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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Chances are you’re already familiar with the term Internet of Things – and the acronym IOT – that keeps popping up all over in media of all kinds.  In case you’re not…here’s a great definition from Technopedia

“…its initial use has been attributed to Kevin Ashton, an expert on digital innovation

In 1999, Ashton said it best in this quote from an article in the RFID Journal:
“If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things – using data they gathered without any help from us – we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best”.”


Many companies have been jumping on the IOT band-wagon.  Here’s a nifty article and video from Hewlitt Packard that sums up their contribution:

Everything’s Connected –

Now All You Need is a Platform: Internet of Things


Credit: © Yong hian Lim |

The Internet of Things has exploded which means tremendous implications for apps, the cloud and the telecommunication service providers who keep it all connected.


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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 8th, 2015

I love it when I come across articles that describe how companies are using waste products in unconventional ways.  I find the solutions for everyday waste products both fascinating and surprising (and in some cases think – I should have thought of that!).

Take a look at some of these really cool recycle ideas:

1.  Turning tomatoes into plastics – because the demand for plastics is growing, more thought is needed on how to sustainably satisfy the demand.  Auto-giant Ford has been leading research into 100% bio-based plastics, teaming up with Heinz in a mutually beneficial heinzWhile producing their world famous ketchup, Heinz generates up to 2 million tons of stems, seeds and skins every single year. In a collaboration with plastics research specialists from Ford, the companies are striving to create a plastic material from plant byproducts which can be used in many aspects of automotive design and finishing.  The Coca-Cola Company, Nike Inc. and Procter & Gamble are also involved in the project, which will incorporate bio-plastic material into everything from packaging to clothing, making a huge dent in the impact of petrochemical-based products on the environment.

2.  De-icing roads with cheese brine – yes, you read that correctly.  The Wisconsin city of Milwaukee has discovered a way to alleviate the dairy manufacturers’ problem of disposing of thousands upon thousands of gallons of cheese brine (the salty liquid which is left over after the production of Wisconsin’s famous soft cheeses).  They will use this cheese brine waste to treat the harsh winter roadways which freeze over with ice.  This new partnership saves tens of thousands of dollars for the municipality and manufacturers every year.

blog milwaukee

3.  Making beer with unsold bread – The “Brussels Beer Project” led by the Belgium micro-brewers have teamed up with a local sustainability group to produce “Babylone”- a beer made using leftover bread which would otherwise have been thrown out.

Talented brewing specialists were able to reduce the amount of barley used in the brewing process and replace it with bread sourced from local supermarkets, a move which sees an average of 500kg worth of unused loaves that find their way into 4000 liters of amber ale.

blog bread

4.  Using sugar beets to cool refrigerators – Anaerobic digestion, the process by which biodegradable waste materials are converted into energy or heat – has become a staple in the quest for greener industry.  The success of anaerobic digestion led UK supermarket giant Sainsbury’s to investigate new ways in which food byproducts could be utilized, leading to the implementation of eCO2: an alternative refrigerant which is derived from waste sugar beet.

blog sugar beets

Piles of sugar beets. Waste beet material is being used to create eCO2.

eCO2 meets all the refrigeration requirements of CO2, but is manufactured in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way. The same manufacturer that supplies Sainsbury’s with sugar also supplies the refrigeration company with the waste beet material necessary for creating eCO2, which Sainsbury’s will use to cut their CO2 emissions by 30% by 2020.

Do you have any waste produced that you can recycle into something that reduces the draw on our natural resources?

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October 7th, 2015

Lego has been enjoying a resurgance in popularity due to the current use of Robotics to enhace the science curriculum in all grade levels.  But, alas, paper dolls seem to be a thing of my youth – I rarely see these simple toys in the hands (never mind imaginations) of the little ones I encounter…  Even stuffed animals – once an inanimate object to whom one could whisper their innermost dreams and secrets – are undergoing a renaissance.   So, what are the tech toys making a splash?  Read up on some of them here…

This high-tech plush toy will be

your child’s new BFF


Tech bear

Image: Mashable/Jhila Farzaneh

Check out some other fun playthings – - courtesy of

Fisher Price


And if you’re young (or young-ish or just ‘young at heart’…) you may want to book yourself a trip to NYC for the 2016 Toy Fair where all the latest gizmos and gadgets to delight your inner child will be on display! Click the logo below to learn more…

Toy Fair

Will you be putting the next ‘must-have’ toy in the hands of children everywhere?  There’s no limit to what YOUR imagination might dream up…

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