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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Ionic liquids pack a punch for biofuels (Day 327)

In my blog, ‘the sweet smell of success‘, I discussed the use of ionic liquids – salt in a liquid state as a result of poor ionic co-ordination – in perfumes and alluded to other fields of research where they are used. Today I’m delving a little further and shining a light on the use of ionic liquids in biofuels.

PIL-treated corn stover and PIL/lignin

Photo credit | NC State University
PIL-treated corn stover and PIL/lignin

Researchers at North Carolina State University, US, (NCSU) are investigating the use of ionic liquids to strip lignin from plant cells. Their aim is to find a cost-effective method of processing biomass for biofuel production.

Lignin is a complex phenolic polymer that is found in plant cell walls. It plays an important structural role, providing the plant with strength and rigidity due to a cross-linked structure that is difficult to break down. After cellulose, it is the most abundant source of renewable carbon on earth.

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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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Supercomputing our energy (Day 261)

LaptopsHigh specification personal computers mean that most of us can perform our jobs sat at home, work or even on the road.

But processing and modelling large amounts of data to help our understanding of complex and mammoth tasks like the formation of the universe, predicting weather patterns, or large and complex engineering problems require more than the average desktop computer.

Hence, the growth of supercomputers in recent times. But they don’t come cheap.

Later this year the UK’s Met Office £97 million (US$ 146 million) supercomputer will come online.

Eventually, its processing power will be 16 petaflops – meaning it can perform 16 quadrillion calculations every second.

The “Cray XC40” machine will have 480,000 central processing units or CPUs, which is 12 times as many as the current Met Office supercomputer, made by IBM.

At 140 tonnes, it will also be three times heavier – more a ‘floortop’ than a desktop.

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Blast-off biomass (Day 242)

The quest for efficiency and productivity in the chemical and process industry is a 24/7 occupation. Extracting every ounce of potential is the goal. But it is not easy and some corners of our profession have big challenges.

Extracting the full potential of biomass is one example. Trees, plants and agricultural waste can provide a valuable source of fuel in the form of ethanol from cellulose.

But the same biomass also consists of lignin – a by-product of ethanol production. Although nearly as abundant as cellulose, its uses are more limited and is often just burnt to power ethanol plants.

If a cellulosic ethanol industry is to grow and be commercially successful, new processes will be needed to convert all of the input biomass into fuel. To improve the economic feasibility, a portion of the lignin needs to be converted to higher-values chemicals or materials.

The challenge has promoted a multi-disciplinary team at Purdue University to take a new look at breaking down the molecules in biomass – using rocket technology!

Take a look at this video which offers a great explanation of their work, including rocket technology which heats the biomass in a few hundredths of a second.

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Bacteria on a factory scale (Day 233)

Genetic engineering and genetic modification are tools that have been carefully and cautiously introduced around the world.

There are varying degrees of resistance to it use in different countries, but this hasn’t stopped some nations and researchers exploring the opportunities.

Recent research includes the genetic engineering of a malaria parasite to act as a vaccine, and of course there is the more wide-scale introduction of genetically modified crops to improve yields.

Ecoli

Wyss Institute researchers have genetically modified E. coli bacteria to produce up to 30–fold more quantities of chemicals at a thousand–fold faster rate than previously possible. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University and Steve Gschmeissner/SPL

One of the latest developments includes modification of bacteria in such a way that they can be programmed to produce specific chemicals resulting from their metabolic processes, and how much of it.

The work has been pioneered by the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and Harvard Medical School.

In principle, their work could result in future chemical factories consisting of colonies of genetically engineered bacteria.

The Wyss Institute team has been able to trick the bacteria into self–eliminating the cells that are not high–output performers, ridding the entire process of the need for human and technological monitoring to make sure the bacteria are producing efficiently, and therefore hugely reducing the overall timescale of chemical production. Continue reading

Wood-ship ahoy! (Day 229)

Cargo shipShipping is one of the last remaining parts of our global transport networks to feel the effects of regulations designed to reduce pollution and mitigate climate change.

New regulations from the International maritime Organisation kick in this month to limit the maximum sulphur content of fuel oils used by shipping to 0.10 per cent m/m.

On the horizon, more change is on the way, especially in Europe.

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Italy’s commitment to a biofuelled future (Day 145)

Refinery plant for ethanol biofuelBiofuel – it’s a source of energy that can produce very different views in conversation. The debates in IChemE circles can get very lively, especially about the impact of biofuels; both in their production and their use.

There are concerns, but biofuels are likely to continue to play a part in our transport fuel strategy. In particular, second generation (also known as advanced) biofuels.

Here in the UK, the Department for Transport had a consultation on advanced fuels this year. IChemE worked with other professional engineering institutions (PEIs) through Engineering the Future to contribute.

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Just horsing around (Day 120)

Horse race

Horse fungus may help produce biofuel. Photo credit – Dziurek | Shutterstock.com

You may have noticed that the IChemE Global Award finals are just around the corner.

It’s an anxious wait for the 70 or so shortlisted finalists until 6 November 2014. However, I hope to share with you some of their work and achievements in the coming weeks on this blog.

Some of you may have noticed that this year’s venue is Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire, UK.

They’ve been racing at Cheltenham since 1815 and today attracts huge crowds from all over the world for events like the Cheltenham Festival. It also has some fantastic facilities, which is why we’ll be there on 6 November with 500 guests.

But today’s blog illustrates that the ubiquitous chemical engineer operates even in the equine world – a chemical engineer has found fungi in the intestinal tracts and faeces of horses which could help produce biofuels from non-food plants.

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Espresso fuel (Day 89)

Cooking FatDiesel, petrol and battery power are familiar ways to power our transport. LPG and natural gas are other alternatives.

But there are other more obscure (and sometimes less practical ways) to power vehicles.

Air, waste cooking oil, waste vegetables, beer and spirits, chocolate, nappies (diapers), sawdust, nuts, styrofoam and other waste or co-products all have the potential to fuel cars.

In fact, finding ways to convert industrial co-products into biofuel always seems a sensible and sustainable way to re-use our raw materials – especially for high volume commodities like coffee.

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Strange biofuelled tea (Day 58)

Every now again we like to bring you the quirky and unusual on Chemeng365. So today’s blog features the story of the The Strange Brew Tea Company in Scotland.

Using their own words, ‘The Strange Brew Tea Company are an eco-friendly tea business with a huge passion for tea, the environment and all things quirky!’

Teak Trike

The Strange Brew Tea Company’s “Tea Trike” on the grounds of Thirlestane Castle in Scotland.

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Fuel from barren land? (Day 2)

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

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

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