Solar sanitation solutions (Day 343)

ToiletThe World Health Organization (WHO) reports that  as many as 2.5 billion people around the world do not have access to adequate toilet facilities.

Poor sanitation results in contaminated drinking water and the spread of infectious diseases including Cholera and Dysentery, which cause severe diarrhoea, dehydration and if left untreated, death (see my blog, ‘Everyone should have a human right to water’).

Every year, around 1.5 million people – mostly children under five years old – die from diarrhoea. Drastic action is needed in order to make safe sanitation accessible to all.

Only last week, I observed that we sometimes have a tendency to take things for granted in the developed world. My blog, ‘Chemical engineer develops sanitary towels to help girls stay in school’ was well received and has prompted me to look at some other work by chemical engineers who are making a difference in the developing world.

Continue reading Solar sanitation solutions (Day 343)

Maple syrup magnifies antibiotic attack (Day 336)

maple syrupMost of the time, maple syrup is deliciously sloshed all over our pancakes.

However, a group of researchers at the Department of Chemical Engineering at McGill University, Canada (rather fitting given Canada’s love of the sticky stuff), have discovered another use for it.

Maple syrup can render bacteria more vulnerable to antibiotics.

The syrup, which is produced by concentrating the sap from North American maple trees, is a rich source of phenolic compounds with antioxidant properties.

And it is these antioxidant properties that prompted the team, led by Professor Nathalie Tufenkji, investigate the potential of maple syrup.

The team began by removing a concentrated extract from the syrup. They tested this extract on several infection-causing strains of bacteria, including E. coli and Proteus mirabilis (a common cause of urinary tract infection).

The syrup was mildly effective combating the bacteria on its own. However, once mixed with the antibiotics the maple syrup was particularly effective;  seemingly synchronising its assault with the pharmaceutical ingredient.

Continue reading Maple syrup magnifies antibiotic attack (Day 336)

Chemical engineer develops sanitary towels to help girls stay in school (Day 335)

Here in the UK and other developed countries, it’s all too easy to take some things for granted, such as access to education, to clean water and to sanitary facilities.

When we look at the developing world, it can be difficult to comprehend the challenges people face on a daily basis.

Photo Credit | Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com
Photo Credit | Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com

In Ethiopia, as many as 18 million young girls and women have no access to sanitary towels. This forces many young girls to drop out of school. But the good news is that one chemical engineer is trying to change that.

For most girls, their first menstrual cycle is awkward and embarrassing, but seen as a natural transition towards womanhood. However, in Ethiopia it can be an incredibly taboo subject. As a consequence, misinformation, negative beliefs and myths hold sway.

In the rural Tigray region of Ethiopia, where chemical engineer Freweini Mebrahtu grew up, young girls found out about their menstrual cycle through overheard rumour and myth; often leaving them shocked, confused and afraid.

Continue reading Chemical engineer develops sanitary towels to help girls stay in school (Day 335)

Nanofibres can ease the pain of Parkinson’s disease (Day 331)

In the UK this week, it is Parkinson’s Awareness Week. The aim is to raise awareness of the disease by doing a good deed and tweeting about it using #upyourfriendly.

We can all get involved; just by being nice to the people we meet. You can make new friends and maybe someone’s life a little easier without even knowing it. Check out the campaign to learn more.

Pair of carbon nanotube fibres
Photo credit | Rice University
Pair of carbon nanotube fibres

With this strategy in mind, I thought I’d raise awareness of the work of some chemical engineers who are definitely ‘up-ing their friendly’ by working behind the scenes to help combat the symptoms of this debilitating disease.

Researchers at Rice University in Texas, US, have developed flexible carbon nanotube fibres, that may provide an effective way of communicating directly with the brain.

Parkinson’s disease affects one in every 500 people. That’s an estimated 127,000 people in the UK – or around 8.5 million globally.

It is a progressive neurological condition that affects nerve cells in the brain, causing them to die. This results in lower dopamine levels in the body with serious implications for mobility and emotional behaviour.

Continue reading Nanofibres can ease the pain of Parkinson’s disease (Day 331)

Turning packing peanuts* to power (Day 329)

Chemical engineers don’t like waste. We are always looking for ways to use and reuse items that would otherwise be discarded (see my blog ‘Ionic fluids pack a punch for biofuels‘).

At a first glance, some products only have one function. For example, the loose-fill packing peanuts that make shipping fragile items easier.

Packing peanuts normally end up in landfill sites where they remain intact for decades and as they’re difficult to breakdown, only around 10 per cent are recycled in the US.

idea batterySo, researchers from Purdue University, US, did some clever thinking and found a way to convert packing peanuts into carbon electrodes that can outperform the conventional graphite electrodes found in lithium ion batteries.

It all started when Professor Vilas Pol, an associate professor of chemical engineering, and his postdoctoral researcher, Vinodkumar Etacheri, were unpacking boxes filled with instruments for Vilas’ new lab. After emptying the boxes, they had great new lab full of instruments and a surplus of packing peanuts.

Continue reading Turning packing peanuts* to power (Day 329)

World’s first fully transparent solar cell (Day 328)

The UN General Assembly designated 2015 as the International Year of Light. A global initiative to highlight the importance of light and lighting technologies to societal development.

It provides an opportunity to inspire, educate, and connect people on a global scale. It is anticipated that the International Year of Light will inspire people to think of new ideas, new solutions and new products for the future.

transparent luminescent solar concentrator moduleWhich brings me rather neatly to a solar project that caught my eye recently.

Richard Lunt, an assistant professor from the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at Michigan State University, US, and his team have developed the world’s first fully transparent solar cell.

Continue reading World’s first fully transparent solar cell (Day 328)

Ionic liquids pack a punch for biofuels (Day 327)

In my blog, ‘the sweet smell of success‘, I discussed the use of ionic liquids – salt in a liquid state as a result of poor ionic co-ordination – in perfumes and alluded to other fields of research where they are used. Today I’m delving a little further and shining a light on the use of ionic liquids in biofuels.

PIL-treated corn stover and PIL/lignin
Photo credit | NC State University
PIL-treated corn stover and PIL/lignin

Researchers at North Carolina State University, US, (NCSU) are investigating the use of ionic liquids to strip lignin from plant cells. Their aim is to find a cost-effective method of processing biomass for biofuel production.

Lignin is a complex phenolic polymer that is found in plant cell walls. It plays an important structural role, providing the plant with strength and rigidity due to a cross-linked structure that is difficult to break down. After cellulose, it is the most abundant source of renewable carbon on earth.

Continue reading Ionic liquids pack a punch for biofuels (Day 327)

Engineered yeast on par with conventional fuels (Day 324)

earth on flamesHere’s a question for you. How much fuel do you think you have consumed so far today,?

Whether it’s heating your home, cooking your breakfast, driving your car or using electricity to light up your life – we, as a society, are heavily reliant on non-renewable fuels.

As people become more affluent through global development and industrialisation, their demand for energy grows and the consumption of finite resources accelerates.

This presents chemical engineers with a difficult task – to find and develop new pathways to more sustainable energy consumption. And time is running out.

Over in the US, the main strategy for winning the global race in clean energy technology is through the advancement of biofuels by capitalising on domestic energy resources.

Continue reading Engineered yeast on par with conventional fuels (Day 324)

Think like a chemical engineer to save time and money (Day 322)

Excellent chemical engineering can transform businesses.

Costain is a British construction and engineering company that provides innovative engineering and technology-led solutions. They are also one of IChemE’s Bronze Corporate Partners.

Strensham water treatment works
Strensham water treatment works

A project that highlights their novel way of thinking involved working with Severn Trent to upgrade their Strensham water treatment works in Worcestershire, UK. Severn Trent, a leading utility company, had set challenging efficiency targets.

They asked Costain help them with the refurbishment of 21 rapid gravity filters.

However, all this needed to be done without disrupting the water supply to 350,000 customers. And they wanted the project completed in less than 88 weeks, which is pretty demanding for the water industry.

Continue reading Think like a chemical engineer to save time and money (Day 322)

The sweet smell of success (Day 321)

We all want to make a good first impression, but when we feel anxious our body responds by sweating and this can result in an unappealing body odour.

When we want to make the right impact at an interview or on a date, we need a little help to make sure we are smelling fresh.

So fear not. There’s now a perfume that improves its performance the more we sweat.

Release of fragrances triggered by water
Photo credit | QUILL
Release of fragrances triggered by water

Researchers at the Queen’s University Ionic Liquid Laboratories (QUILL) Research Centre in Belfast have developed a unique perfume. It releases its aroma the more it comes into contact with moisture. So the more you sweat, the better you smell!

Continue reading The sweet smell of success (Day 321)

Behind every good manicure is a great chemical engineer (Day 320)

ManicureAs one industry cuts back on jobs due to the recession, another blooms. Last year $8.5 billion was spent in US nail bars. That’s a $1 billion increase since 2012.

So why are more people visiting nail bars now, than when times weren’t so tight and we had more cash in our pockets?

One explanation is the ‘lipstick effect’. When our budgets are squeezed, rather than losing the taste to splurge we simply trade large extravagancies for cheaper luxuries to cheer ourselves up. Cue the nail bar, manicures and chemical engineering.

Continue reading Behind every good manicure is a great chemical engineer (Day 320)

New drug approved to fight ovarian cancer (Day 317)

Now that we are in the home stretch of my presidency, I thought I’d look a little closer to home for examples of chemical engineering success. IChemE’s Corporate Partners are a great place to start.

AstraZeneca, a multinational pharmaceutical company employing around 57,000 people worldwide, were awarded Silver Corporate Partner status in 2011.

woman with cancerThey are one of only a handful of companies involved in every aspect of pharmaceutical production from start to finish; from research to supply. So next time you pick up a prescription, there’s a good chance that AstraZeneca might have been involved.

One of their latest drugs to be approved is Lynparza, which is prescribed to patients who have been diagnosed with a mutated form of ovarian cancer.

Over 7,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year. It’s the fifth most common cancer among women, mainly affecting the over 50’s – although it can affect women of any age.

Continue reading New drug approved to fight ovarian cancer (Day 317)