April 07, 2016

Bacteria batteries, super steel and other breakthroughs

By Chelsea German
From edible spoons and super-tough steel to batteries made out of bacteria, here are some of the recent news stories on potentially life-improving advances that stood out to me.

Bacteria batteries could boost solar power

Scientists at Wageningen University in the Netherlands have created a fully rechargeable battery made out of bacteria which could make solar power more viable. The limits of current power storage technology have hindered solar power, but the scientists hope to change that by using two different kinds of bacteria to store electricity in salt acetate. They charged the battery for over 16 hours, and then discharged it over the next 8 hours, simulating the rhythm of the solar electricity power cycle, and successfully repeated that process 15 times.

Record-shattering steel alloy withstands intense impacts

In California, engineers created and successfully tested a new kind of steel with a record-breaking ability to hold up against intense impacts without deformation. The Californian steel is able to endure stress and pressure up to 12.5 giga-Pascals, the equivalent of around 125,000 atmospheres. This new alloy has the potential to improve everything from drill bits to body armor to meteor-resistant satellite casings.
Edible, biodegradable cutlery invented in India

An Indian entrepreneur, Narayana Peesapathy, created edible spoons made out of millet, rice and wheat that come in different flavors. India is the world’s top consumer of disposable plastic cutlery, and his goal was to market an environmentally friendly alternative that will not end up in a landfill. His spoons have a shelf-life of three years. Even if the spoons are not eaten, they will decompose within days of being removed from their packaging.  

New tech describes images on social media to the blind

Facebook is helping the blind gain better access to social media. The blind and visually impaired use tools called “screen readers” to read online text to them, but screen readers can’t identify and describe the content of images. Facebook is fixing that with Automatic Alternative Text, which is able to provide blind users with a general image description, such as, “This image may contain: two people, smiling, sunglasses, sky, outdoor, water.”