Tech Universe: Thursday 13 March

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

ROLLING ROLLING ROLLING: Properly inflated tires on a vehicle save fuel and reduce accidents, and that's especially important on trucks that travel long distances carrying freight. Aperia's Halo is a system that monitors tire pressure and automatically inflates tires as needed. The easily retrofitted Halo is a self-contained pump that generates pressure when rotated. It has a pendulum-like mass, similar to a self-winding watch, that hangs while the pump is rotating with the wheel. The relative rotational motion is used to create a pumping action, adding air up to a preset maximum. If it's that easy, perhaps it should be compulsory.

NOTHING IN THE AIR: Canada's Boundary Dam coal power plant emits 1.1 million tonnes of CO2 each year. Until this year, that is. From the middle of the year that number will drop by 90%.

The power plant's exhaust will be passed through a solvent that binds to CO2. That mix is then heated to release the gas which is then piped to a nearby oilfield and saline aquifer, and pumped several kilometres underground. That seems a lot like moving the problem.

BREATHE FREE: Vehicles and power plants are two sources of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. How to get the CO2 out of the atmosphere again is a challenge facing those who'd like to clean up the air. US chemists have devised a way to trap carbon dioxide and transform it into useful organic compounds, thanks to a simple metal complex. The technique uses a molecular ion known as molybdate — an atom of the metal molybdenum bound to four atoms of oxygen. The ion binds to CO2, but in a way that can be reversed, meaning the CO2 could be stored in a cartridge for later use elsewhere. Although in its early stages of development this could lead to opportunities to use CO2 as an inexpensive feedstock to make value-added chemicals, including things like polymers. That must be better than pumping CO2 underground.

A STICKY SOLUTION: Some companies are using CO2 as the raw material for making products including superglue and fertiliser. Liquid Light will produce ethylene glycol, the raw material for making polyester fibre, plastic bottles and antifreeze, using catalysts that can turn CO2 and electricity into more than 60 carbon-based chemicals. Their module is about the size of a coffee table. Dioxide Materials on the other hand, will produce acetic acid, a chemical used to make products like paint and glue. Turning dangerous waste products into useful materials is great news.

SOLAR IS THE OLD BLACK: Solar panels are usually black so they can absorb the maximum amount of energy. Researchers at the University of Michigan have created semi-transparent, coloured photovoltaics that could lead to stained glass windows functioning as energy collectors. The panels could absorb ambient light as well as energy directly from the sun. The colours come from the mechanical structure of the solar cells as they reflect different wavelengths depending on the thickness of the semiconductor layer. Unlike other coloured panels these are independent of the viewing angle. One problem is that these cells absorb at most one third of the light so are less efficient than black panels. Their decorative function compensates for that inefficiency though: maybe solar panels no longer belong strictly on the roof.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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