Feeding The Fire By Robot

It might seem a little bit counterintuitive, but one of the more carbon-neutral ways of heating one’s home is by burning wood. Since the carbon for the trees came out of the air a geologically insignificant amount of time ago, it’s in effect solar energy with extra steps. And with modern stoves and well-seasoned wood, air pollution is minimized as well. The only downside is needing to feed the fire frequently, which [Anders] solved by building a robot.

[Anders]’ system is centered around a boiler, a system which typically sits in a utility area like a basement and directs its heat to the home via another system, usually hot water. An Arduino Mega controls the system of old boat winches and various motors, with a grabber arm mounted at the end. The arm pinches each log from end to end, allowing it to grab the uneven logs one at a time. The robot also opens the boiler door and closes it again when the log is added, and then the system waits for the correct set of temperature conditions before grabbing another log and adding it. And everything can be monitored remotely with the help of an ESP32.

The robot is reportedly low-maintenance as well, thanks to its low speed and relatively low need for precision. The low speed also makes it fairly safe to work around, which was an important consideration because wood still needs to be added to a series of channels every so often to feed the robot, but this is much less often than one would have to feed logs into a boiler if doing this chore manually. It also improves on other automated wood-burning systems like pellet stoves, since you can skip the pellet-producing middleman step. It also eliminates the need to heat your home by burning fossil fuels, much like this semi-automated wood stove.

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Mining And Refining: Graphite

In my teenage years I worked for a couple of summers at a small amusement park as a ride operator. Looking back on it, the whole experience was a lot of fun, although with the minimum wage at $3.37 an hour and being subjected to the fickle New England weather that ranged from freezing rains to heat stroke-inducing tropical swelter, it didn’t seem like it at the time.

One of my assignments, and the one I remember most fondly, was running the bumper cars. Like everything else in the park, the ride was old and worn out, and maintenance was a daily chore. To keep the sheet steel floor of the track from rusting, every morning we had to brush on a coat of graphite “paint”. It was an impossibly messy job — get the least bit of the greasy silver-black goop on your hands, and it was there for the day. And for the first few runs of the day, before the stuff worked into the floor, the excited guests were as likely as not to get their shoes loaded up with the stuff, and since everyone invariably stepped on the seat of the car before sitting on it… well, let’s just say it was easy to spot who just rode the bumper cars from behind, especially with white shorts on.

The properties that made graphite great for bumper cars — slippery, electrically conductive, tenacious, and cheap — are properties that make it a fit with innumerable industrial processes. The stuff turns up everywhere, and it’s becoming increasingly important as the decarbonization of transportation picks up pace. Graphite is amazingly useful stuff and fairly common, but not all that easy to extract and purify. So let’s take a look at what it takes to mine and refine graphite.

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Paperless RFID Tags Are Carbon-Based

RFID tags are great little pieces of technology, but unfortunately, the combination of paper, metal, and silicon means they are as bad as some modern pregnancy tests — single-use electronic devices that can’t be recycled.

Some prototypes of the RFID tags.

A team of design program graduates from London’s Royal College of Art aim to change that. They’ve devised a mostly-paper RFID tag that’s as safe to recycle as a piece of paper with a pencil doodle on it.

The team’s startup, PulpaTronics have created a design that uses paper as its only material. The circuitry is marked on the paper with a laser set to low power, which doesn’t burn or cut the paper, but instead changes to composition to be conductive.

PulpaTronics were also able to create a chip-less RFID tag much the same way, using a pattern of concentric circles to convey information. The company estimates that these tags will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 70%, when compared with traditional RFID tags. They’ll also cost about half as much.

RFID is used in many industries, but it’s also great for hacking. Here’s an 8-track player that harnesses the power of RFID tags to play songs off of an SD card.

Thanks for the tip, [gir.st]!

Graphene lattice

How Graphene May Enable The Next Generations Of High-Density Hard Drives

After decades of improvements to hard disk drive (HDD) technology, manufacturers are now close to taking the next big leap that will boost storage density to new levels. Using laser-assisted writes, manufacturers like Seagate are projecting 50+ TB HDDs by 2026 and 120+ TB HDDs after 2030. One part of the secret recipe is heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR).

One of the hurdles with implementing HAMR is finding a protective coating for the magnetic media that can handle this frequent heating while also being thinner than current coatings, so that the head can move even closer to the surface. According to a recent paper by N. Dwivedi et al. published in Nature Communications, this new protective coating may have been found in the form of sheets of graphene.

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Fuel From Water Using Only An Arc Welder

Water, high currents, blinding balls of plasma, and a highly flammable gas that’s toxic enough to kill you in three minutes if you breathe enough of it. What’s not to love about this plasma-powered water gas generator?

In all seriousness, [NightHawkInLight] is playing with some dangerous stuff here, and he’s quite adamant about this one being firmly in the “Don’t try this at home” category. But it’s also fascinating stuff, since it uses nothing but a tank of water and an electric arc to produce useful amounts of fuel very quickly. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that he’s talking about the electrolytic splitting of water into the hydrogen-oxygen mix HHO, but this is something else entirely.

Using a carbon electrode torch connected to his arc welder, a setup that’s similar to the one he used to make synthetic rubies, [NightHawkInLight] is able to strike an underwater arc inside a vessel that looks for all the world like a double-barreled bong. The plasma creates a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen which accumulates very rapidly in the gasometer he built to collect the flammable products produced by a wood gasifier.

The water gas burns remarkably cleanly, but probably has limited practical uses. Unless you live somewhere where electricity costs practically nothing, it’ll be hard to break even on this. Still, it’s an interesting look at what’s possible when plasma and water mix.

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Wood And Carbon Rods Used For This Handsome And Effective Microphone

Anyone who was active in the phreaking scene or was even the least bit curious about the phone system back in the Ma Bell days no doubt remembers the carbon capsule microphone in the mouthpiece of many telephone handsets. With carbon granules sandwiched between a diaphragm and a metal plate, they were essentially sound-driven variable resistors, and they worked well enough to be the standard microphone for telephony for decades.

In an attempt to reduce complicated practices to their fundamentals, [Simplifier] has undertaken this surprisingly high-fidelity carbon microphone build that hearkens back to the early days of the telephone. It builds on previous work that was more proof of concept but still impressive. In both builds, the diaphragm of the microphone is a thin piece of wood, at first carved from a single block of softwood, then later improved by attaching a thin piece of pine to a red oak frame. The electrical side of the mic has four carbon rods running from the frame to the center of the diaphragm, where they articulate in a carbon block with small divots dug into it. As the diaphragm vibrates, the block exerts more or less pressure on the rods, varying the current across the mic and reproducing the sound. It works quite well, judging by the video after the break.

Congratulations to [Simplifier] for another great build and top-notch craftsmanship. We’ve seen homebrew vacuum tubes, conductive glass, and solar cells from him before, which sort of makes him the high-tech version of Primitive Technology. We’re looking forward to whatever comes next. Continue reading “Wood And Carbon Rods Used For This Handsome And Effective Microphone”

Cyborg Mushrooms

Of all the fictional cyborgs who turn against humanity to conquer the planet, this is as far from that possibility as you can get. These harmless mushrooms seem more interested in showing off their excellent fashion sense with a daring juxtaposition of hard grid lines with playful spirals. But the purpose of this bacteria-fungus-technology hybrid is to generate electricity. The mushrooms are there to play nurse to a layer of cyanobacteria, the green gel in the photo, while the straight black lines harvest electricity.

Cyanobacteria do not live very long under these kinds of conditions, so long-term use is out of the question, but by giving the cyanobacteria somewhere it can thrive, the usefulness grows. The interplay between bacterial and supportive organics could lead to advances in sensors and hydrogels as well. At some point, we may grow some of our hardware and a green thumb will be as useful as a degree in computer science.

Hydrogels could be the next medical revolution, and we’ve already made hydrogels into tattoos, used them as forms for artificial muscles, and hydrogels can be a part of soft tissue printing.