Terri-Jane Yuzda


Scientists Develop Explosives
Detector for Airports

Freelance Writer

A new boarding-pass analyzer may be able to identify an airline passenger who has been handling explosives, reports the Engineering News-Record (New York). About the size of a small copy machine, the device uses spectrometry to detect as little as a billionth of a gram of explosives such as TNT and nitroglycerine. These substances linger on the body for days and are easily transferred to things they touch - even a boarding pass.

Dr. Michael Kuliasha of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee developed the device with Mass Spec Analytical of England. Even if a person were wearing protective clothing while handling explosives, he says, the analyzer would likely make a detection. Although the scanners currently cost $250,000, commercialization is expected to drive the price down.

Plastic on the Range

Chemical Engineering (Washington, D.C.) reports that plastic has been produced in the leaves of alfalfa plants through genetic manipulation. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Science Research Unit in St. Paul, Minn., took several genes from Ralstonia, a bacterium that produces the plastic naturally, and incorporated them into the plant's tissues.

The biodegradable plastic, polyhydroxybutyrate, is quite brittle but might be used as a copolymer in consumer products and medical devices. Although yields so far are only 1.8 grams of plastic per dry kilogram of alfalfa, researchers think these can be improved.

The publication also reports that the first world-scale plant to produce commercial-grade plastic resins from biomass has opened in Blair, Neb. The Cargill Dow LLC plant uses a multi-step process in which dextrose is produced from corn, then fermented into lactic acid, converted to a lactide, purified by distillation, and then formed into polylactide with a catalyst. The polymer is used to make fibres, bottles and films.

Marketable Hydrogen Cells Developed

A fuel cell development company in New Jersey expects to start shipping 500-watt commercial products, Mechanical Engineering (New York) reports. The units, produced by H Power Corp. of Belleville, N.J., can be mounted in a standard equipment rack and have an output of 120 volts of alternating current at 60 Hz. The units use the standard compressed gas cylinders found in welding stores. They are designed for use as backup power for communications or industrial purposes.

Lightweight Composite Boosts Wind Turbines

A super-strong composite developed at Brigham Young University in Utah might allow construction of wind turbine towers up to three times the height of the steel towers typically installed today, reports Power Engineering (Tulsa, Okla.). The increase in turbine height could also increase the upper end of wind turbine capacity to as much as five megawatts from the current 1.5 to two megawatts.

The composite, called Pyramatrix, is the result of seven years of research by Dr. David Jensen and his civil engineering students. The substance is 91 per cent lighter than steel and 76 per cent lighter than aluminum. It owes its strength to its carbon-fibreglass filaments and geometry, with the composite woven into a variety of hollow lattices of reinforcing pyramids. The professor says the lower weight could mean significantly lower transportation and installation costs than those associated with tubular steel towers.

Let's Talk Turkey Power

The first U.S. powerplant to be fueled by poultry manure was expected to start construction by the end of 2002. The Engineering News-Record (New York) reports that the proposed $100-million plant, which recently received a draft air quality permit, would burn up to 500,000 tons of turkey manure a year.

The 50-megawatt plant, developed by a subsidiary of the U.K.-based Fibrowatt Group, will be designed and built by SNC Lavalin of Vancouver. Fibrowatt sees a growing demand for biomass plants due to concerns about runoff from large agricultural operations.

Home | Past PEGGs | PEGG Search | Contact Us