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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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