Tech Universe: Wednesday 10 April

By Miraz Jordan

Researchers have found a better use for old cooking oil. Photo / BPT
Researchers have found a better use for old cooking oil. Photo / BPT

FRIED WASTE: Fry up the fish and chips. But then what do you do with the used oil? It seems many in London tip it down the drain. The city spends £1 million (NZ$1.8 million) per month clearing the drains of 40,000 fat-caused blockages. But now they're getting smart and setting up a fuel plant that will run on the waste fat and grease, supplemented by other waste vegetable oil and animal fats. The plant will produce 130 Gigawatt hours a year of renewable electricity. That's enough to run just under 40,000 average-sized homes. Now for the smarter part: the businesses that currently tip the fat down the drain could organise to sell it direct to the power plant.

DNA 1 2 3: A DNA testing chip from Panasonic and IMEC is only half the size of a business card, yet it automates all the stages of obtaining genetic information, including preprocessing. The device takes only a short time to do this rather than the days or weeks normally needed.

A worker injects blood and a chemical into the chip then inserts it into a machine the size of a small desktop printer. Around an hour later information on SNPs is produced. SNPs are variations in a single DNA base among individuals that can be used to identify genes related to illness. This can allow health workers to select drug therapies that should work and avoid those that may have severe side effects for an individual. Health care imrpoves another notch again.

DISCARD THE KNOWN: A doctor may use a biopsy to diagnose cancer. That can be painful and expensive. But tumour cells may also be circulating in the blood, though perhaps at a rate of one tumour cell per billion cells. If the tumour cells could be captured and assessed maybe a biopsy wouldn't be required. US researchers have built a microfluidic device that can quickly grab nearly any type of tumour cell from the bloodstream, even without knowing their molecular characteristics. The device combines magnetic labeling of cells and microfluidic sorting to pull out the tumour cells, by discarding the other cells, such as blood cells, whose characteristics are known beforehand. One problem is that a cancer may need to be quite advanced before cells circulate.

It's a handy idea though, that once you've discarded the known everything that's left must be the unknown.

TURBINE TRICKS: Making wind turbines isn't an easy job. Items such as the blades may need to be stored for a while as part of the process, and at 50 metres long and weighing a couple of tons they take up a lot of space. Then when it's time to pull them from the stack locating the right part can be a challenge too. The Fraunhofer Institute's solution is to attach a locator the size of a small paperback book to each module. GPS tracks its position to within a metre, while a motion sensor detects when the part is being moved and signals the move to a monitor. Previously such tracking could take a day or two, but the new system takes only 5 minutes. Who knew making wind turbines was so
tricky?

SHAPED CHARGE: The synthetic carbon anodes EnerG2 make increase the storage capacity of lithium-ion batteries by up to 30% without requiring a new battery design or a different manufacturing process.

This was achieved by optimising the surface area, pore size, and pore density of carbon for different applications. That could mean gadgets that go longer between charges or perhaps electric cars that travel further. And it's all in the shape of the carbon molecules.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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