Growing Your Own Insulation

The latest craze in revolutionary materials science is no longer some carbon nanotube, a new mysterious alloy, or biodegradeable plastic. It seems as though a lot of new developments are coming out of the biology world, specifically from mycologists who study fungi. While the jury’s still out on whether or not it’s possible to use fungi to build a decent Star Trek series, researchers have in fact been able to use certain kinds of it to build high-performing insulation.

The insulation is made of the part of the fungus called the mycelium, rather than its more familiar-looking fruiting body. The mycelium is a strand-like structure of fungus which grows through materials in order to digest them. This could be mulch, fruit, logs, straw, crude oil, or even live insects, and you might have noticed it because it’s often white and fuzzy-looking. The particular type of mycelium used here is extremely resistant to changes in temperature so is ideal for making insulation. As a bonus, it can be grown, not manufactured, and can use biological waste products as a growing medium. Further, it can grow to fit the space it’s given, and it is much less environmentally harmful than existing forms of insulation.

As far as performance is concerned, a reporter from the BBC tested it in an interesting video involving a frozen chocolate bar and a blowtorch, discovering also that the insulation is relatively flame-retardant. Besides insulation, though, there are many more atypical uses of fungi that have been discovered recently including pest control and ethanol creation. They can also be used to create self-healing concrete.

Thanks to [Michael] for the tip!

Photo of fungal mycelium: Tobi Kellner [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Getting the Lead Out of Lithium Battery Recycling

When that fateful morning comes that your car no longer roars to life with a quick twist of the key, but rather groans its displeasure at the sad state of your ride’s electrical system, your course is clear: you need a new battery. Whether you do it yourself or – perish the thought – farm out the job to someone else, the end result is the same. You get a spanking new lead-acid battery, and the old one is whisked away to be ground up and turned into a new battery in a nearly perfect closed loop system.

Contrast this to what happens to the battery in your laptop when it finally gives up the ghost. Some of us will pop the pack open, find the likely one bad cell, and either fix the pack or repurpose the good cells. But most dead lithium-based battery packs are dropped in the regular trash, or placed in blue recycling bins with the best of intentions but generally end up in the landfill anyway.

Why the difference between lead and lithium batteries? What about these two seemingly similar technologies dictates why one battery can have 98% of its material recycled, while the other is cheaper to just toss? And what are the implications down the road, when battery packs from electric vehicles start to enter the waste stream in bulk?

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Fresh-Baked Plastic Tiles For All!

Recycling aims to better the planet, but — taken into the hands of the individual — it can be a boon for one’s home by trading trash for building materials. [fokkejongerden], a student at the [Delft University of Technology] in the Netherlands, proposes one solution for all the plastic that passes through one’s dwelling by turning HDPE into tiles.

Collecting several HDPE containers — widely used and easy enough to process at home — [fokkejongerden] cleaned them thoroughly of their previous contents, and then mulched them with a food processor. An aluminium mold of the tile was  then welded together making sure the sides were taller than the height of the tile. A second part was fabricated as a top piece to compress the tile into shape.

After preheating an oven to no hotter than 200 degrees Celsius, they lined the mold with parchment paper and baked the tile until shiny(90-120 minutes). The top piece was weighed down (clamping works too), compressing the tile until it cooled. A heat gun or a clothes iron did the trick to smooth out any rough edges.

Not only does [fokkejongerden]’s tiles give the recycler plenty of artistic freedom for creating their own mosaic floor, the real gem is the adaptable plastic recycling process for home use. For another method, check out this recycled, recycling factory that turns bottles in to rope and more! There’s even the potential for fueling your 3D printer.

[Via Instructables]

Hackaday Prize Entry: Modular, Rapid Deployment Power Station

After a disaster hits, one obvious concern is getting everyone’s power restored. Even if the power plants are operational after something like a hurricane or earthquake, often the power lines that deliver that energy are destroyed. While the power company works to rebuild their infrastructure, [David Ngheim]’s mobile, rapid deployment power station can help get people back on their feet quickly. As a bonus, it uses renewable energy sources for power generation.

The modular power station was already tested at Burning Man, providing power to around 100 people. Using sets of 250 Watt panels, wind turbines, and scalable battery banks, the units all snap together like Lego and can fit inside a standard container truck or even the back of a pickup for smaller sizes. The whole thing is plug-and-play and outputs AC thanks to inverters that also ship with the units.

With all of the natural disasters we’ve seen lately, from Texas to Puerto Rico to California, this entry into the Hackaday Prize will surely gain some traction as many areas struggle to rebuild their homes and communities. With this tool under a government’s belt, restoration of power at least can be greatly simplified and hastened.

Typhoon-proof Wind Turbine

While wind energy is rapidly increasing its market share across the world, wind turbines are not able to be constructed everywhere that they might be needed. A perfect example of this is Japan, where a traditional wind turbine would get damaged by typhoons. After the Fukushima disaster, though, one Japanese engineer committed himself to building a turbine specifically for Japan that can operate just fine within hurricane-force winds. (YouTube, embedded below.)

The “typhoon turbine” as it is known works via the Magnus effect, where a spinning object directs air around it faster on one side than on the other. This turbine uses three Magnus effect-driven cylinders with a blade on each one, which allows the turbine to harvest energy no matter how high the wind speeds are. The problem with hurricanes and typhoons isn’t just the wind, but also what the wind blows around. While there is no mention of its impact resistance it certainly looks like it has been built as robustly as possible.

Hopefully this turbine is able to catch on in Japan so they can reduce their reliance on other types of energy. Wind energy has been getting incredibly popular lately, including among hikers who carry a portable wind generator, and even among people with just a few pieces of scrap material.

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The Most Straightforward Wind Turbine

We can all use a little more green energy in our lives at home. So when [ahmedebeed555] — a fan of wind power — ran into durability troubles with his previous home-built turbine, he revised it to be simpler than ever to build.

Outside of the DC generator motor, the rest of the turbine is made from recycled parts: a sponge mop sans sponge, a piece from an old CD drive case acting as a rudder, the blades from a scrapped fan, and a plastic bottle to protect the motor from the elements. Attach the fan to the motor and form the plastic bottle around the motor using — what else? — a soldering iron. Don’t forget a respirator for this step, folks.

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VR and Back Again: An XRobots Tale

Our friend [James Bruton] from XRobots has engaged in another bit of mixed-reality magic by showing how one can seamlessly step from the virtual world into the real world, and back again. Begone, green screens and cumbersome lighting!

Now, most of what you’re seeing is really happening in post-production — for now — but the test footage is the precursor for a more integrated system down the road. As it works now, a GoPro is attached to the front of a HTC Vive headset, allowing [Bruton] to record in both realities at the same time. In the VR test area he has set up is a portal to a virtual green room — only a little smaller than a wardrobe — allowing him to superimpose the GoPro footage over everything he looks at through that doorway, as well as everything surrounding him when he steps through. Unfortunately, [Bruton] is not able to see where he’s going if he is to wear the headset, so he’s forced to hold it in one hand and move about the mixed-reality space. Again, this is temporary.

In action — well, it gets a little surreal when he starts tossing digital blocks through the gateway ‘into’ the real world.

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