Much as it did for hair styling products and fake tans, spray-on technology now stands to revolutionize everything from locomotives to winemaking to textile design, thanks to a versatile new spray known as "liquid glass." Applied to nearly any surface, an invisible non-toxic layer of silicon just one millionth of a millimeter thick can protect underlying matter from water, bacteria, dirt and even UV radiation.
Made almost entirely of pure silicon dioxide, liquid glass is harmless to the environment and could replace a variety of harsh cleaning chemicals. The coating can be cleaned with water alone, and tests by food-processing companies have shown that a good hot water rinse left liquid-glass-coated surfaces as sterile as normal surfaces doused with strong disinfecting bleach. The coating is also flexible and breathable, so it can be applied to both static and non-static surfaces.Owned by German company Nanopool, liquid glass can be produced in a solution of alcohol or water, depending on the needs of the surface. The company still has some proving out to do before we'd recommend coating the entire globe in a cleanable, wipeable layer of glass several hundred times thinner than a human hair, but the range of possibilities is a bit mind-blowing. Companies from train car manufacturers to clothing designers to food and beverage producers are looking into ways to leverage the material's unique properties into cleaner -- both in the compositional and aesthetic senses of the word -- products, surfaces and public spaces.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.