Create a free account to continue

MM: Creating Fuel Of The Future From Feces; Bendable Airplane Wings

In this episode of Manufacturing Minute, creating the fuel of the future from poop and bendable airplane wings.

Fecal Fuel

Scientists at the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory think that poop may be the power of the future if they have anything to do with it. The researchers have developed a way to convert sewage sludge into a form of crude oil called biocrude. 

To accomplish this, the sludge is pumped into a tube, heated to about 650 degrees Fahrenheit and squeezed at pressures of 3,000 pounds per square inch. Fats already in the wastewater help lubricate the sludge’s path through the tube. What comes out the other end is a watery liquid and biocrude that’s close enough to petroleum to be refined the same way.

This process, called hydrothermal liquefaction, is a smaller scale, sped up version of the same process that converts organic matter into petroleum deep in the Earth over millions of years and it’s similar to the technique researchers developed a few years ago to generate fuel from algae.

So far, a company has licensed the technology and is working on rolling out a test facility in Vancouver as soon as 2018 at an estimated cost of less than $7 million U.S. dollars. 


Could fecal matter be a viable source of energy? Tell us what you think by leaving your comments below. 

Bendable Airplane Wings

Researchers from MIT and NASA are looking to the dawn of aviation to inspire technology to curb aircraft manufacturing costs and fuel consumption.

They detailed a concept airplane wing made entirely of tiny, lightweight building blocks that allow the wing to bend and twist — improving aircraft agility and efficiency.

Researchers noted that the Wright Brothers' first plane included wires and pulleys to bend its wings.

Planes used separate flaps and ailerons to induce those effects in subsequent decades, but engineers long believed that deforming wings would benefit aircraft.

Previous efforts relied on mechanical structures within the wing that proved too heavy to realize any benefits.

The MIT concept's lightweight building blocks, however, would allow two small motors to apply pressure at the wingtip and twist the wing uniformly.

The system could also allow small, specialized robots to quickly produce wings — and eventually the entire airframe — in mass quantities.

The team already conducted successful wind tunnel tests and unmanned test flights with a prototype.

Researchers believe that the technology could first be deployed in small, robotic drones, but could eventually expand to other industries — future robotic limbs, for example, could be able to bend along their entire lengths instead of relying on fixed joints.


Is a bendable aircraft wing the future of aerospace? Could this be another example of robotics jeopardizing manufacturing jobs?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

More in Industry 4.0