Not just any old bioenergy (Day 74)

energy calculatorTen per cent of the world’s primary energy supply in 2009 came from biomass. Demand for bioenergy is expected to grow three-fold by 2050. But does it matter where this bioenergy comes from?

Bioenergy generated from biomass comes from a range of sources; e.g. corn, sugar, sugar beet, soy, energy grass, organic waste and wood etc. to name but a few.

But how can we be sure that these renewable sources are any better than traditional energy producing methods?

Continue reading Not just any old bioenergy (Day 74)

Marilyn Monroe tackles drug counterfeiters (Day 73)

Film with hidden image
Terry Shyu, MSE PhD Student, demonstrates use of nanopillars that reveal hidden images via condensation of fluid on the structures. Image credit: Joseph Xu

Drug counterfeiting is big business. It’s a global problem made even easier when you consider a third of all countries have little or no medicine regulation.

Poorer countries are most at risk. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate one in ten drug products are fake.

Continue reading Marilyn Monroe tackles drug counterfeiters (Day 73)

Feeding the fish… fish (Day 71)

Fish in ocean75 per cent of world fish stocks are fully-exploited, over-exploited or depleted.

Consumers and farmers are turning to farmed fish as a source of food, with fish farms aiming to produce nearly two thirds of the global fish supply by 2030.

 

However, 81 per cent of the fish caught in the wild are currently used to feed farmed fish, making fish farming just as unsustainable.

Eating fish offers huge health benefits; they provide neurodevelopment benefits to women of child rearing age and have been shown to reduce the risk of mortality from coronary heart disease. We need to find a way of farming fish sustainably to continue receiving these health benefits.

Chemical engineers are investigating various avenues to make the aquaculture industry more sustainable and reduce the use of wild fish in farmed fish feed.

Continue reading Feeding the fish… fish (Day 71)

Into the lion’s den (Day 68)

Lion hunting on the SavannahSometimes, you find yourself in situations you have never planned or anticipated. That happened to me in 2010 as my wife and I were just flying out of Houston on 21st April 2010.

We heard a brief news story that an oil rig had caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico. This was Deepwater Horizon, the Macondo well, which eventually became the largest blowout and offshore oil spill in history – little did I know that this incident was going to fill my life for the next 85 days and beyond.

Continue reading Into the lion’s den (Day 68)

A growing global family (Day 67)

SAIChE IChemE logoSome great news came out this week from South Africa with the announcement of a formal collaboration between the South African Institution of Chemical Engineers (SAIChE) and IChemE.

We’ve enjoyed a great relationship with SAIChE in recent years and we already work closely with them since we entered into a Memorandum of Understanding in 2012.

Continue reading A growing global family (Day 67)

Ten differences between chemistry and chemical engineering (Day 66)

Element cubesWhen I talk about my work I find the common problem that people do not understand the difference between chemists and chemical engineers.

Both fields are becoming increasingly important and deserve greater public recognition, but they are distinct.

Although I now work as a chemical engineer I originally studied chemistry, and so feel I should be well placed to highlight the key differences and dispel common misconceptions.

However, this list is in no way definitive and there are huge overlaps in the work of chemists and chemical engineers.

Here are ten differences between chemists and chemical engineers:

Continue reading Ten differences between chemistry and chemical engineering (Day 66)

No ordinary oasis (Day 65)

Lake in desertWhat’s the furthest you’ve ever walked for clean water?

If you’re lucky, not very far.

If you’re unlucky, in some arid parts of the developing world, you could be spending hours walking several kilometres each day just to collect water to survive.

And forget about those romantic images of verdant oases. The water is often in polluted, dirty and in unsafe pools, especially for children.

However, putting the economics to one side for the moment, there are solutions. Cue the anaerobic digester and a new bit of technology attached to it called the McLanahan Nutrient Separation System.

Continue reading No ordinary oasis (Day 65)

The real guardians of the brand (Day 64)

 

Supermarket aisleIf you ever want to tease your colleagues in the marketing department, tell them they wouldn’t have a brand without chemical engineers.

Chemical engineers provide all the necessary building blocks of a successful brand such as consistency, standardisation, safety, quality and sheer volume.

This is certainly the case in the food industry. Just look what happens when it all goes wrong.

The European horse meat scandal, false advertising of farmed salmon as wild salmon in the US, 1,700 tonnes of manuka honey being produced in New Zealand but 10,000 tonnes being sold globally, meat suppliers in China distributing meat past its expiry date and in Italy the passing off of substandard olive oil as extra virgin; are all examples of where brand consistency has been lost.

Continue reading The real guardians of the brand (Day 64)

A steely approach to recycling (Day 62)

Scrap metal
Recycled steel accounts for around a third of production each year.

I wonder what Henry Bessemer would think of steel-making today? Since he developed the first inexpensive process for the mass production of steel in the 1850s, the world has progressed to produce over 1,606 million tonnes in 2013.

The great thing about steel is that it is 100 per cent recyclable – to the same quality, time and time again. There’s also some important energy and raw material savings. Figures from the World Steel Association show that more than 1,400 kg of iron ore, 740 kg of coal, and 120 kg of limestone are saved for every tonne of steel scrap made into new steel.

Continue reading A steely approach to recycling (Day 62)

Making cities sustainable (Day 61)

Bridge reflection across the River Clyde at nightWith the Commonwealth Games in full swing, and an estimated one million tickets sold for 250 medal events, Glasgow in the UK is the place to be this summer!

But with tens of thousands of expected visitors as well as the 4,500 athletes taking part, it is fair to assume that a lot of waste is going to be produced.

And then there’s the carbon emissions associated with spectator and participant travel to and from the games.

So, naturally, making these Commonwealth Games sustainable and environmentally friendly is an important part of the agenda.

Continue reading Making cities sustainable (Day 61)

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.

Continue reading Strange biofuelled tea (Day 58)

The carbon dioxide sniffing satellite (Day 57)

Space travel may not be the natural territory of chemical engineers, but earlier this month NASA launched a satellite which will be of great interest to many in the energy sector and those interested in climate change.

On 2 July 2014, NASA launched the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO-2) satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Its mission is to study the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide globally and provide scientists with a better idea of how carbon is contributing to climate change.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory - NASA JPL - Caltech
The Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-2) (Image courtesy of NASA/JPL – Caltech)

Continue reading The carbon dioxide sniffing satellite (Day 57)

The lesser known hydrocarbon (Day 55)

Frozen shore lineWalk up to any typical man or woman in the street and ask them where their energy comes from to power their homes, cook their food, keep the cold out and fuel their cars and you’ll probably get a very long list of answers.

If you posed the question, what power source has more energy in it than all the world’s oil, coal and gas put together, only a few are likely to get the right answer.

In fact the answer is gas hydrates – the lesser known hydrocarbon. Otherwise known as fire ice and more loosely termed methane hydrate, the gas presents as ice crystals with natural methane gas (and other gases) locked inside.

Continue reading The lesser known hydrocarbon (Day 55)

Engineering life into perspective (Day 52)

Global Water Brigades Ghana
Global Brigade volunteers in Ghana

Some professions have an ability to provide a unique insight into life that can transform a career into a lifelong vocation, not just a job that pays the bills every month. I’d certainly rank the engineering professions into this category.

The transformation often takes place at university, where engineering undergraduates start to become exposed to the power and potential of their chosen profession through initiatives like Global Brigades.

Continue reading Engineering life into perspective (Day 52)

The intriguing story of the bee, the spider and the snowdrop (Day 51)

BeeAs a general rule, if scientists collectively issue a warning, we should take notice. If their warnings are based on a review of 800 scientific studies over two decades, you know something is seriously wrong. In this case, the warning’s about the plight of the humble bee.

The bee is nature’s pollinator but has been ravaged by pesticides, which are thought to damage their navigation, learning, food collection, lifespan, resistance to disease and fertility.

The main finger of blame is being pointed at an insecticide called neonicotinoid. It’s a systemic insecticide, meaning it can be absorbed into every cell in a plant, making all parts poisonous to pests. Concerns are also growing that neonicotinoids are affecting a much wider group of animals including birds, lizards, earthworms and coastal shellfish.

Continue reading The intriguing story of the bee, the spider and the snowdrop (Day 51)

A golden age for sensors (Day 49)

Monash's new sensor has great potential for monitoring people's health anytime and anywhere.
Monash’s new sensor has great potential for monitoring people’s health anytime and anywhere.

Healthcare policy ebbs and flows on a regular basis, especially in countries where the state provides tax-payer funded services like here in the UK.

However, although medicines, equipment, communication and facilities have all generally improved over time, the basic management of healthcare services and the business models for delivering them often seem in a state of constant flux.

A good example is where healthcare is best provided – in homes, communities or large centralised hospitals. Generally, I think it is a combination of all of these, but there has been a trend over the past few decades to more community- and home-based services, especially for the elderly.

Continue reading A golden age for sensors (Day 49)

Doing the right thing (Day 48)

Climate ChangeThe right thing to do is not necessarily the cheapest when it comes to saving our planet.

That’s certainly the case for mitigating climate change.

Recently, in my monthly poll, I asked the question – Are people willing to pay more for energy to mitigate climate change? (you can vote at the bottom of this blog too).

So far the poll is indicating that nearly 60 per cent are happy to pay more.

Continue reading Doing the right thing (Day 48)

Will diet foods ever become the norm? (Day 47)

Chocolate BubblesTake a walk down any supermarket shopping aisle and you’ll find carefully arranged products positioned by ‘merchandisers’ to ensure your favourite foods are easy to find and always on sale.

‘Diet’, ‘healthy’ or ‘reduced calorie’ foods are often given their own special sections, and in many cases the amount of space given to them is growing.

But for many consumers ‘diet’ products are a compromise – they don’t quite taste the same…do they? But if they did, it could make the battle against obesity much easier.

Continue reading Will diet foods ever become the norm? (Day 47)

Can you lead a chemical-free life? (Day 46)

NewspaperI think there is a general perception that natural is good and man-made is bad. And if that man-made thing is overtly ‘chemical’, then the first instinct of many people is to avoid it.

The general public’s view of ‘chemicals’ has evolved over many decades, if not centuries. And we have to assume that the historical view of chemicals is rooted in some form of legitimate concern.

But does today’s perception of ‘chemicals’ actually reflect modern reality, especially the way it is portrayed in the media?

Continue reading Can you lead a chemical-free life? (Day 46)

Will energy always be so unpopular? (Day 45)

CoalIt helps to have thick skin if you’re involved in the energy sector. Although demonised may be too strong a word, large chunks of the energy sector does seem to be dogged by negativity, fear and distrust.

Shale gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ invokes worries about earth tremors and contaminated water supplies. Nuclear energy attracts concerns over cost and safety. Renewable energy infrastructure like tall wind turbines are on the receiving end of vociferous community lobby groups. Energy production is inextricably linked to climate change. All these issues are regular frequenters in the media’s column inches.

Continue reading Will energy always be so unpopular? (Day 45)

Conflict clean-up (Day 44)

Chemical WeaponsA few weeks ago I blogged about chemical engineers and their role in the production of antibiotics to save lives during the D-Day landings in 1944. Antibiotics are now part of a standard issue battlefield medical first aid kit to help save lives during what is described as a ‘platinum 10 minutes’.

Sadly, there are still around 40 conflicts in the world today. And as we’ve seen in the Middle East and Syria, chemical weapons are still being produced and used in some of those conflicts.

Continue reading Conflict clean-up (Day 44)

Ask the President (Day 43)

Geoff Maitland IChemE PresidentAccountability, openness and transparency. Three important words in the governance of any charitable and membership organisation like IChemE.

IChemE also has a wealth of knowledge and history acquired since we were established in 1922, and an active membership eager to share their experiences and expertise to advance the profession.

As your President, I also want to be accountable and share my knowledge where I can. So, throughout my presidency, there is an open invitation to send in your reasonable questions and thoughts on issues relating to our technical policy – Chemical Engineering Matters. Every now and again, we’ll publish the answers starting with today.

Continue reading Ask the President (Day 43)

Creative juices…with alcohol and frozen (Day 40)

Mahiki LICIf you’re in the middle of your chemical engineering course, you may still be thinking about what to do when you graduate. Thankfully, there’s lots of choice, but how about taking on some of the world’s biggest consumer brands and using your chemical engineering skills to make…well…frozen lollies or popsicles? Continue reading Creative juices…with alcohol and frozen (Day 40)

A purification money saver (Day 39)

Abstract filterWhat do these purification processes have in common: distillation, extraction, chromatography, adsorption, and crystallization?

All can be energy or materials intensive. In other words – expensive.

Some professionals in the purification business will often quote phrases like: “It is generally accepted that separation processes account for between 40-70 per cent of both the capital and operating costs in industry.”

Continue reading A purification money saver (Day 39)

Tour de Engineers? (Day 38)

Tour de France
Image by Sergii Rudiuk / Shutterstock.com

The Tour de France sets off tomorrow for its 101st edition and over the duration of 23 days will see 198 riders from 22 teams attempt to complete 21 stages and cover a total distance of 3,664 kilometres or 2,276 miles.

If you’re a member of the Team Sky nine-man team you’ll probably be sitting on a carbon fibre bike worth £12,000 (USD $20,000). Also, most of the field will be using a Kevlar-based helmet ranging from £120 (USD $200) and upwards.

Continue reading Tour de Engineers? (Day 38)

The most important liquids on the planet (Podblog) (Day 37)

ChemEng365Ionic liquids have been voted the British scientific innovation most likely to influence the course of the 21st century. They are set to change the rules of chemistry forever.

Leading the way are Queen’s University Ionic Liquid Laboratories (QUILL) Research Centre in Belfast, UK.

QUILL won four IChemE Awards last year for their gas clean-up technology.

This week, QUILL have been exhibiting at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition and you can listen to QUILL explain more about ionic liquids in this podcast.

Getting ready for the sugar wars (Day 37)

Diabetes indicatorSmoking, passive-smoking and tobacco-related products like ‘chewing tobacco’ still kill around six million people a year. Despite all the education, controls and stigmatisation of smokers over many decades, the casualty rate is expected to rise even further to eight million by 2030.

But humanity is likely to face an even bigger killer in the future – obesity.

Worldwide obesity has doubled since 1980. Current estimates suggest 3.4 million adults die every year as a result of being overweight.

Continue reading Getting ready for the sugar wars (Day 37)

Finding a way out of energy poverty (Day 36)

Kenya Solar Panel project
Kenya Solar Panel Project

Energy poverty can mean different things in different parts of the world. In Europe, the debate is most often about the spiraling cost of energy. For some it means cutting-back on their heating and living in colder homes.

But for the one in four people around the world who don’t even have access to an energy grid, the issues are even more acute. It’s a problem that one charity – Village Infrastructure – is determined to help solve.

Village Infrastructure’s (VI) mission is to make energy affordable for the 1.3 billion people who live without electricity. Their innovative approach has already been recognised by the G20, who have provided grant funding.

Continue reading Finding a way out of energy poverty (Day 36)

Big plans for minnows of nature (Day 35)

How inventive are chemical engineers and how could you measure their inventiveness? It’s a bit of a rhetorical question and one that probably doesn’t need an answer, but it did cross my mind the other day when I received an email from IChemE promoting a Webinar about microalga Dunaliella by the University of Greenwich in the UK.

The University are leading a €10m international project, called the ‘D-Factory,’ to build a biorefinery to develop the microalga Dunaliella as a sustainable raw material and turn every part of the alga into something useful.

In fact, they are looking at potential products including food, pharmaceuticals, plastic and fuel. This is unlikely to be a surprise to anyone who is part of the chemical engineering ‘family’, but probably something relatively unknown in the wider world.

Continue reading Big plans for minnows of nature (Day 35)

Masters of your own destiny (Day 34)

Your Life campaignHave you ever considered how engineering is perceived in different countries, and whether they face similar challenges on issues like recruitment, skills shortages and diversity?

Recently, I took a very quick ‘online peak’ around the world to look at some of these issues, especially the role of women in engineering.

Continue reading Masters of your own destiny (Day 34)

Everyone should have a human right to water (Day 33)

Water well
Image copyright: Africa924 / Shutterstock.com

In the UK we rarely think about our water supply. It is relatively easy to turn on a tap and have an instant and clean drink of water.

But this is not the case in all parts of the world.

Currently about a quarter of the world’s population do not have clean water to drink, despite the UN designating the last decade (2005-2015) as the international decade for action, ‘Water for Life‘.

When you consider that water is essential to survival it is staggering that around 1.8 billion people still face the daily challenge of contaminated water.

Continue reading Everyone should have a human right to water (Day 33)