RE: Research January 2010

Your Next iPhone App: Keeping Current in the FactoryThis may be one occasion when playing with your iPhone at work is justified.

Your Next iPhone App: Keeping Current in the Factory

This may be one occasion when playing with your iPhone at work is justified. Chalmers University in Sweden and Volvo are developing assembly line tools that allow workers to access all equipment operation instructions and manuals through their iPhones. Assembly operators are currently testing iPhone and/or iPodTouch-based manuals at the Volvo Trucks pilot assembly plant: this allows them, for example, to download instructions for the truck chassis assembly tasks, just like any iPhone app. Consuming less paper would be one benefit to plants, but instantly updating late and rapidly changing production needs is the more immediate benefit.

Tree Tires

It’s only natural to turn to trees for a greener tire.

Scientists at Oregon State University replaced 12% of the energy-intensive silica that’s used as a reinforcing filler in rubber tires with microcrystalline cellulose, which can be derived from waste wood or plant material. Including the bio-material additive lowered the energy required to compound the rubber composite and improved its heat resistance, while maintaining tensile strength, the researchers say.

Cellulose fiber is already found in vehicles as an additive in belts, hoses, and insulation, but it has not graduated to tire-grade rubber. The scientists say the wood fillers are light, renewable, and above all, cheap.

Early traction testing for treaded tires with the bio-additive shows them performing on par with existing rubber tire technology in wet and hot conditions, according to the OSU material scientists.

Eco Fuel Combo Meal: Fat, Chicken Feathers, and Hydrogen

Chips—or “French fries” as they’re know on this side of the Atlantic—could be an efficient source for hydrogen vehicles. They’ve developed a process to pull pure hydrogen from waste vegetable oil and glycerol, a byproduct of biodiesel, for fuel-cell vehicles. The system is known as “unmixed and sorption-enhanced steam reforming,” and it blends waste product with steam in a catalytic reactor to release hydrogen.

Meanwhile, scientists at the University of Delaware report that carbonized chicken feather fibers may be an ideal hydrogen storage substance. The chicken feather fibers are made of keratin, a natural protein that forms strong, hollow tubes. When they are heated, the proteins strengthen and become more porous. The scientists say the substance can store more hydrogen than carbon nanotubes or metal hydrides. Richard P. Wool, a professor of chemical engineering and director of the Affordable Composites from Renewable Resources program at the University of Delaware in Newark, says using carbonized chicken feathers would add about $200 to the price of a car. The scientists say a 20-gallon hydrogen fuel tank that uses carbon nanotubes could cost $5.5 million and one that uses metal hydrides could cost up to $30,000. The scientists also estimate a fuel cell car with a 75-gallon hydrogen storage tank fortified with chicken feathers could go 300 miles, although Wool notes the range needs improvement.