This column presents technologies that have applications in commercial areas, possibly creating the products of tomorrow. To learn more about each technology, see the contact information provided for that innovation.
Monomers and Polymers for Ice Mitigation
NASA's Langley Research Center developed novel monomers and polymers for deicing commercial aircraft that prevent ice formation rather than removing it. When ice forms on aircraft surfaces, it affects performance by increasing weight, creating drag, and resulting in loss of lift. The coating, which is applied to the surfaces of the plane, minimizes the need to apply deicing agents and is always responsive to an ice event. In addition to preventing ice formation on aircraft surfaces, the coatings can be used on metal surfaces, such as roofs and automobiles, to prevent corrosion.
Contact: Langley Research Center
Ultra-Fast 3D Printer
Engineers at MIT developed a new desktop 3D printer that performs up to ten times faster than existing commercial counterparts. Whereas the most common printers may fabricate a few Lego-sized bricks in one hour, the new design can print similarly sized objects in just a few minutes. The key to the design lies in the printer's compact printhead, which incorporates two new, speed-enhancing components: a screw mechanism that feeds polymer material through a nozzle at high force, and a laser, built into the printhead, that rapidly heats and melts the material, enabling it to flow faster through the nozzle. The printer demonstrates the potential for 3D printing to be used in applications in emergency medicine, and for a variety of needs in remote locations.
Contact: Abby Abazorius, MIT
Switchable Solar Window
Thermochromic windows capable of converting sunlight into electricity at a high efficiency have been developed by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Relying on advanced materials, the new technology responds to heat by transforming from transparent to tinted; as the window darkens, it generates electricity. The device allows an average of 68% of light in the visible portion of the solar spectrum to pass through when it's in a transparent state. When the window changes color — a process that takes about three minutes of illumination — only 3% is allowed through the window. The electricity generated by the solar cell window could charge batteries to power smartphones or onboard electronics such as fans, sensors, and motors that would open or close the windows as programmed.