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.
Smoking, 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.
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.
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.
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.
Since 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?
It’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.
In 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.
Have 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.
I’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.
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.
I 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.
Most 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.
An 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.
I 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.”
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.