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HOUSTON, TX: A new process developed by the Rice University lab of chemist James Tour can turn bulk quantities of just about any carbon source – i.e. a banana peel - into valuable graphene flakes at a fraction of the current price of up to US$200,000 a ton.

Graphene is a one-atom-thick layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice that is 200 times stronger than steel. It is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity and when combined with other elements, including gases and metals, can produce batteries, transistors, computer chips, energy generation, supercapacitors, DNA sequencing, water filters, antennas, touchscreens and solar cells.

Tour says the “flash graphene” process using a custom-designed reactor can convert a ton of coal, food waste or plastic into graphene for a fraction of the cost used by other bulk methods.

“This is a big deal. The world throws out 30 – 40 percent of all food, because it goes bad, and plastic waste is of worldwide concern. We've already proven that any solid carbon-based matter, including mixed plastic waste and rubber tires, can be turned into graphene.”

Tour hopes to produce a kilo a day of flash graphene within two years in a project to convert American coal funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. “This could provide an outlet for coal in large scale by converting it inexpensively into a much-higher-value building material,” he said.

Flash graphene is made in 10 milliseconds by heating carbon-containing materials to about 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Food and plastic waste, petroleum coke, coal, wood clippings and biochar are prime candidates, according to Tour. “With the present commercial price of graphene being US$67,000 - US$200,000 per ton, the prospects for this process look superb.”

As little as 0.1 percent of flash graphene in the cement used to bind concrete could lessen its environmental impact by a third. Cement production emits as much as 8.0 percent of human-made CO2 every year.

“By strengthening concrete with graphene, we could use less concrete for building, and it would cost less to manufacture and less to transport,” he said. “Essentially, we’re trapping greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane that waste food would have emitted in landfills. We are converting those carbons into graphene and adding that graphene to concrete, thereby lowering the amount of carbon dioxide generated in concrete manufacture. It’s a win-win environmental scenario using graphene.”

“With our method, that carbon becomes fixed,” he added. “It will not enter the air again.”

Tour is the T.T. and W.F. Chao Chair in Chemistry as well as a professor of computer science and of materials science and nanoengineering at Rice University.

FRANKFURT/OSLO: DB Schenker has signed a pre-study agreement with furniture manufacturer customer Ekornes and vessel designer Naval Dynamics with the goal of operating an autonomous, electric-powered, short-sea container feeder vessel between the Norwegian ports of Ikornnes and Alesund.

The ship leverages Naval Dynamics’ NDS AutoBarge 250 concept developed in partnership with marine technology company Kongsberg and autonomous vessel operator Massterly, who will use a team of certified navigators and naval engineers to monitor and control the vessel remotely.

The ship will complete the 43-kilometre trip between Ekornes’ own port and Alesund in three hours at a speed of 7.7 knots carrying up to 300 DWT of containerised cargo.

“We’re continuously working toward our goal of becoming the world’s leading manufacturer of sustainable premium furniture,” said Ekornes CEO Roger Lunde. “Utilizing the autonomous electric container feeder for direct pickups of our Stressless products from our own dock in Ikornnes means that our total carbon footprint will be reduced significantly. We will also gain better control over, and greater flexibility with, our own logistics.”

BONN: DHL Supply Chain is using AI-based software to save its commercial and e-seller customers money and emissions for their box and parcel shipments.

DHL says its OptiCarton app is a response to the current shortage in cardboard and packaging materials by optimising boxes from an existing, pre-configured set of cartons or by splitting an order into several consignments.

The Deutsche Post division says the new service can save up to 50 percent in unused box space and 15 - 35 percent in shipping costs – particularly attractive to on-line retail customers with large volumes.

“Even though this kind of solution might sound relatively simple at first, providing packing instructions for individual e-commerce shipments in real time is actually quite complex,” noted Dietmar Steins, EVP Global Solutions Design. “Based on the products, volumes and sizes in question, the software not only suggests the optimal size of the outer packaging, it also provides individual, visual instructions on how to ideally utilize the space inside the box.

“It’s highly intuitive – and not unlike the well-known computer game Tetris. It may be a simple piece of software in application terms, but it certainly delivers major savings,” he added.

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