Category: Chemicals

Edible packaging could help eliminate waste

Despite rigorous recycling campaigns, millions of tonnes of packaging waste end up in landfill every year. However, a new development in packaging technology could now mark the first steps to change.

Chemical engineer David Edwards is famed for his ‘breathable food‘ invention, and now plans to develop and commercialise a new idea: edible packaging.

The invention, called WikiCells, is derived from nature’s very own packaging system: its digestible skin. Potatoes, tomatoes, apples… they all have an edible exterior protecting the fruit within. Even lemon peel ends up eaten in the form of zest.

According to the WikiCells website, small particles of chocolate, dried fruit, nuts, seeds and other natural – edible – substances are used to create a packaging to protect soft foods such as cheese, yoghurt and even ice cream, which the company plans to market to a French audience later this year.

So far the team has experimented with a gazpacho-stuffed tomato membrane, a wine-filled grape-like shell and an orange juice-protecting shell. According to Edwards, an edible milk bottle is not out of the realms of possibility, either.

“No wrappers. No plastic. No artificial anything. Just all natural everything,” reads the WikiCells website. Are you eco-conscious enough to eat your own packaging?

Could genetically engineered plants put an end to drug factory livestock?

The use of animals in drug manufacturing has always been a necessary evil, but new developments in the field of genetic engineering could well mark the end of the practice in some fields.

Gaucher disease –  a condition resulting from the lack of a particular enzyme – is traditionally treated with drugs derived from hamster cells. Now, however, Israeli scientists from biotech firm Protalix Biotherapeutics, have discovered a way to grow the required enzymes in carrot cells instead, by inserting specific genes into them.

Patients that received the ‘bio-pharmed’ version of the drug reportedly showed the same levels of improvement as those given the treatment derived from hamster cells.

The US Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has given its approval for the plant-derived treatment, potentially the marking the beginning of the end of genetically modified livestock in drug factories.

No green Apple: tech giant pulls products from eco-friendly registry

Apple is no shrinking violet when it comes to publicising its green credentials. From binning chemicals in component parts to powering data centres with renewable energy, the company frequently waxes lyrical about its love of – and respect for – Planet Earth.

A bit of a U-turn today then, with news that Apple has recently asked EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool), a US national registry of environmentally sound electronic items, to remove 39 of its products from the its list.

To qualify for EPEAT-certification, products must fulfil a certain criteria, which includes the caveat that recyclers must be able to disassemble products fairly easily, to separate dangerous components (batteries, for instance). Tech heads are already speculating that the move has been spurred by the new super slim MacBook Pro, which features a high-resolution ‘retina display’. The product is “nearly impossible” to disassemble, according to iFixit.com, which notes that the battery is glued to the case and the glass display glued to its back.

Many schools, businesses and government agencies stipulate that their IT equipment is EPEAT-certified, so Apple’s move may well cost them a not-insignificant market share.

Spray-on batteries could turn any surface into energy

Battery technology is seeing some exciting developments at the moment; liquid solar cells and current-generating paint are both examples of inventions set to revolutionise the clunky AA mainstay. And now scientists have added something new to the mix: spray-on batteries.

Developed by researchers at Rice University, this new technology allows any surface to become a battery, which could have pretty big implications for traditional energy storage and solar power generation. More on the science of the creation here.

Lead author of the team’s report Neelam Singh said: “Spray painting is already an industrial process, so it will be very easy to incorporate this into industry. We really do consider this a paradigm changer.”

However, there are some drawbacks, namely the spray-paint’s sensitivity to moisture and oxygen given its toxic, flammable and corrosive properties. Eliminating these issues through further research could see the paint being used at a large scale in industrial environments.

Check it out:

Carbon cakes: Skyonic turns CO2 into baking soda

CO2 is a problem, so wouldn’t it be great to turn it all into something else? Something useful? How about baking soda?

Texas-based start-up Skyonic plans to do just that by capturing and mineralising CO2 from industrial waste streams with a technology that can also be retro-fitted to existing emitters.

The company has already designed and built a  pilot project at Capitol Aggregrates Inc’s cement plant in San Antonio, and now thanks to massive investment from BP, ConocoPhillips and PVS Chemicals, plans to develop a $125 million commercial-scale project in the same location.

The facility will be capable of capturing 83,000 short tons of CO2 a year and turning it into 157,000 tonnes of bicarbonate.

It will cost around $45 a ton to capture and convert the carbon initially, but planners say that continued research and development could drive the cost down to below $20 per ton.

Construction of the new project will begin this summer.

Glass ‘sponge’ to clean and reclaim wastewater

Scientists at Ohio’s College of Wooster chemistry department have stumbled upon a way of cleaning the water ‘produced’ from oil and gas extraction.

As much as 800 billion gallons of water is ‘created’ this way each year, but is generally unusable because of its toxicity. Now, though, a development in nano-engineering means that tiny glass ‘sponges’, known as Osorb, can remove more than 99 percent of oil and grease from water, and more than 90 percent of the volatile compounds that can poison drinking water.

The material absorbs small organic toxins whilst repelling water, and can be reused over 100 times after the chemical nasties have been removed. See it at work here: