3D printing a space rocket (Day 338)

Regular readers of my blog will know that I have shared many chemical engineering good news stories about space: the final frontier.

From chemical engineers who also happen to be astronauts (see my blog ‘A path to the stars‘) to chemical engineers developing technology to power a lunar space mission with poo, and even chemical engineers who have created a template for extra-terrestrial life. It’s clear to see that chemical engineering is not limited to just planet Earth.

space rocket3D printing has also featured substantially throughout #ChemEng365. Whilst not synonymous with the chemical and process industries, I have still shared chemical engineering stories on ‘Deep sea printers‘, ‘The affordable kidney‘ and ‘Breakthrough in 3D printing inspired by the Terminator‘.

So you can imagine my delight when I happened across a piece of news that combined space exploration and 3D printing. Researchers at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio, US, have successfully printed a space rocket engine part that can function at both extremely high and low temperatures.

Continue reading 3D printing a space rocket (Day 338)

Human waste could power a lunar space mission (Day 227)

You may remember that I made a few suggestions in my festive blog, ‘Can chemical engineers save Santa?’. One of my suggestions was to process the reindeer’s poo in order to produce biogas for fuel to help Santa travel around the globe to deliver presents.

Moon and earthBut processing waste to biogas for fuel may not be limited to just our planet. Researchers at the University of Florida have been working towards the design of an anaerobic digester that can be used on the moon to power a rocket – this rocket would return astronauts back to earth.

NASA is planning to construct a lunar station over a period of five years between 2019 and 2024 with four crew members. So Pratap C. Pullammandappallil, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering at the University of Florida and author of the study, has conducted research into optimising technologies for waste digestion.

Continue reading Human waste could power a lunar space mission (Day 227)

Going the extra litre (Day 182)

In today’s blog we are heading towards Puerto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico, which is a small town with a population of around 5,000 people located just south of the US border near Columbus, New Mexico.

It’s a part of the world that has an average annual rainfall in the region of 361 mm (14.21 inches). In comparison, parts of the UK has more than ten times this level (4,577 mm or 180.2 inches).

Aquifer wellWater supplies for North and South of the border are drawn from the same aquifers, some of which are contaminated with arsenic and fluoride.

On the US side, the water is treated using a reverse osmosis system to provide all residents with clean water.

On the Mexican side, the water supply is only disinfected with chlorine. The levels of arsenic and fluoride contaminating the water supply is toxic to the people who drink it over a long period of time.

Continue reading Going the extra litre (Day 182)

A path to the stars (Day 134)

On Day 100 of my presidency, I mused about possible future careers of chemical engineers. It won’t come as a surprise to learn that engineering in space – whether as a space fuel processor or galactic engineer – featured in my top ten list.

But you’ll be pleased to know that chemical engineers have already been travelling into space for decades.

When you ask a small child what they want to be when they grow up, more often than not, you will hear them say: “I want to be an astronaut and go into space”. And yet, little is known about how you become an astronaut and career paths that can lead to space travel.

One such path that can lead to the stars is chemical engineering.

As they say, the proof is in the pudding, so I’ve compiled a list of individuals who started their career in chemical engineering, and then went on to become astronauts:

Continue reading A path to the stars (Day 134)

Using aerosols to understand our cloud atlas (Day 86)

When most people think of aerosols they think of spray cans.

Coverage by the media in the 1980s and 1990s of aerosols damaging the ozone layer drove this thinking. However, it is just one type of aerosol or “atmospheric particulate”, cholorofluorocarbons (CFCs), that was causing this damage.

Countries are now phasing out the use of CFCs in line with international protocols.

Aerosols are actually just small particles found in the air that can be produced when we burn different types of fossil fuels.

Low-level clouds along the California coast
Low-level clouds along the California coast are visible in this July 26, 2014 image from the NOAA/NASA Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-15 satellite. Credit: NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center, data from NOAA GOES

Studying aerosols could help us better understand the Earth’s changing climate.

Continue reading Using aerosols to understand our cloud atlas (Day 86)

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)