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.
Life 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).
Healthcare policy ebbs and flows on a regular basis, especially in countries where the state provides tax-payer funded services like here in the UK.
However, although medicines, equipment, communication and facilities have all generally improved over time, the basic management of healthcare services and the business models for delivering them often seem in a state of constant flux.
A good example is where healthcare is best provided – in homes, communities or large centralised hospitals. Generally, I think it is a combination of all of these, but there has been a trend over the past few decades to more community- and home-based services, especially for the elderly.
It helps to have thick skin if you’re involved in the energy sector. Although demonised may be too strong a word, large chunks of the energy sector does seem to be dogged by negativity, fear and distrust.
Shale gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ invokes worries about earth tremors and contaminated water supplies. Nuclear energy attracts concerns over cost and safety. Renewable energy infrastructure like tall wind turbines are on the receiving end of vociferous community lobby groups. Energy production is inextricably linked to climate change. All these issues are regular frequenters in the media’s column inches.
A few weeks ago I blogged about chemical engineers and their role in the production of antibiotics to save lives during the D-Day landings in 1944. Antibiotics are now part of a standard issue battlefield medical first aid kit to help save lives during what is described as a ‘platinum 10 minutes’.
Sadly, there are still around 40 conflicts in the world today. And as we’ve seen in the Middle East and Syria, chemical weapons are still being produced and used in some of those conflicts.
Accountability, openness and transparency. Three important words in the governance of any charitable and membership organisation like IChemE.
IChemE also has a wealth of knowledge and history acquired since we were established in 1922, and an active membership eager to share their experiences and expertise to advance the profession.
As your President, I also want to be accountable and share my knowledge where I can. So, throughout my presidency, there is an open invitation to send in your reasonable questions and thoughts on issues relating to our technical policy – Chemical Engineering Matters. Every now and again, we’ll publish the answers starting with today.
Current statistics tell us that around three identical twins are born for every 1,000 deliveries worldwide. Overall, quite low odds.
However, in the UK at least, for every 1,000 children born today, over a third will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetimes. It’s a worrying statistic and an area where chemical engineering has a role to play.
My statistical interest in twins and cancer incidence rates was prompted by a great chemical engineering story from the University of New South Wales, Australia.
Whether we like it or not, all of us are living in a competitive world. Even professions need to compete to show their continuing relevance and value, especially when you consider that their relationships with members can and does endure throughout entire working lives of 40 years and more.
Of course, some professions compete better than others. By design or luck they have a desirable image, higher status and better profile with important stakeholders such as young people, parents, business, decision-makers like governments, and many others.
If you’re in the middle of your chemical engineering course, you may still be thinking about what to do when you graduate. Thankfully, there’s lots of choice, but how about taking on some of the world’s biggest consumer brands and using your chemical engineering skills to make…well…frozen lollies or popsicles? Continue reading Creative juices…with alcohol and frozen (Day 40)
What do these purification processes have in common: distillation, extraction, chromatography, adsorption, and crystallization?
All can be energy or materials intensive. In other words – expensive.
Some professionals in the purification business will often quote phrases like: “It is generally accepted that separation processes account for between 40-70 per cent of both the capital and operating costs in industry.”
The Tour de France sets off tomorrow for its 101st edition and over the duration of 23 days will see 198 riders from 22 teams attempt to complete 21 stages and cover a total distance of 3,664 kilometres or 2,276 miles.
If you’re a member of the Team Sky nine-man team you’ll probably be sitting on a carbon fibre bike worth £12,000 (USD $20,000). Also, most of the field will be using a Kevlar-based helmet ranging from £120 (USD $200) and upwards.
Energy poverty can mean different things in different parts of the world. In Europe, the debate is most often about the spiraling cost of energy. For some it means cutting-back on their heating and living in colder homes.
But for the one in four people around the world who don’t even have access to an energy grid, the issues are even more acute. It’s a problem that one charity – Village Infrastructure – is determined to help solve.
Village Infrastructure’s (VI) mission is to make energy affordable for the 1.3 billion people who live without electricity. Their innovative approach has already been recognised by the G20, who have provided grant funding.
How inventive are chemical engineers and how could you measure their inventiveness? It’s a bit of a rhetorical question and one that probably doesn’t need an answer, but it did cross my mind the other day when I received an email from IChemE promoting a Webinar about microalga Dunaliella by the University of Greenwich in the UK.
The University are leading a €10m international project, called the ‘D-Factory,’ to build a biorefinery to develop the microalga Dunaliella as a sustainable raw material and turn every part of the alga into something useful.
In fact, they are looking at potential products including food, pharmaceuticals, plastic and fuel. This is unlikely to be a surprise to anyone who is part of the chemical engineering ‘family’, but probably something relatively unknown in the wider world.
If you are familiar with political life in the UK, you’ll know that when the House of Commons is sitting, you are allowed access to the central lobby and can request to see your local Member of Parliament (MP).
They may not always be there, but it can be quite an effective way to lobby UK politicians and is one of the benefits of living in a democracy.
Since 1970 music lovers have descended on a small village called Pilton near Glastonbury in the South West of England to enjoy one of the world’s best music festivals. This year’s festival is already underway with around 200,000 people attending the sell-out event.
For the organisers it’s an immense logistical undertaking, especially the volume of waste created over the five day festival. And one type of waste is particularly challenging – toilet waste.
The festival has around 5,000 toilets onsite, but I wonder how many people, sitting, listening to the music, realise that chemical engineering – albeit in very basic form – is helping to control odours and eventually recycle their human waste into compost?
With some exceptions, many countries, including the UK, have just been through the worst recession ever. Even now, nations have still to return to 2008 economic output levels.
If you managed to survive the last six years, you’re likely to be leaner and more efficient, but still cautious. As economists say – confidence is the magical word to drive investment, jobs and expansion.
There is always a good and lively debate about the definition of chemical engineering. Not in technical and academic terms, but in words that most people can understand and relate to. At the moment it often feels like a debate without end and probably needs marketers to help tease out the values, words, benefits and phrases that encapsulate our profession.
So does it matter if we can’t explain our profession simply and collectively, nor have a simple set of images that bind us all together? Romantically, most chemical engineers would answer yes to this question.
In practice too it is an awkward situation to be in – the lack of clarity and subsequent communication problems result in misunderstanding, poor awareness and, most importantly, less value attached to the profession. If nothing else this is a substantial barrier to higher education, skills and recruitment.
Seawater covers around 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface and accounts for 97 per cent of the planet’s water. Although a great source of food and means of travel, in some ways this ubiquitous resource is under-used, especially in relation to its energy potential.
Of course renewable wave energy is attracting lots of interest at the moment. But a few weeks ago, a story caught my eye about a team at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), who have been looking at seawater as a means to power their warships and planes.
Chemical engineers work in some of the most image-conscious organisations where reputations are hard-won and easily lost. In all likelihood you’ll have a team of people somewhere carefully monitoring social media, news outlets, what your customers are saying and what the future holds in terms of legislation, trends and policy changes.
It’s also fair to assume that chemical engineers don’t always have the best of images. For one, people generally don’t know what we do. And when they do, it’s often associated with negative images and disasters. Often these images and events are ingrained into the public consciousness like Piper Alpha or Bhopal.
Improvements in process safety education should never stand still, so it was good to hear from one of IChemE’s members based in the US this week, Deborah Grubbe, who contacted me about the development of some new technical software called The PSM eBook.
The eBook was commissioned by the chemical engineering team at Purdue University in the US. They decided to introduce process safety management more formally into the undergraduate curriculum.
Earlier this year, IChemE was disappointed by the decision of the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) to remove the examination and grading of practicals from science A levels.
A levels and AS qualifications in England are currently assessed using a combination of written examinations – marked by independent exam boards – plus written and other assessments, such as laboratory tasks, marked by teachers.
The media (and generally readers) love lists of things. Easily digestible and readable, they are a great way to start debate and communicate in a few words. A quick Google will show you just how many top ten lists there.
Anyway, throughout my presidency I thought I’d use this handy technique in my blogs to get your views and comments – beginning with ten reasons to become a chemical engineer. In no particular order, my top ten are:
Patrons, envoys, role models, ambassadors, champions. Call them what you want, but symbolic leaders are valuable in all walks of life. Should professions be any different? And have you ever considered who are the champions for the chemical engineering profession?
A few years ago tce magazine wrote a fantastic series of articles about chemical engineers who changed the world. Starting with pioneers like Johann Glauber in the 1600s, tce gradually worked their way through people like George E Davis, Fritz Haber & Carl Bosch, Victor Mills, Trevor Kletz and Yoshio Nishi.