Monday, November 23, 2015

Mealworms and Styrofoam: How Nature Once Again Proves It Can Save Us

Researchers from both Stanford and China Beihang University have successfully proven that beetle larvae- commonly referred to as "mealworms" are an efficient way to break down polyethylene plastic: by eating it.  The discovery  does one important thing right away: it negates the classification of polyethylene plastics as "non-biodegradable", opening a huge door to research in how to eliminate the estimated 33 million tons of plastic waste the US produces annually (and that's only the US).

Using beetle larvae from various sources, the researchers fed them a daily diet of Styrofoam. According to their published results in Environmental Science and Technology:
"The Styrofoam was efficiently degraded in the larval gut within a retention time of less than 24 h. Fed with Styrofoam as the sole diet, the larvae lived as well as those fed with a normal diet (bran) over a period of one month."
Mealworms chow down on Styrofoam. The creatures break down the material
much faster than it normally takes for Styrofoam to break down on its own

The findings go on to report about half (47.7%) the byproduct of the mealworms' digestion was carbon dioxide and the rest biomass and non-toxic fecal matter. The average biodegradation was found to take 16 days; an astoundingly fast measurement compared to the eons Styrofoam takes to break down on its own.

While carbon dioxide as a byproduct will produce its own challenge of how to responsibly introduce it back into the ecosystem (it's not out of the realm of possibility to imagine a mealworm farm integrated into a controlled forest, is it?), the hope is with further research, labs can isolate the bioenzyme that enables mealworms to do this and utilize it on a grander scale to break down plastic waste en masse.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Permeable Pavement The Key To New Water Infrastructure

Recently, we wrote about one of the ways California is addressing its drought-afflicted water systems: a multi-millions dollar city-wide push for capturing urban runoff by Los Angeles's Department of Water & Power. The effort will demand many innovations that need to be implemented to existing infrastructure as quickly as possible.

One new company has provided an excellent option for that innovation; UK-based Tarmac has introduced its new Topmix Permeable pavement. The material is capable of absorbing an astounding 880 million gallons of water in a single minute. That's fast enough to keep up with most rainfall averages but the real value is not merely in preventing flood accumulation on city streets; it is in the many ways the pavement can supplement current water storage systems that already exist:

While storing rainwater is not a new feature, the average American city still relies an astounding amount on water melted from the snowpack of nearby mountains (the Cascades of New York, the Sierras of California, for example). But with shifting weather patterns all over the nation, the traditional methods of water capture yield less and less amounts, and it has become clear 21st century urban designs must take these changing nature patterns into effect in order to survive.

Topmix Permeable not only serves as an excellent alternative to traditional snowmelt systems (if heavily invested in), but is also pliable enough to be applied to a variety of existing models. TechInsider breaks it down:
"The system can accommodate three designs: full infiltration, partial infiltration, and full attenuation.

Full infiltration refers to a system where all water goes through Topmix to flow into the soil underneath. It's particularly useful in wet areas that don't need to collect the rainwater.
Partial infiltration involves a semi-permeable barrier beneath Topmix that acts as a drainage system into nearby sewers or waterways — useful when the layer beneath Topmix can't pass the water through on its own.
Full attenuation uses a capture system to store all the water that flows through Topmix. This option is most useful in areas with unclean water and high recycling rates, since the captured water can be reused later."
The variety of applications means Topmix has the chance to replace existing pavement areas immediately. And judging by the drastic changes in weather around the nation- specifically in the Southwest- immediate and widespread changes are definitely in demand. Its only shortcoming is that it risks cracking if the absorbed water expands in cold weather. That may rule out a few urban markets, but not nearly as many as those that stand to benefit the greatest.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.


Friday, October 30, 2015

Wheelchair Design Uses Segway Tech to Be Hands Free

New Zealander Kevin Halsall watched his good friend relegated to a wheelchair after a skiing accident left him paralyzed. The transition was especially unbearable for someone who had been athletically active outdoors, but Halsall saw a way to ensure being handicapped did not mean his friend would also have to watch his body physically deteriorate.

Four years and three prototypes later, Halsall is drawing cross-continental praise for his patented wheelchair, the Ogo. The Ogo can be customized, is lightweight, battery-powered, and has a cutting-edge fiberglass hull. But its best feature utilizes technology that's been around for years that in retrospect it is a wonder no one had thought to implement it: the Segway gyroscope.

As the video above shows, the Ogo's seat responds to the direction of weight leaning on it. A driver can lean forward, backwards, or side to side, and the chair's Segway-implemented system will move accordingly. No controls are needed and as a side benefit, the driver's core muscles stay active in steering, an issue that directly addresses the unfortunate attrition from a seated life.

Although this product may not help all wheelchair-users (there are still many paraplegics without the use of lower back and rump muscles needed to steer), the Ogo still counts as a step forward in helping many of them not only explore the average terrain, but the exceptional as well. Halsall's design has steadily gained in funding, winning $10,000 and an investment mentoring from Kiwi kick starter firm Equitise as well as first place in New Zealand's 2015 Innovate Competition. Furthermore, while the Ogo runs at a top speed of 12mph, its lithium ion batteries stand to lose weight with future versions (as we've covered), meaning the Ogo could have even more room to improve the lives of those confined to a chair but unwilling to let that deter a healthy and active life.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Additive Manufacturing Goes "Green" with Coffee Grinds, Mud, Clay

With sustainability becoming increasingly more and more of a priority for individuals and nations alike, it seems only natural that the inevitable future of manufacturing- namely additive- be held to a higher environmental standard than its oil and gas predecessors.

This is not lost on the pioneers of 3d Printing technology, as more and more start ups are using the new industry as a method to develop more sustainable and eco-friendly chains of production. The following are only a few of the many experimental and small-scale excursions into the concept of environmentally conscious 3d Printing that are waiting for large-scale investment to demonstrate their true worth:
Coffee-based filament used to 3D print products.
3Dom USA Eco-Friendly Products

A merging endeavor of Fargo 3D and European-based 3Dom, 3Dom USA recently revealed an unlikely source for its spool products: coffee grinds. With the help of bio-composite company, c2renew, 3Dom USA's firmament is sturdy, natural, and degrades in dumps at a much faster rate than plastic-based spooling. Seeing as how most printers in the market currently are designed to only use plastics for use anyway, 3Dom USA's printers have to come with whatever coffee-based materials they use. But the cost-efficiency more than makes up for any initial buy and the variety of hard products for retail, utility, and even construction, are enough to warrant consideration.

WASP's BigDelta Mud House Printer

World's Advanced Saving Project has a variety of innovative projects, none more impressive than BigDelta. Following ancient Mediterranean techniques that use only clay, water, and plant materials, WASP created a massive 40-foot 3D printer that constructs mud houses.

A massive 3D printer used to produce mud and clay houses.
 Though phased out when the Industrial Revolution went global, mud houses are still extremely cheap and durable from the outside elements. Surges in global population among third-world countries all but guarantee their value as a logical choice in mass housing in many parts of the world.

Model clay houses built by WASP using its 40 foot, 3D printer.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Carbon Nanofiber Manufacturing- Environmental Savior?

With increasing evidence that the planet is indeed warming from a buildup of carbon in the atmosphere, more and more industrial minds are looking for ways humanity can adjust its mass productivity with the coming environmental issues of the 21st century.

New process extracts carbon nanofibers out of thin air
Researchers from George Washington University have kept this in mind and decided to go directly to the source: carbon itself. Carbon nanofiber has already earned a reputation as a new material ripe with potential. While it used to be difficult to mass produce, new advances in process have made it cheaper and more efficient in comparison to similarly used materials such as steel and aluminum. The airline, bullet-proof armor, and medical tech worlds have all invested heavily in carbon nanofiber, and further developments could enable the material to even replace traditional building infrastructure.

And so with the real possibility of carbon nanofibers becoming universally used on a global level, Stuart Licht and his team at GWU developed a process of manufacturing that pulls CO2 directly from the atmosphere and by running it through an electric current in molten hot lithium carbonates, reforms it into a nano-substance. Right now all recorded results have been on the prototypical level. According to Licht, however, if the process were duplicated on a large scale, the math of diminishing the carbon in the atmosphere that currently traps heat from the sun at rates unprecedented in human recorded history works out to a very favorable outcome:

"We calculate that with a physical area less than 10 percent the size of the Sahara Desert, our process could remove enough CO2 to decrease atmospheric levels to those of the pre-industrial revolution within 10 years," Licht says in a statement through the American Chemical Society

Less than 10 percent of the Sahara is still a very big area. And there are still other variables to consider, such as the shelf life of the CO2 nanofibers themselves, and whether product decay would only delay the inevitable.

That said, this discovery marries the best of both the industrial and environmental worlds. Carbon nanofibers are not only an excellent choice of product for its application (durability, lightweight, tensile strength), but it is cost-effective and in higher demand every quarter. If its manufacturing process can also clean the air of the very particles exacerbating climate change as well, there may be literally no downside in its expansion as a universal raw material.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.

Friday, October 9, 2015

3D Printing's Value Is In What It Takes Away

3D printed engine made by Amaero & Monash University
As additive manufacturing continues to gather blinding momentum in various industries all over the world, it is important to recognize what it can really contribute as a new technology. Most innovations are met with gobs of capital investment assuming a return is in volume of production. In fact already, enthusiasts are hailing the future of additive manufacturing as "a 3D printer in every household, on every desktop".

3D printing, while having lots of potential in smaller use, should still certainly be considered the central hub for the manufacturing operation of the future.  The technology is ideal for economizing overall manufacturing and minimizing the use of resources, a suddenly necessary priority for a global society with human population levels never seen before on the planet. Rather than the usual model of mass production, this technology should be strategically utilized for making products not just ample, but efficient in production.

Many big companies already understand this, an example being a recent challenge by French aerospace firm Safran for an airplane engine entirely constructed from additive manufacturing. The result was the first jet engine ever completely manufactured from 3D printing. The effort, a collaboration of Australian-based Amaero Manufacturing and Monash University, was not only hailed for enabling the creation of difficult, customized engine parts, but also for cutting into standard manufacturing lead times as well.  As Simon Marriott, CEO of Amaero said in a statement to Reuters,  "This will allow aerospace companies to compress their development cycles because we are making these prototype engines three or four times faster than normal".

Amaero's project turned out to be two prototypes made- one that took a year, and a subsequent one that took only three months. Clearly, the level of improvement in has much more room to grow. In fact, only a few months later, GE Aviation's Additive Manufacturing division made their own attempt at the same goal and produced its own completely 3D printed jet engine that reached 33,000 RPM:

Lightweight, a foot long, and produced in ever-decreasing lead times; GE's latest example proves that mass distribution is indeed possible through paring down the process of manufacturing. If 3D printing machinery can continue to be more and more cost-effective, and match performance of tradiationally manufactured products, the entire industrial process itself should be reconsidered. It's not the what, but the how, that will be 3D printing's thumbprint on the world.  

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Drones For Everyone: Uneccessary Or Inevitable?

Start-Up CyPhy's latest model, the LVL 1

New Jersey over the past few years has suddenly become a state home to an increasing amount of drone enthusiasts. Hobby groups like the Oaklyn Rotor-E Drone Club have proven there are a sizable amount of the public across the spectrum of income and demographics that not only enjoy drone technology for individual purposes, but for social interaction as well.

With that in mind, it's only a matter of time before someone puts a serious investment behind an effort to integrate drones into our day-to-day lives. But how exactly should they fit into those lives? The obvious part of drone-tech- its camera ability- has been used recently in a variety of monitor-oriented methods. One such example is the implementation of a drone by Turner Corporation to oversee the Kings arena construction site in Sacramento, California. While there is real value in the getting real-time data return on the productivity of a construction team, this kind of application of constant surveillance can have the adverse effect of overworking laborers aware of always being watched (to say the least of annoying them as well; nobody likes an "all-seeing eye" camera above them at work.)

However, on the individual level, drone technology, while harder to practically apply, makes a lot more sense. Imagine the drone not as a primary point of focus every time you use it, but an accessory in the background, providing functional information when needed and serving as an extension of your smartphone. Gizmodo, in a recent podcast, featured a project by the R&D lab, Superflux called the Drone Aviary. The purpose of the project was to explore literally every pracitcal purpose having a drone nonchalantly hovering in a person's own "bubblespace" that could be. The results were quite interesting: monitoring health, pets at home, traffic while running or bicycling, even a house or apartment while you sleep. Those were just a fraction of the myriad of possibilities Superflux's design team came up with, and when put into the context of app technology, it is quite possible one drone can be programmed through a smartphone to perform each function on command.

Some would say that while a nice idea, the hardware of a drone is not at a point where navigating the pitfalls of real-world use, like accidents, mistakes of use, or outright vandalism, is possible. Maybe so, but more and more, start-ups are building drones customized exactly for these kinds of variables. Take the CyPhy LVL 1 for example; a lightweight, hard plastic drone with its camera built inside to take into account environmental hazards. Not only can it be "added on" with supplemental tech to do different things, but its geometric design enables it to fly in close quarters, around tight corners, and always with its camera level; in other words, ideal for densely populated urban landscapes.

Yes, this is a long way down the road, and most likely coming after drones are used in a sparse way that takes into account just how much of a nightmare mass use could be for air traffic and congestion (as the recent disaster of a wildfire on the route 5 interstate in California illustrated. Drones can seriously impede needed air services we depend on.) However, as they get cheaper to make and various in use, it is only a matter of time before the public will be clamoring for a drone of their own. The industry is closer to meeting that demand than it may seem.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.