Chemical engineers descended on the Houses of Parliament yesterday, to ask MPs and policymakers about UK Science and Global Opportunities at Parliamentary Links Day – the largest science event in the Parliamentary calendar. They had been selected by IChemE, as a special thank-you for the time they had dedicated volunteering for the organisation.
In the wake of the Election result and as Brexit negotiations begin to take shape, Parliamentary Links Day, organised by the Royal Society of Biology, saw a record turn-out of scientists and engineers all keen to discuss how the political landscape impacted their industry and work.
As the police and safety investigations into the Grenfell Tower fire continue, media across the world has been reporting on the tragic event that saw more than 150 homes destroyed and around 80 people presumed dead.
Tomorrow is International Women In Engineering Day (INWED), and it’s been great to see an overwhelmingly positive response from our community in the form of events and activities.
The INWED website has some fantastic ideas for organisations to improve their diversity agenda, from organising networking events to completing an equal pay audit. It isn’t too late for your company to get involved, visit the website for more ideas.
Global engineering services provider KBR, a Gold Corporate Partner with the IChemE, is already ahead of the curve. Aspire, an employee-driven resources group committed to female engineers and promoting gender parity, was launched in Houston, US in 2016. In January it was rolled-out across the pond, and Aspire UK was born.
To celebrate #INWED2017 the Aspire UK team joined with KBR’s graduate network, Impact, to host students from a local school. They attended the KBR Campus in Leatherhead today (Thursday 22 June) and inspired to take a career path in engineering.
The students were immersed in a working engineering environment and given several interactive workshop presentations about engineering, the opportunities the profession presents, and the pathways into an engineering career. They attended a networking lunch where they were able to meet with more engineers from KBR, including the business leaders.
The final activity was a team building game, where the students had to use their problem solving skills to build an Oil Rig Jacket Structure (oil platform) out of paper.
We caught up with the engineers who spoke at the event.
Environmental impact is something that has become increasingly important for organisations and consumers in recent years. It is a topic discussed on a global scale by world leaders, and an issue of contention for many.
For some chemical engineers it has provided an opportunity for them to use their knowledge of chemical processes to create environmentally-friendly alternatives to the products we rely on daily.
In today’s blog Dr Dan Derr gives an insight into biosurfactants – which he hopes will spark a ‘renewable revolution’ in the fast-moving consumer goods industry.
Dr Daniel Derr
Project Leader, Internal Research & Development, Logos Technologies
Dan gained his PhD from Colorado State University, and went on to study bio-based jet fuels and photocatalysis at General Electric’s Global Research.
Following this, he led an integrated BioRefinery effort called the Corn to Cellulosic Migration (CCM), focusing on the migration of billions of dollars of capital deployed in today’s corn ethanol industry toward cost-effective production of greener ethanol from corn stover, switchgrass and woodchips.
Now working for Logos Technologies, Derr is currently focused on NatSurFact® – a rhamnolipid-based line of biosurfactants.
12 December 2015 will go down in history as the day the world agreed to do something about climate change. The impact of countries around the world reaching such an agreement cannot be ignored. However, for us to actually achieve the targets set in Paris we need to act now.
Chemical engineers have been working for some time to find and implement ways to combat climate change.
Here are just ten of the ways that chemical engineers can save the world from the impact of climate change:
Chemical engineering makes its professional contribution by understanding how whole systems work, and generating engineered system solutions to meet desired targets. The ideology and discussion behind climate change solutions is in place, but it needs a chemical engineering, systems thinking approach to apply the technical solutions.
2. Energy efficiency
Becoming more energy efficient is the obvious easy win (at least for chemical engineers). The 2012 Global Energy Assessment stated that 66 per cent of the energy produced today is wasted. The chemicals sector is the most energy intensive industry, but current internal rates of return stand at just 12-19 per cent. Chemical engineers can change this and make energy efficiency the number one priority
Nuclear power is already playing a vital role in decarbonising the global energy economy. Its capacity to provide base load power makes it a stable and low-carbon energy supply.
Nuclear power provides approximately 11 per cent of the world’s energy. In the UK, nuclear power generation makes up 19 per cent of the energy landscape. The proportion is much higher in France, at 75 per cent.
However, there are still significant public concerns over the safety and environmental impacts of nuclear power, and the legacy issues of waste. These concerns mean there is often very little support for new nuclear power plants.
As we move to a low carbon future nuclear, new build will have to play an even bigger part in the energy strategies of many governments, because nuclear doesn’t emit carbon dioxide during power generation.
The world’s population is expected to exceed nine billion by 2050. With this growth there will be an increasing demand for energy.
As it stands, fossil fuels provide more than 85 per cent of the world’s energy. And despite significant global efforts to shift to renewable energy generation, renewable sources only accounted for 2 per cent of the global energy supply in 2014.
It is therefore logical and reasonable to believe that fossil fuels will remain an indispensable part of the world’s energy landscape until at least the end of this century.
At COP21, representatives from over 190 countries will try to reach an agreement to limit global warming to the two degrees target, and this will involve stabilising atmospheric CO2 concentrations at a level of 450 parts per million (ppm).
So what does this mean? For fossil fuels, it means we need to decarbonise electricity production; and carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a readily deployable technology solution to do this.
This week saw the start of the 21st Conference of Parties, COP21. More than 190 countries and 150 global leaders have gathered in Paris, France, to discuss a new global agreement on climate change.
The United Nations (UN) event will host around 40,000 people and runs right through until the end of next week (11 December).
The future of the natural world, and the animals and plant life that call it home, depends on the outcome of this conference. If we don’t limit global warming to 2 degrees, the consequences will be catastrophic.
Whilst we cannot accurately predict the scale of any potential impacts now, what we do know for certain is that climate change is happening, and we have a responsibility to reduce any further damage.
Chemical engineers are part of the solution, and the IChemE Energy Centre has identified five priority areas where technology can be deployed now to help mitigate climate change.
From practical problem solving at BP to travelling the world with work for Syngenta, it’s clear to see that life as a chemical engineer brings great benefits and opens up a world of opportunities.
Today it’s time to shine a spotlight on the lads and lasses at Mondelez International – one of the world’s largest confectionery, food and beverage companies. Their products and brands, including Cadbury, Philadelphia and Oreo fill the shelves in shops and supermarkets all over the world.
So what’s it like to be a chemical engineer at Mondelez?
Are they the modern day Willy Wonkas? Check out the videos and find out for yourselves:
(1) Chemical engineers at Mondelez work out new and inventive ways to produce more with less
Benjamin Hodges, a graduate trainee at the Mondelez Bourneville factory in Birmingham, UK, talks about the demands on a chemical engineer in the food industry – from reducing waste to increasing raw material yield:
Earlier this week, we launched the first in a new series of ChemEngProfiles video blogs. Our good friends at Syngenta started the ball rolling and you can check out their stories in ‘Five great reasons to be a chemical engineer at Syngenta‘. But it’s not only chemical engineers at Syngenta who want to share their passion for the profession and we’ve got lots more in the pipeline.
We’re all familiar with the big energy challenges confronting humanity 21st century. Chemical engineers are on the front line in the battle to deliver affordable, secure and sustainable energy supplies and IChemE members at BP are no exception.
But don’t take our word for it, check out these video clips from the boys and girls at one of the world’s leading international oil and gas companies.
(1) Protecting the planet by switching to biofuels
Aidan Hurley is a Chief process safety engineer at BP Alternative Energy. Here he’s talking about his work with biofuels and how, as a chemical engineer, he is developing solutions to the challenges associated with energy including climate change:
You’ll probably know by now that IChemE exists to advance chemical engineering worldwide and the reason is a simple one – chemical engineering matters. As such, it’s important to highlight some areas where the Institution and its 42,000 members make a difference.
The first is to inspire the next generation of chemical engineers, particularly young women. Because let’s face it, who else is going to solve the grand challenges of the 21st century and beyond? And the more diverse the chemical engineering workforce, the better.
Next, we need to promote the wide variety of careers available within the broad spectrum of chemical engineering to improve graduate retention in the process industries.
Over the last few years, cycling has seen a meteoric rise in both popularity and participation. Its most gruelling and testing competition, the Tour De France, drew to a close last month with another British victory.
So it seems quite apt to share how chemical engineering plays a part in this sport.
The phrase ‘chemical engineering in cycling’ may raise a few eyebrows. Indeed, some of the ways in which competitors have broken the rules can be – if you’re able to discount the morality of the outcome – seen as impressive feats of human engineering.
I’m sure you’ve heard of blood doping, where athletes improve their aerobic capacity and endurance through either one of the two following ways:
The ChemEng365 campaign concluded at the end of May when Geoff’s term as president ended. But of course, all the amazing chemical engineering research and innovation still goes on. So, it seems only fitting to give you a research round-up on all things chemical and process engineering for the month of June – just in case you missed anything!
Injectable hydrogel could help wounds heal more quickly
So to kick-start our new ChemEng blog, the blog elves thought it only appropriate to welcome back blog-elf-in-chief and ChemEng365 blogger, Geoff Maitland, to pick his top five blogs from the past year.
Name: Geoff Maitland Job: Professor of Energy Engineering Course: Chemistry, University of Oxford, UK Graduated: 1969 Employer: Imperial College London, UK
Last month saw my last ever ChemEng365 blog posted online. It was both a sad and happy day for me. Sad that my time as IChemE president and blogger was over, but happy that we have managed to achieve so much and reach so many people in just 365 days.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If we define status in terms of precious metals and elements, platinum nestles in second place below diamond, but above gold, silver and bronze.
Just a few hundred tonnes are mined each year from naturally occurring sources and as a by-product of nickel and copper processing.
Most of it comes out of Africa and its rarity, combined with its uses, make it precious and sought after by both investors and industry.
Platinum has a high resistance to corrosion even at high temperatures. It allows the transmission of electric current and is used in many products including pacemakers, solar cells, electrodes, drugs, oxygen sensors, spark plugs.
It is also a valuable catalyst and around half of platinum’s annual production is used to control vehicle emissions in catalytic converters.
Demand for platinum is high and during the economic meltdown in 2008, its value rose to nearly £50 per gram (US$70 per gram).
The quest for efficiency and productivity in the chemical and process industry is a 24/7 occupation. Extracting every ounce of potential is the goal. But it is not easy and some corners of our profession have big challenges.
Extracting the full potential of biomass is one example. Trees, plants and agricultural waste can provide a valuable source of fuel in the form of ethanol from cellulose.
But the same biomass also consists of lignin – a by-product of ethanol production. Although nearly as abundant as cellulose, its uses are more limited and is often just burnt to power ethanol plants.
If a cellulosic ethanol industry is to grow and be commercially successful, new processes will be needed to convert all of the input biomass into fuel. To improve the economic feasibility, a portion of the lignin needs to be converted to higher-values chemicals or materials.
The challenge has promoted a multi-disciplinary team at Purdue University to take a new look at breaking down the molecules in biomass – using rocket technology!
Take a look at this video which offers a great explanation of their work, including rocket technology which heats the biomass in a few hundredths of a second.
If science can be described as fashionable – and I think it is – so too are some of the discoveries made by the various branches of our profession.
Current social, economic and political issues all influence what succeeds, and what gets left on the shelf.
Two issues which have received universal political pressure in recent times is the reduction of waste – in all its forms – and the protection for our environment.
Packaging, especially plastic bags, is a good example of a raft of measures and initiatives to change behaviour and usage including taxation, charging policies and a move towards more space efficient and compact packaging such as compressed aerosols.
Some of this pressure may see renewed interest in crustacean waste from the fishing industry being used as an alternative to oil-based packaging.
Hello everyone and welcome to today’s blog. Christmas is now over three weeks away, but before we leave the festivities behind for another year I just wanted to make an observation about waste during this indulgent celebration.
A few year’s ago I read a story in Engineering and Technology magazine which suggested the UK consumes around 10 million turkeys, 370 million mince pies, 25 million Christmas puddings, drink 250 million pints of beer and open 35 million bottles of wine.
However, according to WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme), the food and drink wasted in the UK increases by a massive 80 per cent over the Christmas period, with a staggering 230,000 tonnes of food, worth £275 million (US$400 million), is binned during the festive season.
The only good news about waste on this scale is that much of it can be used for the production of energy.
Chemical engineers have played a central role in the development of energy from waste processes including anaerobic digestion and biogas production.
Recent research shows that municipal solid waste (MSW) in China has increased and in 2010 exceeded 350 Mt (equivalent to 440 kg per person).
Chemical engineers are responsible for much the world’s economic output in the form of goods and services consumed by industry and consumers.
In numbers, the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) looks something like this: £48,000,000,000,000 (US$75,000,000,000,000).
From a chemical engineering perspective, once those goods have left the factory gate or disappeared down a pipe, there might be a tendency to forget the enormous skill and energy to get these products to market – in the right condition.
The challenge is particularly acute for the distribution of food in countries with large and growing populations and has been highlighted recently by the University of Birmingham in the UK. Continue reading Blowing hot and cold (Day 235)
In principle, their work could result in future chemical factories consisting of colonies of genetically engineered bacteria.
The Wyss Institute team has been able to trick the bacteria into self–eliminating the cells that are not high–output performers, ridding the entire process of the need for human and technological monitoring to make sure the bacteria are producing efficiently, and therefore hugely reducing the overall timescale of chemical production. Continue reading Bacteria on a factory scale (Day 233)
Separations in manufacturing can be challenging and energy intensive. For many products, careful removal of impurities is essential to the formulation of the end product – particularly areas such as pharmaceuticals.
With the growth in biochemical engineering and biopharmaceuticals, the challenge of bio separation is also being more widely addressed. In some mixtures, there are the issues of multi-component separations.
Biopharmaceuticals include proteins and other large molecules which may require complex chromatographic separations. Purification of biopharmaceuticals can account for 50-80% of the total cost of production and is often considered the bottleneck in the process.