I always like to hear about the achievements of chemical engineering students around the world. IChemE has a long history of recognising such achievements and its a great way of encouraging and nurturing future talent.
The Macnab Lacey Prize was created when the McNab Medal for the best student design project and the Lacey Prize for environmental thinking were merged in 2011. It is open to final-year students from all IChemE-accredited universities, rewarding the project that best contributes to a sustainable world.
I am pleased to report that a student team from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, has won this year’s MacNab Lacey Prize. And they must be doing something right at Monash, because their undergraduates have grabbed the Prize two years running.
Monash University’s winning entry was a conceptual design that determines the feasibility of using black liquor (a lignin rich co-product of wood pulp produced in paper production) as a renewable feed-stock for ammonia production.
Marks’s Nanopatch™ idea was to offer a needle-free method of drug delivery that could be widely used and increase vaccine efficacy.
In 2011 UniQuest, the University of Queensland’s commercialisation company, helped Mark found Vaxxas to advance the possibility of Nanopatch™ becoming a clinically-proven product.
Today, Vaxxas and Mark are getting closer to making that idea a reality by raising £12.7 million of funding for a series of clinical programs and the development of a pipeline of new vaccine products for major diseases.
A shocking one-third of the food produced for human consumption – over a billion tonnes – is wasted every year – the United Nations tells us.
So you can imagine my delight when I learnt about the ground-breaking system developed by Global Water Engineering (GWE). Their system turns leftover cassava pulp into green energy using advanced anaerobic technology – and it does much more besides.
This certainly is another triumph for chemical engineering, and so it’s only fitting that GWE’s innovation earned them the IChemE Global Award for Energy back in November 2014.
I’ve been blogging continuously for 270 days now and I’m beginning to notice a few trends amongst my followers. Many readers are extremely interested in what chemical engineers do and where our profession can take us.
I’ve shared other people’s chemical engineering good news stories and talked about their work and their careers. But I’ve not talked about myself all that much. Unless your were present at the 2014 annual general meeting that is, where I highlighted some aspects of my career to date in my presidential address, a recording of which is available to watch here.
But it’s my birthday today – and given that birthdays are all about the birthday boy or girl – I trust you’ll allow me to offer a brief insight into my own career. So this posting describes a typical day in the life of yours truly and one that happened last week. The exploits of a professor of energy engineering at Imperial College London and IChemE president.
Today, I want to highlight a different approach; the use of implants as drug delivery devices. Implants offer several advantages over pills or injections, but often result in immune responses that hinder their performance.
A group of researchers from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), in Bangalore, India, have developed a biodegradable polymer that acts as an anti-inflammatory agent and allows better acceptance of bio medical implants in the human body.
Many people share my passion for a world of cleaner transport. So I am excited by the amount of progress that has been made towards lower-emission fuels, especially in the domain of biofuels – fuels made from plants, other vegetable- and animal-derived materials.
Perhaps less obvious is the spread of bioplastics – plastics made from vegetable fats and oils, corn starch and other biomass sources – in the form of food and other packaging, crockery, cutlery, straws and more.
Bioplastics have non-disposable uses such as mobile phone casings, car interiors, and even medical devices. This is a fast growing market; I recently read a forecast predicting a doubling in biodegradable plastics alone from around UK£3.6 billion in 2015 to UK£8.2 billion in 2025.
For me, the IChemE global award-winning BP Hummingbird® project to develop a catalyst and process for converting bio-ethanol to ethylene is an excellent example of the ground-breaking chemical engineering that is bringing this cleaner, more cost-effective technology ever closer.
Two biotechnology companies are joining forces to build a world-first renewable chemical manufacturing plant in Nusajaya, Iskandar, Malaysia.
The plant is said to be the first-of-its-kind; a bio-based plant that will produce 30 million pounds of diacids, including dodecanedioic acid (DDDA), each year.
Verdezyne, an American industrial biotechnology company that works to develop technologies to create a positive impact on the environment, has partnered with Bio-XCell, a Malaysian biotechnology park and ecosystem facility aiming to position Malaysia as a world leading biotech location.
So, through their partnership, Verdyzyne has leased 6.9 acres of land at the biotechnology park and secured a loan from Bio-XCell of RM 250 million (or UK £49 million) to build their plant.
55 years ago, a chemical engineering professor with a passion for sport and a strong sense of fun initiated an annual football game between the chemical engineering departments at Birmingham and Manchester Universities in the UK.
That professor’s name was Frank Morton, and he had strong connections with both departments having taught in Birmingham where he rose to professor, before moving to Manchester as the first head of chemical engineering at the new Manchester College of Technology in 1956.
And his passion for fun lives on in the annual Frank Morton Sports Day
Frank was a firm believer in the principle that chemical engineering students should work hard and play hard. This year’s participants certainly didn’t let him down.
The 2015 Frank Morton Sports Day took place at Frank’s old stamping ground in Birmingham earlier this week, and had he been there to witness the event, I’m sure that he would have had a huge smile on his face.
I have always been proud of the international chemical engineering community that IChemE represents. So I thought I would make a point to celebrate Chinese New Year on my blog.
Today, 19 February 2015, is the start of Chinese New Year – the year of the goat. However, the Chinese ‘New Year’ is only described as such in the West; in China, it is the Spring Festival and an official public holiday.
Traditionally, today is an important time of year for families to spend together.So I thought I would bring our chemical engineering family a little closer together by sharing a good news story from some of our colleagues in China.
The development of methods to produce greener, cleaner energy plays on the minds of many of us. However, our ability to take the next step and move these strategies forward is often stopped by the dirtiest of all things – money.
I hope that work like Andrew’s will help us to better understand all the costs and benefits associated with the many different strategies of producing energy and enable us to make more informed decisions based on what is financially possible, as well as what is environmentally viable.
Both the faculty members and senior engineering students involved come from a variety of disciplines (mechanical, electrical, biomedical and chemical) and are collaborating with the Tampa based biotechnology company to build a fully functioning prototype of a completed device over the next few months.
My enthusiasm for carbon capture and storage (CCS) will hardly come as a surprise to regular readers of this blog (see ‘The Complexities of Carbon Capture and Storage‘ or ‘Planet Poker‘). Nevertheless, today I have a new story about an exciting CCS development announced at the UK parliament last month. Teesside, in North East England, is responsible for six per cent of the UK’s industrial CO2 emissions. The area is also home to five of the UK’s top CO2 emitting plants. Now, with the cost of carbon permits expected to escalate, a consortium of government and industry stakeholders has formed a partnership called the Teesside Collective with the aim of forging nothing less than a new industrial future for Britain based on CCS.
I would have to say that I am a bit of a cynic when it comes to Valentine’s Day, whilst it is important that we show our love for those in our lives, I wonder if we need a set day of the year to do so.
However, in view of the occasion, today I thought I’d go down a different route.
The focal point of Valentine’s Day is celebrating the human heart. And whilst I (and science) would dispute the fact that our emotions develop here rather than in the brain, the heart is symbolic on this day of the year.
Our heart however is a vital organ and when it goes wrong, the consequences can be drastic.
Chemical engineers have also been involved in this struggle, with a particular focus on the materials and flow involved in understanding how blood circulates through the heart.
And so today, I am using today’s blog to highlight the work of a few chemical engineers who are focused on making our hearts beat.
Sometimes the name you give your work can have a huge impact.
I recently came across this story of research from a team of synthetic biochemical engineers at Cornell University, US, who have created a new ‘on’ switch to control gene expression – a breakthrough that they think could revolutionise genetic modification – by using STARS.
Before you think I am a little confused I should point out that STARS, in this case, are Small Transcription Activating RNAs
High specification personal computers mean that most of us can perform our jobs sat at home, work or even on the road.
But processing and modelling large amounts of data to help our understanding of complex and mammoth tasks like the formation of the universe, predicting weather patterns, or large and complex engineering problems require more than the average desktop computer.
Hence, the growth of supercomputers in recent times. But they don’t come cheap.
I didn’t originally plan on becoming a biochemical engineer. The main bulk of my applications through UCAS were to study medicine – my dad was a GP and perhaps it was an expected route for me to take.
But one of my applications was to study biochemical engineering and to be honest, at that time, I didn’t really know what it was. I chose biochemical over chemical engineering because I was more interested in the pharmaceutical aspect of the discipline.
At my UCAS interview, I felt as if I was being recruited. I don’t recall being asked a lot of questions, but instead being drawn into a world of ‘what if’. What if experimental procedures such as gene therapy or biofuels were successful? And how could I, as a biochemical engineer, be part of the solution?
But the use of lithium batteries hasn’t been without some issues. For example, in 2013 Boeing was forced to ground its entire 787 Dreamliner fleet after problems were detected with the lithium ion batteries in the plane’s electrical system. The batteries reportedly burst into flames under some conditions – not a good state of affairs at 43,000 feet!
For timid slow moving animals, hedgehogs and their relations are found all over Asia, Africa and Europe.
A few years ago they were the subject of a chemically-engineered joke when ‘Hedgehog Flavoured Crisps’ (potato chips) were sold in the UK.
Thankfully, no hedgehogs were hurt in their manufacture, but their taste (whatever that was) was mimicked using pork fat.
Now the hedgehog name has been used in the context of a new environmentally-friendly paint, and other applications.
University of Michigan researchers have developed a process that can sprout microscopic spikes on nearly any type of particle. They are called “hedgehog particles” due to their bushy appearance under the microscope.
The article outlines potential solutions to the engineering skills shortage faced in the UK and the rest of the world. And I have to say that I agree with their suggestions – put together by academic and policy experts.
Hello and welcome to Day 255 of my IChemE presidency. Some of you may know that I occasionally feature guests in my blog to share their own thoughts and passion about the chemical engineering profession.
Name: Reshma Varghese Job: Student Course: MEng in Chemical Engineering Graduated: 3rd year University: University of Surrey, UK Salary: n/a
I’m currently in my third year of an MEng in Chemical Engineering at Surrey. The programme covers all the key issues addressed by the modern engineering sector, and the structure of the course is well spread out, so it’s not overwhelming when you first start.
There was a great news story in January about Bill Gates drinking a cup of clean water that, five minutes earlier, had been raw sewage.
It was a fantastic PR stunt that drew attention to how engineers can change the world in all sorts of ways.
It was also a good illustration of how trust is important to get our engineering ideas off the ground.
The ‘Omni Processor’, which processes the sewage into drinking water, was created by Janicki Bioenergy; a company which received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
This project reminded me of a similar but separate Gates Foundation initiative called the ‘Reinvent the Toilet Challenge.’ This initiative sought to develop a waterless, hygienic toilet that doesn’t have to be connected to a sewer.
Bob Langer’s achievement demonstrates the importance of chemical engineering on a truly global scale. His pioneering work in drug delivery, tissue engineering and nanotechnology has touched the lives of billions of people.
He has developed a field that, quite simply, didn’t previously exist. This highlights the most important role that chemical engineers play in society today – improving quality of life for all.
Climate change and water scarcity are issues that we all need to keep talking about. But I recognise that perhaps we need to talk about them in more interesting ways than just lecturing.
You could say that the reality of climate change and water scarcity hasn’t hit home with the general public because the effects aren’t immediate and felt on their doorstep. The data, facts and figures are there but the urgency of action isn’t.
As a chemical engineer, I can talk about the issues, I can lecture, I can discuss at length with my peers and even the media, but it is easy for my voice and others to get drowned out.
One interesting way to engage the public about such issues is through immersive theatre.
You might think that engineering and theatre couldn’t be further apart, but a theatre production called New Atlantis by LAStheatre, held in London, UK, has provided an entertaining way to bring key messages and solutions of the future to a willing audience.
If there’s nine billion people on the planet by 2050 and we all follow our dentist’s advice, we might end up using around 36 billion toothbrushes or replacement heads in our quest for excellent oral health.
That’s also a lot of toothpaste tubes (assuming we still use them in 2050).
Old toothbrushes have many cleaning uses once they are past their best – cleaning jewelry, bathroom taps and appliances, computer keyboards and even applying hair dye (see my profile page and you’ll know I don’t do this – yet!).
But recycling toothpaste tubes hasn’t been that easy – they just end up in our trash once we’ve squeezed the life out of them.
However, some chemical engineering wizardry developed at the University of Cambridge, UK, can now turn toothpaste tubes and drinks pouches into both aluminium and fuel in just three minutes.
I am often amazed at the diversity of our small chemical engineering community and the numerous roles and positions we fill in the work place.
One important group of chemical engineers are consultants.
I recently logged in to listen to a very enlightening webinar organised by IChemE’s Consultancy Special Interest Group (SIG) called ‘Ask a Consultant’ which offered an insight into life as a chemical engineering consultant.
IChemE members Dr Andrew Campbell, Dr Martin Currie and David Hough gave the webinar and, from their comments, I have compiled a list of some of their tips on how to become a successful chemical engineering consultant. I’m sure there are many more, but here’s ten things to think about and get you started: