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.
Environmentally Friendly Alternative to Styrofoam
Washington State University researchers developed an environmentally friendly, plant-based material that works better than Styrofoam-brand for insulation. An environmentally friendly and simple manufacturing process was also developed to make the foam using water as a solvent instead of other harmful solvents. The material is made of about 75 percent cellulose nanocrystals from wood pulp. Polyvinyl alcohol — another polymer that bonds with the nanocellulose crystals and makes the resultant foams more elastic — is added. The material contains a uniform cellular structure that makes it a good insulator. It is also very lightweight and can support up to 200 times its weight without changing shape. It degrades well and burning it doesn't produce polluting ash.
Contact: Amir Ameli, Assistant Professor, School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering
Smart Enclosure Using RFID for Inventory Tracking
NASA Johnson Space Center has developed a method for tracking collections of items in a smart container using radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags. The smart enclosure innovation can track individual items in the smart containers regardless of item placement. The technology improves the read accuracy of items moving on, for example, a conveyor belt, which in turn can enable the use of smaller, lower-cost tags. This technology does not restrict the enclosure surface to rectangular or cylindrical shapes; other enclosure forms can also be used such as duffle bags and backpacks. Applications include inventory tracking for emergency medical equipment and supplies, trash receptacles, shipping containers, and grocery store shopping carts and conveyor belts.
Contact: Johnson Space Center Licensing Manager
Rose-Inspired Device Collects and Purifies Water
A new device for collecting and purifying water, developed at The University of Texas at Austin, was inspired by a rose and employs a new approach to solar steaming for water production that uses energy from sunlight to separate impurities from water through evaporation. Each flower-like structure costs less than 2 cents and can produce more than half a gallon of water per hour per square meter. The device is made from layered, black paper sheets coated with polypyrrole polymer shaped into petals. Attached to a stem-like tube that collects untreated water from any water source, the 3D rose shape makes it easier for the structure to collect and retain more liquid. The device removes any contamination from heavy metals and bacteria, and removes salt from seawater, producing clean water.