Engineering hydrogels to treat spinal cord injury (Day 308)

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.

Dr. -Ing Laura De Laporte
Photo Credit | Dr. -Ing Laura De Laporte

The European Union has awarded a 1.5 million Euro grant to a chemical engineer, Dr.-Ing Laura De Laporte, from DWI – Leibniz Institute for Interactive Materials to research an injectable hydrogel that will help spinal cord repair.

Laura’s research objective is to develop a minimally invasive therapy for spinal cord injury. She will do this by engineering a biomaterial in a project she calls ANISOGEL.

Her goal is to develop an injectable material with the potential to provide biochemical and physical guidance for regenerating nerves across an injury site.

Continue reading Engineering hydrogels to treat spinal cord injury (Day 308)

Blog leads to a breakthrough in antivenoms (Day 307)

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.

Dr Claire Komives
Photo Credit | San Jose State University
Dr Claire Komives

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.

Continue reading Blog leads to a breakthrough in antivenoms (Day 307)

Earth Hour, how about Earth Year? Use #YourPower (Day 305)

Tonight at 20:30, all over the world, individuals, companies, government organisations, and possibly even Her Majesty the Queen, will switch off their lights.

03_EH 60+ LOGO_STACKED CLR_JPEGThis 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.

Continue reading Earth Hour, how about Earth Year? Use #YourPower (Day 305)

Raising a sustainable glass of South African wine (Day 304)

Sustainable water research is big news in South Africa especially for the wine industry.

wineThe 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.

Dr Craig Sheridan, from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering openly confesses to having a passion for chemical engineering and water!

Continue reading Raising a sustainable glass of South African wine (Day 304)

Happy Birthday to a cracking champion of chemicals (Day 303)

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?‘.

BASFIt 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.

Continue reading Happy Birthday to a cracking champion of chemicals (Day 303)

Using a calculator to find climate change solutions (Day 301)

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.

city on phoneThe talk was hosted by Dr Tom Counsell from the UK Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Tom gave a highly entertaining introduction to the Global Calculator.

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.

Continue reading Using a calculator to find climate change solutions (Day 301)

Ten animals that are also chemical engineers (Day 300)

Day 300 and counting.  It’s a nice round number so I thought I’d talk about something a little bit different.

We often assume that engineering is something unique to humankind. However, if you take a closer look at the animal kingdom, you soon realise that this is not the case.

Some animals have been exploiting chemical engineering principles for so long, we are now taking inspiration from them; see my blogs on ’Deep sea printers’ or ‘‘Hand-made’ pills inspired by a starfish‘.

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:

Continue reading Ten animals that are also chemical engineers (Day 300)

The impact of water (Day 299)

wwd2015-logoToday 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.

In the past, I have discussed the relationship between water and food, water and energy and the water-energy-food nexus, and I can’t stress enough the importance of these interdependencies.

Today, however, I thought I’d focus on the more light-hearted work of the chemical engineers at the University of Minnesota, US, who are working to understand the impact of raindrops.

Continue reading The impact of water (Day 299)

Ten ways to excel as a chemical engineer in the food industry (Day 296)

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.

Alan Gundle
Photo Credit | The Telegraph
Alan Gundle

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:

Continue reading Ten ways to excel as a chemical engineer in the food industry (Day 296)

Smart bandage could save lives (Day 295)

When someone suffers a serious injury, timing can literally be a matter of life or death. Blood loss must be tackled immediately, but care must also be taken to prevent infection of the wound.

Chemical engineers working at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a dual-function ‘smart bandage’ that could save lives, not only by stopping bleeding but also by preventing infection.

The bandage is designed to rapidly dispense a coagulating agent that stops bleeding and then slowly release an antibiotic to prevent infection. This work is published in the journal ACS Biomaterials Science and Engineering under the title: Multifunctional Self-Assembled Films for Rapid Hemostat and Sustained Anti-infective Delivery.

Professor Paula T. Hammond
Photo Credit | MIT
Professor Paula T. Hammond

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.

Continue reading Smart bandage could save lives (Day 295)

Smarter Teflon recycling in South Africa (Day 293)

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.

University of South Africa, Pretoria
University of South Africa, Pretoria

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.

Their research also involves chemical engineers from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and an industry consortium.

Continue reading Smarter Teflon recycling in South Africa (Day 293)

Science, Engineering and the UK General Election (Day 292)

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.

logo_sobIChemE works closely with other institutions and professional bodies. Earlier this week, we were particularly pleased to support the work of the Society of Biology at a debate they hosted in the UK parliament: ‘Science and the General Election 2015’.

Continue reading Science, Engineering and the UK General Election (Day 292)

It’s life Geoff, but not as we know it (Day 286)

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.

titanBut 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.

I have already discussed our chemical engineering colleagues who are astronauts (see ‘A path to the stars’) and possible methods of powering space missions (see ‘Human waste could power a lunar space mission’); but the reaches of space are endless.

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.

Continue reading It’s life Geoff, but not as we know it (Day 286)

Energy research in South Africa (Day 284)

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.

Last July, IChemE signed an agreement with the South African Institution of Chemical Engineers (SAIChE) that formalised collaboration and brought chemical engineering in South Africa closer to IChemE’s global community.

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.

The coal rig
Photo Credit | NWU
The coal rig

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.

Continue reading Energy research in South Africa (Day 284)

The birth of a chemical bond (Day 282)

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.

This illustration shows atoms forming a tentative bond, a moment captured for the first time in experiments with an X-ray laser at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. The reactants are a carbon monoxide molecule, left, made of a carbon atom (black) and an oxygen atom (red), and a single atom of oxygen, just to the right of it. They are attached to the surface of a ruthenium catalyst, which holds them close to each other so they can react more easily. When hit with an optical laser pulse, the reactants vibrate and bump into each other, and the carbon atom forms a transitional bond with the lone oxygen, center. The resulting carbon dioxide molecule detaches and floats away, upper right. The Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) X-ray laser probed the reaction as it proceeded and allowed the movie to be created.
Image Credit | SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
This illustration shows atoms forming a tentative bond, a moment captured for the first time in experiments with an X-ray laser at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

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.

Anders Nilsson, a professor at the SLAC/Stanford SUNCAT Center for Interface Science and Catalysis, US, and at Stockholm University, Sweden,  who led the research said: “This is the very core of all chemistry. It’s what we consider a Holy Grail, because it controls chemical reactivity. But because so few molecules inhabit this transition state at any given moment, no one thought we’d ever be able to see it.”

Continue reading The birth of a chemical bond (Day 282)

Record-breaking chemical engineering (Day 281)

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.

BP logo - BP Hummingbird...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.

The Andrew Area Development (AAD) project, completed by BP engineers, created the world’s longest pipeline bundle.

Continue reading Record-breaking chemical engineering (Day 281)

Suspending a liquid within a liquid, within a liquid… (Day 280)

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.

MIT researchers designed these complex emulsions to change their configuration in response to stimuli, such as light, or the addition of a chemical surfactant.
Photo Credit | Christine Daniloff\MIT
MIT researchers designed these complex emulsions to change their configuration in response to stimuli, such as light, or the addition of a chemical surfactant.

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.

A team of chemists and chemical engineers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), US, have found a way to simplify the process of creating complex emulsions. Their method offers possibilities for rapid production at scale.

Continue reading Suspending a liquid within a liquid, within a liquid… (Day 280)

Producing clean energy from wastewater treatment (Day 278)

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.

recycle water symbolIt’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.

This type of thinking, systems engineering, is key to the advancement of the ‘nexus approach’ (which I have discussed before; ‘Water versus energy – which is more precious?’ and ‘Food for thought on the water-energy-food nexus’) and helping us think of water, energy and food as interlinked.

Today’s story caught my eye because it’s a good example of forward-thinking by chemical engineers. Researchers from the Bioelectrochemistry group at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (UAB) Department of Chemical Engineering, have been working to produce, rather than consume, energy during waste water processing.

Continue reading Producing clean energy from wastewater treatment (Day 278)

Using a Nanopatch™ to vaccinate the world (Day 276)

detailed earthI’ve talked a good deal in recent posts about novel methods of drug delivery and vaccination (see ‘Making our bodies accept drugs faster’ and ‘Injecting from the instead’) however, today’s blog is about a product that is a step closer to being adopted world-wide.

The Nanopatch™, invented by Professor Mark Kendall, started life at the University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology.

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.

Continue reading Using a Nanopatch™ to vaccinate the world (Day 276)

Thailand’s world first in waste (Day 275)

A shocking one-third of the food produced for human consumption – over a billion tonnes – is wasted every year – the United Nations tells us.

Global Water Engineering logo - GWE Chok...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.

Continue reading Thailand’s world first in waste (Day 275)

Helping our bodies accept drug implants (Day 273)

In recent years we have seen increasing interest in new approaches to drug delivery with greater focus on the efficiency and flexibility of the drugs we use.

robot pillThere are a variety of new methods available to help us do this (some of which I have blogged about before) including: jet injectors; micro-needles; ‘’Injecting’ from the inside’; ‘Using cellular backpacks to deliver drugs’; nano-patches and implants.

Interestingly, the recent Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering winner and chemical engineer Robert Langer has spent a good portion of his career looking at improving methods of drug delivery.

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.

Continue reading Helping our bodies accept drug implants (Day 273)

Hummingbird® propels biofuel technology into the 21st century (Day 272)

hummingbirdMany 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.

In fact, the International Energy Agency‘s (IEA) technology roadmap for biofuels in transport suggests that, by 2050, biofuels could provide over a quarter of the world’s total transport fuel, and avoid around 2 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions per year.

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.

BP logo - BP Hummingbird...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.

Continue reading Hummingbird® propels biofuel technology into the 21st century (Day 272)

Using your smartphone to sniff out disease (Day 271)

noseThe fight against disease is time dependent. The earlier the diagnosis, the greater the chance of survival.

Cutting-edge work, using smell as a means of disease detection, suggests that our smartphones may be the future of early diagnosis.

A research consortium lead by Professor Hossam Haick at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is developing a device that, when linked to a smartphone, will be able to screen the user’s breath for the detection of life-threatening diseases.

Continue reading Using your smartphone to sniff out disease (Day 271)

First-of-its-kind bio-based plant to be built in Malaysia (Day 270)

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 logoVerdezyne, 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 BioXCell Logoleased 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.

Continue reading First-of-its-kind bio-based plant to be built in Malaysia (Day 270)

A new window on Chinese New Year (Day 268)

chinese new year goatI 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.

Chemical engineers from the East China University of Science and Technology, Shanghai Institute of Ceramics, Shanghai University, Shanghai University of Engineering Science and Shihezi University have worked together to develop energy saving ‘smart’ windows that exploit the properties of a heat sensitive gel.

Continue reading A new window on Chinese New Year (Day 268)

Making solar energy cheaper (Day 267)

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.

Money resting on a photovoltaic panelSo I was interested to read a recently published article in Materials Today discussing methods to bring about ‘Cost reduction in the solar industry’.

Professor Andrew Barron, Ser Cymru chair in engineering at Swansea University, indicates that costs can be reduced up to 20 per cent through changes in the manufacturing process of photovoltaic (PV) panels.

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.

Continue reading Making solar energy cheaper (Day 267)

The world’s first carbon capture ready industrial zone? (Day 265)

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.

Image courtesy of The Teesside Collective
Photo Credit | Image courtesy of The Teesside Collective

Continue reading The world’s first carbon capture ready industrial zone? (Day 265)

Stopping Alzheimer’s with beer? (Day 264)

I often find that you can’t pick up a newspaper or read a website without seeing the latest ‘super-food’ (I am reliably informed that last year it was kale).

beer on barSo imagine my surprise when I came across this story of chemical engineers using beer to help protect brain cells from damage.

Researchers from Lanzhou University, China, State Key Laboratory of Applied Organic Chemistry and College of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering have found that a compound (xanthohumol) contained in beer could help protect our brain cells from damage, and slow the development of degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Continue reading Stopping Alzheimer’s with beer? (Day 264)

Chemical engineering matters of the heart (Day 263)

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.

virtual image of heartThe 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.

Continue reading Chemical engineering matters of the heart (Day 263)

Using STARS to control gene expression (Day 262)

Sometimes the name you give your work can have a huge impact.

starsI 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

This work was recently published in Nature Chemical Biology, entitled; Creating small transcription activating RNAs.

Continue reading Using STARS to control gene expression (Day 262)

Robert Langer, chemical engineer, wins Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (Day 253)

My aim in writing this blog has been to ensure the voice of chemical engineering is heard in all corners of the world.

Trophy
Photo Credit | Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering
Trophy

Yesterday was a breakthrough moment in terms of recognition, as Robert Langer – chemical engineer and professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, US – was awarded the second ever Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering.

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.

Continue reading Robert Langer, chemical engineer, wins Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (Day 253)