Innovation of the Week: 2015

Professor Plastic loves to share new innovations in plastics that contribute to sustainability, safety, longer lives and better performance. That's why she's been collecting her favorite plastics innovations for more than four years running.

Choose an Innovation of the Week to learn more.

  • iStock_000010908792_Small
    Can rooftop “grass” provide wind power? December 25, 2015- Rooftop solar power is growing. Is rooftop wind power next? Scientists are creating plastic strips with a conductive coating—they sway in the wind like grass to produce electricity. Learn More
  • No fire sign
    Protect against explosions? December 18, 2015- Can plastics help prevent accidental explosions? Caltech scientists created an additive from “mega-supramolecule” polymers that may inhibit detonation of fuel during an accident. Learn More
  • Bicycle with plastic components
    The light shines through December 11, 2015- What a ride! A bicycle maker uses tough, transparent polycarbonate plastic to create bike frames that glow with multi-colored LED lights. Learn More
  • Earth drought
    Solutions for a global problem December 4, 2015- Dow’s plastic membranes filter sewage in So. Cal., turning it into drinkable water. The technology helps combat water scarcity, may help provide “drought-proof” water supplies. Learn More
  • Pachyderm with a cracked tusk
    Bulwagi the elephant gets some help November 27, 2015- A pachyderm with a cracked tusk? Birmingham, AL, zoo vets enlisted a scientist to create a brace for elephant Bulwagi’s tusk using “aerospace-grade” plastic composite materials. Learn More
  • 2015 Solar Decathlon VI SURE house at night 11
    Sustainability + resilience = SURE HOUSE November 20, 2015- Inspired to help others after Hurricane Sandy, NJ college students won Solar Decathlon with shore house designed for sustainability and resilience that uses LOTS of durable plastics. Learn More
  • Australia recycling
    Recycled plastics + 3-D printing = opportunity November 13, 2015- An Australian non-profit has created “Plastic Fantastic,” a program that uses recycled plastics and 3-D printing to successfully encourage children to attend school. Learn More
  • Autumn leaves
    Seeing new colors November 7, 2015 - After an accidental discovery, a scientist created eyewear to help colorblind people see colors they’ve not seen, using lenses made of tough polycarbonate plastic. Learn more
  • Going Solar sign
    Soaking up the sun’s energy with plastics October 30, 2015 - A new all plastic solar collector—designed to reduce weight and costs of thermal energy systems—is up for a German Ecodesign Award. It also recently was certified for quality/safety. Learn More
  • Farmer in greenhouse
    Growing veggies in the winter? October 23, 2015 - A growing number of farmers are using plastic greenhouses to extend the growing season through winter, allowing them to supply markets/restaurants with local produce year round. Learn More
  • Recycle Plastic
    $ for recycling October 16, 2015 - A $100 million fund from consumer products companies provides zero interest loans to build new recycling facilities. First up: a hi-tech plastics recycling facility in Baltimore. Learn more
  • Boy playing with squirt gun
    Toys! October 9, 2015 - Which toy will win? The Wiffle Ball? The Super Soaker? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Check out the 12 finalists for the 2015 National Toy Hall of Fame—many made possible by plastics. Learn more
  • Tires made predominately of plastics
    Tires that can fix a flat? October 2, 2015 - Did you know today’s tires are made predominately from plastics called elastomers? Researchers recently modified an elastomer used to make tires so it can self heal. Tire – fix thyself! Learn more
  • School of yellow fish
    Helping restore coral reefs September 25, 2015 - A conservation organization has created a Coral Tree Nursery® that incubates coral on a PVC plastic pipe framework shaped like a tree—the grown coral then is attached to existing reefs. Learn More
  • Snowy Owl Flying Right At You
    Helping generate wind energy September 18, 2015 - Can a plastic coating designed to mimic owl feathers allow wind turbine speed—and megawatt output—to increase without extra, unwelcome noise? U. of Cambridge researchers think so. Learn More
  • Solar Noodles
    Helping store energy from the sun September 11, 2015 - Spaghetti + meatballs = solar energy? UCLA researchers now can store solar energy up to two weeks using tiny plastic “noodles” and fullerene “meatballs” (aka Buckeyball molecules). Learn More
  • Stronger Surfboards
    Helping us ride the waves September 4, 2015 - An Aussie manufacturer uses high-density expanded polystyrene foam and carbon fiber to make sleek, award winning, high tech surfboards. One surfing champion calls them “Ferraris.” Learn More
  • See-through coins
    See-through coins! August 28, 2015 - Germany will use plastics to mint partially transparent 5 euro coins in 2016, designed to be more difficult to counterfeit. Some central banks want the coin to replace the banknote. Learn More
  • Ski jumping in summer
    Let's hit the plastic slopes! August 21, 2015 - Ski jumping in summer? A Wisconsin ski hill has installed plastic sheets on its runs that behave like snow when water is added. The result: year round ski jumping! Learn More
  • Man 3-D printing
    3-D printed buildings? August 14, 2015 - An architect and Oak Ridge National Labs (they helped 3-D print a Shelby Cobra) are partnering to develop more cost-effective buildings using 3-D printed plastics and carbon fiber. Learn More
  • Shot of a young male jogger drinking water while out for a run in the city
    A billion bottles recycled August 7, 2015 - Thanks a billion says Polartec which has recycled a billion plastic bottles into performance fabrics used in all sorts of clothing—and encourages us to view used plastics as a resource! Learn More
  • Stack of clothes next to a bottle of laundry detergent on top of washing machine
    Lightening the laundry load July 31, 2015 - 230 million bottles/year made with recycled plastics—and that’s just one company! P&G plans to dramatically increase the amount of recycled plastics used in its fabric care bottles. Learn More
  • Silhouette of solder with green background
    Camouflaging our soldiers July 24, 2015 - Can squid help U.S. soldiers? Researchers are developing plastic stickers to render soldiers invisible to infrared detection, using the same protein that squid use to change color. Learn More
  • Polimotor 2
    Plastic car engines? July 17, 2015 - To support fuel efficiency efforts, Solvay is replacing heavy parts with plastics in the “Polimotor 2”—a lighter weight engine to be tested in a race-car in 2016. Learn More
  • Low Section Of Man Playing Hockey On Field
    World class turf for world class players July 10, 2015 - Rio 2016 field hockey will be played on plastics that Dow Chemical Company calls “higher-performing, more reliable and faster artificial turf for the world’s best hockey players.” Learn More
  • surfer with a broken board
    "Self-healing" plastics making waves... June 26, 2015 - Physicist wins award for new “self-healing” plastic that can be reformed (with heat) if it breaks—possible uses include cars, planes, surgery, healing injuries … even surfboards. Learn More
  • Airbus
    The future of aviation? June 19, 2015 - Airbus uses 3-D printers/plastics to make parts for A350 XWB jet – this speeds production, lightens load, and uses less raw material and energy, says 3-D printer maker. (Image: Airbus) Learn More
  • Lightweight mobility powered by the sun
    Lightweight mobility powered by the sun June 12, 2015 - BASF is helping create a new short distance, solar powered, stand-up scooter, made mostly of lightweight plastics, that reportedly gives riders the feeling of floating. Fun commute! Learn More
  • Grow, create, recycle
    Grow, create, recycle June 5, 2015 - At World Expo-Milan, Coca-Cola “unveiled the world’s first PET plastic bottle made entirely from plant materials” (natural sugars in plants) that’s “fully recyclable,” says Coke. Learn More
  • Flying camera
    A flying camera! May 29, 2015 - From UC Berkeley Robotics lab: Lily, a flying video/still camera that tracks your hand- or wrist-held controller—both made with tough, lightweight polycarbonate plastic. Learn More
  • Human head render with ear highlighted
    I hear that plastics can help May 22, 2015 - Researchers are developing a tiny biodegradable plastic matrix for releasing medicine into the inner ear to treat hearing problems, e.g., tinnitus, which is prevalent among veterans. Learn More
  • Bridge photograph
    Can plastics protect our bridges? May 15, 2015 - Engineers are creating self-repairing concrete using super-absorbent plastics that expand to stop cracks from growing—it’s designed to help protect bridges, tunnels, & more. Learn More
  • surfer in the barrel of a wave
    The wave of the future? May 8, 2015 - Algae-based plastics? Gnarly, dude. Researchers and a surfing supply company in southern California teamed up to create a surfboard using polyurethane plastic made from algae. Learn More
  • Lift off with plastics
    Lift off with plastics May 1, 2015 - It ain’t rocket science. Or is it? An aerospace company is 3-D printing parts for its rocket using an ultra-tough plastic, saving lots of time and expense. Learn More
  • Illustration of child playing with toy truck
    From milk jugs to toy trucks April 24, 2015 - What happens to your recycled milk jugs? One company turns the recycled plastic into toys: airplanes, boats, trains, trucks, building blocks, tool sets, a pizza parlor set… Learn More
  • IOTW_4.17_150-150x150
    Recycle plastics into 3-D printer “ink" April 17, 2015 - A new company, using money raised through crowdsourcing, has developed a machine that recycles used plastics into filament “ink” for 3-D printers, saving valuable materials. Learn More
  • Medical evacuation team carrying stretcher towards UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter on ground
    Plastics at the front... April 10, 2015 - A new lifesaving device combines a plastic tube and tiny, expandable sponges made with a biopolymer, helping combat medics and first responders treat traumatic bleeding from wounds. Learn More
  • IOTW_4.3_150-150x150
    Plastics from carbon dioxide April 3, 2015 - Waste gas into raw materials! Bayer MaterialScience will use raw materials made from CO2 gas to make polyurethane foam for mattresses, upholstery, insulation, car parts. Image: Bayer Learn More
  • Motorcycle helmet gets an upgrade
    Motorcycle helmet gets an upgrade March 27, 2015 - Hi-tech motorcycle helmet is made with plastics: shell, foam cushioning, temperature-controlling lining, rear view imaging on tint-changing visor. Plus: GPS/Internet/Bluetooth Learn More
  • Truck company tools up with 3-D printed plastics
    Truck company tools up with 3-D printed plastics March 20, 2015 Volvo uses 3-D printed plastic tools on truck assembly line, dramatically slashing time to make tools from 36 days to two! Printing plastic tools is much more cost-effective, too. Learn More
  • Young child riding a bike
    Collaborating on a moving gift March 13, 2015 - Raptor Reloaded. Cyborg Beast. Talon Hand. Super heroes? Absolutely, but of another kind: affordable prosthetic hands and arms. Most of the parts are made from 3-D printed plastics. Learn More
  • Woman examining an object
    Carry your large screen TV in one hand March 6, 2015 - A flexible TV screen? Companies are teaming up to create a plastic LCD that they say will be 10 times thinner and lighter than today’s displays…and shatterproof. Learn More
  • zero energy ready insulation
    A different kind of green house... February 27, 2015 - Here’s an award winning “zero energy ready” home that uses plastic foam insulation (attic: spray foam—walls: insulated concrete forms) and Dow’s plastic solar panels/roof shingles. Learn More
  • Plastic wine containers
    A more portable way to enjoy wine February 20, 2015 - Celebrities at Golden Globes party celebrate with wine in innovative plastic-foil pouch that winemaker says is lightweight, eco-friendly, unbreakable, and doesn’t need a corkscrew. Learn More
  • 150x150-150x150
    Inspiration from creepy crawly things February 13, 2015 - Companies are creating synthetic spider silk, a biopolymer (plastic) five times stronger than steel and incredibly tough, intended for aerospace, construction, cars, medical uses. Learn More
  • Plastics help solar plane soar
    Plastics help solar plane soar February 6, 2015 - High-tech plastics from Bayer MaterialScience help enable the lightweight, energy efficient Solar Impulse 2 aircraft to fly around the world powered only by the sun. Learn More
  • Blue recycle bin full of plastic bottles
    Further advance in plastics recycling? January 30, 2015 - A start up company says it has developed a method to recycle plastics that uses less water and energy than typical recycling. Learn More
  • A Viking longboat sails to new shores for trading and companionship.
    New plastics preserving old ships January 23, 2015 - Researchers are developing new plastics to help protect archeological finds made of wood, such as ancient Viking ships. The plastics are derived in part from the shells of shrimp. Learn More
  • Illustration of green car
    More lightweight plastic composites in autos January 16, 2015 - BMW says its mainstream cars soon will make more use of lightweight carbon fiber-reinforced plastics, just like its electric i3, voted 2015 Green Car of the Year by Green Car Journal. Learn More
  • Two young children standing outside
    Recycled plastics = backpacks for school kids January 9, 2015 - Entrepreneurs in rural S. Africa create durable school backpacks from recycled plastics—with a solar light that charges during long walks to school so kids can see and study at home. Learn More