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“Going green” is much more than just a trend or a fun turn of phrase.  

Green technology—designed to prevent, lessen or reverse the negative impacts of human activity on the environment—is a rapidly growing sector of scientific discovery and R&D.

So much so, that many of our 2017 R&D 100 awardees were recognized for a product or service that was created with environmental consciousness in mind, including the recipients of our R&D 100 Special Recognition for Green Tech. (Submissions for the 2018 R&D 100 Awards are now being accepted)

Throughout the month of March, R&D Magazine highlighted many of those green-minded R&D 100 Awardees as well as other innovators working on important environmentally sustainable and clean technologies. 

Reducing pollutants

We kicked off our green technology coverage by featuring the Oleo Sponge, created by scientists at Argonne National Laboratory, in our article, “Novel Reusable Sponge Could Revolutionize Ocean Oil Spill Cleanup.” 

The absorbent was created from low-cost materials and processing, can capture 90 times its own weight in oil from both above and below the water’s surface, and is reusable. The innovation could ensure that the environmental damage of oil spills—caused in part by the controlled burns typically used to clean up oil spills—is never repeated.

In addition to Oleo Sponge, a technology designed to capture an environmentally-harmful substance, we also featured several innovations designed to eliminate the need for toxins in the first place that are harmful to humans and the environment.

In our article, Scientists Create Less Toxic, Greener Rubberized Running Surfaces we highlighted ECOGROUND, a water-borne, acrylic based adhesive system that will give runners a greener track to run on and school children an environmentally-friendly surface for their playground equipment.

Most all-weather synthetic track and field, playgrounds and walkways are created from two-part polyurethane (PU) based adhesive technology. However, this traditional material often comes with a significant amount of organic solvents, processing additives and heavy metal catalysts, resulting in the discharge of large amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the atmosphere. ECOGROUND, created by scientists at the Dow Chemical Company, contains a low amount of VOC, below 0.05 mg/m2, compared to about seven mg/m2 for approved two-part PU-based systems.

We also featured another Dow Chemical product designed to reduce human and environmental exposure to a common toxin. In our article, “Innovation Enables Safe, Flame Retardant-Free Foam for Bedding and Furniture” we highlighted VORAGUARD—a novel polymer polyol technology for the creation of polyurethane foam manufacturing that does not require flame retardants.

Flexible polyurethane foams are widely used to create cushioning materials in bedding and furniture, but most feature halogenated flame retardants which are associated with adverse health effects in animals and humans, including endocrine and thyroid disruption, impacts to the immune system, reproductive toxicity, cancer, and adverse effects on fetal and child development. VORAGUARD was designed to meet the most severe, high-ignition source flammability tests—such as BS 5852, Crib 5 in the United Kingdom and California TB133—where the flame temperatures are high and the ignition is applied for a long time, without the use of halogenated flame retardants in most cases. 

Recycling

In our article New LCD Panel Recycling System Reduces Risk and Waste,” we also shed light on the environmental impact of discarded liquid-crystal display (LCD) screens, a common feature of many electronic devices in the home and car. 

Although research has repeatedly shown the harmfulness of the liquid crystal, indium and other heavy metals which LCD panels contain, there wasn’t a suitable model for recycling these panels, until now. The Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) has developed a new LCD Waste Recycling System, which is cost-effective, does not produce any waste and will allow manufacturers to save and reuse some of the valuable heavy metals used to create LCD panels. The system works by integrating sequential separation, ppb-level purification, nano-pore technologies to recycle liquid crystals, indium and glasses.

Another way to reduce the amount of harmful electronic waste in the environment is to reduce the amount of electronics that are discarded in the first place. In the article, Impenetrable Design in Small Electronics is Unsustainable—But What We Can Do About it?" Dr. Jeffrey Ortega, PhD, the Director of Research at ZPower, discussed how many small electronics—including cell phones, wearables, medical devices, hearables, and fitness trackers—are increasingly being designed to be impenetrable, and thus unrecyclable. Many devices are impenetrable because the batteries are sealed into these technologies for safety reasons, which means that when the battery stops working the device must be thrown away. In his article, Ortega discusses the potential of silver-zinc batteries, which are non-flammable, re-chargeable, and easily disassembled at end of life.

Recycling is not always about finding a way to dispose of toxic materials or reduce waste. In some cases, recycling efforts are focused on taking advantage of discarded materials for other uses. In our article, “Recycled Carbon Fiber Opens the Door to Expanded Applications” we featured Vartega, a company that has developed a novel carbon fiber recycling process, with the goal of driving sustainable and widespread carbon fiber adoption.

Much of the feedstock for Vartega’s process comes from high grade pre-impregnated carbon fiber scrap  material, such as that used in the aerospace industry. This expensive waste can be recycled and repurposed to minimize lost value and maximize the environmental benefit of carbon fiber. Scrap carbon fiber from aerospace structures can be readily repurposed for use in aircraft interiors, automotive applications, consumer products, and sporting goods

Environmentally-friendly innovations

In our story “New Electricity-Generating Backpack Lightens the Load on Soldiers,”  we featured a technology that gives back to the environment by supplying a clean, renewable source of energy. The article highlighted the Lightning Pack, a novel technology that harvests kinetic energy as soldiers walk and run through the field, eliminating the need for them to carry the 20 to 30 pounds of extra batteries they typically have to. 

In addition to providing a benefit for soldiers, the electricity-generating backpack could provide wearable, renewable electricity for disaster-relief workers operating in remote locations, as well as forestry service workers, medical aid relief workers, hikers, campers, and hunters.

We also featured a novel innovation that could cut down on the use of explosives or hydraulics—which can damage the environment—for rock splitting operations in hydraulic fracturing, oil drilling, mining, geological studies, civil engineering, paleontological and archaeological digs, search-and-rescue missions and more.

In our article, “NASA-Designed System Offers Environmentally-Friendly, Controlled Rock Splitting” we highlighted the Shape Memory Alloy Rock Splitters (SMARS) system, which provides an environmentally-friendly method for splitting apart rock formations in a controlled manner without the use of explosives or hydraulics. 

The SMARS system can deliver controllable stresses in excess of 1.5 gigapascals (GPa)—which is up to 100 times greater than can be generated with hydraulic systems of comparable size—without any demolition damage to the surrounding areas. In addition, the SMARS system is very small, light, and portable compared to hydraulic rock breakers, allowing it to be transported and employed in especially tight or underground settings.

Education

With new green technologies like those we featured this month emerging every day, advocacy groups across the country are needed to work with federal and state agencies, school districts and small business owners to promote these innovations. To conclude our green technology coverage we featured two such groups— Clean Cities and Green School Alliance in the article, “Advocacy Groups Work to Promote Sustainability, Green Tech.” Clean Cities is a U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE’s) program that aims to advance the nation's economic, environmental, and energy security by supporting local actions to cut petroleum use in transportation. Green School Alliance is a Washington D.C.-based organization that aims to promote long-term green initiatives at school districts across the country.

Next Month’s Special Focus

In April, R&D Magazine will take a deeper look into aerospace, the branch of technology and industry concerned with both aviation and space flight. R&D within the aerospace industry—whether it involves improving the technologies that take us across the world or focuses on the science potential outside of this world—is a significantly important and growing field that is poised to dramatically change society.

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