Science has given way to some pretty awesome advancements in the past few years. In almost every field, technology has given us new gizmos and gadgets, from virtual reality headsets to 3D printers. Sometimes these new advancements peter out (like Google Glass, RIP), but whether they stick around or disappear, they help us move forward.
1. MIT Creates “Power Sponge,” Contests Batteries
All of our tech, though, has to get its energy from somewhere. Batteries power all of the tech we hold dear, even the smartphones that have been exploding all over us. Without batteries, we wouldn’t have most of our favorite gadgets, from wireless mice to high-powered laptops.
However, batteries are flawed, as Samsung can attest. They can catch fire, they aren’t easy to dispose of, and they drain fairly easily.
MIT may have found an unlikely rival to our lithium-ion friends, according to CNET. These “conducive metal-organic frameworks” create a sponge-like structure, and could help power the next generation of electric cars. These power sponges offer much more surface area than traditional batteries, which makes them a supercapacitor. True, we already have carbon supercapacitors, but these sponges already outrank them in “key” areas, CNET reported.
Plus, carbon supercapacitors need chemicals and high temperatures to be useful, and MIT’s power sponge is a cleaner alternative, reported CNET. The sponges can store huge amounts of energy, even compared to carbon supercapacitors, and might play a large role in spreading renewable energy far and wide, according to MIT’s release.
With any luck, these new batteries will be powering Tesla’s next generation of vehicles. Time will tell what Elon Musk thinks about power sponges. Tech entrepreneurs like Musk have brought electric vehicles out into the open and made them desirable, much like how he later popularized the idea of colonizing Mars.
2. Obama Says We’re Going to Mars
Our government isn’t far behind Musk, with President Obama himself telling the world that America will “take the giant leap” to Mars. In an October 11 speech, Obama said “The next step is to reach beyond the bounds of Earth’s orbit. I’m excited to announce that we are working with our commercial partners to build new habitats that can sustain and transport astronauts on long-duration missions in deep space.” Obama goes on to say that we’ll need to know how humans can survive away from Earth in order to make the “long journey to Mars.”
He called the next generation of students “the Mars generation,” and said that they will have to be taught well if they will be bringing the human race to Mars.
Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, probably loved Obama’s speech on Mars. The private sector — companies like SpaceX — will have to lend a huge hand in space exploration in the coming years.
3. Space Might be Privatized
NASA knows this, and sent out a survey back in July asking private companies how they would use their very own launch bay on the International Space Station. The submissions were purely hypothetical, of course, and wouldn’t guarantee any companies their own launch bay on the ISS… but the hypothetical turned into reality when NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced that private companies will actually be able to add their own habitat modules to the outside of the ISS, according to The Verge.
This opportunity will allow private companies to, eventually, get the experience and knowledge required to create their very own space stations, reported The Verge. Bolden said that these companies had ideas that might benefit NASA and the private sector both, but he didn’t specify which companies he was talking about.
Private companies teaming up with NASA to explore space is going to be interesting, but space can give us more than a frontier to explore. Our sun, for example, can give us warmth and light… and a lot of untapped energy.
4. Our Roads Might Become Solar Panels
Solar panels have been cropping up more and more to help homes and businesses keep the lights on without running up a high electric bill, but the panels leave a bit to be desired. According to Fortune, an American company called SunPower currently holds the record for most efficient solar panel. The panels convert 24.1% of the light that hits their surface into energy. That’s the world record — 24.1%. Thanks to the sun hanging out in the sky every day, solar panels can still provide quite a bit of green energy, but how can the world install the huge number of panels necessary to make a dent in our communal carbon footprint? It seems an impossible task.
Not to Solar Roadways, a company that dreamed up roads lined with solar tiles. Back in 2009, the company got a hefty $100,000 contract from the U.S. Department of Energy, and they have been working tirelessly ever since. Originally, Endgadget reported that the tiles might not actually amount to anything, but they ate those words when Solar Roadways began their first public test of the panels in Idaho. The tiles aren’t really part of a roadway yet, but will grace a city sidewalk in Sandpoint, Idaho as a display and a test, reported Endgadget. The tiles will be shown off in Baltimore, Maryland and Conway, Missouri next, according to the City of Sandpoint’s website.
The solar road tiles are exciting for a few reasons, the biggest being that they’re actually a viable option for our roadways. They combine LED lights, solar cells, tempered glass and a heating element in hexagonal tiles that are strong enough to hold a semi-trailer truck, according to Endgadget. The tiles can operate and remain safe in the snow, thanks to heating elements, and the LEDs can serve several purposes, from entertainment to replacing road signs. They can even alert drivers to road hazards.
In the same week, Poland unveiled their own glowing solar-powered path. This time it’s a bike path, however, and is built with luminophores — chemicals that “ingest light” instead of LEDs, reported TechCrunch. The chemicals allow the path to glow blue at night and stay lit for bikers for up to 10 hours.
This Polish bike path, like the solar road tiles in Idaho, is more of a test than anything. The tech firm that made the path, TPA sp. z o.o, expects this sort of engineering to translate to larger projects like highways in the future, according to TechCrunch. The bike path is simply a way to see how to the technology works in the real world.
Poland’s solar bike path and Idaho’s solar tiles are putting the world on the road to greener energy solutions. However, clean energy isn’t the only solution the world needs.
5. Realistic Meat-Less Meat is a Real Thing, and it Even Bleeds
Mass food production, specifically meat related food production, CNET reported, poses a worldwide problem. Almost 18,000 gallons of water goes to drinking, processing and feed irrigation so that just one pound of beef can be consumed.
To help with this, Impossible Foods has created a meatless burger so realistic it actually bleeds. All of the ingredients in these burgers are lab-grown, which creates less of an environmental footprint, CNET reported. The burger is incredibly realistic, mimicking the flavor, texture and consistency of real beef. Impossible Foods has given thought to every ingredient in the “meat,” like wheat protein adding “muscle tissue that gives meat the chew” or coconut oil having “the same melting property as tallow in an animal,” Celeste Holtz-Schietinger told CNET. The hyper-realistic “meat” is marketed to meat eaters and foodies rather than vegetarians and vegans, according to CNET.
Until recently, the burger could only be eaten in New York City at Momofuku Nishi for $12. Now, Impossible Foods has cast a wider net. You can taste an Impossible Foods burger in San Francisco at Jardiniere for $16 or Cockscomb for $19, or in Los Angeles at Crossroads Kitchen for $14. The company is expanding its research to more meat and dairy products, reported CNET, but isn’t releasing details just yet.
For those nay-sayers out there: Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin, and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel have all invested in Impossible Foods. The company has already received $183 million in discolsed funding, CNET reported.