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.
3D Printing with Plants
A scalable processing technique developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory uses plant-based materials for 3D printing and offers a promising additional revenue stream for biorefineries. The new material has excellent printability and performance by tapping into lignin — a key component of plant cell walls that provides sturdiness. Lignin is a current byproduct of the biofuels process that could become a valuable coproduct with this new use. The method combines lignin, rubber, carbon fiber, and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) — commonly used in plastic toys — to 3D-print structures with 100 percent improved weld strength between the layers over ABS alone.
Contact: Kim Askey, Communications, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Simple Test Detects Disease-Carrying Mosquitoes
A new diagnostic tool has been developed by the University of Texas at Austin that can easily, quickly, and cheaply identify whether a mosquito belongs to the species that carries dangerous diseases such as Zika virus, dengue, chikungunya, or yellow fever. It uses a smartphone's camera and a simple test that can be done anywhere, testing mosquitoes’ nucleic acid without requiring a complicated process to remove it. The probe delivers a simple “yes or no” readout on a cellphone, with accuracy of greater than 97 percent. The tool also detects the presence of a biopesticide called Wolbachia, a type of bacteria that keeps mosquitoes from spreading diseases.
Contact: Marc Airhart, College of Natural Sciences, University of Texas
Composite Insulation for Extreme Conditions
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center developed a layered composite insulation system for extreme conditions (LCX) that is suited for complex piping or tank systems that are difficult or practically impossible to insulate by conventional means. Consisting of several functional layers, the aerogel blanket-based system can be tailored to specific thermal and mechanical performance requirements. The LCX system not only withstands impact, vibration, and the stresses of thermal expansion and contraction, but can help support pipes and other structures, all while maintaining its thermal insulation effectiveness. The materials are generally removable, reusable, and recyclable, allowing removable insulation covers for valves, flanges, and other components to be part of original designs.