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Too good not to be wood

It looks like wood, feels like wood and handles like wood, yet it contains absolutely no wood. Resysta is a revolutionary eco-friendly decking material designed to protect rainforests by reducing the amount of wood needed for high-quality furniture. It has all the characteristics of tropical hardwood but no wood at all — it is made from rice husks, salt, mineral oil and binding agents. It has none of the downsides of wood: it doesn’t crack, splinter, swell or rot and is not vulnerable to insects and the elements. And better still, it’s recyclable and no trees are cut down to make it.



Pollution-free ocean cruising

The world’s largest solar-powered boat, the Planet Solar, is about to roll off the slips at its German dock yard. The catamaran is 31 metres long, 15 metres wide and 7.5 metres high. Five-hundred square metres of its hull is covered in photovoltaic solar panels containing some 38,000 solar cells. The boat has a top speed of 15 knots (25 kilometres per hour) and a seating capacity of 50 passengers. The Planet Solar’s maiden circumnavigation is planned for 2011.



Twenty-six hour solar-powered flight

In July this year, the Solar Impulse, an aircraft charged and powered only by the sun, made an historic 26-hour non-stop flight in Switzerland. How can a solar-powered airplane fly at night? The answer is that it spent the first 14 hours of fly time in daylight charging its batteries in readiness for the night time. The wings of this extraordinary aircraft have a span of 63 metres – the same size as an Airbus A340 airliner — and are covered with 12,000 solar cells. This remarkable test flight brings us one step closer to the dream of clean technology air transport.



Solar cell printed on paper

In a world first, scientists at the Eni-MIT Solar Frontiers Research Center have coated paper with a solar cell. With a technique that’s similar to an inkjet printer, paper is coated with organic semiconductor material to make a thin-film solar cell. With potential application to plastic, paper and metal foils, the big advantage is that it dramatically lowers the weight of solar cells and the cost of manufacturing them. This technology is still in its infancy and there’s a way to go to bring the efficiency up to scratch with standard solar cells. But who knows, this may be a tantalizing glimpse into the future of power generation.



Sonic fabric

In the age of MP3 and DVDs, the audio cassette tape has almost become obsolete. However, this old tape has now been given new life in Sonic Fabric, an innovative textile that recycles old cassette tapes. Sonic Fabric is woven from 50 per cent recorded audiocassette tape and 50 per cent polyester thread. It’s beautiful, durable and…audible! With a texture and feel of light canvas and a mysterious sheen, Sonic fabric has a wide application for interior and fashion design. Curiously, each batch of fabric has its own sound print. Wearers of Sonic neckties are said to emit good vibes wherever they go!



Oil-seeking robot in Gulf of Mexico

Where’s Waldo? Waldo is a six-foot-long underwater robot, something like a yellow torpedo, that can detect undersea oil plumes. It was launched off the Florida Keys in July 2010 in an effort to better track the movement of oil plumes and to help protect coastal habitats against possible impacts from the Gulf oil disaster. For one month Waldo and several other robot friends patrolled the seas off the Florida Keys, using sensors to sample the water for oil, and transmitting data to researchers via satellite. Waldo didn’t find any oil – fortunately – but did provide the scientists with a good deal of oceanographic data. (Sadly, Waldo was bitten by a shark, but has since been recovered and patched up ready for another mission.)