Five chemical engineering research stories from June 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:

Using plant-based sorbents to clean up oil spills

seedlingsResearchers from Russia analysed the possibility of using low-cost plant-based sorbents modified in various ways to clean up water surface oil spills as opposed to man-made sorbents such as perlite, expanded clay, or silica gel.

This article was published as part of the Process Safety and Environmental Protection special issue on Air Pollution Control and Waste Management. The researchers identified sorption as the most effective and environmentally acceptable but the most expensive method for oil spill clean-up. However, using plant-based sorbents can improve cost-effectiveness and the plant waste can later be recycled for asphalt production and fuel.

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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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Planet Poker (Day 181)

If you had to sit down in front of the three biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world – China (29 per cent), USA (15 per cent), and the European Union (10 per cent) – and persuade them to scale back their use of fossil fuels what would you say?

Would you take the emotive approach and appeal to their sense of humanity by highlighting the risks they are storing up for our children and grandchildren in the future?

Or would you lead with the science articulated so determinedly by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published in its Synthesis Report at the start of this month?

PokerEither way, it does seem that nations – and even within nations – the world’s biggest game of poker is underway.

Our leaders are literally gambling with our planet, and the odds are getting worse if you agree with the IPCC.

This game of cards moved on recently when China and the US unveiled new pledges on greenhouse gas emissions.

US President Barack Obama said the move was “historic”, as he set a new goal of reducing US levels between 26 per cent-28 per cent by 2025, compared with 2005 levels.

China did not set a specific target, but said emissions would peak by 2030.

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One small step for CCS; one giant leap for the Earth (Day 141)

Big stepCarbon capture and storage (CCS) is something close to my heart. I, and many colleagues at Imperial College Centre for Carbon Capture and Storage (IC4S) have been working on this for a long time.

With the amount of discussion about it, people may be forgiven for thinking it’s already happening. There is progress and technology and projects are coming online. However, it’s still in its infancy and we’ve only just reached a vital milestone.

It’s been a long time coming, but at the start of October, the world’s first commercial-scale carbon capture and storage plant has come online and started operating in Canada.

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No time to wait (Day 116)

Coal Power StationWhether we like it or not, energy from fossil fuels is going to be needed for around another two generations.

It is not a comforting thought to think that our descendants born in 30 or 40 years time may be left with the legacy of not acting now to mitigate the effects of climate change.

We need to press ahead with building capacity for renewable energy. There’s also no time to waste to implement carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology for the hundreds of fossil fuel power stations that will still need to be constructed in the meantime. Without CCS, it is unlikely we’ll get anywhere near the Kyoto targets.

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