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KIT/NeptunLab

New Process Will Allow You to 3D Print Glass on Demand

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KIT/NeptunLab

The surge in affordable 3D printing in recent years has allowed hobbyists to craft everything from customized toys to hair to prosthetic duck feet, with the only limit being the creator's imagination. Now, researchers in Germany are close to achieving a technique that could revolutionize both 3D applications and glassmaking by giving us the power to 3D print glass.

In a study published in Nature this week, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) investigator Dr. Bastian Rapp presented a way of manufacturing a “liquid glass” that can be manipulated with 3D printing software and then heated until it’s a useful solid. (Normal glass consists of melted sand made from sheets in molten tin vats.) By making the glass dispensable through 3D printing nozzles, Rapp believes we’ll soon be able to 3D print glass that’s of sufficient quality for lenses, mirrors, and even drinking cups.

Previous attempts to conceive of a new way of glass production via 3D printers haven’t resulted in glass smooth enough for widespread use, according to The New York Times. Rapp’s method, called stereolithography, uses glass nanoparticles and suspends them in a liquid that hardens under UV light. As the printer shapes whatever design the software calls for, the light turns the liquid into a solid; a final step in a heated oven further solidifies the glass and burns off any excess materials.

The end result is said to be identical to commercial silica glass. It’s expected that the process could make glass as prolific an element in 3D printing as plastic.

The glass is also clear enough that its potential uses include the kind of fine glass needed for commercial applications like smartphone lenses or computing-based components. And because software is able to create these elaborate designs and shapes, as opposed to time-consuming human effort, observers believe it will be substantially cheaper.

As part of their proof of concept, KIT ran off tiny glass pretzels, a honeycomb, and miniature castles to demonstrate the level of detail available with the technology. In normal glassmaking, acids and chemicals are typically needed to etch designs and shapes.

KIT asserts that this type of 3D printed glass doesn’t require specialized equipment and is feasible with conventional printers, though it will probably be some time before the technology becomes widely used. When it does, the applications will likely go well beyond expensive technology production; Dr. Rapp envisions a day when dropped glasses or smashed flower vases will be easily replaced with a quick 3D solution.

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LaCroix
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Food
The Secret Ingredient That Makes LaCroix Water So Irresistible
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LaCroix

The distinctive Technicolor cans of LaCroix sparkling water are an increasingly popular sight in stores and on kitchen tables around the country. (If you're old enough to remember the Snapple phenomenon of the 1990s, this is like that—just bubbly.) But as The Wall Street Journal recently pointed out, few of the beverage's loyal fans have any idea what it is they're drinking.

LaCroix comes in a variety of flavors, from tangerine to coconut. The can label, however, is cryptic, listing "natural flavors" as part of the ingredients. Their website discloses only that "natural essence oils" are involved, which sounds like LaCroix should be applied to your hair and then rinsed off.

A look at the nutritional information for LaCroix water
LaCroix

As it turns out, that's not too far off. According to The Wall Street Journal, these "essences" are naturally produced chemicals that are manufactured by heating up fruit or vegetable remnants until they make a vapor, then condensing them into a clear concentrate. They're used in a variety of consumer products, from shampoos to ice pops.

LaCroix was unwilling to confirm the Journal's claim, protecting their manufacturing process in a manner similar to Coca-Cola's famously secretive treatment of their recipe. They do state that no sugars are added, but that may not be enough to protect your teeth: Carbonated water and citric acids can combine to create a lower pH, which has a detrimental effect on tooth enamel. Like most everything that tastes good, these flavored waters are best enjoyed in moderation.

[h/t The Wall Street Journal]

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iStock
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gross
London's Sewer-Blocking 'Fatbergs' Are Going to Be Turned Into Biodiesel
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iStock

UK officials can't exactly transform the Whitechapel fatberg—a 143-ton trash mass lurking in London's sewer system—into treasure, but they can turn it into fuel. As The Guardian reports, Scottish biodiesel producer Argent Energy plans to convert parts of the noxious blockage into an environmentally friendly energy source.

For the uninitiated, fatbergs (which get their names from a portmanteau of "fat" and "icebergs") are giant, solid blobs of congealed fat, oil, grease, wet wipes, and sanitary products. They form in sewers when people dump cooking byproducts down drains, or in oceans when ships release waste products like palm oil. These sticky substances combine with floating litter to form what could be described as garbage heaps on steroids.

Fatbergs wash up on beaches, muck up city infrastructures, and are sometimes even removed with cranes from sewer pipes as a last resort. Few—if any—fatbergs, however, appear to be as potentially lethal as the one workers recently discovered under London's Whitechapel neighborhood. In a news release, private utility company Thames Water described the toxic mass as "one of the largest ever found, with the extreme rock-solid mass of wet wipes, nappies, fat and oil weighing the same as 11 double-decker buses."

Ick factor aside, the Whitechapel fatberg currently blocks a stretch of Victorian sewer more than twice the length of two fields from London's Wembley Stadium. Engineers with jet hoses are working seven days a week to break up the fatberg before sucking it out with tankers. But even with high-pressure streams, the job is still akin to "trying to break up concrete," says Matt Rimmer, Thames Water's head of waste networks.

The project is slated to end in October. But instead of simply disposing of the Whitechapel fatberg, officials want to make use of it. Argent Energy—which has in the past relied on sources like rancid mayonnaise and old soup stock—plans to process fatberg sludge into more than 2600 gallons of biodiesel, creating "enough environmentally friendly energy to power 350 double-decker Routemaster buses for a day," according to Thames Water.

"Even though they are our worst enemy, and we want them dead completely, bringing fatbergs back to life when we do find them in the form of biodiesel is a far better solution for everyone," said company official Alex Saunders.

In addition to powering buses, the Whitechapel fatberg may also become an unlikely cultural touchstone: The Museum of London is working with Thames Water to acquire a chunk of the fatberg, according to BBC News. The waste exhibit will represent just one of the many challenges facing cities, and remind visitors that they are ultimately responsible for the fatberg phenomenon.

"When it comes to preventing fatbergs, everyone has a role to play," Rimmer says. "Yes, a lot of the fat comes from food outlets, but the wipes and sanitary items are far more likely to be from domestic properties. The sewers are not an abyss for household rubbish."

[h/t The Guardian]

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