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Green Biz

New Life for Leftover Latex

Peek into any basement or garage and you'll find them: old cans of paint left from a domestic makeover. Every year, do-it-yourselfers stash away some 66 million gallons of surplus latex. That's not counting the tons of waste from commercial sources, including low-quality paints rejected by manufacturers, dinged cans tossed by retailers, and big barrels abandoned by contractors.

A startup hopes to shift the flow of this colorful river away from the nation's landfills and into new plastics. Licensing technology from Rutgers University, Re-Manufacturing Technologies (RMT) has developed a process that combines waste paint with recycled plastic to produce resin pellets that companies melt and mold into various forms, from kitchen tools to electronics cases.

The RMT approach avoids landfill costs and helps meet the plastics industry's growing demand for recycled supplies, for which prices have climbed recently. Some day, paint recyclers might even pay you a fee to return those unwanted cans in your basement.

A Battery That Can Power a Whole Town

Nuclear "batteries" are nothing new. Energy from a fist-size lump of plutonium has powered the Voyager spacecraft for 25 years. And tiny specks of the stuff kept pacemakers ticking for decades. Now, Hyperion Power Generation (HPG) is developing a nuclear battery capable of powering a town. The size of a hot tub, it can put out more than 25 megawatts for five years, enough to run 25,000 homes.

Building on technology developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Santa Fe (N.M.) startup's battery runs on uranium hydride, which acts as fuel and also regulates power output, making it virtually impossible for the battery to suffer a meltdown. With no moving parts to break or corrode, HPG's batteries can be buried in the earth for added security and safety. Their small size makes them easy to install and, later, to remove and refuel, cutting out the need to handle radioactive materials on site.

HPG plans to sell its first units to towns and industrial operations not connected to the grid. The company estimates lifetime costs for its battery will be a fraction of the price to build and run a natural gas plant with the same capacity. Backed by venture capital from Altira, HPG could have its batteries ready in six years.

Microbial Methane Munchers

Could a microbe from hell help slow the pace of global warming? In the simmering, corrosive muds of Hell's Gate hot springs of Rotorua, New Zealand, researchers have discovered bacteria that devour methane, a greenhouse gas that environmentalists consider 20 times more harmful that carbon dioxide.

GNS Science, a research organization owned by the New Zealand government, says the tough new bug is the first methane-loving bacterium found to flourish in conditions as hot as 158F, with a chemical ambience similar to stomach acid. This makes it potentially easier to adapt to other hostile environments such as landfills, which leak methane as trash decomposes.

Matthew Stott, a GNS microbiologist, says the bug could also be adapted for use in other methane-venting sites, such as mines. Publishing in Nature, the researchers dubbed their superhardy discovery Methylokorus infernorum, a mix of the Latinized names for methane and the infernal place the bug was found.

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