Spinal cord injuries are extremely serious and the road to recovery is often a long one.
Two million people worldwide are affected by spinal cord problems that result in the loss of motor and sensory function below the point of injury, which can be devastating.
I’ve blogged previously about a team from Stanford University, which is working reduce the trauma of injections and improve the ‘healing help for spinal injuries‘. It’s an area where chemical engineers are making a difference. Here’s another great example.
Being a part of the blogosphere over the past 307 days has opened my eyes to how many of us bloggers are actually out there. So I was especially pleased to read today’s story about how blogging caused a scientific breakthrough.
Research into the innate immunity of opossums (marsupials found in the Americas) to a variety of snake venoms and their possible use to create antivenoms was first patented by Binie Ver Lipps in 1996.
However, this research went largely unnoticed. But Binie’s work was mentioned by a blogger in 2012. This led to an article being written on Yahoo!News, which was subsequently read by chemical engineering professor Dr Claire F. Komives.
Inspired by the story Claire and her team, from San Jose State University, US, demonstrated that genetically modified bacteria could produce the protective peptide at low costs.
This simple peptide could prevent countless deaths from snakebites and the antivenom relies on a sequence of just 11 amino acids, copied from an opossum protein.
Tonight at 20:30, all over the world, individuals, companies, government organisations, and possibly even Her Majesty the Queen, will switch off their lights.
This symbolic gesture marks Earth Hour, initiated by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 2007 as a lights-off event to raise awareness of climate change.
162 countries and territories worldwide now take part in Earth Hour.
You can get involved and help to raise awareness about climate change by switching off your lights at 20:30 local time for one hour. You can share your thoughts on the climate change challenge on Twitter using #YourPower.
I recently came across the story of one country, Costa Rica, whose citizens are prepared to go much further in the battle against climate change. Since the beginning of the year, Costa Rica has avoided the use of fossil fuels altogether.
The Costa Rican government recently issued a press release announcing that during the first quarter of 2015, they relied on renewables for 100 per cent of their power generation.
Sustainable water research is big news in South Africa especially for the wine industry.
The South African wine industry is the 9th largest wine producer in the world, with over 100,000 hectares of land dedicated to vineyards.
South Africa is committed to sustainable wine growing and recognises the problems of cultivating the majority of its wine in a biodiversity hotspot: the Cape Floral Kingdom.
So the introduction of the integrity and sustainability seal for wine, launched in 2010, certifies that the wine in question has been made in a manner that is respectful to nature, and guarantees sustainable wine production.
To make their wines sustainable, producers are taking responsibility by dedicating land for conservation, removing foreign plants and restoring wetlands and rivers. But there have been particular issues in many regions, for example in the Witwatersrand Basin there are reports of soil being highly acidic and contamination of water resources.
Most people who work in the chemical industry have had to deal with the sharp intake of breath and disapproving voice of someone saying “but chemicals are bad”.
But then we explain that ‘chemicals’ are all around us – the oxygen and water we need to survive; in the food we eat; the clothes were wear; even our bodies – are all made up of ‘chemicals’: see my blog ‘Can you lead a chemical-free life?‘.
It is rare, certainly in the UK, to see an advert openly using the words ‘chemistry’ or ‘chemicals’. However, there’s one company that wears its chemical credentials proudly on its sleeve and I want to congratulate them for this and at the same time say ‘Happy 150th Birthday’ to BASF.
Today, BASF produces agrochemicals, chemicals, plastics, high performance materials and catalysts. They are also involved in biotechnology as well as oil and gas exploration.
Last week I was fortunate to attend a meeting of the IChemE London and South East Member Group to discuss the need to transform the technologies and fuels we use, and make smarter use of our resources.
Tom posed a big question: “Can we improve equality of life for 10 billion people and tackle climate change?” A lively debate ensued and I suddenly found myself in a room full of people trying to save the world.
I have always believed that its the job of the chemical engineer to improve quality of life for all and to do it sustainably. However, in recent times I have concluded that we are sleepwalking into a catastrophic climate change future. Serious effort is needed to avert this.
The Global Calculator offers a way to test out our theories and apply solutions to combat climate change.
The classic example of an animal engineer is the beaver, behaving like a civil engineer and building dams. This made me curious to find animals that act like chemical engineers and here are my ten favourite examples:
Today is UN World Water Day – a day for water and for sustainable development.
This year, World Water Day focuses on the following ideas: water is health; water is nature; water is urbanisation; water is industry; water is energy; water is food; and water is equality. But I want to add something to this list: water is chemical engineering.
The importance of water is often overlooked. Water is not only essential for life but it is of key importance in chemical engineering too.
It’s always a pleasure to pick up a newspaper and read about the latest achievements of a fellow chemical engineer, and in this case, an IChemE member.
Many chemical engineers are discouraged from talking about their work. Particularly when an employer doesn’t want you to let the cat out of the bag and give away a secret formula, process or recipe.
So I was particularly pleased to discover that Alan Gundle, the chief analytical scientist for the leading global confectionery, food and drink manufacturer Mondelez International, had spoken about his work in a leading UK broadsheet newspaper.
The article is truly inspirational, and based on Alan’s comments, I’ve compiled a list of things that can help the chemical engineer to succeed in the food and drink industries.
It’s my own personal list and it’s not exhaustive, but here’s my starter for ten:
The group developing these smart bandages is led by Professor Paula T. Hammond, the David H. Koch Chair Professor of Engineering in the Chemical Engineering Department at MIT. Paula suggests that the bandages might prove particularly effective in the treatment of wounded soldiers on the battlefield when a medic is not present.
Fluorspar, or fluorite, is the mineral form of calcium fluoride and the key raw material in the production of hydrofluoric acid, a significant commodity chemical with a wide rage of uses. South Africa is a producer of acid grade-fluorspar, but around 95 per cent of its production is exported.
However, heavy reliance on income from the export of low value materials can hamper a nation’s economic prospects and render it vulnerable to global price fluctuations.
An initiative from the Southern African Department of Trade and Industry aims to address this challenge via a two-pronged approach. First, by developing cutting-edge technology in fluorochemicals and also by accelerating the skills development in fluorine engineering through world class research.
Chemical engineers working in the Department of Chemical Engineering at University of Pretoria, South Africa, have focused their work on the production of novel fluoro-materials, development of dry-fluorination reactions and modification of polymer properties by reactive processing.
The US diplomat, Chester Bowles, once remarked that politics is too big and too important to be left to the politicians. It’s a view that I share and I wholeheartedly agree with the thinking set out in the Chemical Engineering Matters report, which encourages IChemE members to engage with opinion formers and policy makers.
It’s all too easy to dismiss the modern politician as being all spin and no substance. But this is a dangerous over simplification. The work of government is not easy and engineers need to recognise that the pursuit of short-term political advantage is a consequence of the political system and the electoral cycle rather than a fundamental failing of the politician themselves.
Many readers of this blog come from outside the UK. You might argue that the UK General Election on 7 May 2015 is of no consequence, but I would ask you to stick with me on today’s post, because the political decisions made in one country can affect us all and the ideas that I am exploring here are equally valid in, say Australia, which goes to the polls in 2016 and Malaysia where an election will be held before the end of 2018.
Chemical engineering can offer a life full of surprises, but I can honestly say that I never imagined the discipline being used to describe an extra-terrestrial life form.
But that’s the out of this world topic behind today’s blog. A team of chemical engineers and astronomers from Cornell University, US, have developed a template for life that might survive on Titan, the giant moon of Saturn.
Our imaginations for other lifeforms are often limited by the assumption that water is a requirement for life. Whilst this is true on Earth, in other, colder worlds life may exist beyond the realm of water-chemistry.
Titan has seas, like Earth, but unlike Earth these seas are filled with liquid methane. The team suggest that Titan could support methane-based, oxygen-free cells that are able to metabolise, reproduce and complete all the other functions necessary for life – as on Earth.
284 days into my blog and counting. By now, I trust you’ve realised that the chemical engineering profession is truly global. But it’s still all too easy to focus on our own back yard. So today, I’m heading south to see what Africa has to offer.
I recently went on a trip to South Africa, and during my time there I met with many IChemE and SAIChE members who shared stories of their work.
One of the research projects that caught my attention comes from North-West University (NWU) in Potchefstroom, south west of Johannesburg.
Much of the research at NWU looks at different aspects of the energy challenge, including bioenergy, fossil fuels (coal), nuclear energy and energy management. Today, I’m highlighting two different aspects of NWU’s energy research: safer and more sustainable coal stockpile management and the production of biodiesel from waste cooking oils.
I am regularly fascinated by the work of colleagues who focus on fundamental chemical engineering science. They deepen the understanding of our discipline and they can often help to explain the world that we live in.
An international group of researchers at the US Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory has caught my eye. They’ve used an X-ray laser to capture the first glimpse of two atoms forming a bond, and thus becoming a molecule.
The idea that we can actually observe a chemical bond at the point of formation was long thought to be impossible. So, I can’t stress enough the profound impact that this work could have on our understanding.
The research will help to clarify how chemical reactions take place, which in turn, can help us design reactions that generate energy, create new products and fertilise crops more efficiently.
One of my favourite parts of being a chemical engineer is getting to meet other engineers and discuss (and celebrate!) their work.
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be invited to the awards ceremony of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, where chemical engineer Robert Langer was celebrated for his revolutionary work in drug delivery.
Whilst at the event, I got the chance to talk to the many other engineers in attendance. One of which told me about a very exciting project she had been working on.
When I read through scientific journals, the articles that grab my attention aren’t always the ones describing the most novel ideas. Sometimes it’s enough to just make something easier. That’s why today’s story appealed to me.
Many everyday products including medicines, beauty products and foodstuffs contain emulsions: liquids with tiny droplets of another liquid suspended within them (see my blog ‘food, glorious, food…emulsions‘). A classic example that we all can create at home is vinaigrette (salad dressing), which is an emulsion of oil and vinegar.
Vinaigrette is a straightforward two component mixture. However, things get far more interesting when you suspend a liquid within a liquid, within a liquid. These complex emulsions (in this case a double emulsion) can be tailored for use in specific applications.
One of the major challenges we face today is reducing our energy and water consumption whilst maintaining necessary levels of production.
Part of this challenge requires a change in the way we think about these resources. It’s a mistake to consider energy and water in isolation. We need to make sure everyone is looking at the bigger picture.
It’s their ability to think holistically and consider the big picture that makes chemical engineers so useful.
Chemical engineering is a broad church and I feel that the reason why the discipline can be applied in so many different settings is our ability to think about systems as a whole – not just focusing on the end goal.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.