Highlights from the 2014 LA Auto Show

Plastics

Scientists have used biosynthetic muscle fibers to observe the changes that polymers exhib...

Scientists tasked with creating better plastic films have been at a loss when it comes to observing how synthetic polymers react under mechanical stress – the polymers are just too small for a microscope to keep track of while being stretched. Now a team of physicists from Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) has come up with a solution. They’re using a muscle filament protein to build polymer networks that can be observed by a microscope, and by doing so have already determined why some polymers get tougher with repeated stress, while others get softer.  Read More

Shredded and densified boom material, post-consumer plastic, and recycled tires are all go...

During the course of this year’s Gulf Oil Spill, a lot of media attention was paid to the oil booms used to contain and/or absorb the surface slick. While a small percentage of the sausage-shaped tubes of netting were stuffed with unusual materials such as hair, most of them contained oil-absorbent polypropylene. Now that the Deep Horizon well has been capped, the question of what to do with all that oily plastic arises. It turns out that some of it will find its way into Chevrolet Volts.  Read More

Scientists are working to make tougher biodegradable plastics from plants (Image: Horia Va...

Replacing petro-chemical-based plastics with plant-based alternatives is a growing area of research. One popular form of plant-derived plastic is Poly(lactic) acid, or PLA, a type of biodegradable plastic that is currently used to make bottles, bags and is woven into fibers to make clothes in place of polyester. Although PLA has similar mechanical properties to PETE polymer, it has significantly lower heat-resistance, which limits its uses. Researchers are now developing a new chemical catalyst to improve the properties of PLA, making it stronger and more heat-resistant so it can be used for a wider range of applications.  Read More

John Shanklin with the engineered plastics feedstock species Arabidopsis

Modern society's reliance on fossil fuel extends past its use as an energy source with by-products used in everything from plastics to lubricants and fertilizers. Seeking alternatives that are cleaner to produce and renewable is important for the continuation of life as we know it. This is why researchers the the U.S Department of Energy (DOE) are are engineering plants to produce chemicals needed for plastics that have traditionally come from fossil fuels.  Read More

Fraunhofer's self-monitoring polymer-metal composite

When engineers want to know how much stress mechanical components such as wind turbine blades or machine parts are subjected to, they usually do so via a series of sensors. These sensors are typically either built into components, or are glued onto them. A new polymer-metal composite material developed at Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Applied Material Research (IFAM), however, may be about to change that – components made from the material are reportedly able to act as their own sensors.  Read More

The newly-developed signal sequestering polymers could keep bacteria like these E. coli fr...

Everyone knows that when certain bacteria are present in an environment, they can cause infections. These infections can take the form of diseases such as bubonic plague, cholera, leprosy, and tuberculosis. The problem isn’t simply that the bacteria are present, however, it’s that they communicate with one another - essentially coming up with a battle plan. This signaling process, called quorum sensing, has now successfully been blocked by British scientists. They did it using plastics similar those used by dentists for repairing teeth.  Read More

The fungi used to absorb BPA from polycarbonate

Bisphenol A, commonly known as BPA, isn’t something you want leaching into the environment. It’s the compound in polycarbonate plastic that has been suspected of causing health problems since the 1930’s, and that more recently got people all over the world throwing out their plastic water bottles. When polycarb is broken down in the recycling process, or even when it’s just left in the dump, its BPA content is released. Where it ends up is a question that has a lot of people worried. A new study, however, indicates that fungus could be used to keep BPA at bay.  Read More

Food packaging is just one of the potential applications of the compostable sugar-based po...

Traditional environmental enemies food packaging and other disposable plastic items could soon be composted at home along with organic waste and not collected for landfill thanks to a new sugar-based polymer being developed at Imperial College London. The degradable polymer is made from sugars known as lignocellulosic biomass, which come from non-food crops like fast-growing trees and grasses, or renewable biomass from agricultural or food waste.  Read More

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