Spray-on solar cells (Day 81)

Blue and yellow sprayAs we advance our knowledge of renewable energies is it important that we are able to reduce the cost of producing them, to make them affordable and widely available.

In an earlier blog I discussed charities working to alleviate energy poverty by building a new economy around solar power.

Researchers from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and Department of Physics and Astronomy have developed a method to produce spray-on perovskite solar cells.

This is very exciting as it offers a way of developing a low-cost method of producing solar energy cells.

Continue reading Spray-on solar cells (Day 81)

Not just any old bioenergy (Day 74)

energy calculatorTen per cent of the world’s primary energy supply in 2009 came from biomass. Demand for bioenergy is expected to grow three-fold by 2050. But does it matter where this bioenergy comes from?

Bioenergy generated from biomass comes from a range of sources; e.g. corn, sugar, sugar beet, soy, energy grass, organic waste and wood etc. to name but a few.

But how can we be sure that these renewable sources are any better than traditional energy producing methods?

Continue reading Not just any old bioenergy (Day 74)

It’s a sell out (Day 72)

C0145_13-slider-CEMThe first edition of IChemE’s technical strategy, Chemical Engineering Matters, was a sell out. There are no more copies left.

So I’m pleased to announce that a second edition has been published and you can find the new version of Chemical Engineering Matters here.

The simple statement that is ‘chemical engineering matters’ is not a cliché. It is the truth.

Continue reading It’s a sell out (Day 72)

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)

Making cities sustainable (Day 61)

Bridge reflection across the River Clyde at nightWith the Commonwealth Games in full swing, and an estimated one million tickets sold for 250 medal events, Glasgow in the UK is the place to be this summer!

But with tens of thousands of expected visitors as well as the 4,500 athletes taking part, it is fair to assume that a lot of waste is going to be produced.

And then there’s the carbon emissions associated with spectator and participant travel to and from the games.

So, naturally, making these Commonwealth Games sustainable and environmentally friendly is an important part of the agenda.

Continue reading Making cities sustainable (Day 61)

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)

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)

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)

Doing the right thing (Day 48)

Climate ChangeThe right thing to do is not necessarily the cheapest when it comes to saving our planet.

That’s certainly the case for mitigating climate change.

Recently, in my monthly poll, I asked the question – Are people willing to pay more for energy to mitigate climate change? (you can vote at the bottom of this blog too).

So far the poll is indicating that nearly 60 per cent are happy to pay more.

Continue reading Doing the right thing (Day 48)

Will energy always be so unpopular? (Day 45)

CoalIt 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.

Continue reading Will energy always be so unpopular? (Day 45)

A purification money saver (Day 39)

Abstract filterWhat 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.”

Continue reading A purification money saver (Day 39)

Finding a way out of energy poverty (Day 36)

Kenya Solar Panel project
Kenya Solar Panel Project

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.

Continue reading Finding a way out of energy poverty (Day 36)

Big plans for minnows of nature (Day 35)

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.

Continue reading Big plans for minnows of nature (Day 35)

Seawater powered planes and ships (Day 28)

WarshipsSeawater 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.

Continue reading Seawater powered planes and ships (Day 28)

Getting your hands dirty (Day 25)

The Big Rig
The Big Rig – Lakes College West Cumbria

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.

Continue reading Getting your hands dirty (Day 25)

Every profession needs their champions (Day 23)

Albert Einstein
Science icon – Albert Einstein (Bokic Bojan – Shutterstock.com)

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.

Continue reading Every profession needs their champions (Day 23)

Even racing cars need fuel (Day 21)

Mercedes GP F1 Team Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes GP F1 Team Lewis Hamilton (David Acosta Allely – Shutterstock.com)

A few days ago, I published a blog called Behind every great sportsperson is a chemical engineer and I promised to return to the topic on a regular basis to show that chemical engineering is often the unsung hero behind some of today’s sporting icons.

This weekend is the Austrian Formula One Grand Prix. If you’re a fan of the sport you’ll know that tyres (and their lack of grip), drivers (what’s more important – the car or the driver) and aerodynamics (who’s got the most downforce) often dominate the pre-race conversation.

Continue reading Even racing cars need fuel (Day 21)

Where are you now? (Day 19)

MembraneI’m sure, like me, you meet and work with a great deal of people. But time never stands still and rarely do people. However, writing my blog over these first few weeks has made me realise the power of social media to connect and re-connect with people.

It’s also a chance to find out how organisations like IChemE have influenced the life and careers of its members, and many other people we try to help.

Continue reading Where are you now? (Day 19)

Energy from toilet water (Day 14)

Toilet FlushThere is potential in most things, even the waste that disappears down the toilet bowl.

But along with the waste, there’s the water we use to flush it away. Before water arrives in the toilet bowl it takes energy to process it. And once it disappears down the drains it takes more energy to re-process again. It’s something we pay for as part of our everyday utility bills.

Turning the potential of toilet water into a source of renewable energy, and a way to reduce bills, sounds like a good idea to me.

Continue reading Energy from toilet water (Day 14)

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.

Continue reading Looking into the crystal ball (Day 13)

Mini biodiesel reactor takes to the road (Day 12)

UTM Mini Biodiesel Reactor
UTM Mini Biodiesel Reactor

Do you find it hard to explain what you do and why it’s important? It’s a common problem and even the best communicators struggle to convey the science, complexity, scale and even the products we make – industrial or for consumers.

However, it was great to see a project this week in Malaysia where students from the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia took a mobile mini biodiesel reactor into the streets to help the general public’s understanding of biodiesel. It’s the type of initiative that fits perfectly with the ChemEng365 campaign.

Continue reading Mini biodiesel reactor takes to the road (Day 12)

Fuel from barren land? (Day 2)

Biofuels are the cause of much debate and they are controversial in many parts of the world for their displacement of agricultural crops.

Algae - sliderHowever, new analysis in the US suggests that biofuels from algae is more efficient than some other sources of biomass and, importantly, can be grown on untillable land. They believe that land not suitbale for farming in countries like Brazil, Canada, China and the U.S. could be used to produce enough algal biofuel to supplement more than 30 percent of their fuel consumption.

Continue reading Fuel from barren land? (Day 2)

IChemE Award winners… win again (Day 2)

IChemE Global AwardsAfter winning three trophies, including the top prize, at last year’s IChemE Global Awards in Bolton, Queen’s University Belfast has been named among the winners of the prestigious Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) Awards for its ground-breaking work in removing harmful mercury from natural gas.

The technology developed by Queen’s University Ionic Liquid Laboratories (QUILL), in partnership with PETRONAS, is being used to produce mercury-free natural gas at two PETRONAS plants in Malaysia.

Continue reading IChemE Award winners… win again (Day 2)

Graphene revolution for chemical engineering (Day 1)

We’ve heard a lot about Graphene in recent years and it’s an area which is promising a revolution in electrical and chemical engineering

Image

Graphene is the world’s thinnest material. It is a potent conductor, extremely lightweight, chemically inert and flexible with a large surface area. It could be the perfect candidate for high capacity energy storage.

It’s an opportunity the University of Manchester, UK, is looking to exploit in the coming years.

Continue reading Graphene revolution for chemical engineering (Day 1)