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.
Nature-Inspired Green Energy Technology
Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab developed an artificial photosynthesis system, made of nanosized tubes, that can generate the kinds of fuel that can power homes and vehicles. The system has the potential to generate large sources of completely renewable energy using the surplus CO2 in the atmosphere. The individual units of the system are small, square “solar fuel tiles” — with several inches on a side — containing billions of the nanoscale tubes sandwiched between a floor and ceiling of thin, slightly flexible silicate, with the tube openings piercing through these covers. Building a solar fuel farm out of many individual tiles could proceed quickly.
Contact: Aliyah Kovner
NASA Glenn Research Center designed the Superelastic Tire, a non-pneumatic, compliant tire. Developed for future Moon and Mars missions, it is a viable alternative to pneumatic tires on Earth. The novel use of shape memory alloys capable of undergoing high strain as load-bearing components, instead of typical elastic materials, results in a tire that can withstand excessive deformation without permanent damage. The tire eliminates both the possibility of puncture failures and running under-inflated, thereby improving automobile fuel efficiency and safety.
Contact: Glenn Research Center
Supercapacitors for Wearable Devices
Duke University researchers have engineered a supercapacitor that remains fully functional even when stretched to eight times its original size. It does not exhibit any wear and tear from being stretched repeatedly and loses only a few percentage points of energy performance after 10,000 cycles of charging and discharging. The supercapacitor could be part of a power-independent, stretchable, flexible electronic system for applications such as wearable electronics or biomedical devices. This approach has been used for regenerative braking in hybrid cars, where energy is generated faster than it can be stored.