Guest blog: #WorldWaterDay

IChemE’s Special Interest Groups (SIGs) are an essential way for our members to share knowledge and collaborate on initiatives, which are of significance to their sector.

drop on water

Today is World Water Day, and our Water SIG is a hugely important part of providing expert advice and consultation to the innovations that could change our world. Water is essential to life, it must be sustainable or we cannot survive. Chemical engineers are an important part of making sure water provision is sufficient, clean, economical, and environmentally-friendly.

Chris Short, Chair of the IChemE Water SIG, explores in more detail the current challenges for the water sector in today’s blog post. Read on to hear his thoughts, and feel free to join the conversation on Twitter using #WorldWaterDay or by leaving a comment below:


chris-short

Name: Chris Short
Job: Consultant and Chartered Chemical Engineer
Company: Chris Short Water Quality (previously Yorkshire Water)
Special Interest Group: Water, Chairman

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Today is World Water Day, and I’ll be attending a conference in Leeds, UK, on Innovations in Wastewater Treatment. The focus will be on the recovery of value from wastewater and I expect to hear how leading-edge technologies are performing and what new processes are being evaluated by researchers.

This is exciting stuff.

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Super cooling computers could save billions (Day 340)

We are all heavily reliant on personal computers.  At home, at work and on the move. However, we have all experienced the noise and annoyance of the cooling fan in our computers when we push their processing power too hard.

A team of chemical engineers from the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), US, have come up with a solution – ditch the fan altogether.

The cooling computer

Photo Credit | UAH
The cooling computer

Now obviously, their solution is not as simple as that; they have also developed technology that keeps computer chips cooler.

The team also estimates that the adoption of this technology could save US consumers more than US $6.3 billion a year by reducing the energy used in computer cooling fans.

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Youthful enthusiasm and precious metals (Day 247)

PlatinumIf 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).

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Who’d want to be an economist! (Day 225)

Economic dataAt the start of 2014, who would have predicted that oil prices would end up in the doldrums by the end of the year, especially with a slightly more positive economic outlook?

Some of the world’s oil prices are the lowest for over five years with Brent crude oil wallowing below $55 per barrel.

The IEA recently cut the outlook for 2015 global oil demand growth by 230,000 barrels per day to 0.9 million barrels per day on lower expectations for the former Soviet Union and other oil‐exporting countries.

Good luck to those charged with the onerous task of understanding and explaining issues such as the macroeconomics of crude oil.

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Chemical engineering (and other) highlights of 2014 (Day 223)

Once the dust has settled after the merriment and celebration of welcoming in the New Year, it’s only natural to reflect on the year that has passed. 2014 was a great year for me, full of new experiences and meeting new people, which obviously includes a lot of chemical engineers, through my role as IChemE president.

So, on reflection, I’d like to share with you my personal and professional chemical engineering highlights of 2014.

1. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Synthesis Report

Polar bearThe issue of climate change has been top of my agenda for some time, and communicating across the seriousness and urgency needed by our global society to mitigate the effects has been a personal mission of mine.

So, you can imagine my delight when the IPCC published their Synthesis Report.

After all, ‘It’s not just the polar bears at risk‘. The report dismissed the conspiracy that climate change isn’t happening, it is real and we need to do something about it, and fast!

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Processing pollution into profit (Day 205)

Expensive carThose of you who read my blog regularly will know that I have spent my career focusing on carbon capture and storage and I am always on the lookout for new ways to deal with climate change.

For a new method of carbon capture to be a success it has to be sustainable and economically viable, but if it can make a profit, it is even better!

When I came across this story of a company, Liquid Light, made up of chemical engineers, chemists, environmental engineers, physicists and mechanical engineers using carbon dioxide to make plastic bottles, face cream and wood glue, it made me think that this could be a real solution to our problem.

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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?

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A new Golden Age for chemical engineering (Day 82)

Gas RigA Golden Age is a concept that implies a period of great advancement and outstanding achievement for a civilisation or topic. This concept can be applied to chemical engineering.

Although chemical engineering is a relatively new profession, it could be said that it has already gone through two such periods of change and has now entered a third Golden Age of practice, thought and impact. With many great opportunities and challenges that accompany it.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Innovation, innovation, innovation (Day 30)

Cake CandlesWith 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.

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Looking into the crystal ball (Day 13)

Electric carAs a professor of energy engineering at Imperial College London I am often asked about the future. What we know for sure is that there is going to be major change with climate change, dwindling fossil fuels and an extra two billion people on the planet all playing their part in the various scenarios and possibilities.

There are other factors too, but it’s always interesting to look into the crystal ball through the eyes of some of the various stakeholders in the chemical and process industries.

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