From biodegradable plastics to humanoid robots, a new wave of emerging technologies is on the horizon that have the potential to provide major benefits to societies and economies in the years to come, a new World Economic Forum (WEF) report said. An international Steering Committee of leading technology experts identified this year's "Top 10 Emerging Technologies" -- humanoid (and animaloid) robots designed to socialize with people; a system for pinpointing the source of a food-poisoning outbreak in seconds and minuscule lenses that will pave the way for diminutive cameras and other devices, among others. "Technologies that are emerging today will soon be shaping the world tomorrow and well into the future – with impacts to economies and to society at large," said Mariette DiChristina, Editor-in-Chief of Scientific American, and chair of the Emerging Technologies Steering Committee. Bioplastics are advanced solvents and enzymes that are transforming woody wastes into better biodegradable plastics. Like standard plastics derived from petrochemicals, biodegradable versions consist of polymers (long-chain molecules) that can be moulded while in their fluid state into a variety of forms.
A form of environmentally friendly plastic made from straw could soon be used in disposable bottles and other packaging after a breakthrough by British scientists. They have found a way to'edit' the genes of a microbe to speed up the conversion of plant material into bioplastics that break down naturally. They say using 5 per cent of the annual straw yield or 3 per cent of sugar beet crops, for example, would allow half of the 17billion plastic water bottles used in the country to be made with the biodegradable material. The bioplastic is made from lignin, the rigid material that keeps trees and plants standing. The same process could also use molecules from sugar, instead of oil, to make plastic.
Scientists have taken a major step towards reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, which could eventually save cash. For the first time, researchers managed to break down raw biomass - plant material - without using chemicals. It produced record amounts of clean liquid hydrocarbon fuel, and is an important development in a shift towards renewable energy, the scientists said. Scientists have taken a major step towards reducing our reliance on fossil fuels (stock image). For the first time, researchers managed to break down raw biomass - plant material - without using chemicals.
A new type of modified wood that can trap heat and then release it when needed could help buildings cut down on their energy use. Scientists say that the revolutionary material, which is biodegradable, can bear heavy loads and could open the door for'eco-friendly' homes and other buildings. The researchers, from KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, produced technically transparent wood, which allows light to pass through it. They did this by removing a light-absorbing component called lignin from the wood's cell walls and adding polyethylene glycol (PEG), which stores heat. After adding acrylic - which stops the light from bouncing around - into the porous wood, the resulting material is physically strong and and virtually clear.
In the closing weeks of 2008, the US Department of Energy invited politicians and press to a dedication ceremony for the Joint BioEnergy Institute in Emeryville, California. The state-of-the-art lab, backed by $125 million in federal funding, filled the top floor of a glimmering glass office building that reflected the grand hopes for advanced biofuels. "It's bringing together the best people in one location to work on what might be one of the most significant challenges of our time," said Jay Keasling, a synthetic biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and chief executive of the research institute. The mission of JBEI (pronounced "jay-bay") was to produce cheap biofuels from cellulosic sources, meaning the leaves and stems of plants like switchgrass rather than the grains of food crops like corn. The lab aimed to move beyond ethanol, striving to create carbon-neutral fuels that could fill the tanks of standard cars, planes, ships, and trucks.