantage of these green materials. It also shows that going green from a materials standpoint doesn't have to dramatically alter the look or feel of the product--it's almost transparent from a visual perspective, which could be a benefit for companies concerned about dramatically altering their goods.
What this slideshow brings to light is the fact that "green" is not a technology per se. Rather, it's a way of looking at design, from prototyping through to recycling, to figure out the most environmentally friendly way of doing things. However, as I've said before, the reason green is taking off is simply because now, with the rising price of oil, it's finally cost effective.
Thanks, Beth. I agree: Except for the mushroom packaging, the green materials are mostly transparent to the user. Maybe that camouflage-like effect is one reason why so many of us don't realize that they're already here in so many different products we use every day.
I think there are two reasons green materials and approaches are taking off. Alex is right: the cost differential--in the sense of price of materials--is making these alternatives a no-brainer. But my research showed that the price differential swings back and forth between plus and minus depending on the ups and downs of the price of oil. The second major reason is consumer demand, which has been a longer-term factor.
I think given the choice and without having to pay more, consumers will demand more environmentally friendly materials. I know I've started in small ways, buying recycled paper products and greener household cleaners. We recently had to have some insulation work done and specifically sought out a green resource. If the greener materials are readily accessible, look somewhat "normal," and perform in the way we as consumers expect them to perform, why not seek out something that's more earth friendly?
For me, the most amazing of the green material application is still the load-bearing bridge members in Scotland. As soon as these materials get the mechanical properties that are needed, and there 's little or no cost penalty, use by engineers will really take off.
As long as the materials used is transparent to the customer, I am sure that most consumers will continue to back products that use green materials. With the backing specially among younger people, this emphasis is here to stay and will only continue to grow. Great report, Ann
I agree, Chuck. I think with all of the research being done and based on the recent reports Ann has written on biomimickry, with companies taking a page from Mother Nature to enhance the structural integrity and mechanical properties of their biomaterials projects, we're only at the beginning of all the progress to be made.
I would have to say that Cost will be the big driver. Currently the reason so many companies are using green materials is due to the hype about saving the planet. As this mentality dies out then so will the gains from using green materials (mostly marketing). Then the only way for this to be viable would be at no cost penalty.
Chuck, I'm with you on the recycled plastic bridge materials. I still find them mind-boggling, so much so that I've told friends and acquaintances about it and they're amazed, too. This whole subject of green materials is as much fun to discover and report as news was in the whiz-bang days of Silicon Valley.
Beth, I have also changed a lot of habits over the years, starting in the 1970s, such as recycling and water conservation. The latter has been relatively easy to do since I live in a drought-prone state and rationing has sometimes been mandated. More recently, I've changed what I buy, as better products have been available, especially recycled paper products that don't cost much more, and I also buy as little plastic as possible. For example, there are lots of bamboo alternatives to wood and plastic now. I also stopped buying commercial household cleaners except for Bon Ami, and mostly use baking soda and vinegar. It takes a little more elbow grease, but it's way cheaper and easier on the environment.
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.
If there's one thing 3D printing's good for, it's customization. New Balance Athletic Shoe Company has begun using 3D printing to make customized spike plates for its running shoes made for members of its Team New Balance runners. They provide better traction and shave off a tiny bit of weight.
Two teams, one based in the US and one in Europe, have 3D printed space-worthy support structures for satellite antenna arrays. These aren't prototypes: they're fully functioning antenna supports that will operate while exposed to the harsh temperatures and radiation of outer space.
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