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Technology Could Fix Common Weakness in 3D-Printed Parts

Design News - Tue, 2020-06-23 03:10

While 3D printing with plastic has come a long way in the last 10 years, there is still a mechanical weakness to plastic parts developed in this way that researchers are trying to solve.

Researchers at Texas A&M University and industrial 3D-printing technology provider Essentium have developed technology to weld adjacent 3D printed layers more effectively to boost the reliability of the final product, they said. (Image source: Essentium)

Scientists at Texas A&M University think they have now solved this problem, which stems from the imperfect bonding between the individual printed layers that make up the printed object.

The researchers, working with scientists from the company Essentium Inc., have incorporated nanotechnology into standard 3D plastic printing that can help bind these layers together in a stronger way.

Specifically, the team, led by Micah Green, associate professor in the university’s Department of Chemical Engineering, integrated plasma science and carbon nanotube technology into the process, which welds adjacent printed layers more effectively in a way that boosts the overall mechanical stability of the final product.

“Finding a way to remedy the inadequate bonding between printed layers has been an ongoing quest in the 3D printing field,” Green said in a press statement. “We have now developed … technology that can bolster welding between these layers all while printing the 3D part.”

Strengthening Bonds

Green’s team worked with C. Brandon Sweeney, a former Texas A&M materials science and engineering student in his laboratory who is now the head of research and development and co-founder of Essentium, which develops industrial-scale 3D-printing technology.

The most common 3D printing process for plastics is called extrusion printing, or fused-deposition modeling, which works by squeezing molten plastic out of a nozzle that prints objects layer by layer. They fuse together in the cooling process to create the final part.

Researchers have discovered in tests that parts developed this way are weaker than those made by injection molding, a process in which melted plastics, once cooled, take the shape of a mold into which melted plastic is poured.

To strengthen the bonds in extrusion-printed parts, scientists need to use additional heating. However, this also has its drawbacks.

“If you put something in an oven, it’s going to heat everything, so a 3D-printed part can warp and melt, losing its shape,” Green explained in a press statement. “What we really needed was some way to heat only the interfaces between printed layers and not the whole part.”

To accomplish this, researchers coated the surface of each layer of the printed part with carbon nanotubes, a versatile material comprised of carbon particles that heat in response to electrical currents.

The Microwave Effect

The idea behind their method is similar to how microwaves heat food; they can heat the carbon nanotube coatings using electric currents, which will bond the printed layers together.

One challenge to this idea, however, was that the electrical currents had to bridge a tiny gap of air that exist between the printhead and the 3D part, Green noted. While one option to do this would be to use metal electrodes that directly touch the printed part, this idea could create unintended and unwanted damage.

Green’s team turned to mechanical engineers to help them solve this problem, working with David Staack, an associate professor in the Texas A&M’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Staack’s team came up with the idea to generate a beam of charged air particles, or plasma, that could transport an electrical charge to the surface of the printed part, researchers said. In this way, electric currents can pass through the printed part, thus heating the nanotubes and bonding the layers together more effectively.

Researchers published a paper on their work in the journal Nano Letters.

To test their technology, researchers added carbon nanotubes as well as the plasma-based transport technology to conventional 3D printers. They found that the strength of 3D printed parts using their new technology was on par with injection-molded parts, achieving a longtime goal of plastic 3D printing.

“With our technology, users can now print a custom part, like an individually tailored prosthetic, and this heat-treated part will be much stronger than before,” Green said in a press statement.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

 

 

 

For $3 You Can Build a Device to Automatically Reset Your Router

Design News - Tue, 2020-06-23 01:50
(Image source: Mike Diamond)

If your home internet goes down, there’s a 90% chance it’s your cable modem acting up. Sure a good old fashioned reset usually does the trick, but that doesn’t make it any less of a pain in the neck.

On his website WhatIMadeToday, Mike Diamond, a self-taught maker, has figured out a very low-cost solution using an ESP8266 01 and a small relay board. The device works by continuously pinging Google through your modem. If it doesn’t get a response back it assumes the modem is down or has crashed and will automatically power-cycle the modem.

On his site Diamond said one challenge did stump him initially:

“We all know that it takes the modem a few minutes to successfully ‘handshake’ with the line,” he wrote. “When I first set up my device, the ESP kept pinging Google during setup. As the modem hadn't yet connected, the ESP got no reply – so did a power-cycle. I was in an infinite loop getting nowhere.

“I needed the ESP to give the modem time to successfully handshake. Once this happened, the ESP would enter its regular polling of Google.”

Since installing the device Diamond said it has worked “flawlessly,” though he’s starting to believe his router need replacing altogether. He is currently working on a new version that will alert him when it is resetting the modem as well as keep a log of the date, time, and frequency of events.

Full schematics, parts lists, and build instructions are available on Diamond’s website.

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Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at   Design News  covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, blockchain, and robotics.

Alfa Romeo's Museum Celebrates the Company's 110 Years

Design News - Mon, 2020-06-22 05:00

Alfa Romeo is celebrating its 110th anniversary with an event for fans at the Alfa Romeo Museum, located in Arese, on the outskirts of Milan. The museum showcases more than 200 historical vehicles, brand artifacts and a test track for dynamic activities.

For the celebration of Alfa’s heritage, the company is exhibiting its cars with their hoods raised, so enthusiasts can view the hardware beneath the skin that propels these Italian beauties. The museum is also hosting viewing parties for Formula 1 races, and is scheduling monthly appointments for super-fans to see some of the museum’s collection that is not currently on display.

The museum was created in 1976 as a private collection that could only be viewed by appointment, but it opened to the public in 2015. Its exhibits are organized by three different themes: Timeline – represents the brand’s industrial continuity, Bellezza (Beauty) – combines style, design and lifestyle, and Velocitá (Speed) – a synthesis of technology, sportiness and driving pleasure.

Enjoy this virtual tour of the museum’s highlights.

Dan Carney is a Design News senior editor, covering automotive technology, engineering and design, especially emerging electric vehicle and autonomous technologies.

Butterfly Wings, Peacock Feathers Inspire Next-Gen Sensors

Design News - Mon, 2020-06-22 03:30

Researchers have taken inspiration from butterfly wings and peacock feathers to develop new photonic materials for the development of sensors that can be used in a number of applications.

An international team of scientists, led by the Universities of Surrey and Sussex, has developed colour-changing, flexible photonic crystals for developing sensors that can change color in response to light, heat, and other stimuli. (Image source: Universities of Surrey and Sussex)

A team of scientists led by researchers at the Universities of Surrey and Sussex in the United Kingdom developed flexible photonic crystals that can change colors based on material structure, not pigment, which is how some birds and insects create this phenomenon, said Alan Dalton, a professor of experimental physics at the University of Sussex’s School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences.

“Whereas nature has developed these materials over millions of years, we are slowly catching up in a much shorter period,” he said in a press statement.

The crystals pave the way for the design of numerous sensors that can respond to stimuli such as light, temperature, or strain, making them well-suited to applications for healthcare, food safety, and even to predict earthquakes.

These sensors, based on the photonic crystals, would work by turning from the intensely green color that they are under natural light, to blue when stretched, researchers said. Alternatively, when heated, the green would turn transparent, showing another potential indicator for the materials, Dalton said.

Numerous Applications

The photonic crystals are polymer-based opals that contain solution-exfoliated pristine graphene, said Izabela Jurewicz, a lecturer in soft matter physics at the University of Surrey’s  Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences. This makes them “beautiful to look at,” but more importantly, gives them their potential to be used in sensing applications, she said.

To design the crystals, researchers combined a number of scientific disciplines and processes. They used liquid processing of two-dimensional nanomaterials as well as optical modeling to create the materials, which contain polymer particles used to manufacture commonly used products, such as inks and paints.

To come up with the finished photonic crystals and achieve their capabilities, researchers distributed graphene at distances comparable to the wavelengths of visible light.

Among the potential applications for the materials include time-temperature indicators for intelligent packaging that can provide a visual indication if perishables have experienced undesirable time-temperature histories. Another is biometric and anti-counterfeiting applications, which can take advantage of the pressure-responsive, shape-memory characteristics of the crystals. The materials also can be used for bio-sensing and -monitoring as well as healthcare safety applications.

Scientists currently are working with the Sussex-based company Advanced Materials Development Ltc. to commercialize the materials and their use in sensor technology.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

 

Safe, Unique Gifts for the Techie Father

Design News - Fri, 2020-06-19 05:45

 

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John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

Celebrate Juneteenth With 'Round the World Pilot Barrington Irving

Design News - Fri, 2020-06-19 03:57

Image source: Gabe Sheffield @GabeSheff_ via Flying Classroom on Twitter

Writing in Smithsonian Magazine, Kenneth C. Davis described Juneteenth (June 19th) as “Our Other Independence Day.” And so it is, as the holiday commemorating the freedom of enslaved African Americans in the U.S.

In recognition of this holiday of independence, we’re taking a look at the work of Barrington Irving and his Flying Classroom program to bring STEM education to children around the world. Irving connects with kids in part by telling his own story, as he does in this video:

The Jamaica-born, Miami-raised Irving is an African American pilot who set the record as the youngest person, and first African American, ever to fly solo around the world. Today he uses that same initiative to fly important STEM lessons around the world.

Barrington Irving works with kids during a Flying Classroom visit. Image source: Flying Classroom via Twitter

Irving has been named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, and his Flying Classroom program has logged 55 STEM+ global expeditions, 165 pre-K-12 lessons and 15,300 hours of professional development.

He has even become a Crocodile Hunter of sorts, introducing kids to animals while engaged in scuba diving, sailing and dog sledding! He's even been able to ride along with the Blue Angels.

Image source: Barrington Irving via Instagram

Dan Carney is a Design News senior editor, covering automotive technology, engineering and design, especially emerging electric vehicle and autonomous technologies.

Hydrogel Cools Electronics, Uses Waste Heat for Power

Design News - Fri, 2020-06-19 02:47

Most people who have a smartphone have had the experience of feeling the device overheat and even shut itself down until it resumes a normal temperature. This overheating can damage electronic component or even cause them to explode or catch fire, which can create a dangerous situation.

A new hydrogel developed by scientists in China and California can cool off electronics and generate electricity from their waste heat. (Image source: Nano Letters, Wuhan University, and UCLA)

To try to find a solution to this problem, researchers from Wuhan University in China and the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) have developed a new hydrogel material that serves a unique dual function—it can cool down electronics, such as mobile-phone batteries, and also turn their waste heat into electricity.

“Efficient heat removal and recovery are two conflicting processes that are difficult to achieve simultaneously,” researchers wrote in an abstract for a paper on their work in the ACS journal Nano Letters.

Indeed, scientists so far have been able to design devices that can do one or the other, but not both, which is why the team set out to create what’s called a smart thermogalvanic hydrogel that could perform both these functions.

Material Composition and Behavior

The hydrogel researchers developed is comprised of a polyacrylamide framework infused with water and specific ions. Heating the hydrogel causes two of the ions (ferricyanide and ferrocyanide) to transfer electrons between electrodes, which generates electricity.

At the same time, water inside the hydrogel evaporated, which cooled the material.  Then, after these reactions are complete, the material can regenerate itself by absorbing water from the surrounding air.

To demonstrate how the hydrogel can work in a device setting, researchers attached a hydrogel film with a thickness of 2 millimeters to a mobile-phone battery while operating and discharging energy quickly.

What they discovered from this test is that some of the waste heat was converted into 5 μW of electricity, decreasing the battery’s temperature by 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

This reduction in working temperature allows for the battery to operate safely, while the electricity generated during the process could monitor the battery or control the cooling system.

The team plans to continue its work to explore the dual properties of the hydrogel and its performance in other electronic devices for future commercial application.

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Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Podcast: Tale of Two Towers and Urban Confluence

Design News - Fri, 2020-06-19 02:03

Did you know that one of the engineers who designed the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, was apparently influenced by the design of another tower eight years before the completion of the French icon? In 1881, an impressive 237-foot-tall electric light tower was constructed in downtown San Jose, CA. Apparently, one of the Eiffel Tower engineers, Maurice Koechlin, may have been influenced by the original San Jose Electric Light Tower.

Although long gone, the San Jose Electric Tower has inspired a competition to remake the amazing structure for today’s modern times. The San Jose Light Tower Corporation (SJLTC) plans to create an iconic world-class destination landmark for Silicon Valley. To achieve that end, a competition has been created known as the Urban Confluence Silicon Valley World-Wide Open Ideas Competition. The event is open to all with significant prize money going to the top selected entries. The competition deadline is July 1, 2020.

To learn more about the two towers and the Urban Confluence competition in Silicon Valley, Design News talked briefly with Sean O’Kane, producer of the “Did You Know…” series and head of Big Kahuna Productions.

 

Electric Town from the 1800s in San Jose, CA. (Image Source:  SanJoseArchElectricTower, 19th century engraving via Public Domain)

 

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John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier

Electronic Supply Chains Sending Mixed Messages

Design News - Thu, 2020-06-18 16:37

There may be a reason for industry optimism in June sales compared to May 2020. According to a recent survey of Electronic Components Industry Association (ECIA) members, the electronic component sales expectation jumped to nearly 113 for the month of June compared to May. Improved sales expectations were reported for every major component category including electro-mechanical/connectors, passives and semiconductors.  Further, the overall average outlook for sales by major end markets recovered back to a “stable” level of 100 in the index. 

The strongest end market sales expectations are found in the medical equipment, telecom networks and avionics-military-space sectors.  However, even markets facing a more challenging environment are expected to improve in June, the report noted.

The electronic components industry had an exceedingly difficult market in 2019. But expectations were high for the start of 2020 and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit hard. The gradual reopening of the economy has prompted greater optimism for June. Dale Ford, ECIA Chief Analyst, cautioned in a press release that the survey was completed before the impact of the recent Black Lives Matter riots were felt businesses across the U.S. “Retail sales will likely be harmed in the near term by the current social upheaval and it is too soon to assess how far this damage will spread.  At a minimum it will likely delay some of the renewed economic activity we have started to see.” 

Rebounding electronic component sales sentiment (Image Source: ECIA Sales Outlook June 2020)

The semiconductor space followed a similar trend to the component’s suppliers. Even before the coronavirus grew into a pandemic, worldwide semiconductor revenues had declined by 12.2% in 2019 to $418 billion, according to the latest update to the Semiconductor Applications Forecaster (SAF) from International Data Corporation (IDC). The report listed several culprits for the poor semi performance in 2019. First, the global economy was sluggish, growing at its slowest pace since the huge financial crisis of 2008. Secondly, the US-China trade dispute grounded semiconductor sentiment and demand. Higher levels of inventory in specific areas like mobile phones and cloud infrastructures didn’t help. Finally, the DRAM and NAND memory markets were abysmal, declining 37.3% and 27.7% at the end of 2019, respectively.

COVID-19 hit the semi space just as hard as the components sector. While global shelter in place orders helped to grow the computing, connectivity and memory products, the much larger change in consumer buying behaviors toward only essential goods and services have significantly curtailed spending by both consumers and governments.

The expectations for the latter half of the year of 2020 are looking better. For example, the World Semiconductor Trade Statistics (WSTS) has released its new semiconductor market forecast generated in May 2020. The WSTS expects the world semiconductor market to be up by 3.3 percent to US$ 426 billion in 2020. This reflects expected increases in Integrated Circuits (ICs), except analog, with an increase from memory at 15.0 percent, followed by logic with 2.9 percent. In 2020, Americas and Asia Pacific are expected to grow.

Further out in 2021, the growth of global semiconductor fab equipment sales is looking up. According to an update of the SEMI World Fab Forecast report, spending on equipment will see a 24 percent growth to a record US$67.7 billion. Memory fabs will lead worldwide semiconductor segments with US$30 billion in equipment spending, while leading-edge logic and foundry is expected to rank second with US$29 billion in investments.

The report also predicts rising investments in the second half of 2020, although the year will still mark a drop in fab equipment spending by 4 percent. This follows a steep drop of 8 percent in 2019.

It’s hard to predict how change in equipment spending will affect specific products. The reports suggest that ongoing pandemic-related layoffs and rising unemployment will lead to falling smartphone and new car sales while the need to communicate will still drive industry growth as cloud services, server storage, gaming and health applications spur demand for memory and IT-related devices.

Fab equipment spending. (Image Source: SEMI Fab Forecast May 2020)

 

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John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

It’s No Longer Raining Cats and Dogs — It’s Raining Plastic

Design News - Thu, 2020-06-18 15:52

On the heels of a new study on the presence of microplastics in the environment, plastic is getting a lot of attention in the media . . . again. The New York Times, the Smithsonian magazine, Science Daily, and others were all excited to report that it’s no longer raining cats and dogs — it’s raining plastic! Utah State University Assistant Professor and environmental scientist Janice Brahney and her team used high-resolution atmospheric deposition data to detect microplastics and other particulates collected over 14 months in 11 national parks and wilderness areas. The findings were reported in the June 12 issue of Science magazine in the article, “Plastic Rain in Protected Areas of the United States.”

An article in the Smithsonian (“The Forecast in National Parks Is Cloudy With a Chance of Plastic Rain”) noted that, according to Brahney, “There’s not a nook or cranny on the surface of the earth that [doesn’t] have microplastics.” Her study estimates that the “microplastics raining down onto the national parks and wilderness areas of the American west each year would be enough to make between roughly 120 million and 300 million plastic bottles.”

“We were shocked at the estimated deposition rates and kept trying to figure out where our calculations went wrong,” Brahney said in an interview in Science. “We then confirmed through 32 different particle scans that roughly 4% of the atmospheric particles analyzed from these remote locations were synthetic polymers.” The scientists found “tiny bits of plastic in 98% of the 339 samples they collected; plastics accounted for 4% of the dust particles that were tested,” noted the NYT’s June 11 article by John Schwartz.

My friend and industry associate, Allan Griff, asked an appropriate question: “So, what were the other 96% of dust particles and were they any more harmful?”

Microplastics have been found in waterways and oceans, but it was never suspected that these particles could be found in the atmosphere and fall to earth in remote wilderness areas. Science noted that the study showed “long-range transport and [. . .] large-scale patterns. This suggests that the microplastics are small enough to be entrained in the atmosphere for cross-continental transport.”

The NYT article noted that scientists concluded that “the particles deposited in wet weather were likely to have originated from relatively nearby, with the plastic bits swept into the air by storms from urban centers, and then falling again with the rain and snow. The smaller, lighter particles," they suggested, "had, by contrast, been carried extremely long distances on currents high in the atmosphere and become part of the cycles of global dust transport. The dry deposits constituted more than 75% of the plastic that was tested.”

The microfibers the researchers collected were consistent with the kinds of textiles used in making clothing as well as carpeting and outdoor gear like tents. However, another recent study by researchers from the University of Nottingham found a much higher percentage of ‘natural’ fibers than microplastic fibers in freshwater and atmospheric samples in the UK.

In a report on that earlier study in the March 22, 2019, issue of Phys.org, “Are Natural Fibers Really Better for the Environment than Microplastic Fibers?” it was noted that the researchers collected 223 samples from 10 sites from the River Trent, River Leen, and River Soar and four roofs of the university’s UK teaching campuses, and found that “natural” textile fibers represented a greater number of microfibers than microplastic textile fibers. “Microplastic fibers such as polyester and nylon were absent from 82.8% of samples, whereas ‘natural’ textile fibers were absent from just 9.7% of samples,” said the article by Charlotte Anscombe of the University of Nottingham.

Brahney doesn’t let us forget that these microplastics falling to Earth in the atmosphere might not be so good for humans — “we’re breathing [them], too,” she commented in the NYT article. Though she does admit that “the health effects of taking in plastic particles are not well known,” she warns us that “the sizes of the particles detected are consistent with the size of those that accumulate in lung tissue.”

Griff notes that, once again, the health scares surrounding plastics rears its ugly head, as the idea of “toxic plastics” continues to haunt the public. Decades of testing and studies showing that plastic or any of plastic’s components are not harmful to humans haven’t done much to assuage the fears that the anti-plastics activists foist upon consumers. The key is to keep people fearful of “toxic plastics,” to keep “plastiphobia” alive and well, and to fuel the fires of those who would rather rid the world of plastics, as Griff so often points out.

Even though Brahney admits that we don’t know just how harmful these airborne particulates are — or if they are harmful or at least more harmful than the particulates from the Arizona desert in a summer monsoon dust storm — I’m sure she and her research team will continue their studies in an attempt to prove that plastics are the bane of all existence.

Image: Ukrolenochka/Adobe Stock

Solvent-free Compounding of Nanocellulose into Polymers May Reduce Manufacturing Costs

Design News - Thu, 2020-06-18 09:49

A new technique for adding nanocellulose to polymers that minimizes the use of solvents could reduce costs for manufacturers. Researchers at Purdue University believe that the method provides a more business-friendly option for using plant-based materials in automotive, packaging, and other applications.

The technique of mixing nanocellulose in additives, such as plasticizers, and then compounding that mixture into polymers could be applied to nylons used in the automotive industry, according to the researchers. Image courtesy Purdue University.

Solvents and similar materials are typically used to improve the dispersion of nanocellulose in polymers, said the researchers. “These methods can be very expensive for manufacturers, who must add additional processes and machinery to comply with emission standards that may be impacted by the use of the solvents,” explained Jeffrey Youngblood, a professor of materials engineering in Purdue’s College of Engineering.

The research team created a method that involves mixing the nanocellulose in additives, such as plasticizers, and then compounding that mixture into the polymer. This technique could be applicable to a variety of polymers, including nylons used in the automotive industry and polylactic acid and ethylene vinyl alcohol copolymer used in food packaging, said a news release on the university website. It reportedly enables nanocellulose to be easily extruded or injection molded into more-sustainable products with better properties.

“We created a way to use the additives that are normally in polymers as the ‘solvent’ to disperse the nanocellulose during melt processing,” Youngblood said. “In this way, you still have increased properties, but without the pieces of the manufacturing process that require additional emissions-lowering components. This makes the process of using the nanocellulose, which is biodegradable, more sustainable, as well.”

Youngblood said the main advantages to the Purdue technique for large-scale polymer production are:

  • Solvent-free compounding of nanocellulose into polymers; and
  • homogenous mixture of hydrophilic nanocellulose and hydrophobic polymer.

The innovators have worked with the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization to patent the technology. They are looking for additional partners and those interested in licensing the technology. For more information, contact Dipak Narula and reference track code 68912.

PET Resin Demand Slackens Because of COVID-19

Design News - Thu, 2020-06-18 08:18

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is the most commonly used plastic to package bottled water, soft drinks, and on-the-go food products, and demand for those products tends to follow a cyclical, fairly predictable pattern. For example, as temperatures begin to rise and the European summer holiday season begins, the demand for PET resin increases, writes Susan Mair, Petrochemical Analyst at Independent Commodity Intelligence Services (ICIS), in a recent article. Bottled water and soft drink sales rise as warmer weather moves across the continent, she notes, and travelers typically eschew tap water when they are abroad, causing sales of bottled water to soar in holiday destinations. None of that is likely to happen this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent shelter-in-place and lockdown measures. “2020 is guaranteed to be a turbulent year for most markets, and PET resin is not exempt,” writes Mair.

The absence of a "normal" holiday season in Europe this year will reduce demand for PET, typically used to package bottled water and soft drinks. Image: Antonioguillem/Adobe Stock.

When lockdowns were broadly implemented across Europe in March, PET initially benefited, as people stocked up on food, beverages, and household products. “PET resin price initially remained afloat against a backdrop of crashing crude oil and plummeting feedstock costs,” according to Mair. By April, however, widespread quarantine measures and travel restrictions took a toll. Weakened downstream demand and declining feedstock prices filtered into the European PET resin price, writes Mair. Uncertainty surrounding summer vacations and the steep drop in air travel will further exacerbate the decline in consumption of PET-packaged products. “With tourism being significantly reduced since mid-March it is almost inevitable that there will be no ‘normal’ holiday season in 2020. PET resin demand is expected to be reduced year on year in tourist heavy areas in 2020.”

An interesting side note is the impact this will have on individual countries and recycling. According to ICIS data, someone who spends a night at a tourist accommodation can be presumed to consume three PET-packaged beverages per day. Hence, countries that see a substantial rise in tourism in a normal year — Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Croatia, and Malta, for example — will see a decline in demand for PET resin compared with 2019, according to Mair. Conversely, countries that are expected to experience significant domestic tourism and “staycations” — Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and Denmark, according to ICIS — will see a sizable return in PET demand. And this will have an impact on recycling rates.

“Any decline in beverage consumption is a reduction in bottles available for collection," writes Mair. Meanwhile, staycations result in elevated domestic consumption. “This suggests that those countries which operate collection systems that typically produce the highest collection rates will increase the volumes collected, such as Germany and those with deposit return schemes.”

Nevertheless, overall European sustainability goals will be almost impossible to reach in 2020. In 2018, the recovery rate of PET bottles in Europe was 63%, according to ICIS data. The pre-pandemic growth rate in 2020/2021 was projected to be approximately 3% per year. But ICIS analysis shows that in order to meet the recovery targets of the Single Use Plastics directive, the growth rate in recovery would need to approach 7% per year, according to Mair. “Collection and sorting are not only the first stage of the recycling chain but the most critical,” she added. "Without the necessary quantity and quality of bales, or feedstock, the supply chain cannot produce the [recycled] PET product required to meet the high level of demand now and in the future."

PET SmartCAN Canister Versus the Composite Can: Plastic Wins

Design News - Thu, 2020-06-18 08:06

Plastic container manufacturer Ring Container Technologies, Oakland, TN, reports its 100% recyclable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) SmartCAN has gained broad acceptance in curbside recycling programs across the country.

That contrasts with paper-based composite canisters, which are often used for snack foods. Consumers often assume they are recyclable, but they are neither recyclable nor accepted curbside but are diverted to landfills as a contaminate.

Unlike traditional multimaterial canisters that often contain paper, SmartCAN is comprised of just a single material, PET, which is readily recycled and reprocessed.  It easily can incorporate post-consumer resin (PCR) — reducing the need to create new material from fossil feedstock.

Ring Container Technologies engaged Three Peaks Consulting, a third-party sustainability consulting firm based in Boise, ID, to conduct a study on two different food containers: A paper-based composite canister and the monolayer SmartCAN container, to objectively assess the collection and recycling pathway. The study reinforced the sustainability benefits of SmartCAN.

Input from recycling managers in 12 cities

Three Peaks Consulting engaged with recycling managers in 12 large cities across the US including Memphis, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, to assess collection of both the composite canister and the SmartCAN container. Curbside collection is the most effective and efficient means of collecting post-consumer material.

Many curbside recycling programs accept a broad array of materials, which can prove confusing for consumers, who may feel a false sense of satisfaction when filling their curbside bin. They’d be surprised to learn that many canisters are diverted to landfills or a waste-to-energy incinerators. The results showed that SmartCAN is readily accepted in the responding cities' recycling programs. The full white paper and findings of the Three Peaks Consulting study can be read here.

In addition, SmartCAN follows Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines for use of a "Widely Recycled" How2Recycle label, a standardized labeling system that clearly communicates recycling instructions to the public. The approved label is based on compatibility with the entire recycling process, including acceptance in collection programs and sortation, reprocessing and end-market demand.

"Sustainability is deeply ingrained in our company culture, and SmartCAN is 100 percent recyclable," says Tim Ferrel, Vice President of Business Development at Ring Container Technologies. "We want our food manufacturing customers and the public at large to understand that it's both technologically possible and economically viable to produce plastic products that are completely recyclable, made from post-consumer resin, and are as clear and strong as containers made from virgin materials. As more companies set their recycled-content goals to meet environmental sustainability initiatives, the demand for post-use PET material will continue to grow, and Ring will be at the forefront of that."

Space Archeologists Uncover Past and Project Future

Design News - Thu, 2020-06-18 04:28

The recent discovery of a 1940’s weather balloon radiosonde wreckage has promoted interest in the little-known realm of space archeology. To learn more about this interesting topic and heritage, Design News reached out to two well-known experts in the field:  Dr. Beth O'Leary, Anthropology Professor Emeritus at New Mexico State University (NMSU) and, Dr Alice Gorman, Associate Professor, Flinders University, Adelaide SA. What follows is a portion of that interview.

Design News: What is space archeology? What artifacts do you typically seek?

Researcher retrieves instruments from the remains of early V-2 rockets.(Image Source: NASA V2 WSNM)

Beth O'Leary: Archaeology is the study of the relationships between patterns of material culture (e.g., artifacts, sites and features) and patterns of human behavior. We can study material culture at all times and in all places where humans have been.  It can be done on the Earth and off the Earth. My work has focused on the archaeological sites on the Moon, especially Tranquility Base, the Apollo 11 first lunar landing site. As archaeologists in this field, our gaze is mostly focused off Earth, looking into space and on other celestial bodies.

Space Archaeology is the study of material cultural that includes all the material culture in the aerospace and aeronautical realms that relate to the development and support of exoatmospheric realms. It is a huge cultural landscape of materials which are on Earth or have originated there and are now off Earth.  Examples can be Voyager 1, now in interstellar space; Vanguard a satellite predicted to be in Earth orbit for another 600 years; and Launch Complex 33 at  White Sands Missile Range. So it is a huge range or assemblage of mostly technological components including the radiosonde that was found in Cloudcroft.

Alice Gorman: Space archaeologists are interested in all material culture relating to space exploration. Everything in space at the moment - until there is spacecraft made and launched off-Earth - is connected to places on Earth, like launch sites, tracking antennas, research and test facilities. So, there is an enormous amount to be learnt by studying space sites and artifacts on Earth.

Tranquility Base archaeological map. (Image Source: New Mexico State Univ., Beth O'Leary)

Design News: What do you hope to learn from the past? How does it help us in the present and future, say, with renewed interest via the recent SpaceX launch from American soil and the funding of the Space Force?

Beth O'Leary: Archaeology is a perspective of looking at the past that is unlike others because it focuses on the material record and it accommodates a long-term evolutionary view.  For example, how did human behavior on the Moon change from 1969 to 1972.  How has satellite design remained the same in certain ways from 1958 until the present?  Science builds on what has been done in the past as well as how to innovate and solve new challenges.

One huge change since the beginning of the Space Race until now is the entry and influence of commercial space groups like SpaceX.  What does this mean for nations? What does it mean for globalization?  Is Space a global commons?

Alice Gorman: For archaeologists it's going to be very interesting to compare the material signatures of government/scientific space vs commercial/military space. The national mix and distribution of spacecraft and space facilities says a lot about who has access to space in the past and in the present. As Beth said, space archaeologists are looking at long term evolutionary trajectories, so we can project into the future to speculate about what different scenarios will look like.

Design News: Are weather balloons from the 50s and 60s of interest to space archeologists, especially since they probably didn’t actually reach space? 

Beth O'Leary: Weather balloons are interesting to space archaeologists because they are part of how space was explored and how they were used to inform Earth's weather conditions.  Check out William Doleman's chapter Archaeology of the Putative Roswell UFO Crash Site: A Case Study in Handbook of Space Engineering, Archaeology and Heritage, Darren and O'Leary Ed. Taylor and Francis 2009.    

Alice Gorman: Where space begins is a much-debated issue! There's been a long entanglement of balloons and aerospace, as balloons were the first technology used to study the upper atmosphere and particularly human response to high altitude. Rockets used to be launched from balloons - called rockoons - and early telecommunications satellites like Echo 1 were metallised balloons. And of course, knowing the weather when you're launching rockets of any kind is critical.

Space-, Exo- and Xeno-archaeology. (Image Source: Handbook of Space Engineering, Archaeology and Heritage by Ann Darrin and Beth O’Leary)

 

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John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

New Plastic Could Reduce Ocean Pollution

Design News - Thu, 2020-06-18 02:21

Discarded plastic waste that ends up in the ocean—where it is harmful to marine life and the health of the oceanic eco-system, in general—is a massive environmental problem that scientists have been trying to solve in various ways.

Researchers at Cornell University test a new plastic material that can biodegrade when exposed to ultra-violet light. (Image source: Lab of Geoffrey Coates, Cornell University)

About half of this type of plastic pollution comes from commercial fishing gear in the form of the nets and ropes. To help address this problem, scientists at Cornell University have developed a new durable polymer for marine use that can degrade through exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

While some of the ways scientists have tried to solve the problem involves alternative materials, plastic itself, with its myriad uses, is not going anywhere soon, said Bryce Lipinski, the project’s lead researcher and a doctoral candidate in Cornell’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.

“The reality is that plastic is here to stay,” Lipinski, a researcher in the laboratory of Tisch University Professor Geoffrey Coates, told Design News. “There are numerous applications in which plastics out compete other materials in terms of strength, flexibility, and weight. The combination of mass utilization and insufficient disposal practices has led to significant plastic contamination of the environment.”

Rather than try to solve the problem as a whole, the Cornell team decided to focus on one of its many fronts.

“We targeted the need for a high-strength degradable polymer for applications in which plastic often escapes to the environment,” Lipinski told us.  

Old Material, New Tricks

Fishing nets and ropes are primarily made from three kinds of polymers—isotactic polypropylene, high-density polyethylene, and nylon-6,6—none of which easily degrade.

Coates and his research team have spent the past 15 years developing a plastic strong enough to meet the needs of the fishing industry, but that also could degrade in a reasonable time frame.

Researchers worked with a material called isotactic polypropylene oxide (iPPO), which was first discovered in 1949 and is structurally similar to isotactic polypropylene, one of the world’s most commonly produced polymers. However, the discovery of the mechanical strength and photodegradation of iPPO was unknown until the work of the Cornell team, Lipinski said.

What’s unique about the iPPO is the high isotacticity, or enchainment regularity, and polymer chain length of the material.

“In short, what makes our plastic different is the repeating unit, or building blocks that the make up the polymer chains,” Lipinski told us. “The high amounts of symmetry and regularity in the polymer chains generate strength in these materials. Where these materials differ actually provides increased strength and degradability in iPPO.”

iPPO contains linkages with greater susceptibility to degradation by UV light. In lab tests researchers conducted, they observed “significant photodegradation” of the material in less than 30 days; however, the rate of degradation is light intensity-dependent, Lipinksi said.

Eyeing Pollution Reduction

Researchers published a paper detailing their new material in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Looking ahead, researchers hope to see iPPO being used in the form of nets, ropes, and lines for commercial fishing applications to help reduce the amount of plastic pollution in the world’s marine environments.

“Under the appropriate conditions, these materials should readily degrade in the environment if lost during their use,” Lipinksi told us.

For this to happen, researchers still need to perform additional studies on material performance as well as address synthetic challenges that will come when scaling production of iPPO, he added.

Researchers plan to continue their work to conduct additional degradation testing for potentially programming the lifetime of the plastic for its specific application, Lipinksi said.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

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Recycling Bill Garners Industry Support

Design News - Wed, 2020-06-17 15:58

The Plastic Waste Reduction and Recycling Act introduced in Congress is getting attention and support from several industry trade groups: The Recycling Partnership, American Chemistry Council, and Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.

The Recycling Partnership announced on June 17 that it had submitted a statement for the record to the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee hearing, “Responding to the Challenges Facing Recycling in the United States.” The statement addressed the economic value of recycling, described the current recycling challenges facing communities, and recommended actions that Congress can take to help improve the nation’s recycling system. The Senate hearing took place today, June 17, in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

The Recycling Partnership’s Elizabeth Biser, Vice President for Policy & Public Affairs, highlighted a recent survey that found 85% of Americans strongly believe in recycling. “Unfortunately, communities are struggling to provide this public service while facing higher costs driven by difficult markets and an inadequate domestic recycling system,” the statement reads.

“We are pleased that the committee recognizes both the challenges and potential opportunities that exist today with recycling in the United States," said Biser. “We are hopeful that together we can develop long-term solutions that support 757,000 American jobs each year, empower sustainable action, and unlock new opportunities in our communities.”

On June 16, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the Plastic Waste Reduction and Recycling Act (HR 7228). The bill calls for the federal government to invest in research, technologies, and standards focused on increasing plastics recycling rates in the United States.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) sent a statement from Keith Christman, ACC’s Managing Director of Plastic Markets, in support of the Plastic Waste Reduction and Recycling Act, “which would marshal federal government resources to improve the global competitiveness of the U.S. plastics recycling industry. If passed, this important legislation would help capture the potential value of used plastics through enhanced research and development, as well as the creation of standards, tools, and technologies needed to modernize today’s recycling systems.”

Additionally, the ACC noted that passage of the act would accelerate R&D on advanced plastics recycling technologies, “which would enable a significantly greater range of our plastics resources to be repurposed. The ACC appreciates the approach taken by Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI) and Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH) to better align and coordinate these various initiatives and harness the expertise of different agencies for greater success in ending plastic waste.”

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) also issued a statement on June 16 in support of the Plastic Waste Reduction and Recycling Act. “ISRI supports initiatives that spur research and enhance opportunities for recycling of all commodities, including plastics. We welcome the Plastic Waste and Reduction Act and commend Rep. Stevens and Rep. Gonzalez for their vision to make the United States a leader in market-based approaches to the circular economy of plastics. ISRI looks forward to working with these and other members of Congress to promote recycling and help Americans rediscover its many benefits,” said the statement.

Image: Doganmesut/Adobe Stock