You might have missed: regenerating worms; spider leg robot; zinc and lignin battery; and more

Eco-friendly and affordable battery for low-income countries

A new battery made from zinc and lignin, an organic polymer found in the tissues of most plants, has been developed as a cheap and sustainable battery solution for countries where access to electricity is limited.

“While lithium-ion batteries are useful when handled correctly, they can be explosive, challenging to recycle, and problematic in terms of environmental and human rights issues when specific elements like cobalt are extracted,” says Ziyauddin Khan, a researcher at the Laboratory of Organic Electronics at Linköping University, Sweden.

“Therefore, our sustainable battery offers a promising alternative where energy density is not critical.”

The battery’s energy density is comparable to lead-acid batteries, it can be used for more than 8,000 cycles while maintaining about 80% of its performance and retains its charge for approximately 1 week.

It is described in an article published in the journal Energy & Environmental Materials.

Regenerating worms have genetic control over their algal partners

Acoels (Order Acoela) are unique marine worms that can regenerate their bodies after an injury and form symbiotic relationships with photosynthetic algae that live inside them.

The algae do not live within the worm’s cells but instead float around them.

Researchers studying Convolutriloba longifissura, a species of acoel that hosts the symbiotic algae Tetraselmis, have found that when it regenerates a transcription factor that takes part in the acoel regeneration process also controls algal photosynthesis.

“We don’t know yet how these species talk to each other or what the messengers are. But this shows their gene networks are connected,” says Bo Wang, assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University in the US who is a senior author of the paper in Nature Communications.

Understanding how partners in symbiotic relationships communicate at the molecular level opens up many new questions.

“Are there rules of symbiosis? Do they exist?” says lead author Dania Nanes Sarfati of Stanford. “This research sparks these kinds of questions, which we can link to other organisms.”

A photograph of an acoel worm against a black background, its cells are fluorescing in red, blue and green.
Fluorescence imaging shows the algal cells in red, and the acoel cells in blue and green. Credit: Dania Nanes Sarfati

Scientists generate heat over 1,000 degrees Celsius with solar power

Manufacturing essential materials such as glass, steel, cement, and ceramics requires temperatures over 1,000°C. These processes rely heavily on burning fossil fuels for heat and, as a result, the industries account for about 25% of global energy consumption.

In a proof-of-concept study Swiss researchers have now used synthetic quartz to trap solar energy to generate temperatures more than 1,000°C.

The research demonstrates the method’s potential role in providing clean energy for carbon-intensive industries.

“People tend to only think about electricity as energy, but in fact, about half of the energy is used in the form of heat,” says Emiliano Casati of ETH Zurich, first author of the paper in the journal Device.

Photograph of a circular see-through window on a device. Inside is glowing orange-yellow with heat.
Thermal-trapping device reaching 1050 degrees Celsius. Credit: Device/Casati et al.

Soft robot that mimics a spider’s leg

Researchers have created a tiny robotic leg modelled after the leg of a cucumber spider (Araniella cucurbitina), according to a new study in Advanced Functional Materials.

In spiders a blood-like fluid called hemolymph enables the activation of the muscles and flexibility of the exoskeleton.

The soft robot mimics these properties with a light-curing hard resin exoskeleton, an artificial muscle made of a conducting polymer, and an electrolyte solution that behaves like hemolymph. The manufactured leg is the size of a fingernail and is activated by an electrical signal. 

The researchers showed that the leg can be used to interact with small delicate structures, such as a primrose stamen, spider web, and pollen grain, without damaging them.

Photograph of a spider leg-like soft robotic leg. The outer hard "exoskeleton" is see through, filled with a yellow liquid. It is touching the anthers of a plant.
A spider legs-inspired millimeter-scale soft exoskeleton, touching plant anthers. Credit: Tartu University/Italian Institute of Technology

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