Sewer management is a difficult business; it depends on a careful balance of chemical and civil engineering.
Sewer infrastructure maintenance is a costly business, e.g. in America the federal government has required cities to invest more than $15 billion in new pipes since 2007.
The concrete foundations of sewers are often corroded due to additives used in the processing of drinking water. In Australia some concrete pipes are being corroded by up to 90 per cent.
One group who knows this well are the Sewer Corrosion and Odour Research (SCORe) Team at the Advance Water Management Centre at the University of Queensland, Australia, who recently published an article in the journal Science outlining a method to reduce sewer corrosion.
When multinational companies commit to ‘going green’, you know the trend is here to stay. If legislation doesn’t catch you out, then consumers and customers will. It’s just a matter of time.
I think the business arguments for organisations to become more sustainable are clear: reduced waste and costs; greater efficiency; employee approval and loyalty; competitive edge; great PR; adding value to your brand; and even increases to the bottom line are some of the potential benefits on offer.
In 1974, a paper, published in Nature, identified the role of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in causing ozone depletion. This marked an important point in understanding the impact of human activity on our planet.
In recognition of this breakthrough in understanding, Professor Paul Crutzen, Professor F. Sherwood Rowland and Professor Mario Molina were awarded the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Recently I wrote about twins who were creating a better mechanism to release cancer-fighting drugs and about researchers using epigenetics to identify the best treatments for cancers.
Now I have more good news about chemical engineers working to combat lung cancer.
Researchers at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) have successfully used RNA therapies to shrink and slow the growth of lung cancer tumours.
One of the major considerations when making, and buying, modern consumer products is battery life. Cheaper products generally have short battery lives. You’ll pay considerably more for better performance, but even high specification smartphones barely last more than half a day according to a recent test.
There was a great fun story in the media recently when Cambridge University announced they were looking for a ‘Doctor of Chocolate’.
Based in Cambridge University’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, the ‘project will investigate the factors which allow chocolate, which has a melting point close to that of the human body, to remain solid and retain qualities sought by consumers when it is stored and sold in warm climates.’
When you think of data storage, I think it would be safe to assume that water is not the first thing that comes to mind. Rather it is hardware and electronic components that we associate with storing our information, such as saving documents on a USB pen drive or computer hard-drives.
The team, led by Sharon Glotzer, the Stuart W. Churchill Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Michigan, have discovered a new method for storing data in microscopic particles suspended in a solution, also referred to as “wet computing”.
Have you noticed how often nature inspires technological advancements? It’s something that chemical engineers are very adept at and have made a series of recent discoveries that have great potential.
Research by Newcastle University in the UK found that nickel nanoparticles on the exoskeletons of Sea Urchin larvae gave them the ability to convert CO2 to calcium carbonate. The finding has the potential to help mitigate climate change.
When most people think of aerosols they think of spray cans.
Coverage by the media in the 1980s and 1990s of aerosols damaging the ozone layer drove this thinking. However, it is just one type of aerosol or “atmospheric particulate”, cholorofluorocarbons (CFCs), that was causing this damage.
The world of genetics is fascinating and there always seems an endless stream of findings and breakthroughs with the potential for predicting and treating health problems.
This month, research published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated women with mutations in the PALB2 gene face a one in three chance of getting breast cancer by age 70.
A team at the Institute of Cancer Research, in London, have shown 14 separate genetic mutations can greatly increase the odds of aggressive prostate cancers and form the basis for genetic screening in a similar way to breast cancer in women.
Most of us are familiar and fascinated with ‘big-game’ animals like rhinos, elephants and tigers. Thankfully, they are now protected animals and their numbers have stabilised, but remain perilously low. For instance only around 3,000 tigers remain the in the wild.
By contrast, there are tens of millions of species of bacteria living in the wild. But even these are hard to capture and some are just as elusive as a Siberian Tiger.
A Golden Age is a concept that implies a period of great advancement and outstanding achievement for a civilisation or topic. This concept can be applied to chemical engineering.
Although chemical engineering is a relatively new profession, it could be said that it has already gone through two such periods of change and has now entered a third Golden Age of practice, thought and impact. With many great opportunities and challenges that accompany it.
As we advance our knowledge of renewable energies is it important that we are able to reduce the cost of producing them, to make them affordable and widely available.
In an earlier blog I discussed charities working to alleviate energy poverty by building a new economy around solar power.
Researchers from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and Department of Physics and Astronomy have developed a method to produce spray-on perovskite solar cells.
This is very exciting as it offers a way of developing a low-cost method of producing solar energy cells.
Step by step, day by day, country by country, something special is happening in the world of process safety. In chemical engineering hubs around the world, process safety is being taken to new levels led by a network of IChemE members.
They are the vanguard and champions of a long-term IChemE initiative to improve safety and give greater recognition to one of the most important – if the not the most important – discipline in the chemical engineering profession.
Globalisation has created opportunities for many industries, but the growth of some fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) – especially fresh foods – continue to be limited by their relatively short shelf lives.
For some countries, like Australia, it places an unwelcome cap on their exporting potential and economic growth.
For nations with burgeoning populations, especially in South East Asia, the scope and volume of ‘fresh’ food imports can be constrained and place additional burdens on ‘home-grown’ food supplies.
Throughout 2014 there have been various emotional and poignant days recording key events in the twentieth century’s two world wars.
As chemical engineers, I’m sure some of us look at these historical events in contrasting ways, especially when we consider our professional ‘forefathers’ were the architects of weapons production on a mass scale.
Conversely, the mass use of antibiotics considerably reduced the death toll in combat during World War Two.
That’s the dichotomy of chemical engineers – our inventiveness has the ability for destruction and immeasurable good.
No one is absolutely sure how many people are affected by food poisoning each year. But it is a global problem and the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate it affects tens of millions of people each year.
Salmonella is one of the most common and widely distributed foodborne diseases. Over 2,500 different strains have been identified to date. WHO estimates that Salmonella alone results in more than a hundred thousand deaths each year.
75 per cent of world fish stocks are fully-exploited, over-exploited or depleted.
Consumers and farmers are turning to farmed fish as a source of food, with fish farms aiming to produce nearly two thirds of the global fish supply by 2030.
However, 81 per cent of the fish caught in the wild are currently used to feed farmed fish, making fish farming just as unsustainable.
Eating fish offers huge health benefits; they provide neurodevelopment benefits to women of child rearing age and have been shown to reduce the risk of mortality from coronary heart disease. We need to find a way of farming fish sustainably to continue receiving these health benefits.
Chemical engineers are investigating various avenues to make the aquaculture industry more sustainable and reduce the use of wild fish in farmed fish feed.
One of the biggest frustrations that many scientists and engineers face, both in academia and industry, is short-termism. For issues like sustainability it’s problematic.
Investors and politicians can be nervous about taking the long-term view. Business likes quick wins; figures it can report quarterly and give annual performance targets.
By contrast, the journey to sustainability is often gradual, steady and long-term. For many of us it is a continual process of improvement – a step-by-step process of finding ways to use less energy, reduce waste and generally improve.
Chemical engineering attracts some of the best talent from around the world. And that talent has the proven ability to reach the top of their profession and head some of the largest and most profitable companies in the world.
Researching CEO’s and Chairs of major companies proved to be a very interesting endeavour. There are more chemical engineers, or individuals trained as chemical engineers, at the top of their game than you would think.
And they are the ones who are making the decisions that cascade down and affect our daily lives. So, here is a list I’ve put together of chemical engineers in high places and proof that studying chemical engineering can be the gateway to a high profile and influential career:
Sometimes, you find yourself in situations you have never planned or anticipated. That happened to me in 2010 as my wife and I were just flying out of Houston on 21st April 2010.
We heard a brief news story that an oil rig had caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico. This was Deepwater Horizon, the Macondo well, which eventually became the largest blowout and offshore oil spill in history – little did I know that this incident was going to fill my life for the next 85 days and beyond.