Tech Universe: Tuesday 29

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

FOOD FOR ENERGY: Unsold fresh food is a problem for any supermarket. Some may reduce the price or send still usable food to charitable schemes or local safari parks and zoos. But if there's still food left then it's likely to just go to waste. Now Sainsbury in the UK are taking all that otherwise unusable leftover food and putting it through an anaerobic digester to create electricity. The food waste is turned into bio-methane gas, which is then used to generate electricity. That electricity is then supplied direct to one of the stores, with surplus going into the national grid. Sainsbury say they generate enough energy to power 2,500 homes each year. A byproduct of the process is a good fertiliser used by local farms.

FEAST OR FARMING: It's convenient to place wind farms out in the sea where the winds are good and any noise doesn't bother too many people. But adding structures to the environment is bound to have an effect and it seems some wind farms are turning into artificial reefs.

A wind farm reduces fishing and boat traffic nearby: a perfect opportunity for invertebrate animals to take up residence. But in at least a couple of cases that's drawn the attention of seals who can forage successfully amongst the more dense sea life. UK scientists observed 11 harbour seals outfitted with GPS tracking tags frequenting two active wind farms and moving systematically from one turbine to the next in a grid pattern. Now the researchers want to study whether the wind turbines are causing an increase in overall biomass or are just helping seals wipe out their prey species. Clever seals.

BREATHE EASY: Dust mites are all around us but many people have an allergic reaction to them. Luckily researchers at the University of Iowa have developed a vaccine against the allergens. The approach is to administer specially-encapsulated particles only 300 nanometers in size with sequences of bacterial DNA that direct the immune system to suppress allergic immune responses. The nanotreatment has been tested in the lab and on mice with success, but more testing is needed before it can be used by humans.

BIKE WITH A PUSH: If you have a load to carry while cycling you may consider a trailer. Then of course you have to pedal harder and work more. The Brouhaha Bicycle cargo trailer wants to ease the load, thanks to its electric motor that goes when you go and brakes when you brake, resulting in virtually no extra effort on the part of the cyclist. The idea is that your pedalling still drives the bike itself, but the trailer and its load uses its own power. That could make a bike delivery service a viable proposition.

FLAWED FINDINGS: Imagine picking out one single distinctive blade of grass in a football field. US researchers have developed an explosives detector that is even more sensitive than that. Their plasmon laser sensors could perhaps take over the job of sniffing out bombs from the dogs who currently do the work. The detector consists of a layer of cadmium sulfide, a semiconductor, laid on top of a sheet of silver with a layer of magnesium fluoride in the middle. Also present are natural surface defects that interact with molecules from unstable nitro groups. The device works by detecting the increased intensity in the light signal that occurs as a result of this interaction. The sensor could perhaps be used in airports and could be helpful for biomolecular research. Hooray for the flaws that make this function.

Miraz Jordan,

- NZ Herald

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