Chinese researchers develop flexible salt-powered batteries

August 14, 2017 by  
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As the world rushes to transition to a new energy economy, researchers are uncovering novel methods to harvest energy from mundane, everyday sources. A research team in China has created a new battery that could be safely used in wearable or implantable devices, thanks to its use of salt-based electrolytes. This breakthrough could drastically improve the quality and safety of battery-dependent medical technology and may even pave the way for sweat-powered devices. In order to be effective, implantable or wearable batteries need to be flexible to allow functional bending on organic surfaces. In prior iterations, these batteries usually included a mix of toxic chemicals that serve as the electrolytes through which electrical charge can flow. This new battery uses non-harmful electrolytes such as sodium sulfate and saline. Because there is less of a concern regarding leakage of these chemicals, the battery’s design does not require extra material to protect humans from exposure and is significantly less bulky. Related: Inexpensive new battery generates power with just a drop of saliva One particularly interesting implication of a salt-based battery is the idea that the batteries could prove effective at harvesting sweat and other salty bodily fluids to power a workout assistant device. The researchers also noted that the batteries have a marked ability to convert dissolved oxygen into hydroxide ions, which could prove useful in medical applications.  “We can implant these fiber-shaped electrodes into the human body to consume essential oxygen, especially for areas that are difficult for injectable drugs to reach,” said researcher Yonggang Wang. “Deoxygenation might even wipe out cancerous cells or pathogenic bacteria since they are very sensitive to changes in living environment pH. Of course, this is hypothetical right now, but we hope to investigate further with biologists and medical scientists.” Via Engadget Images via Deposit Photos , Tim Simpson/Flickr  and Andy Armstrong/Flickr

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Chinese researchers develop flexible salt-powered batteries

Inexpensive new battery generates power with just a drop of saliva

August 10, 2017 by  
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In addition to aiding digestion, it turns out saliva can also power batteries. Researchers at Binghamton University discovered this while inventing a small, paper-based battery that generates energy when mixed with a drop of saliva. The batteries, which are more like tiny microbial fuel cells, are inexpensive to make and could be used in natural disasters and remote settings where on-demand power is hard (if not impossible) to come by. As a result, access to medical care and screenings in rural settings could improve. Binghamton University Electrical and Computer Science Assistant Professor Seokheun Choi spent the past five years developing the micro-power sources. His ultimate goal was to find a way to power medical diagnostic tests in poverty-stricken regions; finally, he succeeded at developing paper-based bacteria -powered batteries “On-demand micro-power generation is required especially for point-of-care diagnostic applications in developing countries,” said Choi. “Typically, those applications require only several tens of microwatt-level power for several minutes, but commercial batteries or other energy harvesting technologies are too expensive and over-qualified. Also, they pose environmental pollution issues.” Related: Indian startup pioneers new battery swapping system for electric buses The batteries contain freeze-dried exoelectrogenic cells which generate power when saliva is added. Astonishingly, with just one drop of spit, the paper batteries can produce enough power for low-power biological sensors in just a matter of minutes. Eureka Alert reports that a benefit of freeze drying the cells is that they can be stored for a long time before use. This means they can be stocked in medical clinics around the world. An additional perk is that the required biological fluid (saliva) can be easily obtained anywhere, anytime. At present, the battery can only produce a few microwatts of power per square centimeter. However, Choi and his research assistant, Maedeh Mohammadifar, are working on boosting the output. In the future, the team hopes to make the paper batteries more robust so they can sustain devices other than LED lights when connected in a series. The paper, “A Papertronic, On-Demand and Disposable Biobattery: Saliva-Activated Electricity Generation from Lyophilized Exoelectrogens Preinoculated on Paper,” was published in Advanced Materials Technologies. + Binghamton University Via Eureka Alert Images via  Binghamton University , Pixabay

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Inexpensive new battery generates power with just a drop of saliva

Four Earth-sized planets discovered orbiting the nearest sun-like star

August 9, 2017 by  
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We may be one step closer to finding a “second home” for humans, thanks to research conducted by an international team of astronomers. By observing wobbles in Tau Ceti, a sun-like star 12 light years away, scientists discovered that four Earth-sized stars are orbiting it. Two of the planets have masses as low as 1.7 Earth mass (which is rare), while the other two are super-Earths — meaning they could potentially support life. To monitor the wobbles of the sun-like star, the team employed techniques sensitive enough to detect variations as small as 30 centimeters per second. “Our detection of such weak wobbles is a milestone in the search for Earth analogs and the understanding of the Earth’s habitability through comparison with these analogs,” said lead author Fabo Feng, from the University of Hertfordshire in the UK. “We have introduced new methods to remove the noise in the data in order to reveal the weak planetary signals.” While the outer two planets around tau Ceti are the right size to be habitable worlds, massive amounts of debris around the star likely reduce their habitability due to the intense bombardment of comets and asteroids . Nonetheless, the discovery is an exciting one. “We are now finally crossing a threshold where, through very sophisticated modeling of large combined data sets from multiple independent observers, we can disentangle the noise due to stellar surface activity from the very tiny signals generated by the gravitational tugs from Earth-sized orbiting planets,” said co-author Steven Vogt, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz. Mikko Tuomi, from the University of Hertfordshire, added, “We are slowly learning to tell the difference between wobbles caused by planets and those caused by stellar active surface. This enabled us to essentially verify the existence of the two outer, potentially habitable planets in the system.” Related: Couple buys 100% sun-powered home built for the Solar Decathlon The team wrote that sun-like stars are believed to be the best targets for finding habitable Earth -like planets. Tau Ceti is, indeed, very similar to our solar system’s Sun in both its brightness and size. Additionally, both stars host multi-planet systems. The research was published in the Astrophysical Journal and is available online. + Astrophysical Journal Via Phys.org Images via Colourbrand, Pixabay and J. Pinfield/RoPACS/University of Hertfordshire

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Insane new flying Iron Man suit will be 3D-printed

August 9, 2017 by  
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Hold onto your seats Marvel fans and tech enthusiasts. Before you know it, a real-life “Iron Man” suit will be on the market — and yes, it can fly. Developed by Richard Browning, the co-founder of start-up company Gravity , the jet engine-powered flying suit was designed to “re-imagine manned flight.” With two engine arm configurations that weigh up to 90 pounds and a temperature threshold of 700°C (1292°F), the highly-anticipated invention will also feature wings. And did we mention it will be 3D-printed? The Gravity jet engine-powered flying suit was unveiled at Comic-Con in San Diego, CA, where Browning dished details to Tested’s Adam Savage. The newest version of the suit is comprised of four arm-loaded thrusters and an additional jet pack that is strapped to the user’s back. As noted above, two engine arm configurations can reach temperatures of 700°C (1292°F). 3D Printing Industry reports that if handled responsibly, the rockets aren’t as dangerous as they first might seem. This is because the heat is quickly dispersed by the air which, in turn, reduces the risk of one’s boots or sneakers catching on fire. Browning explained that the movement of the suit is controlled by a very “intuitive” system. For instance, minor movements of the arms determine the direction and height by altering the jet’s vector. It helps that a DAQRI augmented reality (AR) helmet with a heads-up display is connected. Not only does the AR helmet monitor the suit’s performance, it shows the data of speed and altitude in real-time, eliminating the need to check one’s wrist. Browning flew the suit at Comic-Con, wowing comic fans and technology entrepreneurs . He was reportedly able to fly at a speed up to 45/50 mph. Right now, between seven and eight different versions of the suit are in development; modifications will affect the functionality and appearance of the suit. “We are working on a whole bunch of adaptations with the manufacturer,” said Browning “to make [the engines ] much more fit for what we’re now using them for, because clearly they weren’t designed for this.” Related: Stunning Europe Building facade shows off the beauty of 3D printing in Amsterdam The most exciting part of the next-generation suit is that it will be 3D-printed and will feature temperature proof, one-piece aluminum housing for the thrusters. Because the control modules are in need of improvements, the engine configuration will also be changed. Finally, wings will be added to the suit to change the pattern of flight from vertical to airfoil. I’m quite excited about that, Browning said. “We’ve fully CADed up a beautiful, organic inspired housing, and that’s being 3D printed now.” No further information has yet been obtained about the potential cost or release date of the real-life Iron Man suit. However, in the past, Browning informed interested buyers that a custom-built suit should cost approximately $250,000. + Gravity  Via 3D Printing Industry Images via Gravity  

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Insane new flying Iron Man suit will be 3D-printed

Antarctica’s newest iceberg may destabilize the entire ice shelf

August 3, 2017 by  
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For eighteen months, scientists and concerned citizens waited for a giant iceberg to break off the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica. On July 12, the highly-anticipated event finally occurred . Because the iceberg, named A68, was predominantly submerged in the water before it detached, the event did not dramatically raise sea levels — phenomena which would propel natural disasters. While this is fortunate, it turns out the iceberg saga isn’t over: cracks are spreading towards a location that is paramount to the stability of the remaining ice shelf . For months, satellites have been capturing footage of the region to track the effects of climate change . After A68 broke off the shelf, satellites continued to track its movements. According to new data published by the University of Leeds, the structure has drifted approximately 3.1 miles (5km) away from its initial location. When the event finally took place, Larsen C lost about 10 perfect of its area; at least 11 smaller icebergs — some up to 8 miles (12 km) long — were also formed. NewAtlas reports that as the network of cracks continues to sweep across Larsen C, the number of icebergs will keep increasing. Related: Dubai firm wants to tow icebergs from Antarctica for fresh water Said Anna Hogg, a researcher at the University of Leeds: “The satellite images reveal a lot of continuing action on Larsen C Ice Shelf. We can see that the remaining cracks continue to grow towards a feature called Bawden Ice Rise, which provides important structural support for the remaining ice shelf. If an ice shelf loses contact with the ice rise, either through sustained thinning or a large iceberg calving event, it can prompt a significant acceleration in ice speed, and possibly further destabilization. It looks like the Larsen C story might not be over yet.” As Inhabitat previously reported, A68 is not a direct result of climate change . In fact, the process happens quite naturally during the life cycle of ice shelves. However, it is possible that it is breaking away progressed faster than normal due to changing environmental conditions . “Although floating ice shelves have only a modest impact on of sea-level rise, ice from Antarctica’s interior can discharge into the ocean when they collapse,” said Hilmar Gudmundsson, a researcher from the British Antarctic Survey. “Consequently we will see increase in the ice-sheet contribution to global sea-level rise. With this large calving event, and the availability of satellite technology, we have a fantastic opportunity to watch this natural experiment unfolding before our eyes. We can expect to learn a lot about how ice shelves break up and how the loss of a section of an ice shelf affects the flow of the remaining parts.” The findings were published in the journal Nature Climate Change . + University of Leeds Via NewAtlas Images via Pixabay

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Top scientist quits EPA, torches Trump administration’s environmental neglect

August 3, 2017 by  
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A top senior official at the EPA resigned this week with a scathing letter  aimed at Trump and his anti-environmental agenda. Elizabeth Southerland has been with the EPA for over 30 years, and in that time she has battled cancer-causing water contaminants, toxic pollution and a host of other threats to our natural resources. But working under climate deniers Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt is a bridge too far. “Today the environmental field is suffering from the temporary triumph of myth over truth. The truth is there is NO war on coal, there is NO economic crisis caused by environmental protection, and climate change IS caused by man’s activities,” she said in her letter. Southerland isn’t the first scientist to quit to protest the administration’s policies, which has also seen key scientists demoted in an attempt to drive them out of their roles. Southerland is particularly critical of Trump’s oversimplified policy of cutting two regulations for every new one. “Should EPA repeal two existing rules protecting infants from neurotoxins in order to promulgate a new rule protecting adults from a newly discovered liver toxin?” Related: Trump’s EPA moves to kill Obama’s Clean Water Rule Southerland was the director in the Office of Science and Technology. Already eligible for retirement, she cites the need to focus on family as a key decision to quit, in addition to her outrage at the hostile policies pushed by Trump. “[T]he President’s FY18 budget proposes cuts to state and tribal funding as draconian as the cuts to EPA , while at the same time reassigning a number of EPA responsibilities to the states and tribes,” she says in her letter. She also comments on a speech given by the Administrator in which he admonished the EPA for running roughshod over state’s rights. “In fact, EPA has always followed a cooperative federalism approach since most environmental programs are delegated to states and tribes who carry out the majority of monitoring, permitting, inspections, and enforcement actions.” Via Huffington Post Images via Flickr  and Wikimedia

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Earths natural resources for 2017 are already in overdraft’

August 3, 2017 by  
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Yesterday was Earth Overshoot Day – but unlike Earth Day , this is no occasion to celebrate. As of August 2, 2017, humans have officially used more natural resources than the Earth can replenish in one year. From now until the beginning of 2018, every natural resource used is considered unsustainable . The Global Footprint Network can be calculated by dividing the number of ecological resources which are produced annually by humanity’s ecological footprint . That number is then multiplied by 365. The resulting data reveals the day every year that is the maximum date humans have before overshooting the “sustainability mark.” Unfortunately, that day arrived just slightly over halfway through 2017. According to the Earth Overshoot Day website, there are three main culprits to blame for the depletion of natural resources: overfishing , deforestation and the emissions of CO2. Deforestation is a primary concern as approximately 130,000 square kilometers (50,200 square miles) of forested land is removed every year, according to WWF . To put that into perspective, consider that is roughly the size of England. Effects of deforestation including habitat loss, reduced oxygen output and decreased animal populations. Large areas of woodlands are burned as well, releasing vast amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. Related: Stefano Boeri unveils Amatrice Food Village in town devastated by earthquake Every year, an estimated 38.2 billion tons of CO2 enter the atmosphere as a result of human activity. Because CO2 is a greenhouse gas, it produces an “insulatory effect” which increases the temperature of Earth’s climate. This, in turn, results in melting glaciers which raise sea levels , causing natural disasters such as tsunamis, floods, and food shortages. Fortunately, hundreds of nations all around the planet have agreed to set sustainability goals as outlined by the Paris Climate Agreement . Though progress is slow, action is being taken to reduce resource depletion. If you are interested in calculating your own overshoot day, visit the Global Footprint Network . + Earth Overshoot Day Via Daily Mail Images via Pixabay

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Earths natural resources for 2017 are already in overdraft’

Google wants to solve renewable energy storage with salt and antifreeze

August 2, 2017 by  
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One of the arguments against solar and wind is that the renewable energy sources are intermittent and thus unreliable — the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. Storage is the key to unlocking the full potential of renewables to power modern, industrial societies on the scale of fossil fuels and nuclear energy. Now, Google’s parent Alphabet is joining the race to develop clean energy storage. The Malta project , from Alphabet’s secretive research lab X, uses cold antifreeze and hot salt to store power. The storage system reportedly has some key advantages, including the ability to be located almost anywhere and the potential to last longer than lithium-ion batteries. The system also could be as cost-effective as new hydroelectric plants and other existing clean energy storage methods. Related: Siemens and AES start new energy storage company to rival Tesla Tesla is also developing utility-scale renewable energy storage solutions with its Powerpack. Other companies are working on energy storage as well. Renewable energy storage players such as Tesla and Google could increasingly be in demand as states like California attempt to integrate more solar and wind into the electricity grid. During the first half of this year, California wasted more than 300,000 megawatts generated by solar panels and wind farms. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, lithium-ion battery prices are dropping fast and low oil and natural gas prices could pose a challenge to the Malta project. “It could potentially compete with lithium-ion,” said Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst Yayoi Sekine. “But there are a lot of challenges that an emerging technology has to face.” + The Malta Project Via CNET Images via X Research Lab

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Snail-inspired retreat is the perfect escape for nature lovers

August 2, 2017 by  
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Although you certainly wouldn’t be able to carry this shell-shaped structure on your back, the El Caracol retreat is perfect for getting away from it all. The dome home features an all-glass facade that connects the interior to 8 acres of pine forest in Lledó, Spain. If that isn’t enough of the great outdoors for you, nearby is a limestone gorge with a natural swimming pool and two wild rivers, making it the perfect escape for nature lovers. The structure is set deep into the mountainous forest where two rivers meet, making it a true nature lover’s paradise . However, the property itself is so relaxing, it might be hard to get out and explore the surrounding area. Related: Norway’s Fleinvaer cabins offer the ultimate in off-grid living on a remote island The concrete dome is cut in half with a slanted, all-glass facade that juts out over the outdoor patio. The large windows flood the interior with natural light and connects the living space with the natural exterior. On the inside, there’s an open-plan living area with a large kitchen. Exposed steel supports are found throughout the home, giving an industrial aspect that contrasts nicely with the all-concrete walls. The three bedrooms and two bathrooms are located on the upper level. The master has a beautiful convex wall on one side and a full-length glass wall that offers spectacular views of the surroundings. The heart of the retreat is undoubtedly the outdoor living area. A large shaded area provides outdoor dining space that opens up to the infinity pool . Guests can enjoy the BBQ area, a hammock, and plenty of nooks and crannies for long siestas in the Spanish sun. El Caracol can be rented through CoolStays.com + El Caracol Via Dwell Images via Cool Stays

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Snail-inspired retreat is the perfect escape for nature lovers

New metal 3D printer is 100x faster, 10x cheaper than existing laser technologies

August 1, 2017 by  
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3D-metal printing could very easily become the go-to method for manufacturing around the world. Developed by Desktop Metal , it is reportedly faster, safer and cheaper than existing systems. Indeed, the company claims it can produce reliable metal printing up to 100 times faster than conventional manufacturing techniques with materials that cost 20 times less than existing laser technologies on the market. They also claim they can bring down costs to 10 times lower than normal. 3D printing has been a hot topic for years now, but the Massachusetts company is presenting something new — something capable of revolutionizing the manufacturing industry. Because of the new technology’s speed and efficiency, it’s even better than NASA and Boeing’s slow laser-melted metal printer and beats small design studios’ desktop 3D printers. Capable of using a variety of metal options — essentially, anything one can use in a Metal Injection Molding (MIM) system, it stands apart from other competitors. The engineering-driven startup was founded by several MIT professors and Emanuel Sachs, who holds patents in 3D printing dating back to 1989. Over the last few months, Desktop Metal raised more than $115 million (USD) and received backing from big players, including Google Ventures. Presently, the company is investing efforts in producing two systems: a studio system geared toward developing a rapid, cheap metal prototyping for engineering groups, and a production system for mass manufacture. According to New Atlas , the Studio printer “runs around and prints parts into layers of bound metal.” Then, the parts go into a “de-binding bath” that separates a substantial portion of the binding polymer. The parts then go into a sintering furnace. When the product is heated to just below the melting point, the binding agent burns off and a highly dense, sintered metal is produced. The system automatically manages the timing and temperature, depending on the design and the metals used. Support sections can be poked out with a screwdriver when the process is completed. Just don’t be surprised when the finished product is 15 percent smaller. The 3D-metal printer is 10 times cheaper than equivalent laser systems and is also less hazardous. Because there are no metal powders to deal with or dangerous lasers, they can easily — and safely — be installed in a home or office. In addition, it is very low-maintenance and does not require special support equipment or staff. All in all, the entire integrated system and the partnered software cost approximately $120,000 (USD). Though that price might seem steep, an equivalent laser system will run one more than $1 million (USD). And, that doesn’t take into account the safety and materials handling costs. The mass production system is built for speed and definitely delivers. It is faster than machining, casting, forging or other techniques, and each production printer can produce up to 500 cubic inches of complex parts per hour. As noted above, that is 100 times faster than a laser-based alternative — zero tools required. Related: MIT is 3D printing functional robots that could walk right off the printer To reach production speed with the mass system, a business would need four furnaces per printer. In contrast to the studio printer, the production machine uses powders which are bonded together during printing by spray-jetted droplets of a binder solution. They are low-cost in contrast to other systems (retail is estimated to be $360,000 USD) and are easily available — another advantage to the 3D-metal printing system. In fact, material costs are estimated to be 20 percent lower than other variations. As a result, printed metal parts may finally be economical enough to compete with traditional manufacturing processes. Though Desktop Metal is just getting started, many are predicting a 3D-metal printing revolution. The effects this technology will have on the economy will be revealed in time. + Desktop Metal Via New Atlas Images via Desktop Metal

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