Stories tagged innovation

The U.S. Marines this week demonstrated their new robotic mule in training exercises in Hawaii. The walking robot can carry up to 400 pounds of gear up to 20 miles before needing to be refueled. The Marines are hoping the robot will be able to lighten the loads of ground forces. Pretty cool, huh?

And, of course, Dave Letterman has already come up with a Top Ten list for the robotic mule:

Innovation 2008 Conference
Innovation 2008 ConferenceCourtesy University of Minnesota
From the University of Minnesota's Hubert H Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs website:

Innovation 2008 Conference - Renewing America Through Smarter Science & Technology Policy -- October 20th and 21st, 2008

This conference, held on the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota, will bring together academicians, policy makers, scientists, educators, artists, students and the public to discuss solutions to the major challenges facing the United States revolving around science and technology policy, including innovation, energy security and sustainability, health sciences policy, and our ongoing economic competitiveness in a high-tech, highly-educated global marketplace. The goal of Innovation 2008 is to bring scientists together with policymakers and the public, to help move the United States toward policies that are better informed by scientific realities, and to help scientists, engineers and the scientific community as a whole become more engaged in the political process. The conference will also explore ways to bridge the divide between science and the broader culture as a way to broaden public appreciation of science.

The conference is hosted by the University of Minnesota's Center for Science, Technology and Public Policy; Science Debate 2008; and the Bell Museum of Natural History.

Do you have one of those old, boring, regular toilets? Check out video here on the "intelligent toilets" in use in many public areas in Japan. It's actually scary what these toilets can learn about you while you're doing your daily business.

It’s a little early, but Popular Science has issued their list of the top innovations of 2007. Their grand prize winner are nanosolar powersheets, thin flexible films that use nanotechnology to harness solar energy -- and allowing me to tag this post as both "nanotechnology" and "energy." The health innovations section allows me to use the "health" tag, and a new toilet that uses 40% less fresh water allows me to tag this as "water." It's a win-win-win!

Popular Mechanics has published a list of ten technological innovations that may change the way we live in the next decade.


With all the doom-and-gloom stories in the news about how we might soon run out of space in landfills and fossil fuels, it's nice to read about an innovation that uses landfills to provide energy.

Methane forms when organic waste decomposes in the absence of oxygen, as in landfills. At a few landfills, the methane is collected and used to power vehicles or to heat nearby buildings. But most of it goes to waste. Landfill operators burn it off to prevent dangerous build-ups of the flammable gas. Burning off the methane not only wastes the potential fuel, but it also pumps pollutants into the atmosphere. In Europe alone, landfills have the potential to generate as much as 94 billion cubic meters of methane per year.

Why don't we use the methane from more landfills? Well, people usually extract it by sinking pipes into the landfill and sucking the gas out. But if the landfill isn't airtight, sucking out the methane also sucks in air. The oxygen is not only difficult to separate from the methane, but it also slows down methane production inside the landfill. So, until now, the only landfills where methane extraction has been viable have been those large and deep enough to restrict the entry of air.

But Viktor Popov, at the Wessex Institute of Technology, has figured out some simple modifications that allow methane extraction from any landfill. His solution is to cover the landfill with a membrane that prevents air from getting in. The membrane consists of three layers: a middle, permeable layer sandwiched between two mostly impermeable layers. Popov continuously pumps carbon dioxide (which can itself be extracted from the gasses in the landfill) into the middle layer so that the CO2 is slightly above atmospheric pressure. This creates a barrier that prevents air being drawn into the landfill—as the methane is sucked out of the ground, CO2 gets sucked into it from the membrane.

You can see a diagram of how this works

A landfill can continue to be a source of energy long after it's closed to new garbage. Decomposition can keep going underground, producing methane, for 15 to 20 years.

Are you interested in new sources of energy? Would you be willing to pay more for "green energy" if the option were available to you?