Posted in: Industry News

Tough Talk: Saving The Planet

Posted on Sunday, April 1, 2012

You’re probably thinking this is going to be one of those well-worn stories about how powder coating technology is good for the environment, how it doesn’t use solvents and doesn’t pollute our precious atmosphere, and how it generates virtually no hazardous wastes to poison our ground or waterways. No, today’s topic is much more serious than that.

Recently it has come to my attention that a rather large asteroid may crash into our planet. It’s no joke. The asteroid, Apophis (named after the ancient Egyptian spirit of evil and destruction), passes by the earth every seven years. In 2029, this near earth object (NEO) may encounter a gravitational keyhole as it hurtles past the earth. A terrestrial force such as this could cause Apophis to shift its path such that the next time around it could slam into the earth precisely on April 13, 2036.

So what’s the big deal; a little asteroid banging into the big ole planet earth? Well, this asteroid is approximately 270 meters in diameter, and NASA estimates the energy from its impact would be roughly 510 megatons (over ten times the power of the largest hydrogen bomb ever detonated).

Is it time to commence the construction of impact resistant bunkers in our backyards? Not so quick, because The Powder Coating Research Group has been asked to team up with a crack team of astrophysicists and aerospace scientists from Texas A&M University’s Aerospace Engineering Department. The erudite technologists at TAMU have devised a plan to mitigate the potential of the havoc that this NEO could wreak. Before I tender an exposition of their clever approach let’s review some of the options for coaxing this planetary object out of harm’s way.

The Russian Space Federation has proposed implementing impulsive options such as discharging a nuclear warhead either on, beneath or above the surface of Apophis, thereby altering its path and avoiding impact with the earth. Does anyone have a nuclear device they could spare in a few years? The use of any of these techniques elicits criticism as to what would happen to the detritus created from such an explosion. Would the fragments come crashing to the earth causing dire consequences? Questions also arise as to how an international consortium could secure and commandeer a live nuclear device. Regardless, one of these techniques would be considered if the potential danger of impact was deemed imminent.

The experts at Texas A&M have explored the use of a “slow push” mitigation technique. These include: a gravitational tractor, pulsed laser, focused solar and mass driver scenarios. Most interesting and relevant to our fair technology is the creation of an albedo from applying a dark absorptive powder coating to one side of the asteroid and a white or reflective powder to the opposing side. Coating one side black and the other white would create a differential in solar absorption as the celestial body rotates on its axis. This photo-energy difference would cause Apophis to shift its path a couple earth diameters and save the home of the human race.

The Powder Coating Research Group has been called upon to develop the technology to take to space to accomplish this daunting task. We’re working on a couple powder coatings that absorb solar energy differently enough to push a speeding asteroid. In addition, these products must be able to be applied in space (a vacuum with no oxygen), melt and form a continuous film and harden under the prevailing ambient conditions on the asteroid surface. No small feat.

Besides saving humanity from utter annihilation, what are the benefits of all these far out efforts? We see enormous potential for spin-off technology. Collaborating on the development of advanced application techniques to propel and apply under the rigorous conditions in outer space will undoubtedly advance our understanding of electrostatics and powder handling characteristics. Formulating powder coatings that can melt and form a film on an irregular, porous surface will offer insight into coating rheology, surface tension and substrate wetting properties. Finding binder chemistry that can harden and develop a coating durable enough to withstand erosion and bombardment of solar winds may help us produce tougher coatings.

So the next time you gaze skyward, rest assured that powder coating technology has the future of your grandchildren and the rest of humanity in safe hands.

Kevin Biller is a contributing editor of Powder Coated Tough magazine. He can be reached via email at