There is potential in most things, even the waste that disappears down the toilet bowl.
But along with the waste, there’s the water we use to flush it away. Before water arrives in the toilet bowl it takes energy to process it. And once it disappears down the drains it takes more energy to re-process again. It’s something we pay for as part of our everyday utility bills.
Turning the potential of toilet water into a source of renewable energy, and a way to reduce bills, sounds like a good idea to me.
As a professor of energy engineering at Imperial College London I am often asked about the future. What we know for sure is that there is going to be major change with climate change, dwindling fossil fuels and an extra two billion people on the planet all playing their part in the various scenarios and possibilities.
There are other factors too, but it’s always interesting to look into the crystal ball through the eyes of some of the various stakeholders in the chemical and process industries.
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.
Some 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.
There’s lots of ways to advance chemical engineering worldwide, individually and collectively.
One of the best ways is to demonstrate technical excellence and leadership of your peers; to achieve distinction; to make a significant contribution to the profession. In other words, achieve Fellowship.
To become a Fellow of the Institution of Chemical Engineers is a tremendous achievement. Today, I am pleased to announce 29 new names to our list of around 2,900 Fellows across the world.
Forty years ago, today, the explosion at the Flixborough Nypro Chemicals site near Scunthorpe, UK, killed 28 people and injured 36 others.
It resulted in the almost complete destruction of the plant. Further afield, the blast injured another 53 people and caused extensive damage to around 2,000 buildings.
With the exception of the Buncefield fire in 2005, it remains the biggest post war explosion in the UK.
At the time there were no specific UK regulations to control major industrial hazards. The incident also exposed weaknesses in the understanding of hazards, the design of buildings, management systems and organisation.
As a professor of energy engineering at Imperial College London you would expect me to have a passion for education and a desire for learning. Hopefully, they are virtues we pass on to our students, which they hold throughout their careers.
But once students leave and enter the world of work their employers become pivotal to their continuing professional development.
And that’s why IChemE set-up its Corporate Partner initiative. The scheme publicly recognises organisations that invest significantly in their chemical engineering talent.
The alchemy of wine-making is centuries old. Many traditional methods are still used and the subtle aromas, delicate tastes and overall drinking experiences of fine wines are valued and celebrated all over the world.
But that doesn’t stop inventive engineers taking a fresh look at wine production in their quest to reduce costs and improve efficiencies.
Connoisseurs of sparkling wines will know that part of the process involves a secondary fermentation to produce the bubbles and a period of up to 60 days to allow the waste yeast to collect in the neck of the bottle. To remove the yeast, the bottle neck is plunged into freezing liquid and the frozen yeast extracted with the aid of the internal pressure in the bottle produced by CO2.
Biofuels are the cause of much debate and they are controversial in many parts of the world for their displacement of agricultural crops.
However, 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.
After winning three trophies, including the top prize, at last year’s IChemE Global Awards in Bolton, Queen’s University Belfast has been named among the winners of the prestigious Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) Awards for its ground-breaking work in removing harmful mercury from natural gas.
The technology developed by Queen’s University Ionic Liquid Laboratories (QUILL), in partnership with PETRONAS, is being used to produce mercury-free natural gas at two PETRONAS plants in Malaysia.
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
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.
Communication is a central theme of my presidential year and I want us all to be more active in emphasising to those outside our profession the value of chemical engineering as an agent of ‘change for good’.
Be it with government, NGOs or the general public, we engineers are not as effective as we might be at conveying what we do, what needs doing and what we could do to get that done.
Let me try to illustrate what I mean by taking my own area of future energy and climate change avoidance as an example. Although great progress has been made in convincing governments and the public that climate change is a reality (with some obvious sceptical exceptions), convincing them of the need to respond quickly enough and on a large enough scale to avoid its catastrophic consequences is proving very difficult.
It is a great honour to serve as the Institution’s 74th President and I look forward to a busy and exciting year.
I would also like to congratulate my predecessor, Judith Hackitt, for her leadership and outstanding ambassadorial work for the chemical engineering profession over the past 12 months.
Chemical engineers have a key role to play in addressing major global challenges concerning energy, water, food and health and Chemical Engineering Matters, IChemE’s technical strategy, enables its members to make a contribution to these key issues wherever they are. It’s a message I will repeat throughout my presidency and it should underpin all our activities.