More than a third of the world’s population lives in drylands, areas that experience significant water shortages. Scientists and engineers at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a solution that could help people in these areas access clean drinking water.
The team developed a low-cost gel film made of abundant materials that can pull water from the air in even the driest climates. The materials that facilitate this reaction cost a mere $2 per kilogram, and a single kilogram can produce more than 6 liters of water per day in areas with less than 15% relative humidity and 13 liters in areas with up to 30% relative humidity.
Algae is not just some stuff floating around in your fish tank or on pond rocks — it’s also a key component of a new zero-carbon cement mixture, according to a June 6 press release. Boulder, Colorado-based zero-carbon research company Prometheus Materials is using algae to create a greener binding agent, according to the company.
The mixture was developed under a Department of Defense grant by a team of scientists and engineers at the University of Colorado Boulder. Prometheus Materials CEO Loren Burnett said the mixture will be used to construct a data center but declined to disclose the client or location.
Prometheus Materials championed the technology after announcing the close of an $8 million Series A funding round led by Sofinnova Partners, a life sciences venture capital firm based in Paris, London and Milan. Additional participants included the Microsoft Climate Innovation Fund and architecture and design firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.
With the pervasive single-use masks during the pandemic now presenting an environmental problem, researchers have demonstrated the idea of incorporating old masks into a cement mixture to create stronger, more durable concrete.
In a paper published in the journal, Materials Letters, a Washington State University research team showed that the mixture using mask materials was 47% stronger than commonly used cement after a month of curing.
A mini-review has been published in the journal Polymerson chitosan’s potential for sustainable applications in multiple industries. Researchers from Spain, India, Iran, and China have contributed to the review.
Hydrogels have an astonishing ability to swell and take on water. In daily life, they are used in dressings, nappies, and more to lock moisture away. A team of researchers has now found another use: quickly extracting large amounts of freshwater from air using a specially developed hydrogel containing a hygroscopic salt. The study shows that the salt enhances the moisture uptake of the gel, making it suitable for water harvesting in dry regions.
While concrete is a staple for builders, it’s also a top driver of climate change. That’s why many contractors and their suppliers have tested materials that are just as durable, but kinder to the environment.
Now, two researchers from the Massachusetts-based Worcester Polytechnic Institute have taken this idea one step further. Suzanne Scarlata and Nima Rahbar developed a concrete substitute which can remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
Besides serving as a material to build new structures, Enzymatic Construction Material (pictured above) is self-healing and the researchers believe it can be used to patch existing concrete.
Disposal of food packaging is a major cause of environmental pollution worldwide. More than 350 million metric tons of plastic are produced every year, and 85% of the garbage dumped in the oceans is plastic, according to estimates. Brazil is the fourth-largest producer, accounting for some 11 million metric tons per year. To make matters worse, most plastic packaging is derived from non-renewables such as petroleum.
Given all these drawbacks, reducing the use of fossil fuels to produce plastic is the target of a great deal of research around the world. Many scientists are working on the development of biodegradable packaging materials that also prevent contamination by microorganisms and extend shelf life so as to reduce losses.
A study conducted by a research team called the Composites and Hybrid Nanocomposites Group (GCNH) at São Paulo State University (UNESP) in Ilha Solteira has produced an important contribution to this effort. It was supported by FAPESP, and an article reporting its findings is published in the journal Polymers.
The researchers made their bioplastic (or “green plastic”, as it is also known) from type B bovine gelatin easily found in retail stores in the form of a colorless powder.
“Gelatin was one of the first materials used in the production of biopolymers. It’s still widely used owing to its abundance, low cost and excellent film-forming properties,” said chemist and materials scientist Márcia Regina de Moura Aouada, a professor at the Ilha Solteira School of Engineering (FEIS-UNESP) and last author of the article.
“However, biopolymers for packaging have characteristics that need to be improved in order to be comparable to petroleum products, especially as far as mechanical properties and vapor permeability are concerned, so we added cloisite Na+ nanoclay to the gelatin,” she explained.
Adding nanoclay made the film more homogeneous and increased its tensile strength to 70 megapascals (MPa). Conventional polyethylene packaging has less than half this tensile strength (in the range of 20 MPa-30 MPa).
“Besides nanoclay, we also added a nanoemulsion made from black pepper essential oil to give the packaging a more attractive flavor and odor. The mixture also extends the shelf life of food products packaged with the material, thanks to the inclusion of anti-microbial and anti-oxidant components in the polymeric matrix,” she said.
It is worth noting that the bioplastic in question was originally designed to package beef in the form of hamburgers, which are vulnerable to microbial contamination and have a strong smell, but the principle of adding nanoclay and essential oil nanoemulsion to a gelatin matrix can and will be extended to other foods, varying the type and proportion of essential oil used.
“If this kind of packaging becomes widespread in the marketplace, it could significantly reduce the use of plastic made from non-biodegradable polymers and hence the amount of solid waste,” Moura Aouada said. “In addition, the bioplastic will better protect packaged food against contamination by pathogens and help reduce losses.”
The research lines followed at GCNH-UNESP focus on the circular economy, which converts waste into resources. The group’s leaders, Fauze Aouada and Márcia Moura Aouada, are professors affiliated with UNESP’s Program of Graduate Studies in Materials Science (PPGCM).
“Our proposals are aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs] adopted by the United Nations to end poverty, foster the planet’s economic sustainability, and ensure that the entire world population can enjoy peace and prosperity,” Moura Aouada said.
The group also produces wound dressings from bacterial cellulose, and edible packaging containing nanostructures derived from kale purée, cocoa purée, cupuassu (Theobroma grandiflorum) purée, camu camu (Myrciaria dubia) extract and nanoemulsions, with potential applications in the food, pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries.
The research is supported by FAPESP via a Research Regular Grant and also via the Center for Development of Functional Materials (CDMF), a Research, Innovation and Dissemination Center (RIDC) hosted by the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar).
The work is multidisciplinary and entails networking by several researchers per topic. The article mentioned earlier also has the following co-authors: Fauze Aouada, Tascila Saranti (MSc), and Pamela Melo (Ph.D.) from UNESP; and Miguel Cerqueira, from International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory, Portugal.
The article “Performance of gelatin films reinforced with cloisite Na+ and black pepper essential oil loaded nanoemulsion” is available at www.mdpi.com/2073-4360/13/24/4298.