Students for a Smarter Planet ..leaders with conscience
October 26th, 2015

I’ve always considered particleboard as pretty indestructible.  I was intrigued when I came across this article describing how rice husks are being employed in production of even cheaper, greener, longer-lasting particleboard.  Ordinarily, particleboard is made from wood chips that are bonded together using glue. Unfortunately, when used in building projects and otherwise, termites eat that wood – the same thing applies to plywood and bamboo.

A group of engineering students from the University of California, Riverside, recently created termite-resistant particleboard from rice husks.

The students wanted to solve the termite problem and wanted the solution to be something readily available for tropical countries needing strong building materials.  The new particleboard is termite resistant due to the rice husks.

blog rice husks

A few different manufacturing techniques for rice husk particleboards

Here are some other applications for rice husks as well:  using them as a source of silicon nanoparticles for use in batteries, an ingredient in “green” cement, a component of environmentally-friendly plastic, and a source of greenhouse gas-reducing biochar.

What next great process are you contemplating to solve a pressing problem?



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Does the idea of extraterrestrial life interest you?  If so, here’s an opportunity to earn big bucks with design ideas for Mars habitation.  Like they have in the past, the US governmental agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is putting it’s faith in humankind to come up with a viable idea to advance exploration of the planet Mars.

blog martian architects

NASA is looking to uncover some bright ideas about how materials already found on Mars can be put to use by human visitors (Credit: NASA)

It’s purported that each piece of material gleaned from the Red Planet and put to use in building infrastructure will mean less that needs to be ferried some 140 million miles (225 million km) from Earth.  NASA says this could equate to savings of more than US$100,000 per kg (2.2 lb) of cargo on each launch.

NASA has announced the top award at $10,000 to the brightest design idea for building a structure on Mars that uses in situ materials, along with $2,500 for two second-place submissions.  The designs could consist of surface materials like rocks or soil, or even draw on the planet’s water supply.

NASA is taking submissions until December 3, with winners to be announced in late January 2016.  So let your knowledge and imagination have free reign and, who knows, you could walk away with the top prize!

Click on the red planet for more detail about the challenge.

blog red planet

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Innovation is all around us.  And, the race is on globally to become the next city or country or continent that boasts the most advanced technology and become home to companies churning out that technology.  The Renaissance brought changes in a myriad of disciplines.  The Industrial Revolution did the same.

Now the changes are less ‘visible’ or ‘tangible’ and more “Cloud-y” – if you’ll pardon the pun!

Chattanooga’s hyper-fast connectivity has become

“a platform for innovation.”


Read the article and watch the video to learn about how


With Gigabit Connectivity,


Chattanooga Could Be


the Next Tech Hub


Chattanooga flag


Maybe a ride on the Chattanooga Choo-Choo will be part of your career path?!

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October 14th, 2015

What is a circular economy anyway?

According to Wikipedia:  The circular economy is a generic term for an industrial economy that is, by design or intention, restorative and in which material flows are of two types, biological nutrients, designed to reenter the biosphere safely, and technical nutrients, which are designed to circulate at high quality without entering the biosphere.

Some of the world’s largest companies have embraced circular practices because it makes commercial sense.  Caterpillar, the heavy machinery manufacturer, has an entire remanufacturing operation − Cat Reman – dedicated to the recovery of engine parts, which it remanufactures to same-as-new condition and sells under warranty at reduced prices.

Some consumer brands have also begun experimenting with circular retailing.  Dutch apparel maker MUD Jeans allows customers to rent instead of buy jeans, which it undertakes to repair and ultimately remake into new jeans.

Interface, a multinational carpet tile maker that has pledged to achieve “zero impact” on the environment by 2020, recovers old tiles from its customers and turns them into new ones.  Once separated from the backing, the nylon yarn fluff is sent back to the company’s yarn supplier to make new yarn and the backing is ground up and melted to supply feedstock for future production.

Interface also sources recovered nylon through Net-Works, a social enterprise that incentivizes fishing communities in developing countries to gather and sell broken fishing nets that local fishermen would otherwise cast overboard, creating hazards for marine life.

Desso, another carpet tile manufacturer building on circular economy principles, has designed a collection of tiles made using re-engineered calcium carbonate (chalk) from local drinking water companies and post-consumer yarn waste. The collection, due to launch this month has been awarded Cradle to Cradle gold certification.

blog circular economy

It will take a new way of thinking to employ the fundamental mindset needed for circular practices, but it might be fun to rent rather than buy my jeans in the future.  If it will make the world a better place for my grandkids (when they get here)…  I would certainly consider it!

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October 12th, 2015

I was not aware that solar cells start to lose efficiency as they heat up, which is pretty ironic considering they are designed to sit in the full sun and harvest energy.  A standard silicon cell, for example, will drop from 19 to 20 percent efficiency by heating up just 10° C (18° F) or so.

To combat this known problem,  the silica (SiO2) solar panel cover devised by Prof. Shanhui Fan and colleagues at Stanford University is successfully making use of space as the largest of heat sinks.  It does so by collecting and then radiating heat as infrared electromagnetic waves, which can easily travel through the atmosphere, out into space.  The coating is transparent, so it won’t interfere with the solar cell’s light collecting ability, and improves on the heat dissipation of the silicon found in most solar cellThe overlays are thought to work best in dry and clear environments, the ideal spots for large solar arrays.

So many of the world’s sustainable solutions are incubating at our universities – the future is sure looking bright!


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