Students for a Smarter Planet ..leaders with conscience
Transportation systems
October 27th, 2015

There is a new metal product that is expected to have far-reaching applications.  While it may take some time for commercial use here on earth, NASA is evaluating its use for space exploration missions as components used to construct rockets.  What makes it unique is that the metal is composed of 99.9 percent AIR.  It is termed to be a micro-lattice material, or an “open cellular polymer structure”.

“The metal was developed by HRL Laboratories, a joint venture involving Boeing and General Motors, and researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the University of California Irvine. It weighs only one-tenth as much as carbon fiber, [according to] Bill Carter, the head of HRL’s Sensors and Materials Laboratory.” (Photo credit:  Dan Little, HRL Laboratories LLC)
light metal

the world’s lightest metal


Here’s the posting that Caltech has about this unique material:

Light as a Feather, Stiffer Than a Board


And the post at UC Irvine:

Lighter than a feather and stronger than an ox


Where do you envision this “super light” material will be utilized?  Maybe there’s an invention that you’re already at work on that would benefit from it?  Think of the possibilities…

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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.

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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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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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September 29th, 2015

While it may sound like an oxymoron, the WalkCar is a reality.

With mobile phones, an industry was created that changed the communications model and allowed people to talk with one another anytime and anywhere -  free from a ‘land line’.  The WalkCar may do the same for the auto industry.  It may be an item that will revolutionize the way we think about transportation – in addition to helping solve the dilemma of being unable to find a parking spot in a crowded urban location!!

As described by Charles Osgood on CBS Radio:  It is a lightweight aluminum board that – despite looking like a cookie sheet on wheels – has a top speed of over six miles an hour and a range of nearly seven-and-a-half miles when fully charged. …  The device is also pretty simple to maneuver, with the rider just shifting his weight to change direction.

Kuniaki Sato is the CEO of Cocoa Motors, which makes the WalkCar. He told Reuters it was designed to fit in a small bag…

Check out the video on YouTube here:



For those of us who haven’t mastered a skateboard, this may be a tad unnerving – I like to have something to hold on to when I’m free-rolling along a sidewalk.  But, it certainly looks like fun!  And it’s a non-polluting source of mobility.  What’s your opinion?

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