Science says waste beer could help us live on Mars

Any project that starts with beer and ends with colonizing Mars has our attention. At its highest level, that describes new research coming out of the University of Colorado at Boulder — where scientists have developed a new super-insulating gel, created from beer waste, which could one day prove useful for building greenhouse-like habitats for Mars colonists.

“The Smalyukh Research Group at the University of Colorado Boulder has developed a super-insulating, ultra-light, and ultra-transparent aerogel film,” Ivan Smalyukh, a professor in the Department of Physics, told Digital Trends. “Aerogels are extremely porous solid objects that are made mostly from air, and are about 100 times less dense than glass panes. Our aerogel is made from nanocellulose, which is grown by bacteria that eat waste beer wort, a waste byproduct of the beer industry.”

The cellulose enables the researchers’ aerogel to be very flexible and durable. It can be produced very cheaply, and means the team can precisely control the individual size of particles which make up its solid structure. This lets the material allow light to pass through it without significant scattering.

“Our immediate real world use-case is to use our aerogel product to dramatically increase the efficiency of windows in homes and commercial buildings,” Andrew Hess, another researcher on the project, told us. “Replacing inefficient windows is a costly and difficult endeavor, especially for buildings with structural or historical constraints. We aim to commercialize a peel-and-stick retrofitting aerogel film for windows which will effectively turn single-pane into double-pane windows — all at an affordable cost well below that of replacing the windows.”

However, the team also has more far-flung ambitions for their research. The project was recently named one of the winners of NASA’s 2018 iTech competition, which aims to reward technologies that could one day be used to help people travel to space.

“Extraterrestrial habitats will face extreme temperature fluctuations which must be eliminated inside the habitat,” Smalyukh said. “We see our aerogel product as a prime way to accomplish this, additionally allowing for the harvesting and storage of solar energy inside of habitats because these aerogels are transparent to sunlight. Because our aerogel can be made from waste, space colonizers wouldn’t necessarily have to bring the aerogel with them from Earth, which would be expensive. Instead, they could grow, from waste, [and] with the help of bacteria, aerogels to be used in habitats.”

At present, the researchers have demonstrated the aerogel at a proof-of-concept level; creating 6.5-inch aerogels with proven transparency, durability, and insulating characteristics. Next, they plan to come up with a means to scale manufacturing in a way that will make the technology affordable to all.

A paper describing the research was recently published in the journal Nano Energy.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robotic companions and computer-aided karaoke

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!
Mobile

5G's arrival is transforming tech. Here's everything you need to know to keep up

It has been years in the making, but 5G is finally becoming a reality. While 5G coverage is still extremely limited, expect to see it expand in 2019. Not sure what 5G even is? Here's everything you need to know.
Emerging Tech

Scientists use drone to map Icelandic cave in preparation for Mars exploration

Researchers from the SETI Institute and Astrobotic Technology have demonstrated a way that astronauts may be able to map Martian caves using a Lidar-equipped drone that can travel autonomously without GPS.
Computing

The U.S. government plans to drop $500M on a ridiculously powerful supercomputer

The U.S. Department of Energy has announced plans to build a $500 million exascale supercomputer by 2021. The project, known as the Aurora supercomputer, is expected to boost research efforts in fields such as public health.
Emerging Tech

A 3D printer the size of a small barn will produce entire homes in Saudi Arabia

If you’re looking for a 3D printer that can comfortably fit on the side of your desk… well, Danish company Cobod International’s enormous new 3D house printer probably isn’t for you.
Deals

Need a ride? Amazon is slashing prices on popular electric scooters

If you’re not much of a cyclist or if you’re looking for a lazier way to zip about town, an electric scooter should be right up your alley. Two of our favorites, the foldable Glion Dolly and the eco-friendly Razor scooter, are on sale…
Emerging Tech

Unexpected particle plumes discovered jetting out of asteroid Bennu

The OSIRIS-REx craft traveled to asteroid Bennu last year and won't return until 2023. But the mission is already throwing up unexpected findings, like plumes of particles which are being ejected from the surface of the asteroid.
Emerging Tech

Trip to Neptune’s moon, Triton, could inform search for extraterrestrial life

NASA has proposed sending a craft to Neptune to study its largest moon, Triton. Studying Triton could offer clues to how liquid water is maintained on planets, which may indicate what to look for when searching for life beyond our planet.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover passes its tests with flying colors

The Mars 2020 rover team has been undertaking a series of tests to see if the craft will be able to launch, navigate, and land on the Red Planet. Called Systems Test 1, or ST1, these tests represent the first test drive of the new rover.
Outdoors

Light up the night! Here are the five best headlamps money can buy

Headlamps make all the difference when camping or walking the dog at night, especially when you're in need of both hands. From Petzl to Tikkid, here are some of the best headlamps on the market.
Emerging Tech

A hive of activity: Using honeybees to measure urban pollution

According to a new study from Vancouver, bees could help us understand urban pollution. Scientists have found an innovative way to measure the level of source of pollution in urban environments: by analyzing honey.
Emerging Tech

Spacewalk a success as astronauts upgrade batteries on the ISS

The International Space Station was treated to some new batteries on Friday, thanks to two NASA astronauts who took a spacewalk for nearly seven hours in order to complete the upgrades.
Emerging Tech

Asteroid Ryugu is porous, shaped like a spinning top, and is formed of rubble

The Japanese Space Agency has been exploring a distant asteroid named Ryugu with its probe, Hayabusa 2. Now the first results from study of the asteroid are in, with three new papers published.
Emerging Tech

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a super-speedy pulsar

A super-speedy pulsar has been spotted dashing across the sky, discovered using NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and the Very Large Array. The pulsar is traveling at a breathtaking 2.5 million miles an hour.