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MM: Greener Biofuel From Recycled Aluminum; Smart Underwear

In this Manufacturing Minute episode, creating cheaper, greener biofuels from recycled aluminum foil and a look at smart underwear.

Cheaper BioFuels From Recycled Foil

It’s estimated that around 20,000 metric tons of aluminum foil is discarded in the UK each year. That’s enough foil to stretch to the Moon and back. So a chemistry researcher, Ahmed Osman, at Queen’s University Belfast teamed up with school engineers to look for new ways to deal with that waste. What they came up with was a way to turn used tinfoil into a catalyst for biofuel that is more cost-effective and environmentally friendly.

Recycled aluminum tends to be contaminated by grease and oils that damage recycling equipment so it usually has to be taken to treatment plants to be cleaned and processed. But most of it is dumped in a landfill or burned.  

Osman has been working on a new crystallization method that involves dissolving foil in acidic solutions until single crystals form. Ammonia precipitation then turn those into 100 percent pure single crystals of aluminum salts. This is a green method the researchers say produces no emissions or waste. The salts can be used as a starting material of alumina catalyst, which can then be used to produce dimethyl ether, a clean, non-toxic biofuel.

Osman says the breakthrough not only produces alumina more pure than its commercial counterpart, but it reduces the amount of foil in landfills and sidesteps environmental damage associated with bauxite mining.


Is this form of foil recycling a good idea? Do you think there is a big enough market for such a product? Tell us what you think by leaving your comments below.

Smart Underwear

Step aside Batman and Ironman, there’s a new performance-boosting garment on the market.

A Professor at Vanderbilt University recently unveiled a mechanized undergarment that could help prevent lower back pain. Researchers say more than half of all adults will experience low back pain in their life which leads to an estimated $30 billion in medical costs and $100 billion in lost productivity annually in the U.S.

The two-part wearable device — made of nylon canvas, Lycra and polyester and designed to fit under your clothes— consists of straps across the middle back and rubber pieces at the low back and glutes. When the device is activated — either with a tap on the shirt or through a mobile app — the straps are engaged, reducing lower back muscle activity by 15 to 45 percent.

Researchers say the next step could be to use sensors embedded in the clothing to monitor stress on the back and automatically activate the suit when needed.


Do you think this device could help prevent low back injuries? It what ways could this be utilized with workers on the manufacturing plant floor? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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