Perseverance brings breakthrough in catalytic converters (Day 132)

A team of chemical engineering researchers have discovered a breakthrough in catalytic converter research through perseverance. This research will help manufactures of cars reduce the need for the use of expensive platinum in catalytic converters.

Eric Peterson, Andrew DeLaRiva and Abhaya Datye in the lab Photo credit | University of New Mexico
Eric Peterson, Andrew DeLaRiva and Abhaya Datye in the lab
Photo credit | University of New Mexico

Eric Peterson, a graduate student in Nanoscience and Microsystems Engineering at the University of New Mexico, began this discovery when he refused to accept that the measurements he recorded using x-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) were incorrect.

In order to find a solution, Eric collaborated with a wide group of researchers from the University of New Mexico, US, Fuzhou University, China, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, US, New Mexico State University, US, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, US and Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology, Korea, to help explain and resolve what was happening.

Professor of chemical and biological engineering, Abhaya Datye, worked with Eric on this project to improve our ability to measure the sizes of nanoparticles, focusing on those smaller than one nanometre (one billionth of a metre).

Continue reading Perseverance brings breakthrough in catalytic converters (Day 132)

One foot in the toy box (Day 126)

Modular fluidic and instrumentation components
Modular fluidic and instrumentation components (MFICs, pronounced “em-fix”) developed by researchers at USC Viterbi

In my daily blog, I’ve talked frequently about the need for chemical engineers to operate in multi-disciplinary teams. Today’s blog – about an innovation in 3-D microfluidic systems – illustrates this point once again.

The idea for a new type of 3-D microfluidic system, developed by USC Viterbi School of Engineering, has great similarities with a toy box favourite – Lego, which as boys and girls know, is a fun and flexible system that can be used to build (and deconstruct) just about anything.

Continue reading One foot in the toy box (Day 126)

Electronics from the inside (Day 125)

Circuit boardWhat does a two hundred year old printing process, a mobile phone and chemical engineering have in common?

At first glance not a lot, but there is an interesting story to tell to illustrate why chemical engineering matters so much in today’s world.

Firstly, let’s head back to the 1790s when a printing process called lithography was discovered. Encyclopaedia Britannica describe lithography as ‘planographic printing process that makes use of the immiscibility of grease and water’.

Continue reading Electronics from the inside (Day 125)

Water versus energy – which is more precious? (Day 107)

Water damSome of you will be aware of the ‘nexus’ approach to the grand chemical engineering challenges. Although, we often look at energy, food, water and health in isolation, in fact many of them should be considered alongside each other.

One of these important relationships is energy and water.

Of course if you’ve got energy and water, the debate is often about cost and service. If you’ve got neither, then it’s a completely different debate where capital, skills and infrastructure become the priority topics.

Continue reading Water versus energy – which is more precious? (Day 107)

Combating sewer corrosion (Day 96)

Concrete sewer tunnelSewer management is a difficult business; it depends on a careful balance of chemical and civil engineering.

Sewer infrastructure maintenance is a costly business, e.g. in America the federal government has required cities to invest more than $15 billion in new pipes since 2007.

The concrete foundations of sewers are often corroded due to additives used in the processing of drinking water. In Australia some concrete pipes are being corroded by up to 90 per cent.

One group who knows this well are the Sewer Corrosion and Odour Research (SCORe) Team at the Advance Water Management Centre at the University of Queensland, Australia, who recently published an article in the journal Science outlining a method to reduce sewer corrosion.

Continue reading Combating sewer corrosion (Day 96)

Fighting lung cancer with personalised medicine (Day 93)

DNA and RNARecently I wrote about twins who were creating a better mechanism to release cancer-fighting drugs and about researchers using epigenetics to identify the best treatments for cancers.

Now I have more good news about chemical engineers working to combat lung cancer.

Researchers at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) have successfully used RNA therapies to shrink and slow the growth of lung cancer tumours.

Continue reading Fighting lung cancer with personalised medicine (Day 93)

Digital brain implants and Rubik’s cubes (Day 90)

man in computerWhen you think of data storage, I think it would be safe to assume that water is not the first thing that comes to mind. Rather it is hardware and electronic components that we associate with storing our information, such as saving documents on a USB pen drive or computer hard-drives.

Chemical engineers from the University of Michigan, in collaboration with researchers at New York University, US, have developed a colloidal cluster arrangement of nanoparticles that could lead to a form of wet information storage.

The team, led by Sharon Glotzer, the Stuart W. Churchill Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Michigan, have discovered a new method for storing data in microscopic particles suspended in a solution, also referred to as “wet computing”.

Continue reading Digital brain implants and Rubik’s cubes (Day 90)

Five things you need to know about journal Impact Factors (Day 88)

Pencil writing impactI have made it my quest throughout my presidency to shine a light on chemical engineering.

So it made me very proud to see the latest Impact Factors for IChemE’s journals.

Not only have the Impact Factors of IChemE’s three leading journals trebled since 2003 but Food and Bioproducts Processing (FBP) also recorded an annual increase in Impact Factor of 23 per cent.

These improvements in journal Impact Factors follow the high quality research work being performed by chemical engineers.

However most people don’t understand what Impact Factors are, how they should be used, nor how they are calculated.

Here are five simple ways to use and understand Impact Factors:

Continue reading Five things you need to know about journal Impact Factors (Day 88)

Inspired by nature (Day 87)

Sea Urchin
Sea Urchins have the ability to convert CO2 to calcium carbonate

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.

Continue reading Inspired by nature (Day 87)

Using aerosols to understand our cloud atlas (Day 86)

When most people think of aerosols they think of spray cans.

Coverage by the media in the 1980s and 1990s of aerosols damaging the ozone layer drove this thinking. However, it is just one type of aerosol or “atmospheric particulate”, cholorofluorocarbons (CFCs), that was causing this damage.

Countries are now phasing out the use of CFCs in line with international protocols.

Aerosols are actually just small particles found in the air that can be produced when we burn different types of fossil fuels.

Low-level clouds along the California coast
Low-level clouds along the California coast are visible in this July 26, 2014 image from the NOAA/NASA Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-15 satellite. Credit: NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center, data from NOAA GOES

Studying aerosols could help us better understand the Earth’s changing climate.

Continue reading Using aerosols to understand our cloud atlas (Day 86)

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)

Making food last longer (Day 78)

Goats cheeseGlobalisation 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.

Continue reading Making food last longer (Day 78)

Feeding the fish… fish (Day 71)

Fish in ocean75 per cent of world fish stocks are fully-exploited, over-exploited or depleted.

Consumers and farmers are turning to farmed fish as a source of food, with fish farms aiming to produce nearly two thirds of the global fish supply by 2030.

 

However, 81 per cent of the fish caught in the wild are currently used to feed farmed fish, making fish farming just as unsustainable.

Eating fish offers huge health benefits; they provide neurodevelopment benefits to women of child rearing age and have been shown to reduce the risk of mortality from coronary heart disease. We need to find a way of farming fish sustainably to continue receiving these health benefits.

Chemical engineers are investigating various avenues to make the aquaculture industry more sustainable and reduce the use of wild fish in farmed fish feed.

Continue reading Feeding the fish… fish (Day 71)

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.

Continue reading The tension of short-termism (Day 70)

Cars made from tom-auto sauce (Day 56)

TomatoesThere’s always lots of news and debate about how vehicles of the future will be powered, but rarely is there a conversation about what they might be made from.

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?

Continue reading Cars made from tom-auto sauce (Day 56)

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 diet foods ever become the norm? (Day 47)

Chocolate BubblesTake a walk down any supermarket shopping aisle and you’ll find carefully arranged products positioned by ‘merchandisers’ to ensure your favourite foods are easy to find and always on sale.

‘Diet’, ‘healthy’ or ‘reduced calorie’ foods are often given their own special sections, and in many cases the amount of space given to them is growing.

But for many consumers ‘diet’ products are a compromise – they don’t quite taste the same…do they? But if they did, it could make the battle against obesity much easier.

Continue reading Will diet foods ever become the norm? (Day 47)

The most important liquids on the planet (Podblog) (Day 37)

ChemEng365Ionic liquids have been voted the British scientific innovation most likely to influence the course of the 21st century. They are set to change the rules of chemistry forever.

Leading the way are Queen’s University Ionic Liquid Laboratories (QUILL) Research Centre in Belfast, UK.

QUILL won four IChemE Awards last year for their gas clean-up technology.

This week, QUILL have been exhibiting at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition and you can listen to QUILL explain more about ionic liquids in this podcast.

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)

Tough Gloves (Day 22)

Gloves and needleThere are lots of industries where protective clothing is a necessity. Although technology makes a contribution and advancements have been made, such Kevlar, by and large, some of the protection and the technology used seems to be stuck in a bygone era.

Chain mail is still used as protection in meat processing factories. Many boots still have metal toe caps. Plastic hard hats have been around for over 60 years. Surgical gloves are made from simple polymers… or are they?

Continue reading Tough Gloves (Day 22)

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)

Food, glorious, food…emulsions (Day 20)

Oil and WaterThey may not call themselves ‘chemical engineers’, but ‘process engineers’, ‘product engineers’, ‘process technologists’ [and a multitude of other job descriptions] are busily working away in the food industry to make the brands we know and love.

Producing tasty, safe, consistent, attractive, stable and value-for-money foods on a large scale is a remarkable achievement. Without those product values and others, glitzy marketing will always fail.

Continue reading Food, glorious, food…emulsions (Day 20)

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)

Behind every great sportsperson is a chemical engineer (Day 16)

FootballHave you ever considered how much technology contributes to sporting success? Is it possible to succeed without the latest piece of kit to boost your talent? Are there any sports which don’t benefit from technology in some shape or form? Probably not.

I remember a few years ago that Speedo’s swimsuits were banned for the London 2012 Olympics. The polyurethane bodysuits that contributed to an astonishing number of swimming world records over the previous 18 months.

Continue reading Behind every great sportsperson is a chemical engineer (Day 16)

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)

D-Day: a day chemical engineers should remember (Day 9)

Penicillin PioneersMost of my blog entries are about celebrating the achievements of chemical engineers now. But 6 June 2014 marks the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, when British, US and Canadian forces invaded the coast of Northern France in Normandy.  It was the biggest amphibious assault in military history.

It was also a point in history when chemical engineers made a major contribution, which could easily be forgotten, that we should remember with pride.

The landings were the first stage of Operation Overlord – the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe – and were intended to bring World War Two to an end.

Continue reading D-Day: a day chemical engineers should remember (Day 9)

Stirring stuff (Day 9)

CellsAn international collaboration of researchers in Germany, Netherlands and the US have used chemical engineering principles to track single molecules inside living cells with carbon nanotubes.

Chemical engineers from Rice University and biophysicists from Georg-August Universität Göttingen and VU University Amsterdam found that cells stir their interiors using the same motor proteins that serve in muscle contraction. The study, which sheds new light on biological transport mechanisms in cells, was published in Science.

Continue reading Stirring stuff (Day 9)

A Tyred old problem (Day 8)

TyresSome estimates suggest around a billion scrap tyres are produced every year.

Many countries have legislation controlling their disposal and there are several ways they can be re-cycled, such as for mats and ‘soft’ protective flooring in children’s play grounds. They even have potential as a source of energy.

But they remain problematic due to their sheer volume.

Continue reading A Tyred old problem (Day 8)

Stronger 3D printing (Day 7)

3D letter ball3D printing has made mainstream news in recent years and there are regular reports of fascinating products being produced by this quickly developing technology.

Last week there was a story about researchers at the University Medical Centre Utrecht experimenting using stem cells in 3D bio-printing. The result could be 3D printed body parts.

The materials used in 3D printing are important to the whole process.

Continue reading Stronger 3D printing (Day 7)

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)