June 24, 2024


Technological development

Wind Turbine Blades Destined for the Afterlife


The Big Picture features technology through the lens of photographers.

Every month, IEEE Spectrum selects the most stunning technology images recently captured by photographers around the world. We choose images that reflect an important advance, or a trend, or that are just mesmerizing to look at. We feature all images on our site, and one also appears on our monthly print edition.

Enjoy the latest images, and if you have suggestions, leave a comment below.

What’s Next?

This group of wind-turbine fan blades, fresh from Siemens Gamesa’s new RecycleBlade manufacturing process at England’s largest such factory, await shipment to the various points around the globe where they will serve 20- to 30-year stints generating electricity at wind farms before they’re recalled and reincarnated. The 81-meter-long blades were made using a process that will allow them to eventually be broken down by a chemical solution so their structural fibers and resin can be separated and repurposed.

Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images

Rooftop Rendezvous

Shown here is a glimpse into the imagined future of urban transportation. On the roof of a skyscraper in the middle of a metropolis, sits a vertiport, a transit hub where vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) vehicles such as Vertical Aerospace’s VA-X4 electrically powered, four-passenger aircraft will alight between flights. A planned network of landing spots will let eVTOLs recharge their batteries between flights, keeping people above the hustle and bustle (and traffic tie-ups) that come standard with taking private cars or taxis on city streets. According to a recent report released by Vertical Aerospace, an eVTOL could ferry a passenger from London’s Heathrow Airport to Cambridge in less than 30 minutes. Making the trip in a taxi usually takes 90 minutes; by train, it’s a 2-hour ride.

Vertical Aerospace

Spooky Holography at a Distance

Holography has long been used to “fool” viewers by rendering objects’ 3D shape and structure in such stunning detail that it appears you can reach out and touch them. Heretofore, pulling off that magic trick required the ability to detect light that had interacted with the genuine, real-world article. But now, a team of researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering, in Germany, has discovered a way to create holograms of items without ever detecting any light from them. This new holography technique takes advantage of a quantum-physics phenomenon known as entanglement, wherein multiple particles are linked and can influence each other instantly regardless of how far apart they are. The researchers used a nonlinear crystal to split a violet laser beam into two beams, one far-red, the other near-infrared. They next used the far-red beam to illuminate the sample. A camera recorded the near-infrared light. With the help of entanglement, they used data from the near-infrared light to generate a hologram based on the details of the object scanned by the far-red beam. Shown here is the setup the team used for this high-tech prestidigitation.

Walter Oppel/Fraunhofer Iof

High-Voltage Recycling

Now that China has just about cornered the market on mining and processing the rare-earth elements that are critical to the manufacturing of items such as smartphones, EV motors, and wind turbines, other countries are scrambling to shore up alternate supply-chain options. One source that has been up for consideration is the accumulating mountain of e-waste that contains these rare-earth materials along with a smattering of precious metals. But here’s the rub: Extracting the bits considered reusable is difficult and dangerous. And until now, reclaiming some of the potentially useful elements was physically impossible. But scientists at Rice University, in Texas, have demonstrated a technique for zapping e-waste with bursts of electricity that heat the materials to feverish temperatures in a matter of seconds. This flash Joule heating process can also extract rare earths from fly ash, a by-product of coal combustion. Reclamation processes using even the strongest acids had been thwarted by the fact that when coal is burned, the silicon-, aluminum-, iron- and calcium oxides present in coal turn to glass. The glass forms an impenetrable barrier preventing the acid from breaking down the other materials. But the flash Joule process heats the fly ash to about 3,000 °C—hot enough to crack the glass layer around fly-ash particles, and to convert rare-earth phosphates into oxides that dissolve easily in very mild acid.

Brandon Martin/Rice University


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