Recycling haul
February 9, 2024 2:36 PM   Subscribe

Linkfest on recycling or recyclability research and approaches: Pulpatronics makes RFID tags out of scorch marks on paper. Turbine blade maker Vestas may have figured out how to recycle the epoxy in epoxy-carbon-fiber. California museum Exploratorium uses and re-uses machinery from the Bay Area's history, which become part of the exhibits. A polymer analagous to porphyrin is good at collecting gold and platinum from acid-cleaned circuit boards. A plastics-back-to-polymers technique with a new factory opening ?soon?.
posted by clew (15 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Oh! And a poo-based one because we-all usually enjoy those. Zapping manure; maybe a good high-supply-use for rural renewable power.
posted by clew at 2:49 PM on February 9

From the Zapping Manure press release, a golden opportunity missed. ...

While the strategy still needs to be scaled up beyond proof-poop-of-concept stage ...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:22 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]

Thanks much for the Exploratorium machinery link! I love that place. I was down in SF in the early 90s for a trade conference, and there was a reception at the Exploratorium. Wandering around, enjoying the exhibits ... a 12 yr old again, but this time with a beer buzz.

My friend has been dragging me to a weekly open-house at a maker space. Like in that Exploratorium story, this place also has a small collection of salvaged or donated industrial machinery - lathes, mills, CNC machines, etc.

I am still an unapologetic dumpster-diver/curbside scavenger when the opportunities present themselves, but Mrs C has imposed storage limits, so I can't justify bringing home anything new unless it's immediately useful. Stuff that can't be repaired gets stripped down ASAP; interesting bits are saved, then the remainders are properly sorted and streamed into recycling (metals, electronic boards, plastics, etc) or cleaned waste.

Truth to tell, I enjoy disassembling stuff, period. I am a microbe of mechanical decomposition, an earthworm in technology's graveyard.
posted by Artful Codger at 3:32 PM on February 9 [7 favorites]

Since you have Manure Zapping, don't forget Number One!

Vermont based Rich Earth Institute is making big strides in community scale recycling human urine for Agricultural uses.
posted by wowenthusiast at 3:35 PM on February 9 [5 favorites]

Artful, I do similar scavenging work, and I love the mechanical decomposition analogy. There is a ton of useful technology that is being dumped every day. I've been harvesting microcontrollers from disposable COVID tests, and it's just wild what we've decided is acceptable to chuck. The other day I found one that's a perfectly serviceable bluetooth beacon, complete with battery. There's nothing about these boards that aren't reusable; the real issues are the lack of infrastructure for sorting and returning ewaste in any real quantity, and a lack of policy requiring manufacturers to accept their discarded products.
posted by phooky at 6:24 PM on February 9 [4 favorites]

Turbine blade maker Vestas may have figured out how to recycle the epoxy in epoxy-carbon-fiber.

To the extent that the blades are recycled here, I believe it is by grinding them up and using the product for fiber-reinforced concrete. So another, perhaps more effective approach seems very positive.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:20 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]

The anti wind-energy lobbies have long paraded photos of retired turbine blades in landfill or storage in their propaganda (as if retired coal-fired plants and abandoned fossil fuel infrastructure has no footprint).

I've always believed that the blades could find some reuse, so those landfills are just storage, til someone starts paying for the material.

More info on turning turbine blades into cement.
posted by Artful Codger at 8:03 PM on February 9

This Is Why We Don't Recycle Wind Turbine Blades (Engineering With Rosie, Piped/YouTube , 18m1s)

That's a really good overview of the issues.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 9:27 PM on February 9

The piece about paper RFID tags blew my mind. That alone has such huge potential. And, having grown up hearing all the dismissive jokes about art school (because my dad worked in one), I love that it came from "a group of design graduates from London's Royal College of Art".
posted by rory at 1:40 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]

No longer are we limited to etching our runes of power onto silicon, they now work on paper as well! It's good to see practical magic progressing beyond the stone age.
posted by flabdablet at 3:14 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]

> The company simply uses a laser to mark a circuit onto its surface, with the laser settings tuned so as not to cut or burn the paper but to change its chemical composition to make it conductive.

“Simply”? This sounds like a breakthrough on its own
posted by rajbot at 9:46 AM on February 11

Not particularly; all they're doing is charring patterns into the surface of the paper rather than burning it away entirely. Charred paper is essentially charcoal, not an excellent conductor but much much better than paper, which has long had practical uses as an insulator.

If you emit a radio signal near a completely disconnected antenna made of anything reasonably conductive, and that driving signal has a frequency close to the disconnected antenna's own resonant frequency, then it will resonate and radiate more of that signal back to you than it does for off-resonance driving frequencies. This is the principle employed by existing anti-shoplifting RF tags, whose only function is to let a reader detect their proximity.

If I understand what PulpaTronics is doing correctly, their new idea is to use multiple interacting antenna elements to generate bundles of resonances with enough diversity to allow a useful number of tags to be both detected and told apart by a suitable reader device, which would allow them to be used in some applications that currently call for microchip-based RFID tags.

These typically feature a single relatively large loop antenna that can pick up enough signal from the tag reader to power a tiny microchip wired to the antenna; the microchip then modulates a digitally stored tag number onto the antenna's re-radiated return signal by varying its own instantaneous power consumption. Super neat, but not as elegantly minimalist as the PulpaTronics tags.

Given charcoal's lower conductivity than metal foils I would expect the PulpaTronics tags to struggle to match the read ranges achievable with existing passive RFID tech, and I would also expect the number of bits of ID information they can encode to be lower as well. But there are loads of applications for which neither of those limitations is going to matter very much.
posted by flabdablet at 11:18 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]

In the mid-90s the biotech company I worked at decided to get rid of a bunch of lab equipment they weren't using. Some was slightly broken (but fixable) and some was fine but just not needed, so I called the Exploratorium to see if they were interested. We took a whole pickup truck's worth of stuff there and they were quite pleased to have it, for parts if nothing else. I never saw any of our intact stuff at the Exploratorium but I like to think that various components are humming away under the hood of exhibits here and there.
posted by Quietgal at 1:23 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]

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