Five chemical engineering research stories from June 2016

To help you stay up-to-date with the latest achievements from the chemical engineering research community here is our monthly installment with some of the latest stories.

Here are five stories of amazing chemical engineering research and innovation:

Using plant-based sorbents to clean up oil spills

seedlingsResearchers from Russia analysed the possibility of using low-cost plant-based sorbents modified in various ways to clean up water surface oil spills as opposed to man-made sorbents such as perlite, expanded clay, or silica gel.

This article was published as part of the Process Safety and Environmental Protection special issue on Air Pollution Control and Waste Management. The researchers identified sorption as the most effective and environmentally acceptable but the most expensive method for oil spill clean-up. However, using plant-based sorbents can improve cost-effectiveness and the plant waste can later be recycled for asphalt production and fuel.

Using a systematic approach to design ionic liquids for CCS

CO2Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has gained great interest in recent years as a potential technology to mitigate industrial carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Chemical engineers from Malaysia and Qatar have been working to identify ionic liquids (ILs) as potential CO2 capturing solvents.

Because of their negligible vapour pressure, high thermal stability, and wide range of thermophysical properties ILs have huge potential. In an article published in Molecular Systems Design & Engineering, the team present a systematic approach to design an optimal IL to use in CCS.  This work helps determine the optimal IL by considering the effect of system operating conditions, and simultaneously determining optimal conditions of the carbon capture process.

Understanding how we feel about light could help to reduce domestic energy consumption

led lightbulbAnalysts are predicting that by 2020, there will be a widespread use of LED lightbulbs across the world leading to a steep decline in domestic electricity consumption. This paper, from researchers at the University of Manchester’s Sustainable Consumption Institute, published in Sustainable Production and Consumptiondiscusses the need for us to understand how energy consumers feel about light and domestic spaces in order to avoid past frustrations caused by the minimal reductions in energy consumption when transitioning from standard to energy efficient lightbulbs.

A molecular assembly that crawls on a solid substrate with a metabolic-like process

A molecular assembly that crawls on a solid substrate with a metabolic-like process

Photo Credit | Journal of Molecular Systems Design & Engineering

Chemical engineers in Japan have developed a vesicular aggregate filled with lipid molecules that exhibited crawling motion over a glass surface as a result of chemical reactions! Published in the Journal Molecular Systems Design & Engineering, the crawling motion was induced by a chemical reaction between didodecyldimethylammonium bromide (DDAB) and sodium oleate with calcium ions, and it caused discharge of the inner lipids.

The authors claim that this is probably the first example of an amphiphilic molecular assembly that exhibits crawling motion as a result of chemical reactions without size reduction. This could be regarded as the cell-like behavior of an abiotic molecular assembly with a metabolic-like process.

In the future, movement of vesicle-type aggregates could be exploited by means of a kind of chemical control. The team suggests that if the aggregate is placed on the solid surface where the smaller ones are placed in line, the aggregate moves along the line, leaving the film behind it. This could lead to the aggregate being used as a scavenger that removes lipid aggregates on the solid surface. A similar system has already been reported with a liquid droplet. If a similar system process could be applied biocompatible chemicals, the researchers proposed that this could be applied to clean the wall of blood vessels.

Grass could be key to super-thin condoms

Fibres from the Australian native spinifex grass are being used to improve latex that could be used to make condoms as thin as a human hair without any loss in strength. Professor Darren Martin from The University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) said the spinifex nanocellulose significantly improved the physical properties of latex.

Working in partnership with Aboriginal traditional owners of the Camooweal region in north-west Queensland, the Indjalandji-Dhidhanu People, the team have developed a method of extracting nanocellulose – which can be used as an additive in latex production – from the grass.

Dr Nasim Amiralian

Dr Nasim Amiralian

AIBN’s Dr Nasim Amiralian said the nanocellulose could be converted from spinifex using an efficient chemistry method – “You would firstly hedge the grass, and then it would be chopped up and pulped with sodium hydroxide – and at that stage it just looks like paper pulp, then you hit it with mechanical energy to force it through a very small hole under high pressure to peel the nano-fibres apart from the pulp, into nanocellulose happily suspended in water and ready to add to things like water-based rubber latex.”


If you have a research story to share, get in touch with the IChemE Blog Elves and you could be featured in next month’s post.

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