Five chemical engineering research stories from August 2016

To help you stay up-to-date with the latest achievements from the chemical engineering research community here is our monthly installment with some of the latest stories.

Here are five stories of amazing chemical engineering research and innovation:

Lab-on-a-Stick

Microfluidic strips can be used for a range of tests including blood typing and anti-microbial resistance

Photo Credit | University of Reading
Microfluidic strips can be used for a range of tests including blood typing and anti-microbial resistance

A team from Loughborough University and the University of Reading have developed a portable power-free test for the rapid detection of bacterial resistance to antibiotics, or as they call it a ‘Lab-on-a-Stick’.

The test, published in the Lab on a Chip Journal, is an inexpensive microfluidic strip – comprising of tiny test tubes about the size of a human hair – capable of identifying bacteria found in urine samples and checking if they are resistant to common antibiotics. The team say that ‘Lab-on-a-Stick’ is easy to use and cheap to make, and the transparent microcapillary film is suitable for naked eye detection or measurement with portable, inexpensive equipment such as a smartphone camera.

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Turning packing peanuts* to power (Day 329)

Chemical engineers don’t like waste. We are always looking for ways to use and reuse items that would otherwise be discarded (see my blog ‘Ionic fluids pack a punch for biofuels‘).

At a first glance, some products only have one function. For example, the loose-fill packing peanuts that make shipping fragile items easier.

Packing peanuts normally end up in landfill sites where they remain intact for decades and as they’re difficult to breakdown, only around 10 per cent are recycled in the US.

idea batterySo, researchers from Purdue University, US, did some clever thinking and found a way to convert packing peanuts into carbon electrodes that can outperform the conventional graphite electrodes found in lithium ion batteries.

It all started when Professor Vilas Pol, an associate professor of chemical engineering, and his postdoctoral researcher, Vinodkumar Etacheri, were unpacking boxes filled with instruments for Vilas’ new lab. After emptying the boxes, they had great new lab full of instruments and a surplus of packing peanuts.

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Bulletproof batteries (Day 259)

Lithium batteriesLithium ion batteries are used as high density power sources for a range of devices from mobile phones (see my blog ‘The next generation of ultra-fast charging batteries‘) to electric vehicles.

But the use of lithium batteries hasn’t been without some issues. For example, in 2013 Boeing was forced to ground its entire 787 Dreamliner fleet after problems were detected with the lithium ion batteries in the plane’s electrical system.  The batteries reportedly burst into flames under some conditions – not a good state of affairs at 43,000 feet!

This safety issue obviously requires addressing, so researchers at the University of Michigan (U-M), US, have been working to develop an advanced type of barrier between the electrodes in a lithium-ion battery.

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The next generation of ultra-fast charging batteries (Day 171)

Associate professor Chen holding the ultra-fast rechargeable batteries. Image courtesy of Nanyang Technological University

Associate professor Chen holding ultra-fast rechargeable batteries. Image courtesy of Nanyang Technological University

Most of us, at some point in our lives, have been in the situation where our phone batteries have run out of power at the most inconvenient time. And waiting for it to recharge takes longer than expected; it can be one of the most frustrating things in modern day life.

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore) from the School of Materials Science and Engineering have tackled this problem by developing new fast-charging, next generation lithium-ion batteries.

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Add just a pinch of salt for longer battery life (Day 92)

Dead Batteries - Huguette Roe  Shutterstock dot com

‘Dendrites’ are a major cause of declining battery performance. Image courtesy of Huguette Roe | Shutterstock.com

One of the major considerations when making, and buying, modern consumer products is battery life. Cheaper products generally have short battery lives. You’ll pay considerably more for better performance, but even high specification smartphones barely last more than half a day according to a recent test.

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