You've got to hand it to the Germans. In addition to their legendary train timetables, this nation of engineers is bristling with clever innovations. At a recent Bayer company briefing I was exposed to a whole bunch. Here are my six faves.
The Care-O-Bot confirms your best hopes for the future of house work: it’ll be delivered by a robot. The bot was conceived by the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Engineering and Automation together with Bayer MaterialScience to demonstrate a flexible polyeurathane skin especially designed to flex with moving parts.
Plastics from CO2
Replacing oil as the principle source of carbon in plastics could be as radical as the electric car. Think about all those supermarket bags. Even better, imagine if waste CO2 was the new source. The CAT centre in RWTH Aachen University is close to commercialising such an idea. A joint venture with Bayer Material Sciences, the Dream Project (reason seems obvious) would use CO2 to create polyurethane foam.
Downtime wind power
Germany is bristling with windmills, which is all very green except so much of the energy produced goes to waste in off-peak hours. Bayer, along with 12 other organisations, is exploring ways to manufacture hydrogen utilising this off-peak power. Hydrogen is an excellent energy store and fuel (Hindenburg anyone?) but is also an important ingredient in Bayer's new age plastics endeavours (see above).
A washable mosquito net
Almost all of Africa is now officially 'covered' by mosquito nets but 3.3 billion of the world's population are still at risk of malaria through exposure to these beasties. Bayer was late to the mosquito net business but late entry has given it an advantage: a better design. A collaboration between Bayer Life Sciences and Bayer Material Sciences, the LifeNet is far stronger than other nets (I couldn't rip it) and its embedded insecticide lasts through multiple washes. Videos of the product in the field show people using the net as a carry bag during the day and a mosquito repellent at night. Talk about multi-tasking.
Guthrie Bowron may never be the same again. Deploying its polymer expertise into the area of earthquake resilience, Bayer invented the novel earthquake wallpaper.
Mobile pharma factories
In an age of on-demand manufacturing and fab-labs surely it's about time someone created the mobile factory? Bayer has. Or at least a consortium called INVITE, led by Bayer at its Leverkusen HQ, has created the world's first mobile pharmaceutical plant.
Designed to fit inside a standard 20-foot shipping container, the factory is capable of producing FDA-approved drugs under the punishing strictures of Good Manufacturing Protocols. What's more, whereas most factories will operate a batch process, these puppies are continuous (think Morton Coutts' continuous fermentation of beer and you'll get the idea) meaning there's no limit to the output so long as the inputs are available. The factories are technically prototypes but the first commercially ordered factory is underway.
INVITE says no one is sure just how the idea will be applied. Is it possible that an African town could produce pesticides or even pharmaceuticals? Yes, that's the idea. And how about a brewery? "Now you're talking!"