The Metabolizer Is Turning Trash Into Treasure Even Faster Now

Do you remember [Sam Smith]’s Metabolizer from a few years back? In case you’ve forgotten, this baby takes trash and turns it into printed plastic objects, and it’s solar-powered to boot. Although the Metabolizer didn’t win the 2018 Hackaday Prize, [Sam] and his machine won many achievements that year, including the Open Hardware Challenge. It’s fantastic to see the project still improving.

To recap, the sun hits the solar panels and charge up the battery bank. Once there’s enough power to start the reaction, it gets dumped into a heating element that turns biomass into biochar. This smoke is cooled, collected, refined, and fed into a small gas generator, which produces DC power to run a 3/4-horsepower shredder and the trash printer.

[Sam] likens this beast to a Rube Goldberg machine in that it performs an overly-complicated chain reaction to do a simple task. We certainly see his point, but we think that this machine is worth so much more than those classic machines, which tend to do nothing useful at all and tend to consume many resources in the process.  On the contrary, the Metabolizer’s chain reaction starts with sunshine and ends with useful objects that keep plastic out of landfills. Honestly, it’s more akin to a compost heap with a PhD in Biology and a handful of steroids and a 3D printer attached.

Unfortunately, [Sam] couldn’t get a prototype working in time for the Prize, and he turned to Patreon to gain support after the $1,000 ran out. Three years and a ton of improvements later, [Sam] has a working prototype that’s cheaper, more efficient, and easier to build. But can it be built relatively easily by someone other than [Sam]? Consider the gauntlet thrown down.

Not happy with your standard-style compost pile? You need a DIY trommel to sift out the bad stuff.

The Metabolizer Turns Trash Into Treasure

The amount of stuff we humans throw away is too damn high, and a bunch of it harms the ecosystem. But what are you gonna do? [Sam Smith] thinks we can do better than shoving most of it in a landfill and waiting for it to break down. That’s why he’s building The Metabolizer. It’s a series of systems designed to turn household trash (including plastic!) into useful things like fuel, building materials, and 3D prints.

The idea is to mimic the metabolism of a living organism and design something that can break down garbage into both useful stuff and fuel for itself. [Sam] is confident that since humans figured out how to make plastic, we can figure out a system to metabolize it. His proof-of-concept plan is to break down waste into combustible, gaseous fuel and use that fuel to power a small engine. The engine will power an open-source plastic shredder and turn a generator that powers an open-source plastic pellet printer like the SeeMeCNC Part Daddy.

Shredding plastic for use as a biomass requires condensing out the tar and hydrocarbons. This process leaves carbon monoxide and hydrogen syngas, which is perfect for running a Briggs & Stratton from Craigslist that’s been modified to run on gaseous fuel. Condensation is a nasty process that we don’t advise trying unless you know what you’re doing. Be careful, [Sam], because we’re excited to watch this one progress. You can watch it chew up some plastic after the break.

If [Sam] ever runs out of garbage to feed The Metabolizer, maybe he could build a fleet of trash-collecting robots.

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Gertrude Elion, DNA Hacker

Some people become scientists because they have an insatiable sense of curiosity. For others, the interest is born of tragedy—they lose a loved one to disease and are driven to find a cure. In the case of Gertrude Elion, both are true. Gertrude was a brilliant and curious student who could have done anything given her aptitude. But when she lost her grandfather to cancer, her path became clear.

As a biochemist and pharmacologist for what is now GlaxoSmithKline, Gertrude and Dr. George Hitchings created many different types of drugs by synthesizing natural nucleic compounds in order to bait pathogens and kill them. Their unorthodox, designer drug method led them to create the first successful anti-cancer drugs and won them a Nobel Prize in 1988.

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