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iStock

Scientists Figure Out How to Recycle Aluminum Foil Into an Ingredient for Biofuel

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iStock

A whole lot of aluminum foil ends up in landfills each year—some 22,000 tons in the UK alone. Like cans, aluminum foil can be recycled, but because we tend to use foil to pack food, that’s a tricky proposition. Many recycling centers won’t take dirty aluminum foil, since the contamination from greasy and oily food can damage recycling equipment. New research led by engineers at Queen's University Belfast in Northern Ireland has found another way to make use of that old aluminum foil, even if it does have food stuck to it.

As New Atlas reports, the study in Scientific Reports introduces a crystallization method that allows contaminated foil to be transformed into pure aluminum salt crystals. This can be turned into a chemical catalyst to make dimethyl ether, a biofuel that is considered a promising alternative energy source, especially to run diesel engines.

Essentially, the researchers dissolved the foil in a chemical solution that turned it into crystals, then used another chemical mixture to purify those crystals. The resulting 100 percent pure aluminum salts can be used to create alumina catalyst, a key ingredient for making dimethyl ether.

Alumina catalyst created by the tinfoil process would be cheaper than the current commercial version, according to a press release from the university. It costs about $72 per pound, compared to $183 per pound for the existing commercial catalyst.

In addition, the commercially available catalyst is made from bauxite ore, and like many materials that need to be mined from deep within the earth, obtaining bauxite is a resource-intensive process with major environmental costs. So if this technique lives up to its promise, the benefits of being able to recycle even food-soiled aluminum for a second use would be two-fold. It would save used aluminum from the landfill, and allow researchers to produce more of this biofuel without causing environmental harm.

[h/t New Atlas]

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MARS Bioimaging
The World's First Full-Color 3D X-Rays Have Arrived
MARS Bioimaging
MARS Bioimaging

The days of drab black-and-white, 2D X-rays may finally be over. Now, if you want to see what your broken ankle looks like in all its full-color, 3D glory, you can do so thanks to new body-scanning technology. The machine, spotted by BGR, comes courtesy of New Zealand-based manufacturer MARS Bioimaging.

It’s called the MARS large bore spectral scanner, and it uses spectral molecular imaging (SMI) to produce images that are fully colorized and in 3D. While visually appealing, the technology isn’t just about aesthetics—it could help doctors identify issues more accurately and provide better care.

Its pixel detectors, called “Medipix” chips, allow the machine to identify colors and distinguish between materials that look the same on regular CT scans, like calcium, iodine, and gold, Buzzfeed reports. Bone, fat, and water are also differentiated by color, and it can detect details as small as a strand of hair.

“It gives you a lot more information, and that’s very useful for medical imaging. It enables you to do a lot of diagnosis you can’t do otherwise,” Phil Butler, the founder/CEO of MARS Bioimaging and a physicist at the University of Canterbury, says in a video. “When you [have] a black-and-white camera photographing a tree with its leaves, you can’t tell whether the leaves are healthy or not. But if you’ve got a color camera, you can see whether they’re healthy leaves or diseased.”

The images are even more impressive in motion. This rotating image of an ankle shows "lipid-like" materials (like cartilage and skin) in beige, and soft tissue and muscle in red.

The technology took roughly a decade to develop. However, MARS is still working on scaling up production, so it may be some time before the machine is available commercially.

[h/t BGR]

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ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017
Look Closely—Every Point of Light in This Image Is a Galaxy
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017

Even if you stare closely at this seemingly grainy image, you might not be able to tell there’s anything to it besides visual noise. But it's not static—it's a sliver of the distant universe, and every little pinprick of light is a galaxy.

As Gizmodo reports, the image was produced by the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory, a space-based infrared telescope that was launched into orbit in 2009 and was decommissioned in 2013. Created by Herschel’s Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE) and Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS), it looks out from our galaxy toward the North Galactic Pole, a point that lies perpendicular to the Milky Way's spiral near the constellation Coma Berenices.

A close-up of a view of distant galaxies taken by the Herschel Space Observatory
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017

Each point of light comes from the heat of dust grains between different stars in a galaxy. These areas of dust gave off this radiation billions of years before reaching Herschel. Around 1000 of those pins of light belong to galaxies in the Coma Cluster (named for Coma Berenices), one of the densest clusters of galaxies in the known universe.

The longer you look at it, the smaller you’ll feel.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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