Tech Tuesday on a Wednesday
I know, I’m a day late, I was on vacation and I’m getting over COVID.
TT1 : So, I know the headline says “Artificial Photosynthesis”, but that’s not an accurate description of what’s going on here. This is more like bypassing photosynthesis altogether.
So quick reminder, photosynthesis is the process plants use to create sugars for fuel. Photons interact with chlorophyll (or other such analog) to bind H2O & CO2 in hydrocarbons (sugars), which the plant cells then burn for fuel in their mitochondria.
This, is not doing that. Here, the researchers are using a tuned electrolyzer to turn H2O & CO2 into acetate (aka: acetic acid, which is vinegar). The electrolyzer uses electricity to power the reaction, and solar power could be providing that power, but that’s as far as the sun could possibly get into this whole thing. Once they have the acetate, it can be used to create a growing medium that algae, bacteria, fungi, yeast, and even plants will grow in, in complete darkness.
Think about that for a minute. You could have a greenhouse, in a cave, without stringing grow lights all over the place. You could have a closed bio-reactor, full of oil-rich algae (for bio-fuel), and no need to try and shine light through it to get the algae to grow. You could just use the acetate medium to significantly boost agricultural production yields in soils that are becoming marginal.
The potential is pretty big.
TT2 : Speaking of plant sugars, there is a new PET-like bio-plastic that breaks down into sugars, because the sugar molecules remain intact. What do we use PET plastic for? Oh, the majority of single use food packaging, especially soda bottles, is PET.
TT3 : Sticking with “Fun stuff from nature.”, I know I’ve talked (long ago) about the fascinating glue of mussels and similar shellfish. You know, the ones that stick to rocks, piers, ships, etc., and you have to scrap them off with nuclear weapons? It’s fascinating because it’s not water soluble, but also non-toxic, so it could have significant medical application, like sealing wounds without stitches. Seems they’ve figured out the protein at play, and turned it into a glue for attaching skin grafts, without scaring. The important thing is, as the graft takes, the body slowly dissolves the glue, so no need to clean up afterwards (like with stitches or staples).
TT4 : Now how to source those mussels? OK, this wouldn’t be used for that, one can just troll the Great lakes for all the Zebra Mussels you want. But, here is a ship that is setup as a floating fish farm. Why is this interesting? Two of the big problems with fish farming are:
- Disease, since it’s impossible to stop disease or parasites from getting into a farm population that is in open water, and the close proximity of the fish in the pens means the problems spreads like wildfire.
- Waste, fish pee and poop just like everybody else, and while urine will float away, feces just sinks, and accumulates in masses too big for nature to deal with, which gets back to problem 1.
The ship provides a closed environment to limit the introduction of disease, and can have a waste reclamation system to remove waste. It can also control the temperature of the water for fish that migrate, and introduce/remove to simulate those migrations. Now, this is just the first such ship, so we’ll see how well it works, but it’s not a bad idea.
TT5 : One more from nature. Did you know people are trying to figure out how to make semi-conductors from wood? OK, it’s not wooden computer chips, rather it’s wood burned to nano-sheets. The important thing is that they aren’t looking to make graphene, they actually want to preserve the cell wall structure, which is hard when you have to heat things up to temperatures ranging from 550 C to 1100 C. They not only have a process to do this, but can also tune the process to create paper with different electrical performance characteristics. And it’s all still bio-degradable.
TT6 : Since I mentioned graphene, they are working on batteries made with graphene. The batteries aren’t just graphene, rather, since graphene is highly conductive for heat and electricity, and it has very stable mechanical properties, it can be used to overcome the shortcomings of things like LI-Ion batteries, making them more durable, charge faster, etc. Or other kinds of batteries, like Sulfur batteries.
TT7 : Sticking with carbon nano-structures, my Alma Mater mixed Kevlar fibers with carbon nanotubes to create a fabric that can withstand an impactor moving at over a kilometer per second. Basically, it’s Kevlar that can withstand rifle rounds, or micro-meteorite impacts.
TT8 : When it comes to changing things up, cement and concrete are a constant target of innovation. But cement is a tricky thing to replace. It’s easy to come up with better materials, but they often involve nasty, expensive chemical agents, or high-temperature curing. It’s hard to beat a grey powder that you can mix with water and in a few hours, you have rock. Our friends down under might have built a better mousetrap, as they say. The goal was to develop a strain hardening geopolymer composite (SHGC; this is the cement replacement) that was one part (i.e. not an epoxy, or similar), could cure in ambient air, and had mechanical properties on par with concrete. The dry mix they developed includes short polymeric fibers, is on par with concrete for strength, and can withstand a whole lot more bending.
TT9 : One way of dealing with the changing climate is carbon capture, or don’t pump the carbon into the air to begin with. A chemical plant in the UK just started doing that. The CO2 the on-site power plant produces is captured and used to create medical grade baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), which is then sold to the medical industry. The technology to do this is not exactly new, but making it economical has been something of a sticking point. Here’s hoping this proves to be something that pays for itself, and maybe helps to give us more seasons of the Great British Baking Show.
TT10 : How about a square wheel? Yes, it has rounded corners, but you’d still expect a bumpy ride, wouldn’t you?
TT11 : Or a hub-less ship propeller. Here the prop blades are fixed to the shroud, and the shroud contains an electric motor. The blades are quieter, and reportedly, suffer much less cavitation, which is murder on prop blades.
TT12 : Talking about Warp Drives.