Technology Review has an excellent summary of 3D printing as a technology here. They also just posted a rant about the limitations of 3D printing, and how the people who are gushing about the technology need to stop trying to boost everybody’s expectations.
Update: And now an opposing viewpoint from a guest writer at Technology Review’s been posted here.
Surprise! The Chinese have a hinky economic system.
The reason for the sarcasm is that a US government investigation into the Chinese solar panel industry has found evidence that Chinese manufacturers are selling solar panels for less than the cost to make them, which really hurts their competitors (and them, but they’re getting free money from the Chinese government, so they’re doing well at the moment). This shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone.
For over a decade now, the Chinese government has been making money easily accessible to Chinese manufacturers in the form of low-interest loans. This has provided many jobs and sparked the Chinese economy into a huge boom, but it’s also allowed the companies to become bloated and inefficient (after all, why bother with efficiency when you can just take out another loan?). The loans have become essentially free since the Great Recession started, which has made the bloat grow even faster. This is, if you’re curious, the same situation that Japan was in in the late 80s, just before it fell into its current multi-decade stagnation.
So, yeah. Not at all surprised that the same thing’s been going on in the solar industry over there. The only question is what the US (and others) are going to do about it. This situation leaves China’s competitors with three bad choices: either take advantage of the artificially cheap goods for sale (driving their own solar industries out of business), subsidize their solar industries (which would cost a lot of money), or slap import tariffs on Chinese solar panels, which would very likely start a trade war. There aren’t really any good responses to this, the way I see it.
Scientists have figured out a way to whip up new kinds of composite materials: linking the components to iron nanoparticles and using magnetic fields to guide the components and put the composite together. This should result in lighter, tougher, more flexible materials. We’ll see what industry can come up with when they start adopting the technique. Also on PhysOrg.