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)

Mixing it with the politicians (Day 32)

Links day
Nerea Cuadra, Process Engineer, Tate and Lyle, meets her local MP, Jim Fitzpatrick MP in the House of commons

If you are familiar with political life in the UK, you’ll know that when the House of Commons is sitting, you are allowed access to the central lobby and can request to see your local Member of Parliament (MP).

They may not always be there, but it can be quite an effective way to lobby UK politicians and is one of the benefits of living in a democracy.

Continue reading Mixing it with the politicians (Day 32)

No waste for music lovers (Day 31)

Rock musicSince 1970 music lovers have descended on a small village called Pilton near Glastonbury in the South West of England to enjoy one of the world’s best music festivals. This year’s festival is already underway with around 200,000 people attending the sell-out event.

For the organisers it’s an immense logistical undertaking, especially the volume of waste created over the five day festival. And one type of waste is particularly challenging – toilet waste.

The festival has around 5,000 toilets onsite, but I wonder how many people, sitting, listening to the music, realise that chemical engineering – albeit in very basic form – is helping to control odours and eventually recycle their human waste into compost?

Continue reading No waste for music lovers (Day 31)

Great friends in great places (Day 18)

Honorary Fellowship -MalaysiaIt’s generally well-known that relationships and how we work with our partners and stakeholders is important in the modern business world. Indeed, many organisations in the chemical and process industries have large PR machines and lobbies to represent their interests.

Of course, at IChemE, we do the same, but in a much smaller way. And as president of the Institution of Chemical Engineers it is my pleasure and privilege to represent the profession and meet a great range of people nearly every day.

Continue reading Great friends in great places (Day 18)

Youthful role models (Day 17)

VolunteerIn the UK, we’ve just celebrated National Volunteers Week. It’s an annual celebration of the effort and dedication of millions of people who provide their time and expertise to help others and a whole host of causes.

It’s also a chance for organisations like IChemE to simply say ‘thank you’ to the thousands of chemical engineers that have, and are continuing to help advance chemical engineering worldwide.

I think engineers and voluntary work are natural partners. And when those volunteers are young engineers special things can happen.

Continue reading Youthful role models (Day 17)

Behind every great sportsperson is a chemical engineer (Day 16)

FootballHave you ever considered how much technology contributes to sporting success? Is it possible to succeed without the latest piece of kit to boost your talent? Are there any sports which don’t benefit from technology in some shape or form? Probably not.

I remember a few years ago that Speedo’s swimsuits were banned for the London 2012 Olympics. The polyurethane bodysuits that contributed to an astonishing number of swimming world records over the previous 18 months.

Continue reading Behind every great sportsperson is a chemical engineer (Day 16)

Poems and posters (Day 15)

Catalytic PoemI’m not too sure how many scientists collaborate with poets, but that’s just what’s happened in Sheffield, UK.

Simon Armitage, Professor of Poetry at the University, and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Science Professor Tony Ryan, have created a catalytic poem (I think we can safely say this is a world’s first… but you never know).

So what is a catalytic poem? Well, between the pair of them, they’ve produced a huge poster of the poem called ‘In Praise of Air’. The poster material contains a formula invented at the University of Sheffield which is capable of purifying its surroundings.

Continue reading Poems and posters (Day 15)

Energy from toilet water (Day 14)

Toilet FlushThere 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.

Continue reading Energy from toilet water (Day 14)

It’s good to talk – join my Webinar (Day 13)

WebinarOn 19 June I’ll be hosting two Webinars to present my presidential address for those of you that were not able to attend the Annual General Meeting on 28 May.

It’s a great chance to find out more about me, my presidential themes and to ask questions.

It would also be great to hear your feedback about my blog, and your suggestions for great chemical engineering stories we can feature later in the year.

If you are based in New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia you may prefer to join this webinar (09:00-10:00 BST).

If you are in the UK and Europe and further West you may find this webinar time more convenient (15:00-16:00 BST).

I hope you’ll be able to join me.

Looking into the crystal ball (Day 13)

Electric carAs 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.

Continue reading Looking into the crystal ball (Day 13)

Mini biodiesel reactor takes to the road (Day 12)

UTM Mini Biodiesel Reactor
UTM Mini Biodiesel Reactor

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.

Continue reading Mini biodiesel reactor takes to the road (Day 12)

What made you become a chemical engineer? (Day 11)

PotteryI was born in Stoke-on-Trent in the 1940s where my father worked for Podmore and Sons, which made and processed raw materials like clays and glazes for the pottery industry.

My father’s connection to Podmore and Sons opened a door to some summer vacation work and it became my first exposure to both industrial chemistry and engineering. The rest is history.

Today, many people are undoubtedly attracted by the excellent pay, travel and simple job satisfaction from working in some of the fascinating and important industries which form the building blocks of the modern world.

Continue reading What made you become a chemical engineer? (Day 11)

A roll of honour (Day 10)

medalsOne of my first privileges as president is to present medals to some outstanding people at IChemE’s Annual General Meeting (AGM).

The Institution has been awarding medals since 1928 when the Osborne Reynolds medal (now known as the Arnold Greene medal) was presented to former IChemE president Sir Alexander Gibb.

In 2013, over 20 individuals and organisations were honoured for their achievements and exceptional work across all aspects of chemical, process and biochemical engineering.

Continue reading A roll of honour (Day 10)

D-Day: a day chemical engineers should remember (Day 9)

Penicillin PioneersMost of my blog entries are about celebrating the achievements of chemical engineers now. But 6 June 2014 marks the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, when British, US and Canadian forces invaded the coast of Northern France in Normandy.  It was the biggest amphibious assault in military history.

It was also a point in history when chemical engineers made a major contribution, which could easily be forgotten, that we should remember with pride.

The landings were the first stage of Operation Overlord – the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe – and were intended to bring World War Two to an end.

Continue reading D-Day: a day chemical engineers should remember (Day 9)

Stirring stuff (Day 9)

CellsAn international collaboration of researchers in Germany, Netherlands and the US have used chemical engineering principles to track single molecules inside living cells with carbon nanotubes.

Chemical engineers from Rice University and biophysicists from Georg-August Universität Göttingen and VU University Amsterdam found that cells stir their interiors using the same motor proteins that serve in muscle contraction. The study, which sheds new light on biological transport mechanisms in cells, was published in Science.

Continue reading Stirring stuff (Day 9)

Elephants in the room? (Day 8)

Elephant in the roomI had an interesting message from IChemE member and MediaEnvoy Keith Plumb overnight.

It covers a sensitive and sometimes controversial issue – the growth of human population – but he also points out the power of individuals to make a difference.

Using Keith’s words he says: “The elephant in the room with respect to climate change is the growth of the human population. I used to think that chemical engineers could do little until I read an article about a man in India who developed a simple machine for making sanitary towels.”

Continue reading Elephants in the room? (Day 8)

A Tyred old problem (Day 8)

TyresSome 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.

Continue reading A Tyred old problem (Day 8)

Stronger 3D printing (Day 7)

3D letter ball3D printing has made mainstream news in recent years and there are regular reports of fascinating products being produced by this quickly developing technology.

Last week there was a story about researchers at the University Medical Centre Utrecht experimenting using stem cells in 3D bio-printing. The result could be 3D printed body parts.

The materials used in 3D printing are important to the whole process.

Continue reading Stronger 3D printing (Day 7)

Three cheers for our new Fellows (Day 6)

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.

Continue reading Three cheers for our new Fellows (Day 6)

Flixborough remembered (Day 5)

Forty years ago, today, the explosion at the Flixborough Nypro Chemicals site near Scunthorpe, UK, killed 28 people and injured 36 others.

Flixborough - taken from HSE websiteIt 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.

Continue reading Flixborough remembered (Day 5)

It’s all about talent management (Day 4)

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.

Continue reading It’s all about talent management (Day 4)

Magnets and wine (Day 3)

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.

Sparkling wine - sliderBut 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.

Continue reading Magnets and wine (Day 3)

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.

Continue reading Fuel from barren land? (Day 2)

IChemE Award winners… win again (Day 2)

IChemE Global AwardsAfter 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.

Continue reading IChemE Award winners… win again (Day 2)

Graphene revolution for chemical engineering (Day 1)

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

Image

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.

Continue reading Graphene revolution for chemical engineering (Day 1)