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THIS WEEK IN ECOTECH: The Unprinter, The Cloud-Whitener and The Plastic To Oil Converter
March 24, 2012
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The list of man-made environmental threats is long. Here are three things that our species is arguably responsible for: wasting lots and lots of paper, causing warming across the Arctic, and relying heavily on non-replenishible fossil fuels. But some clever new technology is finding interesting ways of addressing all three problems.

The Laser Unprinter

Remember the "paperless office"? It's an idea that's been around since the mid-70s: once technology gets advanced enough, we can stop wasting paper and move on to digital forms of information sharing and storage. But it hasn't turned out that way - most offices use as much paper as ever, despite the rise of digital technology - and that's where a new green laser printer that can actually erase ink from paper might come in.

The tech, created at the University of Cambridge, vaporizes the toner from traditional printers without damaging the paper underneath, so that it can be reused. The team behind the printer estimates that if the technology is widely adopted, it could cut carbon emissions in half while making the recycling process 20 times more efficient. Unfortunately, they have not yet secured patents for the idea or approached any manufacturers, so it may not become a commercially available product anytime soon.

Whiter Clouds For A Cooler Arctic

According to UK scientists, warming in the Arctic is causing sea ice to melt at an alarming rate, which could lead to a major, and dangerous, release of methane. One engineer is suggesting a "technical fix" for Arctic warming: cloud-whitening towers. Stephen Salter, an academic with Edinburgh University, says that towers pumping seawater sprays into the atmosphere would help to cool the planet by making clouds more opaque and thus reflecting more of the sun's light back into space.

Salter has previously suggested building towers mounted on ships to achieve the goal of whitening clouds, but he now says the technology needs to be implemented sooner, and therefore should be constructed on land. Favoured locations are the Faroes and islands in the Bering Strait, and Professor Salter estimates the cost for the towers would be about $315,000 Canadian. Still, even he hopes that they won't be required: "Everybody working in geo-engineering hopes it won't be needed - but we fear it will be", he told the BBC.

Turning Plastics Into Oil

A U.S.-based start-up company says it has developed technology that could simultaneously provide a domestic source of fuel and keep many plastics out of landfills: a way of turning plastic into oil. The Plastic2Oil system melts plastic waste, creating a liquid stream. That stream is then vapourized and converted into a fuel that can be used in diesel engines, ship engines, and power plants.

According to company founder John Bordynuik, the fuel that results is "highly refined" and consistent, unlike fuels generated by other attempts at turning plastics into oil. Plastic2Oil is currently working with several companies that produce large volumes of plastic waste.

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THIS WEEK IN ECOTECH: Wastewater to Electricity, CO2 to Stone, and Edible Packaging

GOOD GREEN NEWS: U.S. Carbon Emissions; Plastic Bridge; Green Investing; Recycling


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