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April 22nd, 2010

Earth Day 2010 Materials Difference Diary: Tell us how new materials are improving the environment – and win!

Published on April 22nd, 2010 | By: pwray@ceramics.org

Back when Earth Day started 40 years ago, people interested in chemistry, physics and engineering were often associated with gas guzzlers, DDT, napalm and weaponry: Back then, new materials were perceived to be more with the “problem” then the “solution.”

We’ve come a long way! Now materials scientists, engineers, teachers, and related industries have shown that applications that make use of ceramics, glass, plastics, metals, composites and semiconductors – such as solar power equipment, efficient lights, high-performance batteries, fuel cells, water and air filters, wind turbines and nuclear waste sequestors – are key components of every nation’s strategy to clean and protect Spaceship Earth.

On this Earth Day and for the following week, share with us your brief story or idea about how materials are making a difference – and you might become a winner! Everyone who posts a story will be entered into a drawing for one of our Earth Day appropriate prizes that include items such as a solar robot kits, hydro clocks and hydrogen power remote control cars.

To post a story, simply sign in and enter you story or example in the comments thread below.

You can post as many stories as you want. (Please note that there will only be one entry in the drawing per email address.) We encourage links to news stories, pictures, blogs, videos, Facebook pages, etc. Short stories are welcome, but longer ones are, too.

We will keep the threads open for one week, until midnight, April 29. Winners will be notified by email.


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21 Responses to Earth Day 2010 Materials Difference Diary: Tell us how new materials are improving the environment – and win!

  1. Telefony says:

    Hello!, I am visiting your site yet again to see more of your updates. I found this really interesting and felt compelled to comment a little thank you for all your effort. Please continue the great work your doing!

  2. Andrew says:

    After studying in the field in the ceramic matrix composites (CMC), I can only marvel in their potential to change society!

    By harnessing their excellent thermo-mechanical and physical properties that facilitate their growing implementation throughout the materials world. CMC’s deliver excellent weight saving potential as they weigh just 1/3 of the weight in comparison of traditional metals!!

    Today, CMC’s are being utilized in greater proportions than ever before in range of industries. None more sensitive today than the transport industry, where these composites are used as brakes discs, structural materials and heat shields to replace bulky metals, improve performance and and offer significant weight savings! These equate to less waste through replacements and more efficient fuel consumption! which in-turn reduces the impact on the environment.

    This is particularly relevant today and even more so in the future as the necessity for faster and further transport increases, especially as economies grow! which translates into a greater demand for high speed trains, more planes taking off and more cars appearing on our roads…

    As young scientists today, we represent the future and therefore must take the responsibility for ensuring the world continues to thrive! by using our knowledge of science to facilitate the inevitable growth in unison with our growing use of the worlds natural resources! The future is in our hands.

  3. Laura says:

    I worked on a research project, several summers ago, with a company developing new uses for waste glass. My work was focused on refining the production parameters for a foamed glass product that absorbed water and could be used as a replacement for pearlite in potting soil. Not only does the product use waste glass regardless of composition, it replaces a material that otherwise would be strip-mined from the earth. Admittedly, this is just a small example of how materials research can benefit the environment, but every bit counts.

  4. Mohamed Hamdy says:

    New materials are good because they are just new !!!
    because we just don’t know what’s its future impact on our life
    as we see today there are many things that are very dangereous on the environment for example mobile battary it’s a problem because many people don’t care that they can’t just throw it in the rubbish after it’s stopped working and this is really harmful as we know
    so I hope oneday we can see a rechargable battary for such devices that is not harmful

    finally you can’t say that the new material is just good because in the future we will replace it by another newer one and that will not stop to happen
    so the new material can’t be absolutly safe it may be safer but still has its own impact which we may not know till now.

  5. Randy Newhouse says:

    I have been recently quite downcast about the energy problems for the future. Solar power may be great, but it just doesn’t produce enough electricity and there is still a long ways to go improving the production methods. I went to a lecture on developing new flexible polymer based solar panels, which while they would vastly improve over current panels, they still could not completely satisfy our countries energy needs. I was thinking about all of this as I walked to work this morning, and then I observed the cars going past. Today’s cars incorporate fiberglass, and other materials that are much lighter than the muscle cars of the 70’s. Heck my little Accent is so light and uses such a small engine it can rival some hybrids for gas millage. It got me thinking, if cars today hadn’t made use of such technologies, the oil crisis would be much worse than it is today. Solar panels may not be able to satisfy all our energy needs, but every bit helps. Combine it with more efficient appliances, and other clean sources of power, and while it may not single handedly solve the problem, they will help.

  6. J Deutsch says:

    New developments in materials engineering often lead to cleaner, greener technologies. One example is the work to develop new automotive technologies which use lighter materials to save on gas. The use of magnesium alloys in cars which have the potential to provide an even lighter solution compared with aluminum alloys and the developing SOFC (solid oxide fuel cell) industry are two examples. The high temperatures and thermal cycling of the fuel cells means that new ceramics that can withstand these conditions are needed. Even if scientists and engineers can develop a method of producing hydrogen cheaply, the materials for the fuel cells will require solid materials engineering to develop the ceramics for this. If we as materials scientists and engineers can solve this
    complicated problem then fuel cell cars may be in the near future.

    J Deutsch
    Materials Engineering, University of Alberta

  7. Michael says:

    During the ‘Green’ revolution, materials have been and will be the driving force for market feasibility for new, cleaner technologies. From development of fuel cells to expansion of solar and wind power, material cost and lifespan can typically be identified as the limiting economic factor for feasibility. For example, cheaper, yet efficient, ceramics for use in solid oxide fuel cells are the only way to make SOFCs a readily available technology. Additionally, new choices for materials used in wind turbines would be able to minimize their downtime, which is one of the largest difficulties in cultivating wind power.

  8. Jim says:

    The use of starches in polymer matrices in order to lessen the volume of oil based material yields some interesting properties. While not completely biodegradable, the polymer degrades quickly when exposed to UV and moisture.

  9. Paulo Tiba says:

    Days of our lives,
    No matter what and how, human beings will always be human beings. Since the time that we wake up, a plenty number of materials make their presence during the day. For instance: the type of material that you use as dish in your breakfast, ceramic or plastic? the way that you move, car or bus? Depending on your choice during the day, you can turn the World more or less sustainable.
    Let’s see one bad example: you wake up and you have a breakfast in a plastic dish. So, you discard the material since in many times, plastics are not reused materials. Then, you pick your car (usually, fossil fuel cars) to come to your job (why not using eletrical cars or even bikes). Arriving there, you use electrical powder in order to perform your job (why not using solar cell panels made of aluminum or silicon).
    Concluding, the choice that you perform during the day will determine the materials that you use during the day. So, you decide the road that you want to take toward a more “friendly” environment wolrd. Be intelligent in your materials choices.

  10. Phil says:

    There are plenty of roads in the world we live in and on those roads there are even more traffic lights. In many of these traffic lights LEDs have replaced incandescent bulbs. LEDs have a much lower power consumption than the traditional bulb and they last much longer. This means that not only does it take less energy to power the lights but they have to be replaced less often (less waste). The advantages are not only to the operator of the lights but also to the environment.

  11. Dave Marchant says:

    Of course it would be nice if my product line was not needed but until that time I will continue with the development of armor to protect the soldier, the police, and others. The development of better armor materials have resulted in armor that protects against specific threats but uses less material and weights less. Continual improvement in armor materials will continue to result in lighter weight armor. This lighter weight armor generally leads to less use of our natural resources and thereby helps to save the environment.

  12. Aftab Bhanvadia says:

    Materials is going to impact the environment is lots of diffrent ways. Not only will it help reduce the consumption of natrual resources but it will also help reduces damaging factors of the environment. For exmaple the use of photovolatic cells will allow us to use a different energy source and also reduce the use of fossil fuels. Antother example is, organic LEDs will help reduce power consumption compared to current lighting sources.

  13. R. Matt McComb says:

    I am a Materials Engineering student at the University of Alberta. I have this professor who does a lot of work with solid oxide fuel cells. He would always say that these hydrogen cars are great but where do we get the hydrogen from? The main one is the decomposition of methane, which is way too energy intensive and very non renewable. During my first semester, I was reading one of the ACERS bulletins and noticed an interesting article on new work in solar cells. A company claimed they can make solar cells with up to 30% efficiency that can perform electrolysis on water. Due to the very high over potential for hydrogen gas evolution, this is a huge advance. The hydrogen comes from water which is used in a fuel cell, with the product being water. Seems to me, professor, that is where we’ll get the hydrogen from. I immediately sent him the article.

  14. Nikhil Dhawan says:

    Who would have thought 40years back:

    1) Cellphones availibility @365days@24*7 hours along with INTERNET, camera, movies, games……
    2) Reading any sort of books at any time through electronic devices like IPAD
    3) Best Medical facilities like early detection of cancer, tumors via gold nanoparticles etc., artificial teeth emulating natural conditions made up of egg shell (Hydroxyapatite)
    4)Source of transportation i.e. Biodiesel from chicken fat
    5) Once upon a time ” Electronic materials hard to find or purchase, are now becoming biggest problems i.e. electronic scrap”. Bacteria’s are being used to recover valuable metals from the scrap.

  15. Will Rigdon says:

    I recently took a graduate research position at University of South Carolina and the focus of my work will be on fuel cells. I chose, in part, to come here because this university, this community, and this state are committed to making fuel cells a commercially viable electrochemcial energy transformation device. Currently, they are on the brink of technologically applicable to large scale integration, but the hydrogen infrastructure is not in place to support this technology. Hydrogen is a very clean and efficient energy source with no emissions. Some ideal applications are for your homes and vehicles. Despite many predictions that we would all have flying cars by now, the fuel cell may be the key to this goal. It also offers many long-term benefits which are not only economical, but environmentally sustainable. I am working along side a dedicated group of researchers to help this idea become a reality. With the strong support here from the university partnerships in government and industry, we will take another step in the right direction. There is a new building which will open in one month to help foster these relationships. Check out the following link and the one posted above to learn more about these opportunities, especially if you are young student!!!


    May every day be an Earth Day!


    Well… materials and discoveries are very exciting… however, turning those discoveries into products is more difficult. Remember the Chemist Michael Grätzel who developed a solar cell that, like plants, generates energy from sunlight by using a dye. The cell was patented in 1992 and is now being produced commercially at a pilot facility.

    Click on the video that says The Science Magazine and advance the video to minute 8:25. This is really cool stuff.
    This is like copying nature to produce electricity.
    So 1992====>2010. It is mentioned in the video that this type of solar cell can produce electricity even on cloudy days. Exciting.

    Now to ceramics:

    We all should know that the most widely used ceramic material is Concrete. Here is a cool animation of how a company makes cement: http://www.cemex.com/ps/ps_ce_hc.asp

    This ceramic material can be designed to kill bacteria for its use in hospital walls, and recently it has been used for the construction of cooling towers and other energy related projects in which a acid proof capabilities are added to the concrete.

    Emmanuel Flores
    Student of Materials Science and Engineering
    Illinois Institute of Technology
    Chicago, IL

  17. Chris Dosch says:

    I’m a combined BS/MS Materials Science and Engineering student from the University of Florida. This week I read about two novel methods of energy production both involving piezoelectricity. One of the applications involves submersing microfibers of highly flexible zinc oxide crystals in water. By subjecting the system to vibration due to sound waves, the ultrasonic vibration creates a voltage high enough to split water and release oxygen and hydrogen. This is a much greener approach to hydrogen production. The second application I recently found out about involves a new method of converting light to electricity. Light would shine on the device which would have a layer comprised of DNA. DNA expands in light, and this layer’s expansion would compress the lower piezoelectric layer and thus create a voltage. Both of these applications highlight the type of novel ideas we need in order to break our dependence on oil and other environmentally unfriendly sources of energy.

  18. Kate says:

    I am and undergraduate in Materials Engineering at Iowa State University and we are continually looking for new and efficient ways to help the environment. One program we have is sponsored by our department chair and sends a student group to Mali, Africa. The students who go are designing sustainable, efficient, and practical stoves for the community. This project wouldn’t be considered “high-tech”, but the idea behind it is to provide a sustainable way of living for the people of Mali.

  19. Pat Nandakumar says:

    In order to eliminate the waste disposal issues, it is wiser to use non-toxic materials in the place of toxic chemicals. Also the experiments the students do in the laboratories should be redesigned such a way there is minimal waste disposal. The awareness of harsh chemicals and their effects on the health and environment should be promoted. The recycle of one time products, if possible, is a major step in reducing the waste. The organic biocomposite containers are the way to go!

  20. Andrew says:

    In the painting industry, it is very common to use TSP or bleach to kill off mold or mildew before painting, but both are harmful to the environment and dangerous for kids/pets. A new product called mold avenger was recently developed for college works painting. Instead of killing the mold or mildew, it is an enzyme based “starver” of the fungi. It serves as a yeast spore degrader, killing the problem instead of the symptoms.

  21. Zach Royer says:

    New materials are helping the environment in many ways. One way, is that of finding new substitute materials for other toxic materials. A vague example of this is using other materials instead of lead or chromium because they are very harmful to the environment. A specific example of this is the use of GreenStab which is an organic, lead-free stabilizer for PVC outdoor profiles.

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