Guest Blog: How have chemical engineers advanced wastewater management? #WorldWaterDay

How have chemical engineers advanced wastewater management? #WorldWaterDay

It’s World Water Day and to celebrate Chris Short, Chair of our Water Special Interest Group has given his thoughts on this year’s theme – ‘Wastewater’.  We have members working all over the world in this area, as well as researchers looking at new and innovative ways to treat wastewater to help benefit society.

Check out Chris’ thoughts below, and don’t forget to comment with your own views on the subject.

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

I’m not going to claim that chemical engineers were behind all the advances in wastewater management in the past century, greatly improving public health and the environment within industrialised countries.

However, chemical engineers have been increasingly involved in wastewater treatment over the last 100 years.

Whether applied to industrial processes, human, or animal wastes, their skills are ideally suited to add value in this area.

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Chemical engineering matters for the developing world #ichemeawards

Thanks for joining us for round two of our blog series, celebrating the very worthy winners of the IChemE Global Awards 2016. With help from our friends at Morgan Sindall we have produced a video for every category, and each one includes a special interview with the winners.

5j5a3100

Yesterday we looked at some life-changing products, and the theme remains the same in today’s post. However today’s products have a little something extra – they have been specially designed to help tackle a problem in low-middle income countries.

This goes to show that chemical engineering really does matter, and that the work of chemical engineers doesn’t just make our lives easier – it is solving some of the world’s biggest poverty issues.

Enjoy the three videos below, and stay tuned the rest of the week when we reveal even more winning projects.

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Five chemical engineering research stories from July 2016

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

Here are five stories of amazing chemical engineering research and innovation:

Making dirty water drinkable
glass of waterEngineers from Washington University in St. Louis have found a way to use graphene oxide sheets to transform dirty water into drinking water. “We hope that for countries where there is ample sunlight, such as India, you’ll be able to take some dirty water, evaporate it using our material, and collect fresh water,” said Srikanth Singamaneni, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science.

The new approach combines bacteria-produced cellulose and graphene oxide to form a bi-layered biofoam. “The properties of this foam material that we synthesized has characteristics that enhances solar energy harvesting. Thus, it is more effective in cleaning up water,” said Pratim Biswas, the Lucy and Stanley Lopata Professor and chair of the Department of Energy, Environmental and Chemical Engineering.

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Relevance in a Changing World

On 24 May 2016 at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, Professor Jonathan Seville was inaugurated as IChemE President for 2016-17. The Executive Dean of Engineering at University of Surrey delivered his Presidential Address on the subject of relevance. Jonathan challenged us all to think: how will the Institution and the profession stay relevant in a world that is rapidly changing?

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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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Your ChemEng research round-up: June 2015

Since ChemEng365, our new ChemEng blog has become a little quiet – except for a last minute hurrah from Geoff Maitland, see his guest blog ‘Five of our Past President’s favourite ChemEng365 blogs‘.

lightbulbThe ChemEng365 campaign concluded at the end of May when Geoff’s term as president ended. But of course, all the amazing chemical engineering research and innovation still goes on. So, it seems only fitting to give you a research round-up on all things chemical and process engineering for the month of June – just in case you missed anything!

Injectable hydrogel could help wounds heal more quickly

A team of chemical engineers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), US, have a developed a material that creates an instant, superior scaffold that allows new tissue to latch on and grow within the cavities formed between linked spheres of gel.

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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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Think like a chemical engineer to save time and money (Day 322)

Excellent chemical engineering can transform businesses.

Costain is a British construction and engineering company that provides innovative engineering and technology-led solutions. They are also one of IChemE’s Bronze Corporate Partners.

Strensham water treatment works

Strensham water treatment works

A project that highlights their novel way of thinking involved working with Severn Trent to upgrade their Strensham water treatment works in Worcestershire, UK. Severn Trent, a leading utility company, had set challenging efficiency targets.

They asked Costain help them with the refurbishment of 21 rapid gravity filters.

However, all this needed to be done without disrupting the water supply to 350,000 customers. And they wanted the project completed in less than 88 weeks, which is pretty demanding for the water industry.

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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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Ten animals that are also chemical engineers (Day 300)

Day 300 and counting.  It’s a nice round number so I thought I’d talk about something a little bit different.

We often assume that engineering is something unique to humankind. However, if you take a closer look at the animal kingdom, you soon realise that this is not the case.

Some animals have been exploiting chemical engineering principles for so long, we are now taking inspiration from them; see my blogs on ’Deep sea printers’ or ‘‘Hand-made’ pills inspired by a starfish‘.

The classic example of an animal engineer is the beaver, behaving like a civil engineer and building dams. This made me curious to find animals that act like chemical engineers and here are my ten favourite examples:

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The impact of water (Day 299)

wwd2015-logoToday is UN World Water Day – a day for water and for sustainable development.

This year, World Water Day focuses on the following ideas: water is health; water is nature; water is urbanisation; water is industry; water is energy; water is food; and water is equality. But I want to add something to this list: water is chemical engineering.

The importance of water is often overlooked. Water is not only essential for life but it is of key importance in chemical engineering too.

In the past, I have discussed the relationship between water and food, water and energy and the water-energy-food nexus, and I can’t stress enough the importance of these interdependencies.

Today, however, I thought I’d focus on the more light-hearted work of the chemical engineers at the University of Minnesota, US, who are working to understand the impact of raindrops.

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Breakthrough for clean water in developing countries (Day 283)

It’s all too easy to take clean water for granted; so many of us in the developed world can simply turn on a tap to get drinkable water – even if we just want to wash the car.

But the reality can be much grimmer in some parts of the world, as I discuss in my blog ‘Everyone should have a human right to water‘.

More than 70 per cent of illnesses in developing countries worldwide are related to water contamination, with women and children suffering most of all. In India, for instance, nearly 38 million people suffer from water-borne diseases, and up to 1.5 million children die from diarrhoea.

Facts like these make this award-winning breakthrough by chemical engineers from Nigeria and Germany incredibly important.

papaya seedsThe team from Redeemer’s University, Nigeria and the University of Potsdam and the Max Planck Institute in Germany, won the Dhirubhai Ambani Award for Outstanding Chemical Engineering Innovation for Resource-Poor People (which included US $10,000 cash prize funded by Reliance Industries) at the 2014 IChemE Global Awards.

This particular award recognises the use of chemical engineering technology to support people living on less than $2 a day. And the team did just that by developing a new hybrid clay adsorbent (HYCA), based on kaolinite clay and Carica papaya seeds, which removes heavy metal ion and organic pollutants from water.

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Producing clean energy from wastewater treatment (Day 278)

One of the major challenges we face today is reducing our energy and water consumption whilst maintaining necessary levels of production.

Part of this challenge requires a change in the way we think about these resources. It’s a mistake to consider energy and water in isolation. We need to make sure everyone is looking at the bigger picture.

recycle water symbolIt’s their ability to think holistically and consider the big picture that makes chemical engineers so useful.

Chemical engineering is a  broad church and I feel that the reason why the discipline can be applied in so many different settings is our ability to think about systems as a whole – not just focusing on the end goal.

This type of thinking, systems engineering, is key to the advancement of the ‘nexus approach’ (which I have discussed before; ‘Water versus energy – which is more precious?’ and ‘Food for thought on the water-energy-food nexus’) and helping us think of water, energy and food as interlinked.

Today’s story caught my eye because it’s a good example of forward-thinking by chemical engineers. Researchers from the Bioelectrochemistry group at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (UAB) Department of Chemical Engineering, have been working to produce, rather than consume, energy during waste water processing.

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Thailand’s world first in waste (Day 275)

A shocking one-third of the food produced for human consumption – over a billion tonnes – is wasted every year – the United Nations tells us.

Global Water Engineering logo - GWE Chok...So you can imagine my delight when I learnt about the ground-breaking system developed by Global Water Engineering (GWE). Their system turns leftover cassava pulp into green energy using advanced anaerobic technology – and it does much more besides.

This certainly is another triumph for chemical engineering, and so it’s only fitting that GWE’s innovation earned them the IChemE Global Award for Energy back in November 2014.

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The advance of desalination (Day 239)

Water tapIn 2013, IChemE took a glance into the future and highlighted how many desalination plants there might be in the UK by 2050.

Desalination plants are rare in relatively wet countries like the UK, but fairly common in Southern Europe and the Middle East.

More recently countries such as Australia has invested in desalination plants to solve some of their drought problems, with around eight facilities either built, in progress or planned since 2006.

Worldwide, there are around 13,000 desalination plants in operation or under construction in 150 countries.

By 2050, DesalData predict that the number of desalination plants across the world will more than double with a further 18,500 desalination plants becoming operational.

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A new focus on water (Day 234)

Eye looking over waterWhen universities establish a new research centre it’s worth taking note.

Not just because it’s a way to further our knowledge, but, in the case of the University of Bath’s new Water Innovation and Research Centre (WIRC), it reflects the fact there are growing and significant challenges ahead.

The issues go well beyond the obvious of providing clean water for everyone – although with a growing population this will be hard enough.

The challenges include a completely fresh approach to using water more efficiently – whether it’s the treatment of our waste, use by industry, processing of our food or consumption at home.

WIRC has been established to provide a unique environment for conducting research into water technologies and resource management.

It’s a collaboration between the University of Bath and Wessex Water and has ambitions to contribute to future water policy and the development of innovative and integrated sustainable water treatment systems. Continue reading

Using innovation to solve problems quickly (Day 230)

One of the greatest skills of chemical engineers is their ability to innovate. But I am constantly amazed at all the new ideas and processes that are being developed.

United Utilities Logo

One that impressed me greatly was the winner of IChemE’s Global Water Management and Supply Award; a result of collaboration between United Utilities and KMI Plus.

This project succeeded in restoring the required design capacity to an important works which was suffering from process problems and reduced output.

They managed to do this while reducing the construction period from 30 to 10 months and achieved major cost savings.

The design and construction of the works included the latest thinking on rapid gravity filter process design and using pre-fabricated modular stainless steel units.

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Can you drink all the water in an Olympic size swimming pool? (Day 220)

Swimming poolIf you’re a fan of the Olympics, and swimming in particular, you’ll be familiar with the size of the pool (50 m x 25 m). But have you ever wondered how much water it holds and how long it might take for one person to drink it?

Depending on depth, the pool will hold between 1.25 million litres of water (1 m depth) to 2.5 million litres of water (2 m depth). And if you assume we all drink between 2-4 litres of water each day, that would take over 3,400 years for one person to consume.

In fact, many of us will consume all the water in the smaller size swimming pool in just one year. It’s all due to the amount of ‘hidden water’ we consume in our food.

These numbers may be hard to believe but here’s a few examples of how easy it is to build up your water footprint based on three main meals a day – even without dessert!

Breakfast – 1,260 litres

Meal

A breakfast of two eggs, two sausages, beans, two slices of toast and butter has a water footprint of 1260.5 litres. Data and image courtesy of Onedrop.org. Click image to visit website.

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Fuel alchemy (Day 200)

Burning glassesToday, we have reached the magical milestone of my 200th day as IChemE president and to mark the occasion we have a magical story from Germany.

It’s a modern-day story, but it draws on technologies, in part, developed in the 1920’s by Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch.

A German company called Sunfire have recently demonstrated a process they call Power-to-Liquids (PtL). It’s a three-stage process that uses renewable electricity to convert water and CO2 to high-purity alternative energy fuels such as petrol, diesel and kerosene.

Power-to-Liquids process (PtL)

Power-to-Liquids process (PtL) uses renewable electricity, CO2 and water to produce synthetic, alternative, environmentally-friendly fuels such as petrol, diesel and kerosene. Image credit: Sunfire.

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A floating economy (Day 176)

Two projects have caught my eye recently that may give some hints about where we might build some of our power stations and processing facilities in the future.

Quite rightly, land-based power stations and industrial units are subject to careful scrutiny before planning permission is given. The fact they are so visible and close to communities means the opinions of thousands of people may need to be considered.

Even offshore facilities like fixed wind farms, visible from coastlines, bear the scars of public consultation.

But what if we generated our power or processed raw materials further out into our seas and oceans, beyond the horizon. Would that offer a new solution?

Fukushima Floating Wind Turbine

Floating energy – the Fukushima Floating Wind Turbine Demonstration Project. Image by Fukushima Forward

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Food for thought on the water-energy-food nexus (Day 167)

Nexus and networkingIChemE has promoted the concept of the water-energy-food nexus since 2012. I blogged on the topic back in September.

The global challenges presented by the increasing demands for water, energy and food are inextricably linked.

Climate change brings additional pressures. Identifying and implementing solutions for sustainable development requires a systems thinking approach.

The nexus challenge sits at the centre of IChemE’s technical collaboration with the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE).

In November 2014, Chevron Oronite president and IChemE past president, Dr Des King, gave a presentation on the nexus at AIChE’s research conference in San Francisco.  His thinking outlined the complex challenge of population growth, urbanisation and the expanding ‘middle class’ in developing economies; all of which are driving up demand.

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Innovation for water for life (Day 152)

Arid groundThe World Health Organisation’s (WHO) prediction that over two thirds of the world’s population will face living with severe water shortages by 2050 is daunting.

The combination of population growth, climate change and dwindling resources make this a complex problem.

As someone who lives in the UK, this is something that has not really affected us. There have been summers when the water companies impose bans on using hose pipes to water gardens and wash cars. It makes the news headlines and interrupts daily lives, but a dirty car is nothing compared to the problems experienced elsewhere.

In other areas of the world, water scarcity is a daily reality – it’s not just areas of famine hit Africa, but the Middle East and Singapore too. We will all have to address this challenge, in our homes and in the industries that we work in.

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What’s the water cost of your food? (Day 143)

Yesterday was World Food Day and I’ve taken the opportunity to explore one of the lesser known challenges involved in providing enough food to an expanding population.

The numbers illustratCEM just logoe the challenge – we ‘eat’ 3,496 litres of water everyday and it is one of the issues being explored in IChemE’s first green paper, published yesterday, as a part of our Chemical Engineering Matters technical policy.

Generally, a ‘green paper’ is a policy document designed to stimulate discussion with a wider audience and get the conversation started about what we should do next.

It’s a phrase and approach IChemE is borrowing to help lead the debate on key issues around energy, water, food and health.

Our first green paper – called Water Management in the Food and Drink Industry’ – discusses the importance of water management in the food and drink industry, and the role that chemical engineers play in this.

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Meeting our Canadian friends and the grand challenges (Day 135)

Canadian flagIt is now over five years since one of my presidential predecessors, Ian Shott, signed an agreement with the Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering (CSChE) to explore a closer relationship between the two organisations.

At the time, Ian said: “Global challenges require global solutions and chemical engineers must work together across national boundaries in order to tackle pressing issues such as energy security, sustainable food production and the transition to a low carbon economy.

“This agreement will enable us to work together on collaborative projects that will highlight the role of the chemical engineer in delivering sustainable solutions.”

These issues, and our commitment to our Canadian friends, are still relevant today and IChemE, in the form of our director of policy – Andy Furlong – will be attending the 64th Canadian Chemical Engineering Conference in Niagara Falls on between 19-22 October 2014.

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The original natural gas – poo power (Day 131)

Pig

Pig waste is powering 700 homes and helping to reduce landfill waste by 18,000 tonnes each year in Leicestershire, UK.

It was around this time last year that one of the big winners at the IChemE Global Awards 2013 – PROjEN – were collecting the Bioprocessing Award for their technology used to convert pig waste into energy.

The pig waste, combined with other food waste, was being used to produce biogas capable of generating the equivalent of around 1.2MW of electricity.

The electricity was exported into the local energy grid in Leicestershire, UK, to power an estimated 700 homes and reduce landfill waste by 18,000 tonnes each year.

In the UK, people outnumber pigs by more than ten to one, so one has to ask the question – ‘Can human poo be used in a similar way to provide a sustainable source of energy?’.

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What a waste (Day 124)

Green recycling binA few years ago the ‘waste’ business was estimated to be worth around GBP 272 billion (EUR 300 billion Euros or USD 410 billion).

The study also estimated that the world was producing at least four billion metric tons of waste a year – equivalent to world production of grain and steel combined.

These figures didn’t include construction, mining, agricultural and forestry wastes – suggesting that the real figure is much larger.

They are huge numbers and will grow as our population increases and we get better at recycling and managing our waste.

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Building public confidence in fracking (Day 112)

Fracking demonstration

Balcombe, UK, fracking demonstration (Image – Randi Sokoloff – Shutterstock.com)

A few weeks ago, I provided some information to the media in relation to a fracking ‘scare story’. As I always do in these situations, I look at the evidence and provide a factual and objective assessment. As chemical engineers that’s all we can ever do.

Realistically, concerns over fracking are unlikely to disappear. There will always be sceptics, but they have an absolute right to be heard. It’s up to us to listen carefully and respond to these concerns – consistently and in language that everyone understands.

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Avoiding the dreaded ‘fatbergs’ (Day 110)

A FOG blocking a sewage pipe - Image courtesy of Severn Trent Water

A FOG blocking a sewage pipe – Image courtesy of Severn Trent Water

Fatbergs recently received some news coverage in the UK, with a giant fatberg – 80 metres in length – being found in a west London sewer by Thames Water. So, to put that in perspective, 80 metres is the length of a commercial plane.

For those of you who don’t know exactly what a fatberg is, it is the term given to the solidified lump of fat that can cause blockages in sewer systems.

The problem stems from people pouring hot cooking oil down the sink, and when the oil hits the cold temperature of the sewers, it solidifies to fat. Wet wipes, food, cotton buds and litter can easily cling to this fat and form congealed masses or fatbergs.

Another phrase used in the water industry, for example at Severn Trent Water, to describe these unpleasant wastewater blockers are ‘FOGs’ – fats, oil and grease.

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