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Materials & Assembly
Iron Nanospheres Turn Plants Into Plastics
3/20/2012

A new catalyst consisting of iron nanospheres (dark areas) converts gas generated from plant waste into biofuel and bioplastic building blocks in a single step.   (Source: Hirsa M. Torres Galvis, Utrecht University.)
A new catalyst consisting of iron nanospheres (dark areas) converts gas generated from plant waste into biofuel and bioplastic building blocks in a single step.
(Source: Hirsa M. Torres Galvis, Utrecht University.)

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Rob Spiegel
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From oil to branches
Rob Spiegel   3/20/2012 7:43:30 AM
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Interesting new material, Ann. Since the result is a material that is not more biodegradable than oil products, I would imagine the researchers are seeking other advantages from the material. Is it that branches are less expensive than oil?

Alexander Wolfe
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Re: From oil to branches
Alexander Wolfe   3/20/2012 9:08:27 AM
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This reminds me of those Mobil commercials where the research talks about the wonders of algae and how they're growing them in the lab so they can one day be used as a source of renewable fuel. The difference here, and in other recent materials you've written about, Ann, is that the "one day" is today.

becksint@yahoo.com
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Re: From oil to branches
becksint@yahoo.com   3/20/2012 11:54:15 AM
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Think it's a way forward, most landscaping companies and timber companies just dump branches (in Africa), but they did mention production of Methane in large amounts, it might be another way to go, as methane looks like a good alternative to oil. Oil being more capital intensive than this alternative I assume

williamlweaver
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Re: From oil to branches
williamlweaver   3/20/2012 12:10:06 PM
Ann, I'm not knocking this way-cool technology. But what I am knocking is our current political climate. While "Oil from Branches" is considered cutting edge and a renewable resource, what if, millions of years ago, our ancestors had the foresight to take fallen branches and stockpile them underground until later generations had the technology to convert the branches into fuel. And what if millions of years ago, our ancestors had the foresight to collect all of the algae they could find and stockpile it underground until later generations had the technology to convert the algae into fuel.

The awesome thing is that nature did just that. We are the later generations and we have an abundance of old branches in the form of "coal" and an abundance of old algae in the form of "petroleum". If a politician could prove that their ancestors created the stockpiles, we would make them Monarch for Life. As it stands, Coal and Petroleum are somehow "alien" technologies that are only here to poison the earth. Until scientists and engineers fix that perception, we will remain in the dark.


JimT@Future-Product-Innovations
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The cutting edge - cuts both ways
JimT@Future-Product-Innovations   3/20/2012 12:36:02 PM
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Overall, seems like a step into a science fiction movie.  If I follow the chemistry correctly, the big deal is the creation of engineered resins from a renewable natural resource.  But on the down side, it seems like science has morphed an entity that was once biodegradable, and stabilized it such that it will never decompose. I guess like everything, it's a knife that cuts both ways.

JimT@Future-Product-Innovations
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Re: From oil to branches
JimT@Future-Product-Innovations   3/20/2012 12:39:53 PM

Fantastic, long-range perspective.  More than a Global perspective, but an understanding spanning millennia.   I wish I'd seen yours before I posted mine, I love the irony.  Thanks; I give you 5 stars.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: From oil to branches
Ann R. Thryft   3/20/2012 12:53:33 PM
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Rob, this is a discovery with two major "wow"s: 1) basically a "it's not made from food crops and doesn't compete with them for agricultural land" alternative, which we've already seen in some bioplastics. But at least as important, it's also different because instead of multiple steps to go from plants to oil, there's only 1 (or 2, depending on how you count). So it's more efficient, therefore less expensive and faster.


Rob Spiegel
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Re: From oil to branches
Rob Spiegel   3/20/2012 1:37:23 PM
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Thanks, Ann. Those two wow's make sense. I would imagine the wood, branches, etc. would be waste, thus this technology would recycle them. I would also guess this waste would be less expensive simply because it's waste and doesn't cost $108 a barrel before processing.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: The cutting edge - cuts both ways
Ann R. Thryft   3/20/2012 3:23:37 PM
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becksint, thanks for the feedback from another part of the world. It's certainly an alternative to biodegrading without managed composting, which is what would happen eventually to waste plant material that gets dumped. JIm, the point of using renewable resources like plant material for manufacturing plastics or fuels is to replace the ones we're either running out of and/or that are toxic, such as coal and petroleum. Of course, if we decided we didn't need so much fuel, or could somehow make it out of solar and wind sources, then we could just leave all that plant material to biodegrade. I do wonder what happens if we start diverting huge amounts of plant material from ecosystems that depend on them to produce things like food and water.


Ann R. Thryft
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Re: From oil to branches
Ann R. Thryft   3/20/2012 3:26:08 PM
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Alex, I keep having the same experience, finding and writing about these new discoveries and/or possible technologies. That's especially true since I've been a sci-fi fan since age 11. The future is here.



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