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.
Green Materials Power Smart Devices Using Ambient Light
Smartphones, wearable health sensors, and other devices use batteries that can deplete quickly and contain toxic and rare environmentally damaging chemicals. New green materials currently being developed at Imperial College London for next-generation solar panels absorb the light coming from lamps commonly found in homes and buildings and turn the light into electricity with an efficiency already in the range of commercial technologies. These materials could be processed onto plastics and fabric, which are incompatible with conventional technologies. The materials could enable battery-free devices for wearables, healthcare monitoring, smart homes, and smart cities.
Contact: Hayley Dunning, Imperial College London
+44 (0)20 7594 2412
3D-Printed Composites for High-Temperature Use
NASA Glenn Research Center developed an additive manufacturing technique to produce composite parts with high-temperature capabilities using thermoset polyimide resins. The process uses selective laser sintering (SLS) to melt-process a powdered imide resin filled with finely milled carbon fibers. The resulting 3D-printed composite part can withstand temperatures over 300 °C. This invention could benefit aerospace companies in the production of parts with complex geometry for engine components and other potential applications such as printing legacy parts for military aircraft and producing components for high-performance electric cars.
Contact: NASA’s Licensing Concierge
System Sterilizes Medical Tools Using Solar Heat
Autoclaves — which are used to sterilize medical tools in hospitals and doctors’ offices — require a steady supply of pressurized steam. This is usually provided by electrical or fuel-powered boilers but in many rural areas, power can be unreliable or unavailable and fuel is expensive. MIT researchers developed a way to generate the needed steam passively using just the power of sunlight, with no need for fuel or electricity. The device could maintain safe, sterile equipment at low cost in remote locations. The system should be much more cost-effective than systems that concentrate sunlight to generate steam because those require expensive mirrors and mountings.