Engineered stone, also known as artificial stone or composite stone, has become a popular material in the construction and design industries due to its aesthetic appeal and durability. It’s become the go-to solution for benchtops in particular, with modern kitchens and bathrooms heavily featuring engineered stone in this way.
However, this seemingly innocuous material harbors a dark side, posing significant health risks to workers involved in its manufacturing and installation. The hazards associated with engineered stone have gone unnoticed for some time, but the toll is adding up, and calls for action grow louder. Let’s examine why engineered stone is so harmful, and explore the measures being taken across the world to curtail or even ban its use.
Continue reading “Australia Bans Engineered Stone, Workers Elsewhere Demand The Same”
So far in this series, pretty much every material we’ve covered has had to undergo a significant industrial process to transform it from its natural state to a more useful product. Whether it’s the transformation of bauxite from reddish-brown clay to lustrous aluminum ingots, or squeezing solid sulfur out of oil and natural gas, there haven’t been many examples of commercially useful materials that are taken from the Earth and used in their natural state.
Quartz, though, is at least a partial exception to this rule. Once its unusual electrical properties were understood, crystalline quartz was sent directly from quarries and mines to factories, where they were turned into piezoelectric devices with no chemical transformation whatsoever. The magic of crystal formation had already been done by natural processes; all that was needed was a little slicing and dicing.
As it turns out, though, quartz is so immensely useful for a technological society that there’s no way for the supply of naturally formed crystals to match demand. Like copper before it, which was first discovered in natural metallic deposits that could be fashioned into tools and decorations more or less directly, we would need to discover different sources for quartz and invent chemical transformations to create our own crystals, taking cues from Mother Nature’s recipe book on the way.
Continue reading “Mining And Refining: Quartz, Both Natural And Synthetic”
Most of us are content to get our semiconductors from the usual sources, happily abstracting away the complexity locked within those little epoxy blobs. But eventually, you might get the itch to roll your own semiconductors, in which case you’ll need to start gearing up. And one of the first tools you’ll need is likely to be something like this DIY tube furnace.
For the uninitiated, [ProjectsInFlight] helpfully explains in the video below just what a tube furnace is and why you’d need one to start working with semiconductors. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a tube furnace is just a tube that gets really, really hot — like 1,200° C. In addition to the extreme heat, commercial furnaces are often set up to seal off the ends of the tube to create specific conditions within, such as an inert gas atmosphere or even a vacuum. The combination of heat and atmospheric control allows the budding fabricator to transform silicon wafers using chemical and physical processes.
[ProjectsInFlight]’s tube furnace started with a length of heat-resistant quartz glass tubing and a small tub of sodium silicate refractory cement, from the plumbing section of any home store. The tube was given a thin coat of cement and dried in a low oven before wrapping it with nichrome wire. The wrapped tube got another, thicker layer of silicate cement and an insulating wrap of alumina ceramic wool before applying power to cure everything at 1,000° C. The cured tube then went into a custom-built sheet steel enclosure with plenty of extra insulation, along with an Arduino and a solid-state relay to control the furnace. The video below concludes with testing the furnace by growing a silicon dioxide coating on a scrap of silicon wafer. This was helped along by the injection of a few whisps of water vapor while ramping the furnace temperature up, and the results are easily visible.
[ProjectsInFlight] still needs to add seals to the tube to control the atmosphere in there, an upgrade we’ll be on the lookout for. It’s already a great start, although it might take a while to catch up to our friend [Sam Zeloof].
Continue reading “Start Your Semiconductor Fab With This DIY Tube Furnace”
If you’re looking for a 1-second time reference, you’d probably just grab a GPS module off the shelf and use the 1PPS output. As demonstrated by [InazumaDenki], though, an old quartz clock module can also do the job with just a little work.
The module was harvested from an old Seiko wall clock, and features the familiar 32.768 KHz crystal you’d expect. This frequency readily divides down by 2 multiple times until you get a useful 1 Hz output. The module, originally designed to run a clock movement, can be repurposed with some basic analog electronics to output a useful time reference. [InazumaDenki] explains various ways this can be done, before demonstrating his favored method by building the device and demonstrating it with a decade counter.
It has some benefits over a GPS time reference, such as running at a much lower voltage and needing no external signal inputs. However, it’s also not going to be quite as accurate. Whether that matters to you or not depends on your specific application. Video after the break.
Continue reading “Turning A Quartz Clock Module Into A Time Reference”
You have to be pretty ambitious to modify a clock to run for 50 years on a single battery. You also should probably be pretty young if you think you’re going to verify your power estimates, at least in person. According to [Josh EJ], this modified quartz analog clock, which ticks off the date rather than the time, is one of those “The March of Time” projects that’s intended to
terrify incentivize you by showing how much of the year is left.
Making a regular clock movement slow down so that what normally takes an hour takes a month without making any mechanical changes requires some clever hacks. [Josh] decided to use an Arduino to send digital pulses to the quartz movement to advance the minute hand, rather than let it run free. Two pulses a day would be perfect for making a 30-day month fit into a 60-minute hour, but that only works for four months out of the year. [Josh]’s solution was to mark the first 28 even-numbered minutes, cram 29, 30, and 31 into the last four minutes of the hour, and sort the details out in code.
As for the low-power mods, there’s some cool wizardry involved with that, like flashing the Arduino Pro Mini with a new bootloader that reduces the clock speed to 1 MHz. This allows the microcontroller and RTC module to run from the clock movement’s 1.5 V AA battery. [Josh] estimates a current draw of about 6 μA per day, which works out to about 50 years from a single cell. That’s to be taken with a huge grain of salt, of course, but we expect the battery will last a long, long time.
[Josh] built this clock as part of the Low-Power Challenge contest, which wrapped up this week. We’re looking forward to the results of the contest — good luck to all the entrants!
Were it not for the thin sheath of water and carbon-based life covering it, our home planet would perhaps be best known as the “Silicon World.” More than a quarter of the mass of the Earth’s crust is silicon, and together with oxygen, the silicate minerals form about 90% of the thin shell of rock that floats on the Earth’s mantle. Silicon is the bedrock of our world, and it’s literally as common as dirt.
But just because we have a lot of it doesn’t mean we have much of it in its pure form. And it’s only in its purest form that silicon becomes the stuff that brought our world into the Information Age. Elemental silicon is very rare, though, and so getting appreciable amounts of the metalloid that’s pure enough to be useful requires some pretty energy- and resource-intensive mining and refining operations. These operations use some pretty interesting chemistry and a few neat tricks, and when scaled up to industrial levels, they pose unique challenges that require some pretty clever engineering to deal with.
Continue reading “Mining And Refining: Pure Silicon And The Incredible Effort It Takes To Get There”
Everybody loves solar power, right? It’s nice, clean, renewable energy that’s available pretty much everywhere the sun shines. If only the panels weren’t so expensive. Even better, solar is now the cheapest form of electricity for companies to build, according to the International Energy Agency. But solar isn’t all apples and sunshine — there’s a dark side you might not know about. Manufacturing solar panels is a dirty process from start to finish. Mining quartz for silicon causes the lung disease silicosis, and the production of solar cells uses a lot of energy, water, and toxic chemicals.
The other issue is that solar cells have a guanteed life expectancy of about 25 years, with average efficiency losses of 0.5% per year. If replacement begins after 25 years, time is running out for all the panels that were installed during the early 2000s boom. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA) projects that by 2050, we’ll be looking at 78 million metric tons of bulky e-waste. The IREA also believe that we’ll be generating six million metric tons of new solar e-waste every year by then, too. Unfortunately, there are hardly any measures in place to recycle solar panels, at least in the US.
How are solar panels made, anyway? And why is it so hard to recycle them? Let’s shed some light on the subject.
Continue reading “The Dark Side Of Solar Power”