Combating sewer corrosion (Day 96)

Concrete sewer tunnelSewer 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.

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Going green is here to stay (Day 95)

Sustainable DevelopmentWhen 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.

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Scrubbing up nicely (Day 94)

Nobel Prize Chemistry 1995

Winners – Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1995 for their work to understand the impact of humans on our planet.

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.

Professor Molina started his scientific career with a chemical engineering degree (1965) from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico.

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Fighting lung cancer with personalised medicine (Day 93)

DNA and RNARecently 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.

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Add just a pinch of salt for longer battery life (Day 92)

Dead Batteries - Huguette Roe  Shutterstock dot com

‘Dendrites’ are a major cause of declining battery performance. Image courtesy of Huguette Roe | Shutterstock.com

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.

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Masters of the unusual job title (Day 91)

ChocolateThere 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.’

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Digital brain implants and Rubik’s cubes (Day 90)

man in computerWhen 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.

Chemical engineers from the University of Michigan, in collaboration with researchers at New York University, US, have developed a colloidal cluster arrangement of nanoparticles that could lead to a form of wet information storage.

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”.

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Espresso fuel (Day 89)

Cooking FatDiesel, petrol and battery power are familiar ways to power our transport. LPG and natural gas are other alternatives.

But there are other more obscure (and sometimes less practical ways) to power vehicles.

Air, waste cooking oil, waste vegetables, beer and spirits, chocolate, nappies (diapers), sawdust, nuts, styrofoam and other waste or co-products all have the potential to fuel cars.

In fact, finding ways to convert industrial co-products into biofuel always seems a sensible and sustainable way to re-use our raw materials – especially for high volume commodities like coffee.

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Five things you need to know about journal Impact Factors (Day 88)

Pencil writing impactI have made it my quest throughout my presidency to shine a light on chemical engineering.

So it made me very proud to see the latest Impact Factors for IChemE’s journals.

Not only have the Impact Factors of IChemE’s three leading journals trebled since 2003 but Food and Bioproducts Processing (FBP) also recorded an annual increase in Impact Factor of 23 per cent.

These improvements in journal Impact Factors follow the high quality research work being performed by chemical engineers.

However most people don’t understand what Impact Factors are, how they should be used, nor how they are calculated.

Here are five simple ways to use and understand Impact Factors:

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Inspired by nature (Day 87)

Sea Urchin

Sea Urchins have the ability to convert CO2 to calcium carbonate

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.

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Using aerosols to understand our cloud atlas (Day 86)

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.

Countries are now phasing out the use of CFCs in line with international protocols.

Aerosols are actually just small particles found in the air that can be produced when we burn different types of fossil fuels.

Low-level clouds along the California coast

Low-level clouds along the California coast are visible in this July 26, 2014 image from the NOAA/NASA Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-15 satellite. Credit: NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center, data from NOAA GOES

Studying aerosols could help us better understand the Earth’s changing climate.

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It’s in our genes (Day 85)

DNAThe 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.

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‘Little-game’ hunters (Day 84)

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.

Panda

Pandas are not the only animals difficult to breed in captivity – ‘wild’ bacteria pose similar problems.

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The zero water ambition (Day 83)

Factory waterWorldwide, industry accounts for 22 per cent of all water consumption. This figure is expected to rise to 24 per cent of total freshwater withdrawal in 2025.

Most industries are working to reduce their water usage and many companies have business targets to reduce water consumption. Some even have the ambition of running ‘zero water’ factories.

But what are ‘zero water’ factories and are they really achievable?

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A new Golden Age for chemical engineering (Day 82)

Gas RigA 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.

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Spray-on solar cells (Day 81)

Blue and yellow sprayAs 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.

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A global ring of safety (Day 80)

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.

There are now nearly 70 chemical engineers enrolled or registered as Professional Process Safety Engineers based at strategic locations on five continents.

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.

Locations of Professional Process Safety Engineers

IChemE’s Professional Process Safety Engineers are now located on five continents

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Electronic bugging of the water variety (Day 79)

Water testing

Current water monitoring can be costly, time-consuming and require technical expertise.

Sharing new technology and developments, and making sure there is greater equality in its use across the world, requires political commitment.

But, arguably, making technological advancements that are affordable, especially for developing countries, is essential if it is to be deployed on a global scale.

So, I was really encouraged to read a story this week about something important to all of us – a new lower cost way of testing for water pollution and checking the quality of drinking water.

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Making food last longer (Day 78)

Goats cheeseGlobalisation 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.

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The dichotomy of chemical engineering (Day 77)

John Fletcher Moulton, Baron Moulton, c.  1913

John Fletcher Moulton, Baron Moulton, circa 1913.

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.

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Sometimes making people smile is enough (Day 76)

Fracture - Abhi Lokesh and Alex Theodre

Fracture – Abhi Lokesh and Alex Theodre (right)

Every now and again on ChemEng365, we venture away from the many ‘game-changing’ developments and achievements in chemical engineering that help to change the engineering landscape.

Today, we are digressing into the world of business start-ups, entrepreneurship and digital printing.

Our story centres on Abhi Lokesh and Alex Theodore, who co-founded Fracture – a small digital print business with a difference.

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Smart packaging detects food poisoning (Day 75)

Contaminated FoodNo 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.

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Not just any old bioenergy (Day 74)

energy calculatorTen per cent of the world’s primary energy supply in 2009 came from biomass. Demand for bioenergy is expected to grow three-fold by 2050. But does it matter where this bioenergy comes from?

Bioenergy generated from biomass comes from a range of sources; e.g. corn, sugar, sugar beet, soy, energy grass, organic waste and wood etc. to name but a few.

But how can we be sure that these renewable sources are any better than traditional energy producing methods?

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Marilyn Monroe tackles drug counterfeiters (Day 73)

Film with hidden image

Terry Shyu, MSE PhD Student, demonstrates use of nanopillars that reveal hidden images via condensation of fluid on the structures. Image credit: Joseph Xu

Drug counterfeiting is big business. It’s a global problem made even easier when you consider a third of all countries have little or no medicine regulation.

Poorer countries are most at risk. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate one in ten drug products are fake.

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It’s a sell out (Day 72)

C0145_13-slider-CEMThe first edition of IChemE’s technical strategy, Chemical Engineering Matters, was a sell out. There are no more copies left.

So I’m pleased to announce that a second edition has been published and you can find the new version of Chemical Engineering Matters here.

The simple statement that is ‘chemical engineering matters’ is not a cliché. It is the truth.

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Feeding the fish… fish (Day 71)

Fish in ocean75 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.

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The tension of short-termism (Day 70)

Short term versus long termOne 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.

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Stars of the boardroom (Day 69)

CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, Ben van Beurden - Photograph: Reuters

CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, Ben van Beurden – Photograph: Reuters

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:

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Into the lion’s den (Day 68)

Lion hunting on the SavannahSometimes, 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.

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A growing global family (Day 67)

SAIChE IChemE logoSome great news came out this week from South Africa with the announcement of a formal collaboration between the South African Institution of Chemical Engineers (SAIChE) and IChemE.

We’ve enjoyed a great relationship with SAIChE in recent years and we already work closely with them since we entered into a Memorandum of Understanding in 2012.

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Ten differences between chemistry and chemical engineering (Day 66)

Element cubesWhen I talk about my work I find the common problem that people do not understand the difference between chemists and chemical engineers.

Both fields are becoming increasingly important and deserve greater public recognition, but they are distinct.

Although I now work as a chemical engineer I originally studied chemistry, and so feel I should be well placed to highlight the key differences and dispel common misconceptions.

However, this list is in no way definitive and there are huge overlaps in the work of chemists and chemical engineers.

Here are ten differences between chemists and chemical engineers:

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