By Stacey Bleistein Reference Librarian Post University Traurig Library firstname.lastname@example.org
Air. It seems so simple that we often take for granted all of its chemical composites. While almost the entire atmosphere of Earth is comprised of five gasses (i.e. Argon, Carbon Dioxide, Nitrogen, Oxygen, and water vapor), there are also 11 others in the air that we breathe: Ammonia, Carbon Monoxide, Helium, Hydrogen, Iodine, Krypton, Methane, Neon, Nitrogen Dioxide, Ozone, and Xenon (Helmenstine, 2013). The extraction of any one of these gasses in mass quantities could give the magical illusion of making something out of nothing: Think dehumidifier.
Newlight Technologies, a small biotech company in Orange County, California, is making such magic by targeting and extracting Methane and Carbon-containing gasses in the air to create AirCarbonTM, an environmentally friendly thermoplastic that requires no oil, corn, or other food crops to manufacture, and is biodegradable. Their proprietary process quite literally turns air pollution into usable air plastics—tiny pellets that are able to be made into filaments, films, or even objects.
Mark Herrema and Kenton Kimmel, the co-founders of Newlight Technologies, are driven to have their “clean, cost effective, and carbon-negative” GHG-to-PlasticTM process “replace oil-based plastics with air-based plastics on a global, market-driven basis…[capturing] enough carbon to stabilize and end climate change” (Newlight Technologies, 2013). Because of their green innovation, Newlight Technologies have garnered accolades including R&D Magazine’s “R&D 100” award, the American Business Awards’ “Gold Stevie” and “Most Innovative Company of the Year” awards, as well as having AirCarbonTM named “Biomaterial of the Year” in April 2013 (WKRG.Com News, 2013).
Just think of the magic that could be made if biotech pioneers like this partnered with other tech avant-gardes like Brooklyn-based MakerBot Industries, makers of three-dimensional digitizers and printers. The MakerBot 3D printers create objects using plastic thread, or filament. If AirCarbonTM plastic filaments were made to be compatible with MakerBot printers, everyday MakerSpace users really would be creating objects out of thin air. Voila!
Speaking of molecular magic, scientists are already developing other exciting applications for 3D printers. The next time you have a hankering for some chocolate, pancakes, pasta, or burritos, consider placing your food order with a 3D food printer near you. They might be difficult to come by—considering only 68,000 consumer models have been sold thus far (Jacobs, 2013)—but if you’re willing to wait several hours (or days, depending on the complexity of your meal selection), you can program a 3D printer to extrude food pastes into something marginally edible! You can even eat your face with one MIT researcher’s face-scanning-chocolate-replicating application. Yum!
Most amazing of all, however, is the medical innovation that scientists are applying to 3D printing technology. Instead of plastic or food-paste filaments, doctors are experimenting with human tissue printing, in some cases replicating functional human organs. Luke Massella, ayoung man from Connecticut, was in need of a new bladder. Dr. Anthony Atala printed Luke a new bladder using filament from Luke’s own cells, in the hopes of reducing the chances of transplant rejection. 12 Years later, Luke is a healthy adult thanks to 3D printing.References:
Helmenstine,Anne Marie. (2013). “What is the chemical composition of air?” Retrieved from http://chemistry.about.com/od/chemistryfaqs/f/aircomposition.htm