Add just a pinch of salt for longer battery life (Day 92)

Dead Batteries - Huguette Roe  Shutterstock dot com
‘Dendrites’ are a major cause of declining battery performance. Image courtesy of Huguette Roe | Shutterstock.com

One of the major considerations when making, and buying, modern consumer products is battery life. Cheaper products generally have short battery lives. You’ll pay considerably more for better performance, but even high specification smartphones barely last more than half a day according to a recent test.

Continue reading Add just a pinch of salt for longer battery life (Day 92)

Masters of the unusual job title (Day 91)

ChocolateThere was a great fun story in the media recently when Cambridge University announced they were looking for a ‘Doctor of Chocolate’.

Based in Cambridge University’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, the ‘project will investigate the factors which allow chocolate, which has a melting point close to that of the human body, to remain solid and retain qualities sought by consumers when it is stored and sold in warm climates.’

Continue reading Masters of the unusual job title (Day 91)

Espresso fuel (Day 89)

Cooking FatDiesel, petrol and battery power are familiar ways to power our transport. LPG and natural gas are other alternatives.

But there are other more obscure (and sometimes less practical ways) to power vehicles.

Air, waste cooking oil, waste vegetables, beer and spirits, chocolate, nappies (diapers), sawdust, nuts, styrofoam and other waste or co-products all have the potential to fuel cars.

In fact, finding ways to convert industrial co-products into biofuel always seems a sensible and sustainable way to re-use our raw materials – especially for high volume commodities like coffee.

Continue reading Espresso fuel (Day 89)

Inspired by nature (Day 87)

Sea Urchin
Sea Urchins have the ability to convert CO2 to calcium carbonate

Have you noticed how often nature inspires technological advancements? It’s something that chemical engineers are very adept at and have made a series of recent discoveries that have great potential.

Research by Newcastle University in the UK found that nickel nanoparticles on the exoskeletons of Sea Urchin larvae gave them the ability to convert CO2 to calcium carbonate. The finding has the potential to help mitigate climate change.

Continue reading Inspired by nature (Day 87)

It’s in our genes (Day 85)

DNAThe world of genetics is fascinating and there always seems an endless stream of findings and breakthroughs with the potential for predicting and treating health problems.

This month, research published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated women with mutations in the PALB2 gene face a one in three chance of getting breast cancer by age 70.

A team at the Institute of Cancer Research, in London, have shown 14 separate genetic mutations can greatly increase the odds of aggressive prostate cancers and form the basis for genetic screening in a similar way to breast cancer in women.

Continue reading It’s in our genes (Day 85)

‘Little-game’ hunters (Day 84)

Most of us are familiar and fascinated with ‘big-game’ animals like rhinos, elephants and tigers. Thankfully, they are now protected animals and their numbers have stabilised, but remain perilously low. For instance only around 3,000 tigers remain the in the wild.

By contrast, there are tens of millions of species of bacteria living in the wild. But even these are hard to capture and some are just as elusive as a Siberian Tiger.

Panda
Pandas are not the only animals difficult to breed in captivity – ‘wild’ bacteria pose similar problems.

Continue reading ‘Little-game’ hunters (Day 84)

The zero water ambition (Day 83)

Factory waterWorldwide, industry accounts for 22 per cent of all water consumption. This figure is expected to rise to 24 per cent of total freshwater withdrawal in 2025.

Most industries are working to reduce their water usage and many companies have business targets to reduce water consumption. Some even have the ambition of running ‘zero water’ factories.

But what are ‘zero water’ factories and are they really achievable?

Continue reading The zero water ambition (Day 83)

A global ring of safety (Day 80)

Step by step, day by day, country by country, something special is happening in the world of process safety. In chemical engineering hubs around the world, process safety is being taken to new levels led by a network of IChemE members.

There are now nearly 70 chemical engineers enrolled or registered as Professional Process Safety Engineers based at strategic locations on five continents.

They are the vanguard and champions of a long-term IChemE initiative to improve safety and give greater recognition to one of the most important – if the not the most important – discipline in the chemical engineering profession.

Locations of Professional Process Safety Engineers
IChemE’s Professional Process Safety Engineers are now located on five continents

Continue reading A global ring of safety (Day 80)

Electronic bugging of the water variety (Day 79)

Water testing
Current water monitoring can be costly, time-consuming and require technical expertise.

Sharing new technology and developments, and making sure there is greater equality in its use across the world, requires political commitment.

But, arguably, making technological advancements that are affordable, especially for developing countries, is essential if it is to be deployed on a global scale.

So, I was really encouraged to read a story this week about something important to all of us – a new lower cost way of testing for water pollution and checking the quality of drinking water.

Continue reading Electronic bugging of the water variety (Day 79)

Making food last longer (Day 78)

Goats cheeseGlobalisation has created opportunities for many industries, but the growth of some fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) – especially fresh foods – continue to be limited by their relatively short shelf lives.

For some countries, like Australia, it places an unwelcome cap on their exporting potential and economic growth.

For nations with burgeoning populations, especially in South East Asia, the scope and volume of ‘fresh’ food imports can be constrained and place additional burdens on ‘home-grown’ food supplies.

Continue reading Making food last longer (Day 78)

The dichotomy of chemical engineering (Day 77)

John Fletcher Moulton, Baron Moulton, c.  1913
John Fletcher Moulton, Baron Moulton, circa 1913.

Throughout 2014 there have been various emotional and poignant days recording key events in the twentieth century’s two world wars.

As chemical engineers, I’m sure some of us look at these historical events in contrasting ways, especially when we consider our professional ‘forefathers’ were the architects of weapons production on a mass scale.

Conversely, the mass use of antibiotics considerably reduced the death toll in combat during World War Two.

That’s the dichotomy of chemical engineers – our inventiveness has the ability for destruction and immeasurable good.

Continue reading The dichotomy of chemical engineering (Day 77)

Sometimes making people smile is enough (Day 76)

Fracture - Abhi Lokesh and Alex Theodre
Fracture – Abhi Lokesh and Alex Theodre (right)

Every now and again on ChemEng365, we venture away from the many ‘game-changing’ developments and achievements in chemical engineering that help to change the engineering landscape.

Today, we are digressing into the world of business start-ups, entrepreneurship and digital printing.

Our story centres on Abhi Lokesh and Alex Theodore, who co-founded Fracture – a small digital print business with a difference.

Continue reading Sometimes making people smile is enough (Day 76)

Smart packaging detects food poisoning (Day 75)

Contaminated FoodNo one is absolutely sure how many people are affected by food poisoning each year. But it is a global problem and the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate it affects tens of millions of people each year.

Salmonella is one of the most common and widely distributed foodborne diseases. Over 2,500 different strains have been identified to date. WHO estimates that Salmonella alone results in more than a hundred thousand deaths each year.

Continue reading Smart packaging detects food poisoning (Day 75)

Marilyn Monroe tackles drug counterfeiters (Day 73)

Film with hidden image
Terry Shyu, MSE PhD Student, demonstrates use of nanopillars that reveal hidden images via condensation of fluid on the structures. Image credit: Joseph Xu

Drug counterfeiting is big business. It’s a global problem made even easier when you consider a third of all countries have little or no medicine regulation.

Poorer countries are most at risk. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate one in ten drug products are fake.

Continue reading Marilyn Monroe tackles drug counterfeiters (Day 73)

The tension of short-termism (Day 70)

Short term versus long termOne of the biggest frustrations that many scientists and engineers face, both in academia and industry, is short-termism. For issues like sustainability it’s problematic.

Investors and politicians can be nervous about taking the long-term view. Business likes quick wins; figures it can report quarterly and give annual performance targets.

By contrast, the journey to sustainability is often gradual, steady and long-term. For many of us it is a continual process of improvement – a step-by-step process of finding ways to use less energy, reduce waste and generally improve.

Continue reading The tension of short-termism (Day 70)

Into the lion’s den (Day 68)

Lion hunting on the SavannahSometimes, you find yourself in situations you have never planned or anticipated. That happened to me in 2010 as my wife and I were just flying out of Houston on 21st April 2010.

We heard a brief news story that an oil rig had caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico. This was Deepwater Horizon, the Macondo well, which eventually became the largest blowout and offshore oil spill in history – little did I know that this incident was going to fill my life for the next 85 days and beyond.

Continue reading Into the lion’s den (Day 68)

A growing global family (Day 67)

SAIChE IChemE logoSome great news came out this week from South Africa with the announcement of a formal collaboration between the South African Institution of Chemical Engineers (SAIChE) and IChemE.

We’ve enjoyed a great relationship with SAIChE in recent years and we already work closely with them since we entered into a Memorandum of Understanding in 2012.

Continue reading A growing global family (Day 67)

No ordinary oasis (Day 65)

Lake in desertWhat’s the furthest you’ve ever walked for clean water?

If you’re lucky, not very far.

If you’re unlucky, in some arid parts of the developing world, you could be spending hours walking several kilometres each day just to collect water to survive.

And forget about those romantic images of verdant oases. The water is often in polluted, dirty and in unsafe pools, especially for children.

However, putting the economics to one side for the moment, there are solutions. Cue the anaerobic digester and a new bit of technology attached to it called the McLanahan Nutrient Separation System.

Continue reading No ordinary oasis (Day 65)

‘Beeting’ down the barriers (Day 63)

A group of 8 female Chemical Engineering students from Strathclyde University spending the day at the Newark site.
A group of eight female Chemical Engineering students from the University of Strathclyde spend the day at British Sugar’s Newark site.

When you’re responsible for processing 7.5 million tonnes of sugar beet each year to make one million tonnes of sugar annually, you’re always on the look out for engineering talent – regardless of their gender.

Continue reading ‘Beeting’ down the barriers (Day 63)

A steely approach to recycling (Day 62)

Scrap metal
Recycled steel accounts for around a third of production each year.

I wonder what Henry Bessemer would think of steel-making today? Since he developed the first inexpensive process for the mass production of steel in the 1850s, the world has progressed to produce over 1,606 million tonnes in 2013.

The great thing about steel is that it is 100 per cent recyclable – to the same quality, time and time again. There’s also some important energy and raw material savings. Figures from the World Steel Association show that more than 1,400 kg of iron ore, 740 kg of coal, and 120 kg of limestone are saved for every tonne of steel scrap made into new steel.

Continue reading A steely approach to recycling (Day 62)

When there’s just too much energy (Day 60)

green batteryIn some parts of the world, at certain times of the day, there’s just too much energy – and nowhere for it to go. It’s a problem more and more energy suppliers are likely to experience.

The problem is particularly acute in places like Hawaii. With no natural fossil fuels it has traditionally shipped oil and coal thousands of miles by sea at great cost. The result for Hawaii’s residents are electricity bills three times higher than mainland USA.

Continue reading When there’s just too much energy (Day 60)

An antibiotic-free fight against sepsis (Day 59)

Sepsis, sometimes called ‘blood poisoning’, is a fairly common whole body infection that can lead to multiple organ failure and death. It is caused by bacteria, fungi or protozoa such as Malaria.

Hospitalised patients recovering from operations, and people with weak or compromised immune systems are particularly at risk, although it can develop from something as simple as a dirty wound.

Even developed countries struggle to manage the infection. In the US, each year, 750,000 cases of sepsis are recorded. In Germany, sepsis claims 60,000 lives annually and is the third most common cause of death.

Continue reading An antibiotic-free fight against sepsis (Day 59)

Strange biofuelled tea (Day 58)

Every now again we like to bring you the quirky and unusual on Chemeng365. So today’s blog features the story of the The Strange Brew Tea Company in Scotland.

Using their own words, ‘The Strange Brew Tea Company are an eco-friendly tea business with a huge passion for tea, the environment and all things quirky!’

Teak Trike
The Strange Brew Tea Company’s “Tea Trike” on the grounds of Thirlestane Castle in Scotland.

Continue reading Strange biofuelled tea (Day 58)

The carbon dioxide sniffing satellite (Day 57)

Space travel may not be the natural territory of chemical engineers, but earlier this month NASA launched a satellite which will be of great interest to many in the energy sector and those interested in climate change.

On 2 July 2014, NASA launched the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO-2) satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Its mission is to study the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide globally and provide scientists with a better idea of how carbon is contributing to climate change.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory - NASA JPL - Caltech
The Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-2) (Image courtesy of NASA/JPL – Caltech)

Continue reading The carbon dioxide sniffing satellite (Day 57)

Cars made from tom-auto sauce (Day 56)

TomatoesThere’s always lots of news and debate about how vehicles of the future will be powered, but rarely is there a conversation about what they might be made from.

Car production has become a lot more sustainable in recent years, with specific legislation introduced in many countries for manufacturers. Estimates suggest up to 90 per cent of a car leaving the production line today could be recycled.

But what if some of those materials used to make cars are also the product of inventive recycling?

Continue reading Cars made from tom-auto sauce (Day 56)

The lesser known hydrocarbon (Day 55)

Frozen shore lineWalk up to any typical man or woman in the street and ask them where their energy comes from to power their homes, cook their food, keep the cold out and fuel their cars and you’ll probably get a very long list of answers.

If you posed the question, what power source has more energy in it than all the world’s oil, coal and gas put together, only a few are likely to get the right answer.

In fact the answer is gas hydrates – the lesser known hydrocarbon. Otherwise known as fire ice and more loosely termed methane hydrate, the gas presents as ice crystals with natural methane gas (and other gases) locked inside.

Continue reading The lesser known hydrocarbon (Day 55)

The rise, rise and rise of chemical engineering (Day 54)

UndergraduatesThe organisation responsible for managing applications to higher education courses in the UK – UCAS – published their annual data tables this week. Their top-line data, by the deadline of 30 June 2014, showed a total of 659,030 applications, an increase of four per cent compared to the same point last year.

It’s an encouraging set of statistics following the decline in 2012 of eight per cent caused by the introduction of higher tuition fees in some parts of the UK.

Continue reading The rise, rise and rise of chemical engineering (Day 54)

The power of the award (Day 53)

skyscraper currencyIs it possible to attach a value to winning an award? Are they worth the effort to galvanise an internal team to pull together an outstanding entry? Do they result in more investment? And how do you manage the implications of not winning (and in many cases, not even being shortlisted)?

These are difficult questions to answer, but I did want to give a few examples of where winning an IChemE Award can be the beginning of commercial and reputational success.

Continue reading The power of the award (Day 53)

Engineering life into perspective (Day 52)

Global Water Brigades Ghana
Global Brigade volunteers in Ghana

Some professions have an ability to provide a unique insight into life that can transform a career into a lifelong vocation, not just a job that pays the bills every month. I’d certainly rank the engineering professions into this category.

The transformation often takes place at university, where engineering undergraduates start to become exposed to the power and potential of their chosen profession through initiatives like Global Brigades.

Continue reading Engineering life into perspective (Day 52)

The intriguing story of the bee, the spider and the snowdrop (Day 51)

BeeAs a general rule, if scientists collectively issue a warning, we should take notice. If their warnings are based on a review of 800 scientific studies over two decades, you know something is seriously wrong. In this case, the warning’s about the plight of the humble bee.

The bee is nature’s pollinator but has been ravaged by pesticides, which are thought to damage their navigation, learning, food collection, lifespan, resistance to disease and fertility.

The main finger of blame is being pointed at an insecticide called neonicotinoid. It’s a systemic insecticide, meaning it can be absorbed into every cell in a plant, making all parts poisonous to pests. Concerns are also growing that neonicotinoids are affecting a much wider group of animals including birds, lizards, earthworms and coastal shellfish.

Continue reading The intriguing story of the bee, the spider and the snowdrop (Day 51)

A postcard from China (Day 50)

China StampLife is full of little milestones and today marks 50 days since I took the office of IChemE president. Thank you to everyone for your generous messages of support so far.

Today’s blog reflects the truly global nature of the chemical engineering profession. There’s around 200 countries in the world and you’ll find IChemE members in around 60 per cent of them (120) – very impressive.

Last week I received an email from a member living and working in China – Kenny McDonald, a formulation technology and commissioning manager, for BASF Crop Protection (Jiangsu).

Continue reading A postcard from China (Day 50)