No ordinary oasis (Day 65)

Lake in desertWhat’s the furthest you’ve ever walked for clean water?

If you’re lucky, not very far.

If you’re unlucky, in some arid parts of the developing world, you could be spending hours walking several kilometres each day just to collect water to survive.

And forget about those romantic images of verdant oases. The water is often in polluted, dirty and in unsafe pools, especially for children.

However, putting the economics to one side for the moment, there are solutions. Cue the anaerobic digester and a new bit of technology attached to it called the McLanahan Nutrient Separation System.

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The real guardians of the brand (Day 64)

 

Supermarket aisleIf you ever want to tease your colleagues in the marketing department, tell them they wouldn’t have a brand without chemical engineers.

Chemical engineers provide all the necessary building blocks of a successful brand such as consistency, standardisation, safety, quality and sheer volume.

This is certainly the case in the food industry. Just look what happens when it all goes wrong.

The European horse meat scandal, false advertising of farmed salmon as wild salmon in the US, 1,700 tonnes of manuka honey being produced in New Zealand but 10,000 tonnes being sold globally, meat suppliers in China distributing meat past its expiry date and in Italy the passing off of substandard olive oil as extra virgin; are all examples of where brand consistency has been lost.

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‘Beeting’ down the barriers (Day 63)

A group of 8 female Chemical Engineering students from Strathclyde University spending the day at the Newark site.

A group of eight female Chemical Engineering students from the University of Strathclyde spend the day at British Sugar’s Newark site.

When you’re responsible for processing 7.5 million tonnes of sugar beet each year to make one million tonnes of sugar annually, you’re always on the look out for engineering talent – regardless of their gender.

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A steely approach to recycling (Day 62)

Scrap metal

Recycled steel accounts for around a third of production each year.

I wonder what Henry Bessemer would think of steel-making today? Since he developed the first inexpensive process for the mass production of steel in the 1850s, the world has progressed to produce over 1,606 million tonnes in 2013.

The great thing about steel is that it is 100 per cent recyclable – to the same quality, time and time again. There’s also some important energy and raw material savings. Figures from the World Steel Association show that more than 1,400 kg of iron ore, 740 kg of coal, and 120 kg of limestone are saved for every tonne of steel scrap made into new steel.

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Making cities sustainable (Day 61)

Bridge reflection across the River Clyde at nightWith the Commonwealth Games in full swing, and an estimated one million tickets sold for 250 medal events, Glasgow in the UK is the place to be this summer!

But with tens of thousands of expected visitors as well as the 4,500 athletes taking part, it is fair to assume that a lot of waste is going to be produced.

And then there’s the carbon emissions associated with spectator and participant travel to and from the games.

So, naturally, making these Commonwealth Games sustainable and environmentally friendly is an important part of the agenda.

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When there’s just too much energy (Day 60)

green batteryIn some parts of the world, at certain times of the day, there’s just too much energy – and nowhere for it to go. It’s a problem more and more energy suppliers are likely to experience.

The problem is particularly acute in places like Hawaii. With no natural fossil fuels it has traditionally shipped oil and coal thousands of miles by sea at great cost. The result for Hawaii’s residents are electricity bills three times higher than mainland USA.

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An antibiotic-free fight against sepsis (Day 59)

Sepsis, sometimes called ‘blood poisoning’, is a fairly common whole body infection that can lead to multiple organ failure and death. It is caused by bacteria, fungi or protozoa such as Malaria.

Hospitalised patients recovering from operations, and people with weak or compromised immune systems are particularly at risk, although it can develop from something as simple as a dirty wound.

Even developed countries struggle to manage the infection. In the US, each year, 750,000 cases of sepsis are recorded. In Germany, sepsis claims 60,000 lives annually and is the third most common cause of death.

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Strange biofuelled tea (Day 58)

Every now again we like to bring you the quirky and unusual on Chemeng365. So today’s blog features the story of the The Strange Brew Tea Company in Scotland.

Using their own words, ‘The Strange Brew Tea Company are an eco-friendly tea business with a huge passion for tea, the environment and all things quirky!’

Teak Trike

The Strange Brew Tea Company’s “Tea Trike” on the grounds of Thirlestane Castle in Scotland.

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The carbon dioxide sniffing satellite (Day 57)

Space travel may not be the natural territory of chemical engineers, but earlier this month NASA launched a satellite which will be of great interest to many in the energy sector and those interested in climate change.

On 2 July 2014, NASA launched the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO-2) satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Its mission is to study the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide globally and provide scientists with a better idea of how carbon is contributing to climate change.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory - NASA JPL - Caltech

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-2) (Image courtesy of NASA/JPL – Caltech)

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Cars made from tom-auto sauce (Day 56)

TomatoesThere’s always lots of news and debate about how vehicles of the future will be powered, but rarely is there a conversation about what they might be made from.

Car production has become a lot more sustainable in recent years, with specific legislation introduced in many countries for manufacturers. Estimates suggest up to 90 per cent of a car leaving the production line today could be recycled.

But what if some of those materials used to make cars are also the product of inventive recycling?

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The lesser known hydrocarbon (Day 55)

Frozen shore lineWalk up to any typical man or woman in the street and ask them where their energy comes from to power their homes, cook their food, keep the cold out and fuel their cars and you’ll probably get a very long list of answers.

If you posed the question, what power source has more energy in it than all the world’s oil, coal and gas put together, only a few are likely to get the right answer.

In fact the answer is gas hydrates – the lesser known hydrocarbon. Otherwise known as fire ice and more loosely termed methane hydrate, the gas presents as ice crystals with natural methane gas (and other gases) locked inside.

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The rise, rise and rise of chemical engineering (Day 54)

UndergraduatesThe organisation responsible for managing applications to higher education courses in the UK – UCAS – published their annual data tables this week. Their top-line data, by the deadline of 30 June 2014, showed a total of 659,030 applications, an increase of four per cent compared to the same point last year.

It’s an encouraging set of statistics following the decline in 2012 of eight per cent caused by the introduction of higher tuition fees in some parts of the UK.

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The power of the award (Day 53)

skyscraper currencyIs it possible to attach a value to winning an award? Are they worth the effort to galvanise an internal team to pull together an outstanding entry? Do they result in more investment? And how do you manage the implications of not winning (and in many cases, not even being shortlisted)?

These are difficult questions to answer, but I did want to give a few examples of where winning an IChemE Award can be the beginning of commercial and reputational success.

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Engineering life into perspective (Day 52)

Global Water Brigades Ghana

Global Brigade volunteers in Ghana

Some professions have an ability to provide a unique insight into life that can transform a career into a lifelong vocation, not just a job that pays the bills every month. I’d certainly rank the engineering professions into this category.

The transformation often takes place at university, where engineering undergraduates start to become exposed to the power and potential of their chosen profession through initiatives like Global Brigades.

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The intriguing story of the bee, the spider and the snowdrop (Day 51)

BeeAs a general rule, if scientists collectively issue a warning, we should take notice. If their warnings are based on a review of 800 scientific studies over two decades, you know something is seriously wrong. In this case, the warning’s about the plight of the humble bee.

The bee is nature’s pollinator but has been ravaged by pesticides, which are thought to damage their navigation, learning, food collection, lifespan, resistance to disease and fertility.

The main finger of blame is being pointed at an insecticide called neonicotinoid. It’s a systemic insecticide, meaning it can be absorbed into every cell in a plant, making all parts poisonous to pests. Concerns are also growing that neonicotinoids are affecting a much wider group of animals including birds, lizards, earthworms and coastal shellfish.

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A postcard from China (Day 50)

China StampLife is full of little milestones and today marks 50 days since I took the office of IChemE president. Thank you to everyone for your generous messages of support so far.

Today’s blog reflects the truly global nature of the chemical engineering profession. There’s around 200 countries in the world and you’ll find IChemE members in around 60 per cent of them (120) – very impressive.

Last week I received an email from a member living and working in China – Kenny McDonald, a formulation technology and commissioning manager, for BASF Crop Protection (Jiangsu).

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A golden age for sensors (Day 49)

Monash's new sensor has great potential for monitoring people's health anytime and anywhere.

Monash’s new sensor has great potential for monitoring people’s health anytime and anywhere.

Healthcare policy ebbs and flows on a regular basis, especially in countries where the state provides tax-payer funded services like here in the UK.

However, although medicines, equipment, communication and facilities have all generally improved over time, the basic management of healthcare services and the business models for delivering them often seem in a state of constant flux.

A good example is where healthcare is best provided – in homes, communities or large centralised hospitals. Generally, I think it is a combination of all of these, but there has been a trend over the past few decades to more community- and home-based services, especially for the elderly.

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Doing the right thing (Day 48)

Climate ChangeThe right thing to do is not necessarily the cheapest when it comes to saving our planet.

That’s certainly the case for mitigating climate change.

Recently, in my monthly poll, I asked the question – Are people willing to pay more for energy to mitigate climate change? (you can vote at the bottom of this blog too).

So far the poll is indicating that nearly 60 per cent are happy to pay more.

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Will diet foods ever become the norm? (Day 47)

Chocolate BubblesTake a walk down any supermarket shopping aisle and you’ll find carefully arranged products positioned by ‘merchandisers’ to ensure your favourite foods are easy to find and always on sale.

‘Diet’, ‘healthy’ or ‘reduced calorie’ foods are often given their own special sections, and in many cases the amount of space given to them is growing.

But for many consumers ‘diet’ products are a compromise – they don’t quite taste the same…do they? But if they did, it could make the battle against obesity much easier.

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Can you lead a chemical-free life? (Day 46)

NewspaperI think there is a general perception that natural is good and man-made is bad. And if that man-made thing is overtly ‘chemical’, then the first instinct of many people is to avoid it.

The general public’s view of ‘chemicals’ has evolved over many decades, if not centuries. And we have to assume that the historical view of chemicals is rooted in some form of legitimate concern.

But does today’s perception of ‘chemicals’ actually reflect modern reality, especially the way it is portrayed in the media?

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Will energy always be so unpopular? (Day 45)

CoalIt helps to have thick skin if you’re involved in the energy sector. Although demonised may be too strong a word, large chunks of the energy sector does seem to be dogged by negativity, fear and distrust.

Shale gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ invokes worries about earth tremors and contaminated water supplies. Nuclear energy attracts concerns over cost and safety. Renewable energy infrastructure like tall wind turbines are on the receiving end of vociferous community lobby groups. Energy production is inextricably linked to climate change. All these issues are regular frequenters in the media’s column inches.

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Conflict clean-up (Day 44)

Chemical WeaponsA few weeks ago I blogged about chemical engineers and their role in the production of antibiotics to save lives during the D-Day landings in 1944. Antibiotics are now part of a standard issue battlefield medical first aid kit to help save lives during what is described as a ‘platinum 10 minutes’.

Sadly, there are still around 40 conflicts in the world today. And as we’ve seen in the Middle East and Syria, chemical weapons are still being produced and used in some of those conflicts.

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Ask the President (Day 43)

Geoff Maitland IChemE PresidentAccountability, openness and transparency. Three important words in the governance of any charitable and membership organisation like IChemE.

IChemE also has a wealth of knowledge and history acquired since we were established in 1922, and an active membership eager to share their experiences and expertise to advance the profession.

As your President, I also want to be accountable and share my knowledge where I can. So, throughout my presidency, there is an open invitation to send in your reasonable questions and thoughts on issues relating to our technical policy – Chemical Engineering Matters. Every now and again, we’ll publish the answers starting with today.

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Twin track cancer attack (Day 42)

PillsCurrent statistics tell us that around three identical twins are born for every 1,000 deliveries worldwide. Overall, quite low odds.

However, in the UK at least, for every 1,000 children born today, over a third will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetimes. It’s a worrying statistic and an area where chemical engineering has a role to play.

My statistical interest in twins and cancer incidence rates was prompted by a great chemical engineering story from the University of New South Wales, Australia.

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Let’s get competitive (Day 41)

snails racingWhether we like it or not, all of us are living in a competitive world. Even professions need to compete to show their continuing relevance and value, especially when you consider that their relationships with members can and does endure throughout entire working lives of 40 years and more.

Of course, some professions compete better than others. By design or luck they have a desirable image, higher status and better profile with important stakeholders such as young people, parents, business, decision-makers like governments, and many others.

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Creative juices…with alcohol and frozen (Day 40)

Mahiki LICIf you’re in the middle of your chemical engineering course, you may still be thinking about what to do when you graduate. Thankfully, there’s lots of choice, but how about taking on some of the world’s biggest consumer brands and using your chemical engineering skills to make…well…frozen lollies or popsicles? Continue reading

A purification money saver (Day 39)

Abstract filterWhat do these purification processes have in common: distillation, extraction, chromatography, adsorption, and crystallization?

All can be energy or materials intensive. In other words – expensive.

Some professionals in the purification business will often quote phrases like: “It is generally accepted that separation processes account for between 40-70 per cent of both the capital and operating costs in industry.”

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Tour de Engineers? (Day 38)

Tour de France

Image by Sergii Rudiuk / Shutterstock.com

The Tour de France sets off tomorrow for its 101st edition and over the duration of 23 days will see 198 riders from 22 teams attempt to complete 21 stages and cover a total distance of 3,664 kilometres or 2,276 miles.

If you’re a member of the Team Sky nine-man team you’ll probably be sitting on a carbon fibre bike worth £12,000 (USD $20,000). Also, most of the field will be using a Kevlar-based helmet ranging from £120 (USD $200) and upwards.

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The most important liquids on the planet (Podblog) (Day 37)

ChemEng365Ionic liquids have been voted the British scientific innovation most likely to influence the course of the 21st century. They are set to change the rules of chemistry forever.

Leading the way are Queen’s University Ionic Liquid Laboratories (QUILL) Research Centre in Belfast, UK.

QUILL won four IChemE Awards last year for their gas clean-up technology.

This week, QUILL have been exhibiting at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition and you can listen to QUILL explain more about ionic liquids in this podcast.

Getting ready for the sugar wars (Day 37)

Diabetes indicatorSmoking, passive-smoking and tobacco-related products like ‘chewing tobacco’ still kill around six million people a year. Despite all the education, controls and stigmatisation of smokers over many decades, the casualty rate is expected to rise even further to eight million by 2030.

But humanity is likely to face an even bigger killer in the future – obesity.

Worldwide obesity has doubled since 1980. Current estimates suggest 3.4 million adults die every year as a result of being overweight.

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Finding a way out of energy poverty (Day 36)

Kenya Solar Panel project

Kenya Solar Panel Project

Energy poverty can mean different things in different parts of the world. In Europe, the debate is most often about the spiraling cost of energy. For some it means cutting-back on their heating and living in colder homes.

But for the one in four people around the world who don’t even have access to an energy grid, the issues are even more acute. It’s a problem that one charity – Village Infrastructure – is determined to help solve.

Village Infrastructure’s (VI) mission is to make energy affordable for the 1.3 billion people who live without electricity. Their innovative approach has already been recognised by the G20, who have provided grant funding.

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