Many designers are looking to a very old
wood-based plastic to achieve a new look that has green values.
One example is a clear protective case
for the Apple iPhone 3G that showcases the device's iconic design. "We wanted a
crystal-clear material with window-like clarity," says Jedd Komlos, lead
industrial designer for Ventev Innovations. The material is called Naturacell,
a durable plastic developed by Rotuba Extruders Ltd
of Linden, NJ,
that blends a natural-based softener with Eastman cellulosics derived from the
pulp of softwood trees.
This plastic has deep roots. Eastman
Kodak founded the Tennessee Eastman Co. in 1920 to manufacture wood alcohol for
film base. In 1932, Tennessee Eastman began production of its first plastic -
Tenite acetate. It was the first thermoplastic and found widespread use in
Craftsman tool handles, toys, sunglass frames, toothbrush handles and
Cellulosic plastics, which are composed
of 40 to 45 percent wood pulp, have a distinct feel and scent. Tenite has been
replaced in some applications in recent years because of its high price
relative to commodity plastics such as polystyrene.
But other designers are latching on to
the sustainability angle. "All of our wood pulp comes from sustainably managed
forests," says Gaylon White, director of design programs at Eastman Chemical,
which was spun off from Eastman Kodak in 1993. "For every two trees that are
harvested, three are planted." Most of the trees come from Southern softwood
forests, and all come from the U.S.
The iPhone case from Ventev accelerates
the sustainable angle by using packaging made from fully recycled paperboard.
But designer Komlos also likes the clarity of Tenite and the surface finish.
"It's very smooth and soft," he says. "If you run your fingernails across the
surface, they glide as smooth as ice."
One big payoff could be interior touch
points in high-end luxury cars, says White. So far, however, there have been no
automotive interior applications.
Sharon Glotzer and David Pine are hoping to create the first liquid hard drive with liquid nanoparticles that can store 1TB per teaspoon. They aren't the first to find potential data stores, as Harvard researchers have stored 700 TB inside a gram of DNA.
If you see a hitchhiker along the road in Canada this summer, it may not be human. That’s because a robot is thumbing its way across our neighbor to the north as part of a collaborative research project by several Canadian universities.
SpaceX has 3D printed and successfully hot-fired a SuperDraco engine chamber made of Inconel, a high-performance superalloy, using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). The company's first 3D-printed rocket engine part, a main oxidizer valve body for the Falcon 9 rocket, launched in January and is now qualified on all Falcon 9 flights.
Stanford University researchers have found a way to realize what’s been called the “Holy Grail” of battery-design research -- designing a pure lithium anode for lithium-based batteries. The design has great potential to provide unprecedented efficiency and performance in lithium-based batteries that could substantially drive down the cost of electric vehicles and solve the charging problems associated with smartphones.
UK researchers have come up with a method for machining aerospace-grade, carbon fiber-reinforced composites, along with high-strength aerospace alloys, using an ultrasonically assisted machining device. It also works on high-strength aerospace alloys.
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