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.
There 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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Globalisation 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.
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.
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.
No 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.
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.
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.
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.
Some 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!’
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.
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?
Walk 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.
The 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.
Is 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.
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.
As 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.
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).