E&T news weekly #12 – we choose our favourite news stories from the week

Friday August 8 2014

Aasha Bodhani Tobacco for biofuel instead of cigarettes

Known for being a cigarette ingredient, tobacco is now being considered as an aviation biofuel, manufactured from a nicotine-free tobacco plant, Solaris. Boeing, South African Airways and SkyNRG have carried out small scale tests, and are urging local farmers to grow Solaris instead, not only to grow a marketable biofuel crop which increases economic opportunity but could potentially reduce smoking.

Robotic seal reduces stress of dementia patients

Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust has introduced a robotic seal to help dementia patients communicate better. The seal, PARO, is embedded with tactile sensors and responds to touch and sounds and expresses emotions of happiness and surprise, not only enabling the patient to interact better, but it distracts and calms the patient when being examined.

Aasha Bodhani, assistant technology features editor


  Jonathan Wilson Discarded cigarette butts provide energy storage solution

Finally, some good news for smokers: scientists have discovered something useful arising from their filthy fags habit. Used cigarette butts have been converted into a material that could be used in supercapacitors for energy storage. Using a simple, one-step burning technique, a group of South Korean scientists transformed the cellulose acetate fibres of cigarette filters in to a carbon-based material with superior performance to the commercially available carbon, graphene and carbon nanotubes commonly used in supercapacitors. With as many as 5.6 trillion used cigarettes deposited into the environment worldwide every year, this is welcome news indeed.

Tobacco for biofuel instead of cigarettes

Got a match? In related news this week, Boeing announced that it has launched a partnership with South African Airways and sustainable jet fuel pioneer SkyNRG to develop aviation biofuel from a new type of tobacco plant before it even becomes cigarettes. The fuel will in fact be manufactured from a nicotine-free tobacco plant called Solaris, developed for energy purposes by Italian company Sunchem. Local farmers, currently growing tobacco for the cigarette industry for their livelihood, will be offered the opportunity to switch to eco-friendly Solaris instead.

Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor


James Hayes Hacking aircraft satellite systems possible, says researcher

Although some voices in the aerospace industry have publically expressed concerns about this issue – Jeff Kohler, VP at Boeing’s defence arm, admits to being “very concerned” about cyber-terrorism threats to flying software – others seem less flustered. The fact that the Harris spokesman quoted in this story says that the company is prepared to accept a “risk of compromise” that “is very small” when it comes to something that could cost hundreds of crew and passenger lives seems telling.

James Hayes, technology features editor


  Tereza Pultarova Tobacco for biofuel instead of cigarettes

Boeing will give South African tobacco farmers a chance to devote their work to more virtuous purposes. Instead of feeding the lethal cigarette business, they could supply the emerging jet biofuel industry. Their experience with growing the controversial plant won’t be wasted while tending to a nicotine-free energy-rich variety. What a great plan!

Rosetta the comet-chaser arrives at destination

After ten years and 6 billion kilometres hurtling through the cold and lonely space, European comet chasing spacecraft Rosetta has finally reached its destination. The engineering feats of the daring mission are not yet completed as, after the first ever face to face encounter with a comet, the spacecraft will attempt a first ever landing on a comet’s surface in November this year.

Tereza Pultarova, online news reporter


  dominic-lenton Poor connectivity at football matches solved

Never mind queuing for a meat pie and mug of Bovril, the biggest half-time frustration for today’s football fans is trying to get a connection on their mobile as thousands of other people all fire up their phones at the same time. Technology from UK start-up TribeHive which addresses the problem by building a network directly between phones is going into action at six English league clubs when the new season kicks off. Is yours one of them?

Tidal power demonstrator unveiled in Wales

The UK’s lack of initiative in exploiting wave and tidal power generation technology around its coastline has been one of the busiest topics in E&T’s letters pages recently. Correspondents will be interested to learn that the first full-scale tidal energy generator in Wales has been unveiled to begin a trial ahead of a 10 MW array installation. Backers say it will be among the world’s first demonstration devices connected to the grid to generate green, renewable and predictable tidal power.

Dominic Lenton, managing editor

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