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What are the hot topics in research and technology? What is Empa’s role in all of this? How are inventions from the lab turned into innovations that succeed in the market? EmpaQuarterly, our magazine for research and innovation, provides answers to these questions with interviews, portraits and exciting reports from our labs.
 
Self-learning heat­ing control system

Smart heat

Can buildings learn to save all by themselves? Empa researchers think so. In their experiments, they fed a new self-learning heat­ing control system with temperature data from the previous year and the current weather forecast. The “smart” control system was then able to assess the building’s behavior and act with good anticipation. The result: greater comfort, lower energy costs. More.

Insights

Random landscape

MXenes are a new class of materials that are ideal for energy storage applications, such as this MXene-based supercapacitor printed on paper. By chance, this specimen formed a tree-like structure with a paper fiber trunk and a MXene treetop when cut.

In Brief

A mysterious hand

The bronze hand of Prêles is considered the oldest bronze sculpture of a human body part in Central Europe. It is 3500 years old – found by two private individuals and handed over to the archaeological service in the canton of Berne. Marianne Senn, leading researcher in the field of archaeo-metallurgy at Empa, was involved in the analysis. She found out that the metal was being cast – a technology that was advanced at the time. According to the research team, the metal for the bronze hand comes from the Valais or the French Alps.

Rubber in the environment

Tire abrasion lands as micro rubber mainly in soils and waters and to a small extent in the air. The amount of these particles in our environment is anything but small, as Empa researchers have now calculated. A total of 200,000 tons of microrubber have accumulated in the last 30 years – most of them in the five meters to the left and right of roads. Most of the microrubber, however, ends up in the sewage treatment plant or is recycled together with old asphalt. The rubber is harmless to the human organism.

Networked robot research

Empa is on board the Swiss National Science Foundation’s National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Robotics. Under the direction of ETH Zurich and EPFL, the Universities of Berne and Zurich and the “Istituto Dalle Molle di Studi sull’Intelligenza Artificiale” in Lugano are also involved. Robots are being developed to improve the quality of life of individuals and benefit society. With this NCCR, Switzerland should continue to be at the forefront of international robotics research.

Damping low tones

A team of Empa acoustic researchers has succeeded in building macroscopic crystal structures that use internal rotation to attenuate the propagation of sound waves. The method makes it possible to design very light and stiff materials that can also “swallow” low frequencies particularly well.

 

Cause of emissions

Is streaming the new flying?

Streaming consumes enormous amounts of energy and is at least as damaging to the climate as all civil aviation – according to a French study. It is generally underestimated what electronic devices – apart from electricity consumption – actually cause in terms of emissions. But how harmful is our digital consumption really for the environment? Lorenz Hilty, head of the Computer Science and Sustainability Research Group at Empa and the University of Zurich, explains. More.

Renovation

The path to an energy-efficient building park

Heating, hot water and private electricity consumption consume large amounts of energy and cause high CO2 emissions. Energy-efficient renovations of buildings can reduce this consumption – but how is the money best used for which type of building? Empa researchers have investigated this question. More.

Heat islands

Every tree counts

Is it possible to create cool zones in cities to tackle the more pronounced heat island effects due to climate change? Empa researchers have developed a simulation program that can make detailed predictions about which pavement and which type of vegetation could help. Using the Münsterplatz in Zurich as an example, they have run through such a model calculation. More.

Alternative cement recipes

A recipe for eco-concrete

Cement production has to drastically reduce its environmental footprint. Empa researchers are, therefore working on alternative cement recipes that cause significantly fewer emissions or can even bind the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. More.

Mirko Kovac

Vertical take-off

Mirko Kovac is heading the new Materials and Technology Center of Robotics of Empa and Imperial College London. Together with his team, he develops drones and flying robots, which are supposed to help autonomously with building maintenance, for instance. And incidentally he is kicking off a revolution: he wants to build “living” machines. More.

Preeclampsia

Save diagnosis for mother and child

Preeclampsia is a particularly dreaded pregnancy complication that threatens the lives of mother and child. A correct diagnosis, however, is currently time-consuming and, in many cases, inaccurate. The Empa spin-off “MOMM Diagnostics” is developing a fast and precise test that provides diagnostic certainty and at the same time saves healthcare costs. More.

Preheating of catalytic converters

The cold-start dilemma

With hybrid cars and plug-in hybrids, cold starts occur more frequently when the internal combustion engine stops and the electric motor pushes the car through town. How quickly can the catalytic converter be preheated so that it can still clean exhaust gases well? What would be the method of choice? A team of Empa researchers is investigating. More.

On the Road

Celebrating interdisciplinarity

On November 28, Empa St. Gallen organized the annual Empa Doctoral Symposium. Following the theme “Science Cocktail: Mixing Disciplines to Drive Innovation”, the event began with an inspiring speech by Professor Neil Alford of Imperial College London and continued with lectures and poster presentations showing the diverse work of Empa PhD students. Congratulations to Oliver Braun and Rimah Darawish for winning the Best Lecture and Poster Award respectively.

Award for CFRP pioneer

On 18 September, Urs Meier, former director of Empa in Dübendorf and expert for carbon-fibre reinforced plastics (CFRP) in civil engineering, received a presti­gious award for his services – the “SAMPE Fellow Award”. This award is presented in recognition of outstanding contributions in the fields of materials and processes.

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Focus: Energy revolution