Innovation and Technology Weekly – No. 40, 2007

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Issue 40, 2007

This week's headlines:

Carbon electrodes could slash cost of solar panels
December 19, 2007

Transparent electrodes created from atom-thick carbon sheets could make solar cells and LCDs without depleting precious mineral resources, according to researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany.

Solar cells and LCDs must have transparent electrodes in parts of their designs to let light in or out. These electrodes are usually made from indium tin oxide (ITO) but experts calculate that there is only 10 years' worth of indium left on the planet, with LCD panels consuming the majority of existing stocks. But the researchers are testing solar cells with transparent electrodes made from graphene.

The solar panels they created were dye-sensitised solar cells. The team first coated their cells with a solution of flat graphite oxide flakes, each 10 to 100 nanometres across, leaving a coating on the surface. Heat treatment was then used to remove the oxygen from the layer. This causes the flakes to merge, leaving behind sheets of graphene.

The group has managed to produce electrodes just 10 graphene layers thick with a transparency of about 80%, which is comparable to the indium-based electrodes normally used for dye sensitised cells. They are completely transparent to infrared light, which could allow solar cells to collect more of the Sun's energy.

Full story: New Scientist / Nanoletters Back to top

OECD site offers statistical co-operation
December 21, 2007

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has overhauled its statistical service, making it easier to locate relevant statistics in the OECD's databases.

OECD.Stat, now available in beta, enables users to search all 50 of the OECD's statistical databases at the same time. Users will also be able to extract data from different datasets and gather it in customisable tables. The data itself will be updated in real time, rather than monthly or annually. The new service also has improved metadata down to the level of each data point, so that users can understand the origins of each number and the wider context.

The beta service will be available without charge for eight months, before becoming a subscription-based service. The OECD is also planning, however, to make its most frequently requested tables available as a free service. OECD.Stat is the first in a series of changes to the OECD's iLibrary platform, which provides access to journals, books and databases. (

Full story: Information World Review Back to top

Funds boost Europe Mars mission
December 18, 2007

The European Space Agency (ESA) has agreed to fund work on its flagship ExoMars mission despite not having final go-ahead from European ministers. The agency has said it will commit EUR 80m to fund initial work to develop the Martian robot rover.

Starting work in 2008 is crucial if ESA is to launch ExoMars, which will search for signs of life, in 2013. European governments will not make a decision to fund the one billion euro mission until November 2008.

The mission has already been delayed by two years after the project was redesigned to be lofted by an Ariane 5 rather than Soyuz rocket. The more powerful Ariane 5 was chosen as it is able to support a larger payload, allowing more scientific instruments to be carried and a possible orbiter to communicate with, and relay data, to Earth.

Full story: BBC News Back to top

First CO2-free coal power plant announced
December 19, 2007

Coal is cheap and very abundant - especially in the US, which has the world's larges reserves. It would be the perfect fuel if it weren't for the massive climate altering carbon dioxide emissions.

But now, the FutureGen Alliance - a coalition of private power companies and the US Department of Energy - thinks it can produce clean power by siphoning off the CO2 and pumping it into underground reservoirs. The Alliance spent the past year evaluating four locations around the US that applied to host the first full-scale power plant using the technology and finally chose Mattoon, Illinois.

Unlike a regular coal power plant, the FutureGen plant will not burn coal but gasify it by exposing powdered coal to oxygen in a high-pressure heated chamber. The system yields several gases which are processed into hydrogen, which burns in a turbine to produce electricity, and carbon-dioxide, which is pumped into deep geologic formations that researchers expect to hold the gas indefinitely.

Full story: CNN / Popular Science Back to top

Bamboo road bridge can support 16-tonne trucks
December 19, 2007

Bridges built from bamboo instead of steel could provide a cheaper, more environmentally sustainable engineering solution in China, a recent experiment suggests.

Yan Xiao from the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles, US, and Hunan University in China, led the project. Instead of using round, pole-like pieces of unprocessed bamboo, which have been used as building material for many thousands of years, he came up with a way of assembling timber-like beams from many smaller strips of bamboo. The strips are cut from large stalks of bamboo, arranged in multiple layers, and bonded together with glue.

Last week workers finished assembling a 10-metre long bridge in a village in southern China. Using prefabricated beams, it took a team of eight workers just a week to assemble and did not require heavy construction equipment. It proved strong enough to carry a 16-tonne truck and should be able to support even more weight, Xiao says.

Pound-for-pound, bamboo is stronger than steel when stretched and more robust than concrete when compressed. Also, stalks several metres tall mature in just a few years. Furthermore it can be harvested like mowing a lawn - leaving the root system intact so that the plant can regrow.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top

Future cars will help seniors drive
December 20, 2007

For those feeling nervous behind the wheel as old age kicks in, savvy cars may be the answer. Prof. Ryuta Kawashima, who helped develop Nintendo's 'Brain Age' games, is teaming with Toyota to develop cars that help seniors drive safely.

Among technologies on the table is a car that can determine a driver's driving patterns and curb any dangerous activity, Kawashima said. It could, for example, slow the car if it senses the driver is hitting the gas pedal for no reason. Future developments could involve a navigation system and temperature controls that help drivers stay alert, he said. Ultimately, Kawashima hopes to develop cars that stimulate brain activity, so that driving itself becomes a form of brain training.

'Brain Age' - a brain-training game series for the DS handheld game console - has sold millions of units around the globe. Doing simple puzzles and exercises can help stimulate the brain and keep it supple, Kawashima said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Full story: CNN / AP Back to top

Phone devise lets you 'speak' through ear
December 20, 2007

A Japanese company has unveiled a new device that will allow people 'speak' through their ear so they can use their mobile telephones in noisy places.

The device - named 'e-Mimi-kun' (good ear boy) - doubles as an earphone and a microphone by detecting air vibrations inside the ear, developer NS-ELEX said. The ear-piece and an accompanying device can be connected to a mobile phone, or wirelessly to a Bluetooth handset, so that users no longer have to cover their mouths when speaking in a loud environment.

Exterior noise is reduced six-fold by the ear-piece, while a chip in the accompanying device reduces sound levels 10-fold. NS-ELEX believes the product would be useful for people working in places such as factories, restaurants, and amusement parks.

Full story: Middle East Times Back to top