Researchers at Cornell University have developed a tiny, proof of concept robot that moves its four limbs by rapidly igniting a combination of methane and oxygen inside flexible joints.
The device can’t do much more than blow each limb outward with a varying amount of force, but that’s enough to be able to steer and move the little unit. It has enough power to make some very impressive jumps. The ability to navigate even with such limited actuators is reminiscent of hopped-up bristebots.
Electronic control of combustions in the joints allows for up to 100 explosions per second, which is enough force to do useful work. The prototype is only 29 millimeters long and weighs only 1.6 grams, but it can jump up to 56 centimeters and move at almost 17 centimeters per second.
The prototype is tethered, so those numbers don’t include having to carry its own power or fuel supply, but as a proof of concept it’s pretty interesting. Reportedly a downside is that the process is rather noisy, which we suppose isn’t surprising.
Want to see it in action? Watch the video (embedded below) to get an idea of what it’s capable of. More details are available from the research paper, as well.
Continue reading “Micro Robot Disregards Gears, Embraces Explosions”
As the Earth continues to warm at a worrying rate, scientists continue to work to understand the processes and mechanisms at play. Amidst the myriad of climate-related theories and discussions, the clathrate gun hypothesis stands out not only for its intriguing name but for the profound implications it might have on our understanding of global warming events.
Delving into this hypothesis is akin to reading a detective novel written by Mother Earth, with clues hidden deep beneath the ocean and Arctic ice. It’s a great example of how scientists attempt to predict the future by unpicking the mysteries of the past.
Continue reading “The Clathrate Gun Hypothesis: Unearthing Puzzles Of Warming Events Past”
Much of the reporting around climate change focuses on carbon dioxide. It’s public enemy number one when it comes to gases that warm the atmosphere, as a primary byproduct of fossil fuel combustion.
It’s not the only greenhouse gas out there, though. Methane itself is a particularly potent pollutant, and one that is being emitted in altogether excessive amounts. Satellites are now on the hunt for methane emissions in an attempt to save the world from this odorless, colorless gas.
Continue reading “Methane-Tracking Satellites Hunt For Nasty Greenhouse Gas Emissions”
Generally, when we talk about the production of hydrogen, the discussion is about either electrolysis of water into oxygen and hydrogen, or steam methane reforming (SMR). Although electrolysis is often mentioned – as it can create hydrogen using nothing but water and electricity – SMR is by far the most common source of hydrogen. Much of this is due to the low cost and high efficiency of SMR, but a major disadvantage of SMR is that :slider
large amounts of carbon dioxide are released, which offsets some of the benefits of using hydrogen as a fuel in the first place.
Although capturing this CO2 can be considered as a potential solution here, methane pyrolysis is a newer method that promises to offer the same benefits as SMR while also producing hydrogen and carbon, rather than CO2. With the many uses for hydrogen in industrial applications and other fields, such as the manufacturing of fertilizer, a direct replacement for SMR that produces green hydrogen would seem almost too good to be true.
What precisely is this methane pyrolysis, and what can be expect from it the coming years?
Continue reading “Methane Pyrolysis: Producing Green Hydrogen Without Carbon Emissions”
The topic of energy has been top-of-mind for us since the first of our ancestors came down out of the trees looking for something to eat that wouldn’t eat them. But in a world where the neverending struggle for energy has been abstracted away to the flick of a finger on a light switch or thermostat, thanks to geopolitical forces many of us are now facing the wrath of winter with a completely different outlook on what it takes to stay warm.
The problem isn’t necessarily that we don’t have enough energy, it’s more that what we have is neither evenly distributed nor easily obtained. Moving energy from where it’s produced to where it’s needed is rarely a simple matter, and often poses significant and interesting engineering challenges. This is especially true for sources of energy that don’t pack a lot of punch into a small space, like natural gas. Getting it across a continent is challenging enough; getting it across an ocean is another thing altogether, and that’s where liquefied natural gas, or LNG, comes into the picture.
Continue reading “Big Chemistry: Liquefied Natural Gas”
With a seemingly endless list of shortages of basic items trotted across newsfeeds on a daily basis, you’d be pardoned for not noticing any one shortage in particular. But in among the shortages of everything from eggs to fertilizers to sriracha sauce has been a growing realization that we may actually be running out of something so fundamental that it could have repercussions that will be felt across all aspects of our technological society: helium.
The degree to which helium is central to almost every aspect of daily life is hard to overstate. Helium’s unique properties, like the fact that it remains liquid at just a few degrees above absolute zero, contribute to its use in countless industrial processes. From leak detection and welding to silicon wafer production and cooling the superconducting magnets that make magnetic resonance imaging possible, helium has become entrenched in technology in a way that belies its relative scarcity.
But where does helium come from? As we’ll see, the second lightest element on the periodic table is not easy to come by, and considerable effort goes into extracting and purifying it enough for industrial use. While great strides are being made toward improved methods of extraction and the discovery of new deposits, for all practical purposes helium is a non-renewable resource for which there are no substitutes. So it pays to know a thing or two about how we get our hands on it.
Continue reading “Mining And Refining: Helium”
Environmental Engineering [Prof Jaeweon Cho] at South Korea’s Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology specializes in water and waste management. He has developed an energy-generating toilet called BeeVi (pronounced beevee) that recycles your waste in three ways. Liquid waste is processed in a microbial reaction tank to make a liquid fertilizer. Solid waste is pumped into an anaerobic digestion tank, which results in methane gas used to power a silicone oxide fuel cell to make electricity. The remaining solids are composted to make fertilizer. The daily waste from one person is about 500 g, which can generate about 50 L of methane.
The BeeVi toilets, located on the UNIST campus, pay students in a digital currently called Ggools, or Honey Money in English. Each deposit earns 10 Ggools, which can be used to purchase coffee, instant noodles, and other items (one Ggool is equivalent to about $3.00 value). The output from this pilot project is used to partially power the building on campus, and to fertilize gardens on the grounds. If you want to learn more, here is a video lecture by [Prof Cho] (in English).
Waste management is an area of research around the world. The Gates Foundation has been funding research into this field for ten years, and has held a number of expos over the years highlighting innovative solutions, most recently being the 2018 Reinvent the Toilet Expo in Beijing. We wrote a piece about the future of toilets last year as well.
Continue reading “Modern Toilet Generates Energy”