Was your commute today #poweredbycoffee?

coffee beanA brilliant piece of news hit our desks this morning, and chemical engineering is at it’s heart. London-based start-up Bio-Bean have teamed up with Costa and Shell, to power London buses with bio-fuel derived from coffee waste.

Bio-Bean has a number of products in it’s growing portfolio, but it is it’s B20 biodiesel that has been hitting headlines, and powering London buses from today.

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IChemE Energy Centre responds to US withdrawal from Paris Agreement

This press release was published on the IChemE Media Centre.

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Guest Blog: Rhamnolipids promise a renewable revolution

Environmental impact is something that has become increasingly important for organisations and consumers in recent years. It is a topic discussed on a global scale by world leaders, and an issue of contention for many.

For some chemical engineers it has provided an opportunity for them to use their knowledge of chemical processes to create environmentally-friendly alternatives to the products we rely on daily.

In today’s blog Dr Dan Derr gives an insight into biosurfactants – which he hopes will spark a ‘renewable revolution’ in the fast-moving consumer goods industry.

2015 12 16 Dan Derr picture

Name:
Dr Daniel Derr

Current Position:
Project Leader, Internal Research & Development, Logos Technologies

Bio:
Dan gained his PhD from Colorado State University, and went on to study bio-based jet fuels and photocatalysis at General Electric’s Global Research.

Following this, he led an integrated BioRefinery effort called the Corn to Cellulosic Migration (CCM), focusing on the migration of billions of dollars of capital deployed in today’s corn ethanol industry toward cost-effective production of greener ethanol from corn stover, switchgrass and woodchips.

Now working for Logos Technologies, Derr is currently focused on NatSurFact® – a rhamnolipid-based line of biosurfactants.

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Guest Blog: What happens to the batteries when cars die?

Not all chemical engineers end up on an oil rig. It’s a profession that can pull you in various directions, to various places and companies, tackling various problems. No chemical engineer is the same  – that’s the beauty of it.

In a relatively short time Amrit Chandan has established himself as a serious entrepreneur. His company, Aceleron, uses fundamental chemical engineering principles to tackle very real challenges in our society. In today’s blog post Amrit tells us, in his own words, about his chemical engineering journey and why Aceleron, a business under 18 months old, has been turning heads.

Amrit Chandan

Amrit Chandan

Name: Dr. Amrit Chandan

Qualifications:

PhD in Chemical Engineering (Hydrogen, Fuel Cells and their Applications)

BSc (Hons) Chemistry Class I

Job Title:

Co-Founder and Business Development, Aceleron

Bio:

Amrit is an experienced engineer specialising in electrochemical technologies, specifically fuel cell technology. He co-founded battery reuse company, Aceleron in 2015. Aceleron seeks to provide low cost energy storage to developing regions.

Previously, he worked as a Technical Specialist in low carbon vehicles at Cenex, providing expertise and specialist knowledge for Cenex’ programmes and demonstrator trials.

Amrit has published 10 academic papers on a range of topics from marketing to fuel cell technology development, and was named Business Quarterly Magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year 2014. Most recently, Amrit was featured on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe Class of 2017.

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COP22: What next? – Q&A from the IChemE Energy Centre’s latest discussion on climate change

Last week (Thursday 12 January), the IChemE Energy Centre welcomed participants both online and in person to discuss the outcomes of ‘COP22 – what next?’.

COP22

Hosted by Chair of the IChemE Energy Centre, Professor Stefaan Simons, at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), UK, participants first heard from Board members Dr Rachael Hall, Model Site Lead – Severn Trent Innovation Team, and Mark Apsey, Technical Services Director – Ameresco Limited, about their experience at COP22 in Marrakech.

This was followed by Dr Alison Cooke, Founder and Consultant – Cooke Associates, who gave a brief overview of what it’s like to work with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) as a mechanical engineer.

The audience was then invited for a discussion on on the outcomes of COP22 and the next steps we must take to implement the Paris Agreement.

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Celebrating chemical engineering achievement in sustainability #ichemeawards

5j5a3287It’s time for another round -up of our IChemE Global Awards 2016 winners, and this time we’re focusing on sustainability.

In our modern world projects that deliver a sustainability benefit are usually successful. In fact, all our winners this year have demonstrated some kind of sustainable element in their work. Whether it’s taking on large projects, developing products for poor communities, or innovating to change lives.

But these winners have put sustainability at the heart of what they do. Pushing the limits to find the most environmentally-friendly way of doing things, some of them are also very young companies – and ones to watch in the future.

So please take a look at the following three winners videos, and as always thanks to Morgan Sindall for helping us to produce them.

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Tackling big chemical engineering projects #ichemeawards

We are now midway through our round up of this year’s IChemE Global Awards 2016 winners. Produced in association with Morgan Sindall, we have got a special interview video for every single winner.

awards-tables

So far we have seen some life-changing products that will make a difference all over the world, as well as chemical engineering projects designed to benefit resource-poor communities in developing countries.

Today we go to the big projects in chemical engineering that require strategy, innovation and teamwork. These winners are demonstrating great chemical engineering in its purest form. All of the projects below have demonstrated a key chemical engineering skill, systems thinking, and a drive for achieving the best results.

Take a look at their work below and don’t forget to leave a comment.

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Chemical engineering creates products that are changing lives #ichemeawards

Last month the IChemE Global Awards 2016 were held in Manchester, UK, in one of the biggest celebrations of chemical engineering achievement worldwide. Our judges had a difficult task narrowing down 16 winners from 120 amazing finalists.jr3c3275

The ceremony was held at the Principal Hotel and welcomed over 400 guests from around the world to recognise and celebrate chemical engineering success stories.

For many, success doesn’t end after collecting a trophy, but marks the starting point on a journey to excellence. An IChemE Award can take you to some unexpected places, make commercialisation easier, help to develop your team or grow your portfolio. You could even get a letter from the US President. 

So every day this week we’ll be dedicating special blog posts to the 2016 Award winners and their innovative, fascinating, problem-solving projects. With the fantastic support of Morgan Sindall we have produced a video for every one – enjoy!

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Was #COP22 the COP of action? #InvestPlanet

COP22, or the 22nd Conferences of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), has come to an end. Billed as the ‘COP of action’ by UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa, an estimated 25,000 people descended on Marrakech, Morocco to start the process of implementing the Paris Agreement.

Flags of COP22However, COP22 had a lot to live up to, following the historic result of the Paris Agreement at the conclusion of COP21. All the countries of the world were invited to attend COP22, but only the countries who had ratified the Paris Agreement had decision- making authority.

The Marrakech 22nd Conference of Parties ran from 7-18 November 2016. It was also the 12th Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 12), and the 1st Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA 1).

The IChemE Energy Centre went along for the second week of COP22 to ensure that the voice of the chemical engineering community was heard. This started with our side event – Investing in the Planet: Green banks and other financial tools to scale-up mitigation technologies – which the Energy Centre co-hosted with the Grantham Institute from Imperial College London and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Side event panel

Side-event panel

The event looked at practical solutions to implementing the Paris Agreement, with the help of chemical engineers and financial institutions. Dr Rachael Hall, from the Energy Centre Board, gave the first presentation, an overview of deployment technologies available to mitigate climate change. Rachael outlined pathways to a zero-carbon economy, as demonstrated in IChemE’s technical policy document Chemical Engineering Matters.

Mark Apsey, also a Board member of the Energy Centre, gave his presentation on the pathways for organisations to deliver energy efficiency projects. Outlining various ‘road blocks’ to implementing greener energy solutions, Mark made it clear that he felt that more needed to be done to incentivise delivery.

Watch the side event on YouTube.

COP22’s interesting side-event programme was jam-packed, and this year saw an increased focus on technology solutions for and the investment required to mitigate climate change.

Mark said: “From IChemE’s perspective Chemical Engineering Matters has been created to not just cover energy, but water, food, and wellbeing – which are really trying to look at the whole system, as well as specific solutions to energy problems”.

The UNFCCC needs more chemical engineers at the table proposing feasible solutions for mitigating climate change and applying a systems thinking approach to the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Ban Ki-moon

Ban Ki-moon addresses COP22

COP22 was also Ban Ki-moon’s last COP conference. The Secretary-General of the United Nations until the end of the year, he spoke about the success in ratifying the Paris Agreement, which was announced just last month: “Countries have strongly supported the Agreement because they realize their own national interest is best secured by pursuing the common good. Now we have to translate words into effective policies and actions. This is critical to protect our planet, safeguard the most vulnerable and drive shared prosperity. Low-emission development and climate resilience will advance all the Sustainable Development Goals”.

An inspirational figure in the fight against climate change, Ban Ki-moon’s presence will be missed.

The aim of COP22 was to spend the conference working out a clear work plan for achieving the targets set in the Paris Agreement, however the UN has set a target of 2018 to have these plans finalised. This meant that a large proportion of COP22 was spent ‘fleshing out’ the Agreement’s fine print. This included financial support, which will have a massive impact on developing nations. Much of this year’s discussions surrounded the funding gap to research, and scale-up and implementation of the technology solutions to reduce carbon emissions.

During the CMA plenary, parties adopted the agenda and the organisation of work. UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa reported that, as of 16 November 2016, 110 parties to the Convention had deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession to the Paris Agreement, representing more than half of Convention parties (at time of writing this figure is now at 111).

Ibrahim Thiaw, Deputy Executive Director, UN Environment, said that the current pledges are insufficient to reach the Paris Agreement’s goals, but cited opportunities to “bend the emissions curve.” This means that we have to act now to ensure we implement climate mitigation strategies. Chemical engineers have a key role to play in solution implementation and applying systems-thinking.

47-renewablesDuring the conclusion of COP22 there was some exciting news, 47 countries from the Climate Vulnerable Forum committed to going 100% renewable as they adopted the ‘Marrakech Vision’.

Almost 200 countries gathered in Marrakech to work out the details of implementing the Paris Agreement. This deal established the overarching global goals for tackling climate change, but didn’t include the detail of how we get there. This left COP22 with a lot of complicated work to do.

Despite being billed as the COP of action, COP22 was instead the COP of discussing the next steps required to implement the Paris Agreement. However, this was a very necessary step if we are to successfully halt catastrophic climate change.

You can read the latest version of the COP22 proceedings by following this link.


If you were at COP22 please get in touch and tell us how your work is saving the planet.

Putting the Paris Agreement into action at #COP22 #InvestPlanet

Yesterday the UN’s 22nd session of the Conference of Parties (COP22) commenced in Marrakesh, Morocco. 20,000 delegates from 196 countries are expected to attend and discuss how to turn the COP21 Paris Agreement into action.

What happened at COP21?

Stef Simons, Energy Centre Chair, speaking at COP21 earlier today

Professor Stefaan Simons, Energy Centre Chair, speaking at COP21 in 2015

COP21 was arguably one of the most historic meetings in terms of mitigating climate change. On 12 December 2015 the world united in an agreement to take action, and 197 countries signed the Paris Agreement which made each country take responsibility for recognising and combating climate change.

The central aim was to limit global temperature rise this century to well below 2°C over pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5°C. Additionally, the agreement aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change.

And we were there too! The IChemE Energy Centre published its Climate Communique and Supporting Statement in October 2015, identfying five priority areas where technology should be deployed to help mitigate climate change:

  • energy efficiency
  • energy storage and grid management
  • carbon capture, storage and utilisation
  • nuclear
  • sustainable bioenergy

Energy Board Centre Chair Professor Stefaan Simons hosted an official side event at COP21: Technology solutions for a 2oC world: Investing in renewables, storage, energy efficiency and CCS. If you missed it you can watch it all on our YouTube channel and read a write-up of the event and our follow-up talks in London.

Ratification

The Paris talks concluded that 197 countries had adopted the Agreement, but the real commitment would be shown through ratification. The Agreement was opened for ratification on 22 April 2016 at the UN Headquarters in New York. Parties representing 55% of the global greenhouse gas emissions needed to be accounted for in order to make the Agreement ‘entered into force’.

The biggest emitters of CO2, including China and USA ratified at the beginning of September, causing a number of other countries to follow.

Last month the threshold was achieved, and on Friday 4 November, it was confirmed that the Paris Agreement had officially been entered into force. This means that it is now down to each country to start planning and implementing actions to reach the agreed targets.

The UK is still yet to ratify, despite the European Union making an official admission on 5 October. Currently 100 out of the 197 parties who adopted the Agreement have ratified.

What is happening at COP22?

COP22

Positioned as the ‘bridge’ between decision and action, COP22 will define the mechanism for the implementation of the Paris Agreement. This covers funding, climate change policy, and technology deployment.

The ratification of the Agreement is incredibly timely, and encourages this Conference to concentrate on the emissions targets and goal of achieving a zero carbon economy by 2050.

The idea is to spend the conference working out a clear work plan for achieving the targets, and the UN has set a target of 2018 to have this finalised. This will involve some ‘fleshing out’ of the Agreement’s fine print, including financial support which will have a massive impact on developing nations.

Join IChemE at the talks

While the conference has already started, our presence at the talks kicks off on Monday 14 November. We will be holding a side event in collaboration with The Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The event – Investing in the planet: Green banks and other financial tools to scale-up mitigation technologies – will focus on the financing and policy mechanisms required for deploying low carbon technologies. The event will make sure to highlight that financing is essential for both mitigation and adaptation, and in the broader context of the sustainable development goals.

Not going to be there in person? The event will be live-streamed on YouTube, so head over at 11:30 – 14:00 (WET) on Monday 14 November.

We’ll also have a stand at the exhibition, to help raise the profile of chemical engineers and advocate their role in mitigating climate change. Working with the IChemE Energy Centre, we will be spreading the word about how chemical engineers will help to deploy the technologies needed to meet the global targets.

Come and visit us at our stand.

You can also follow all the action on Twitter, just search #InvestPlanet.

Guest blog: Achieving decarbonisation in the UK – Low Carbon Summit 2016

low-carbon-summit-speakersThe IChemE Energy Centre held its first Low Carbon Summit, in collaboration with the Knowledge Transfer Network, with the venue provided by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

IChemE member and Energy Centre Future Energy Leaders Vice-Chair Matthias Schnellmann was there to participate in the discussions. Here are his thoughts:


matthiasName: Matthias Schnellmann
Education: Chemical Engineering (MEng), University of Cambridge
Job Title: PhD Student, University of Cambridge
Special Interest Group: Clean Energy
Research interests: Low carbon energy

Quote startThe IChemE Energy Centre, along with the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) organised a Low Carbon Summit at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in London on Friday 9 September 2016. It was an opportunity to consider what the COP21 and 5th Carbon Budget targets mean for the UK and how existing and future low carbon technologies will help us to meet them.

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Five chemical engineering research stories from September 2016

To help you stay up-to-date with the latest achievements from the chemical engineering research community here is our monthly instalment with some of the latest stories.

September’s five stories of amazing chemical engineering research and innovation are:

The Popeye effect – powered by spinach

spinachPopeye was right; we can be powered by spinach! Researchers from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have developed a bio-photo-electro-chemical (BPEC) cell that produces electricity and hydrogen from water using sunlight, using a simple membrane extract from spinach leaves. The article, publish in the journal Nature Communications, demonstrates the unique combination of a man-made BPEC cell and plant membranes, which absorb sunlight and convert it into a flow of electrons highly efficiently. The team hope that this paves the way for the development of new technologies for the creation of clean fuels from renewable sources. The raw material of the device is water, and its products are electric current, hydrogen and oxygen.

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Five chemical engineering research stories from May 2016

Since the end of ChemEng365 our ChemEngBlog has become a little quiet. To make sure you stay up-to-date with the latest achievements from the chemical engineering research community we will be providing you with monthly updates on some of the latest stories.

So here are five stories of amazing chemical engineering research and innovation:

Seven chemical separations to change the world

Floating energyDavid Sholl and Ryan Lively, chemical and biomolecular engineers, from the Georgia Institute of Technology, US, highlighted seven chemical separation processes that, if improved, would reap great global benefits. The list they have drawn up is not exhaustive (we are sure there are more we could add!) but includes; hydrocarbons from crude oil, uranium from seawater, alkenes from alkanes, greenhouse gases from dilute emissions, rare-earth metals from ores, benzene derivatives from each other, and trace contaminants from water.

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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

Quote start
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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Ten ways chemical engineers can save the world from climate change #COP21

COP21 logo12 December 2015 will go down in history as the day the world agreed to do something about climate change. The impact of countries around the world reaching such an agreement cannot be ignored. However, for us to actually achieve the targets set in Paris we need to act now.

Chemical engineers have been working for some time to find and implement ways to combat climate change.

Here are just ten of the ways that chemical engineers can save the world from the impact of climate change:

1. Systems-thinking

systems engineeringChemical engineering makes its professional contribution by understanding how whole systems work, and generating engineered system solutions to meet desired targets. The ideology and discussion behind climate change solutions is in place, but it needs a chemical engineering, systems thinking approach to apply the technical solutions.

2. Energy efficiency

shutterstock_274012796Becoming more energy efficient is the obvious easy win (at least for chemical engineers). The 2012 Global Energy Assessment stated that 66 per cent of the energy produced today is wasted. The chemicals sector is the most energy intensive industry, but current internal rates of return stand at just 12-19 per cent. Chemical engineers can change this and make energy efficiency the number one priority

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From Paris to London – IChemE Energy Centre speaks out at #COP21

COP21 logoWe hope you have been following our series of #COP21 blog posts, focusing on the IChemE Energy Centre’s five priority topics for the COP21 climate talks.

As an agreement looks set to be on the horizon (fingers crossed!) the Energy Centre was involved in two events.

Both events asked the same question – Do you believe that the technical solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions already exist?

Find out what happened below.


Paris

Our official COP21 side event in Paris saw several leading thinkers – including our own Chair of the Energy Centre Stefaan Simons – deliver their thoughts on ‘Technology solutions for a two degree world’.

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Making renewables work through energy storage and grid management #COP21

solar power plantIn order to deliver a low carbon economy, we must move away from our current low efficiency, high carbon energy system. Our new energy system must be much more efficient, and low carbon.

This will mean abandoning the linear system of large scale, centralised energy production from fossil fuels.

The replacement should be a non-linear system where electricity is produced at widely distributed sites, at various scales, using renewable sources of energy.

To meet base load power demand, this system will need to combine fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage (CCS), and other sources of energy – such as nuclear.

This future low carbon energy system can only work if the way we generate and consume energy becomes much more flexible, and is able to respond rapidly to external weather and price fluctuations.

Matching supply with demand, particularly when a significant proportion of electricity is being generated by intermittent renewable sources, such as wind and solar, will require energy storage.

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The future of nuclear power generation #COP21

Nuclear power is already playing a vital role in decarbonising the global energy economy. Its capacity to provide base load power makes it a stable and low-carbon energy supply.

Nuclear power provides approximately 11 per cent of the world’s energy. In the UK, nuclear power generation makes up 19 per cent of the energy landscape. The proportion is much higher in France, at 75 per cent.

Thorp reprocessing plant - Sellafield Ltd

Thorp reprocessing plant – Sellafield Ltd

However, there are still significant public concerns over the safety and environmental impacts of nuclear power, and the legacy issues of waste. These concerns mean there is often very little support for new nuclear power plants.

As we move to a low carbon future nuclear, new build will have to play an even bigger part in the energy strategies of many governments, because nuclear doesn’t emit carbon dioxide during power generation.

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Sustainable bioenergy can dramatically reduce global carbon emissions #COP21

The COP21 talks in Paris came to a turning-point on Saturday, as an update to the draft agreement was released. Finance appears to be the over-riding issue as we settle in to the second week of the conference – but what about the solutions?

Did you know that more than half of the world’s annual carbon emissions could be prevented over the next 50 years by using sustainable bioenergy?

shutterstock_112362932

According to research by Pacala and Socolow, outlined by the IChemE Energy Centre, 25 billion tonnes of carbon emissions can be prevented from entering the atmosphere – simply by switching from fossil-based petroleum to bioethanol as our primary transportation fuel.

So why aren’t we using it already?

The raw materials used in bioenergy production – food crops like maize and sugarcane – come with a lot of associated challenges. Food crops are by no means guaranteed; a bad season could have a detrimental effect, particularly in developing countries who rely on their crops as a means of livelihood. Concerns about the economical implications for developing countries have already been raised in Paris – and could be a deal-breaker for alternative fuels like bioenergy.

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Carbon capture and storage is part of the climate solution #COP21

Bulbs and energyThe world’s population is expected to exceed nine billion by 2050. With this growth there will be an increasing demand for energy.

As it stands, fossil fuels provide more than 85 per cent of the world’s energy. And despite significant global efforts to shift to renewable energy generation, renewable sources only accounted for 2 per cent of the global energy supply in 2014.

It is therefore logical and reasonable to believe that fossil fuels will remain an indispensable part of the world’s energy landscape until at least the end of this century.

Climate Change - sliderAt COP21, representatives from over 190 countries will try to reach an agreement to limit global warming to the two degrees target, and this will involve stabilising atmospheric COconcentrations at a level of 450 parts per million (ppm).

So what does this mean? For fossil fuels, it means we need to decarbonise electricity production; and carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a readily deployable technology solution to do this.

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Why are we wasting so much energy in industry? #COP21

shutterstock_274012796Yesterday we outlined the IChemE Energy Centre’s five priority topics for focus at COP21 to help solve the global climate change challenges we face today.

The first is energy efficiency, a central part of ensuring we maximise the energy we produce to reduce both waste and harmful emissions.

The need to improve energy efficiency is perhaps one of the easiest topics to get a consensus on, and it will form an imperative part of an effective agreement at the Paris climate talks over the next week.

The numbers speak for themselves. The 2012 Global Energy Assessment revealed that 66 per cent of the energy produced today is wasted. For the chemical process industries and the chemical engineering sector, the implications of this statistic are huge.

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Chemical engineers can help solve the climate challenge #COP21

COP21 logoThis week saw the start of the 21st Conference of Parties, COP21. More than 190 countries and 150 global leaders have gathered in Paris, France, to discuss a new global agreement on climate change.

The United Nations (UN) event will host around 40,000 people and runs right through until the end of next week (11 December).

The future of the natural world, and the animals and plant life that call it home, depends on the outcome of this conference. If we don’t limit global warming to 2 degrees, the consequences will be catastrophic.

Polar bearWhilst we cannot accurately predict the scale of any potential impacts now, what we do know for certain is that climate change is happening, and we have a responsibility to reduce any further damage.

Chemical engineers are part of the solution, and the IChemE Energy Centre has identified five priority areas where technology can be deployed now to help mitigate climate change.

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Four horsemen of the apocalypse – four challenges for chemical engineers (Day 362)

Day 362, four blogs to go. Four more opportunities to highlight chemical engineering in action.

In the Christian tradition, the four horsemen of the apocalypse are the harbingers of the end of the world.

Other faiths offer different views, but for the purposes of this blog post I’m taking a look at four big challenges that present a serious threat to life on earth: water scarcity; increasing energy demand; food security; and climate change. What are chemical  engineers doing to tackle these issues and avert the apocalypse?

perfect stormI have previously observed that we run the risk of sleep-walking towards climate catastrophe. But it’s more complicated than that. The water, energy, food and climate change challenges are interrelated. The former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government, Sir John Beddington, used the term Perfect Storm to describe this phenomenon arguing that climate change will intensify pressure on resources further, adding to the vulnerability of both ecosystems and people.

Chemical engineering can provide shelter from John’s ‘Perfect storm’.  Here are some examples.

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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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World’s first fully transparent solar cell (Day 328)

The UN General Assembly designated 2015 as the International Year of Light. A global initiative to highlight the importance of light and lighting technologies to societal development.

It provides an opportunity to inspire, educate, and connect people on a global scale. It is anticipated that the International Year of Light will inspire people to think of new ideas, new solutions and new products for the future.

transparent luminescent solar concentrator moduleWhich brings me rather neatly to a solar project that caught my eye recently.

Richard Lunt, an assistant professor from the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at Michigan State University, US, and his team have developed the world’s first fully transparent solar cell.

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Engineered yeast on par with conventional fuels (Day 324)

earth on flamesHere’s a question for you. How much fuel do you think you have consumed so far today,?

Whether it’s heating your home, cooking your breakfast, driving your car or using electricity to light up your life – we, as a society, are heavily reliant on non-renewable fuels.

As people become more affluent through global development and industrialisation, their demand for energy grows and the consumption of finite resources accelerates.

This presents chemical engineers with a difficult task – to find and develop new pathways to more sustainable energy consumption. And time is running out.

Over in the US, the main strategy for winning the global race in clean energy technology is through the advancement of biofuels by capitalising on domestic energy resources.

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Spinning a sustainable future – The Underwood Medal (Day 313)

Mention the word ‘spinning’ to most people, and they might be transported back to their childhood and fairy tales of princesses in towers. They might think about industrial Britain in the 19th century, and the revolution in textile manufacture. Or they might be reminded of the gym session that they look forward to and dread in equal measure every week.

Professor Neal Tai-Shung Chung

Photo Credit | National University of Singapore
Professor Neal Tai-Shung Chung

But for chemical engineers, spinning – of fibres into membranes for separation – can be a doorway to a sustainable future.

The winner of this year’s Underwood Medal for research in separations, Professor Neal Tai-Shung Chung, is a true master of the science and technology of hollow fibre membrane spinning.

Membranes offer several advantages in separation over alternatives such as distillation, sublimation or crystallisation. They permit the use both fractions (the permeate and the retentate) after separation and because no heating is involved, less energy is used.

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Star heat pumps can access energy stored in cold water (Day 312)

Harnessing the energy stored in ice cold water has been highlighted as a potential solution to heat towns and cities without the use of fossil fuels – it’s a great example of chemical engineering making a difference.

Through the use of heat pumps and district heating, lakes and rivers can provide enough energy to heat water to 90°C.

Drammen heat pumps

Heat pumps used in Drammen Star Photo Credit | Star Renewable Energy

Whilst not an obvious source of energy, a district heating company in Drammen, Norway, have managed to use an ice cold fjord to provide hot water to heat an entire community of  65,000 people.

Drammen Fjernvarme (DF) have teamed up with the city council and Glasgow, UK’s Star Renewable Energy to build this efficient district heating system.

Star Renewable Energy are better known for providing refrigeration systems to large retailers. However they were able to think outside the box and offer an alternative heat pump design.

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Catalysing a gold rush (Day 310)

We have been attracted to gold for millennia both for its beauty and its value.

Gold is considered so attractive because it does not corrode or tarnish. It’s also very ductile. These properties have led to gold being used in works of art and treasures of great historical and cultural significance.

Gold has inspired great art, but what about great chemistry and chemical engineering?

Professor Graham Hutchings

Photo Credit | Cardiff University
Professor Graham Hutchings

At the end of February I attended a dinner at the Royal Society hosted by the UK Catalysis Hub. There, I discussed catalysts with IChemE fellow Professor Graham Hutchings, director of the Cardiff Catalysis Institute at Cardiff University.

During the evening Graham shared many interesting insights into UK catalysis research. Catalysis is at the core of the UK economy and contributes over UK £50 billion annually. It is central to the wellbeing of society and is involved in some way in 80 per cent of all manufactured goods.

Graham then told me about his work with gold catalysts. With his team, he has discovered that gold has the potential to improve health, clean up the environment and save lives.

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Earth Hour, how about Earth Year? Use #YourPower (Day 305)

Tonight at 20:30, all over the world, individuals, companies, government organisations, and possibly even Her Majesty the Queen, will switch off their lights.

03_EH 60+ LOGO_STACKED CLR_JPEGThis symbolic gesture marks Earth Hour, initiated by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 2007 as a lights-off event to raise awareness of climate change.

162 countries and territories worldwide now take part in Earth Hour.

You can get involved and help to raise awareness about climate change by switching off your lights at 20:30 local time for one hour. You can share your thoughts on the climate change challenge on Twitter using #YourPower.

I recently came across the story of one country, Costa Rica,  whose citizens are prepared to go much further in the battle against climate change. Since the beginning of the year, Costa Rica has avoided the use of fossil fuels altogether.

The Costa Rican government recently issued a press release announcing that during the first quarter of 2015, they relied on renewables for 100 per cent of their power generation.

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Raising a sustainable glass of South African wine (Day 304)

Sustainable water research is big news in South Africa especially for the wine industry.

wineThe South African wine industry is the 9th largest wine producer in the world, with over 100,000 hectares of land dedicated to vineyards.

South Africa is committed to sustainable wine growing and recognises the problems of cultivating the majority of its wine in a biodiversity hotspot: the Cape Floral Kingdom.

So the introduction of the integrity and sustainability seal for wine, launched in 2010, certifies that the wine in question has been made in a manner that is respectful to nature, and guarantees sustainable wine production.

To make their wines sustainable, producers are taking responsibility by dedicating land for conservation, removing foreign plants and restoring wetlands and rivers. But there have been particular issues in many regions, for example in the Witwatersrand Basin there are reports of soil being highly acidic and contamination of water resources.

Dr Craig Sheridan, from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering openly confesses to having a passion for chemical engineering and water!

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