A precious catalyst (Day 210)

GoldMany people won’t look beyond jewelry and coinage for the most important usage of precious metals, but chemical engineers know that precious metals like gold, silver, platinum, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium, iridium and osmium have many more valuable uses.

Solar and other fuel cells, batteries, electronics, drugs, after shaves, bandages and even traditional photography have some reliance on precious metals.

Of particular interest to chemical engineers are their uses as chemical catalysts. But, being precious, chemical reactions that require large volumes of the metals are naturally going to be expensive and unsustainable.

One of the solutions is to use computational modeling below the nanoscale level to design more efficient and affordable catalysts from gold. And a transatlantic alliance of three universities have collaborated to achieve just that.

Continue reading A precious catalyst (Day 210)

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

Continue reading A floating economy (Day 176)

Energy and the high street (Day 172)

Old Petrol station
Image: Chris Jenner, Shutterstock.com

Many consumers find the energy markets frustrating and, whichever country you live in, it is likely that the choice of where you get your gas or electricity from will be limited, even if provided by the private sector.

The most ubiquitous, successful and competitive model we currently have for ‘buying’ energy is the petrol station. The first makeshift ‘filling station’ appeared in 1888 in Germany. The first purpose-built ‘gas station’ was constructed in the USA in 1905.

Today, there’s in excess of a million petrol stations dotted around the world, and it is infrastructure on this scale, along with public acceptance, that are important enablers to the widespread adoption of any technology, especially energy.

Continue reading Energy and the high street (Day 172)

Chemical engineers ‘borrow’ chemical engineering techniques to solve problem (Day 168)

SunriseYes, you did read the title correctly! Chemical engineering is such a big area that sometimes we need look no further than our colleagues to come up with the right solution.

Collaboration and multidisciplinary study have been the buzzwords of research for a long time. But sometimes we forget how broad the field of chemical engineering is and that sometimes it is enough just to learn from other chemical engineers.

One of the common gripes I hear is that major companies are not willing to recruit chemical engineers from different sectors.

Perhaps this research from chemical engineers at Stanford University, who are applying petrochemical processing techniques to store solar energy, will make them think again!

Continue reading Chemical engineers ‘borrow’ chemical engineering techniques to solve problem (Day 168)

Financing the quest for endless energy (Day 127)

Hello and welcome to today’s Chemeng365 blog. I’m currently enjoying meeting many chemical engineers in some of IChemE’s membership hot-spots in the Asia Pacific and Australasia regions.

Having just enjoyed a successful Chemeca 14 conference in Perth, Australia, I thought I’d keep the Australia theme going with an interesting hydrogen energy story from New South Wales.

Merlin - benefits of hydrogen
Graphic courtesy of MERLin

You may have spotted a blog recently about the Hy-cycle – a bicycle powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.

It’s just one of the interesting projects coming out of Australia at the moment attempting to develop hydrogen as a source of clean energy.

Some of the work is being driven by a research group called MERLin, which is based at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia.

Continue reading Financing the quest for endless energy (Day 127)

Get on your hydrogen bike (Day 109)

Hy-cycle
UNSW’s Hy-cycle powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.

Some stories in the world of chemical engineering have stand-out lines that really grab my attention.

This week I came across an interesting story from Australia about a team of chemical engineers that have built a bicycle powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.

In itself this is a great achievement, but it was a quote from associate professor Kondo-Francois Aguey-Zinsou, who works in the chemical engineering department at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), that really caught my attention.

Continue reading Get on your hydrogen bike (Day 109)