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Supplier Stories for the Week of July 28

Placon was recently recognized as an AmeriStar award winner in the Medical Device award category for its design for the ORTHOFIX Medical Tray. The design suspends a set of HA-coated medical device screws, preventing abrasion or rubbing off of the critical coating that needs to be on each screw for proper medical operating room usage, Placon reported in a news release. The company was also recognized for designs sumitted in the "Household" and "Saves Food - Foodservice" categories.“Our design team continues to lead the industry to innovative packaging design in the retail, food, and medical markets," said Dan Mohs, Placon’s Chairman and CEO, in the release. "The 2019 AmeriStar awards validate this leadership and serve as reminder that packaging break-through is a result of collaboration with customers. We are helping our customers find new packaging solutions that bring long-term success for their products and brands.” [Image courtesy of PLACON]

Throwback Thursday: Is Plastic Man bound for the cineplex?

Throwback Thursday: Is Plastic Man bound for the cineplex?

With Avengers: Endgame now the highest grossing movie of all time, Hollywood’s best and brightest are looking high and low for the next big spandexed thing. For your consideration: Plastic Man.

Police Comics with Plastic Man

Granted he’s not part of the superhero pantheon, but neither was Ant Man, and that didn’t stop the movies from making beaucoup bucks at the box office. Plus, given today’s rampant anti-plastics mood, Plastic Man could be the ultimate misunderstood hero. You think Spider-Man can’t catch a break with the Daily Bugle? Wait until the local left-leaning newspaper in Plastic Man’s hometown unmasks the hidden corporatist motives of this would-be do-gooder. Plot points aside, these are not idle thoughts: A Plastic Man movie is in development.

In December 2018, the Hollywood Reporter broke the story that Warner Bros. had hired screenwriter Amanda Idoko to pen the script for a “comedic action-adventure” film based on the character. The scuttlebutt is that it will mine similar turf to Deadpool, which makes sense since humor was always in the Plastic Man mix.

From crooked beginnings to polymorphous superhero

Plastic Man was created by Jack Cole and first appeared in Police Comics #1, published by Quality Comics, in 1941. Quality Comics folded in 1956, and DC Comics acquired some of its assets, including Plastic Man. He briefly had his own comic book in the 1960s, and would pop up here and there over the decades. He even had his own Saturday morning cartoon show, but Plastic Man never achieved A-list status.

Even if you’ve never read a Plastic Man comic book—and you’re in good company—you can easily guess what his superpower might be. Slightly more skewed is his origin story.

Orphaned as a child, Patrick “Eel” O’Brian fell into a life of crime at an early age. During a bungled burglary, Eel is shot and doused with a mysterious chemical. His partners flee the scene of the crime while Eel stumbles out of the city and somehow finds himself under the care of a monk, who sees the potential for great good in the criminal. During this time, Eel notices that his body has undergone some molecular changes and has the properties of rubber. As described on the Comic Vine website, his powers include changing body density at will, being able to stretch his limbs and body to seemingly infinite lengths and sizes and even regenerating body parts, although that process is a bit more complicated.

Whether or not Plastic Man will ever emerge from development and bounce onto the silver screen is anyone’s guess, but the project has created some buzz in Hollywood. “I think what Ryan Reynolds and Tim Miller did with Deadpool, you could have a funny superhero in DC,” Ben Schwartz of the TV show Parks and Recreation told at CinemaCon in Las Vegas. “Shazam! just did it and I think it’s gonna be great. That’s it, I just love [Plastic Man] a lot. I think I’d get to be goofy if I ever got the chance to do it.”

And in case a producer or someone else working on the project happens to be reading this, I have an idea for a theme song. It goes like this: Plastic Man, Plastic Man; does whatever a plastic can . . . .

I’m not quite done with the lyrics but the song has a ring to it, right? Call me.

Image: Artwork by Gill Fox, published by Quality Comics.

Researchers Invent New Dynamic Material for 3D Printing

Researchers have developed what they hope will be a new class of synthetic materials with similar dynamic properties as those found in nature for myriad applications, including 3D printing, other types of manufacturing, and recycling.

new dynamic material, 3D printing
Researchers have developed what they hope will be a new class of synthetic materials with dynamic properties that change in response to light and dark conditions. (Image source: Queensland University of Technology)

A team from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia as well as Belgium’s Ghent University (UGent) and Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) created the synthetic materials, which have reversible polymer properties in response to environmental stimuli—in this case, a green LED light and then darkness, researchers said.

While materials that respond to light already have been invented, researchers said what makes the materials his team developed different is that light is used as the trigger to stabilize, rather than destroy, chemical bonds. For this reason, the team came up with a new name for the materials—light-stabilized dynamic materials (LSDMs).

“We are hoping to introduce LSDMs as a whole new class of materials,” Hannes Houck, who worked on the research while completing a PhD at QUT, said in a press statement.

The Opposite of Normal Chemistry

Specifically, researchers created the material using naphthalenes—a chemical well known for its use in moth repellents--and the coupling molecules triazolinediones (TADs), they said.

The interaction between the material and the stimuli is the opposite of what normally happens in chemistry, which makes their work rather unique in terms of materials science, researchers said in paper published about the work in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

“Typically, you use different wavelengths of light or additional heat or harsh chemicals to break up the polymer molecule chains that form a network structure,” researchers wrote.

Unique Reaction

In this case, however, the team used a green LED light to stabilize the network, and a “mild” trigger to break up the network, make it collapse, and flow away, the said—darkness. “Switch the light back on and the material re-hardens and retains its strength and stability,” researchers wrote.

“This is what you call an out-of-equilibrium chemical system,” researchers explained in the paper. “The constant energy of the green light keeps the chemical system in this bonded form, pushing it out of its equilibrium. Take away the light, and the system goes back to its relaxed, lowest energy state.” 

Researchers said they could repeat the material’s switch from hard to pliable with the flick of a switch, and dimming the light could modulate the mechanical properties of the material.

Using a Light-stabilized Scaffold

Applications for the material include as a 3D-printing ink to print temporary, easy-to-remove support scaffolds, which would help enable the printing of free-hanging structures that is currently limited by the typical layer-by-layer fabrication process, researchers said.

“What you need to 3D print something like a bridge is a support scaffold, a second ink that provides that scaffold during printing of the design, but which you can later remove when it is no longer needed,” QUT macromolecular chemist and Professor Christopher Barner-Kowollik said in a press statement. “With a light-stabilized dynamic ink used as a scaffold you could 3D print under light, then switch the light off to let the scaffold ink flow away.”

Another potential use for LSDMs could be as a cell-biology study tool, with biologists using it as a cell surface support they could alter by light modulation without damaging the cells.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.


Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!


New Technology Could Generate Electricity From Wastewater And Seawater

Researchers at Stanford University have developed a “mixing entropy battery” (MEB) that can harness energy from the mixing of fresh and salt water. The energy created this way is sometimes called “blue energy.” According to a Stanford news release, the team’s objective is to apply the technology to coastal wastewater treatment plants and to use the electricity generated to make the plants energy-independent and carbon-neutral.

“Blue energy is an immense and untapped source of renewable energy,” said Kristian Dubrawski, a postdoctoral scholar in civil and environmental engineering at Stanford. “Our battery is a major step toward practically capturing that energy without membranes, moving parts or energy input.”

Development of a mixing entropy battery (MEB) depends upon the motion of sodium and chlorine ions from seawater into and out of inexpensive electrode materials. (Image source: Stanford)


The Stanford battery isn’t the only technology available to capture blue energy, but it’s the first to use battery electrochemistry instead of pressure or membranes. The present work is based on earlier research at Stanford that tapped into salt gradients to produce electricity, but that effort required an expensive electrode made from silver, and an initial energy input to begin the process.

The new Stanford battery floods a tank with salt-free water (which can be wastewater effluent. The tank contains electrodes which release sodium ions (Na+) and chlorine ions (Cl–) from the electrodes into the solution. This motion of ions also causes a current to flow from the anionic electrode to the cationic electrode. Then, a rapid exchange of the wastewater effluent with seawater allows the electrodes to reincorporate the sodium and chloride ions, reversing the electric current flow. Energy is recovered during both the freshwater and seawater flushes. This means that the battery is constantly discharging and recharging without needing any input of energy. As reported in a paper in the journal ACS Publications, energy is recovered during both the freshwater flush (43.6% of the total energy recovered) and the seawater flush (56.4% of the total energy recovered), with no upfront energy investment.

Unlike the earlier effort, that used expensive materials as the electrodes, this new MEB is cost-effective. The electrodes in the new MEB are made with Prussian Blue, a material widely used as a pigment and medicine, that costs less than $1 a kilogram, and polypyrrole, a material used experimentally in batteries and other devices, which sells for less than $3 a kilogram in bulk. The materials are relatively robust and a polyvinyl alcohol and sulfosuccinic acid coating protects the electrodes from corrosion when in contact with seawater.

Wastewater a Good Starting Point

Wastewater treatment is a good starting point for a practical application of the Stanford MEB study. The water treatment process is energy-intensive, accounting for about three percent of the total US electrical load. If sufficient blue energy could be generated by an MEB system, a wastewater treatment plant could be self-sufficient and operate off the grid.

According to the Stanford news release, “The researchers tested a prototype of the battery, monitoring its energy production while flushing it with alternating hourly exchanges of wastewater effluent from the Palo Alto Regional Water Quality Control Plant and seawater collected nearby from Half Moon Bay. Over 180 cycles, battery materials maintained 97 percent effectiveness in capturing the salinity gradient energy.” The team also reported that every cubic meter of freshwater that mixes with seawater produces about .65 kilowatt-hours of energy – enough to power the average American house for about 30 minutes. If the 68% efficiency achieved in a small prototype MEB can be achieved at full-scale, the energy produced would be sufficient to meet much or even all of the electrical energy demands for a conventional wastewater treatment plant.

“It is a scientifically elegant solution to a complex problem,” Dubrawski said. “It needs to be tested at scale, and it doesn’t address the challenge of tapping blue energy at the global scale – rivers running into the ocean – but it is a good starting point that could spur these advances.”

The Battery Show and Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology Expo 2019 conference will take place in Novi, Michigan on September 10-12, 2019. Four days, eight tracks, and over 80 sessions, curated by industry experts will bring battery and electric vehicle technologies into clear focus.

Senior Editor Kevin Clemens has been writing about energy, automotive, and transportation topics for more than 30 years. He has masters degrees in Materials Engineering and Environmental Education and a doctorate degree in Mechanical Engineering, specializing in aerodynamics. He has set several world land speed records on electric motorcycles that he built in his workshop.


Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!