Mention the word ‘spinning’ to most people, and they might be transported back to their childhood and fairy tales of princesses in towers. They might think about industrial Britain in the 19th century, and the revolution in textile manufacture. Or they might be reminded of the gym session that they look forward to and dread in equal measure every week.
But for chemical engineers, spinning – of fibres into membranes for separation – can be a doorway to a sustainable future.
Membranes offer several advantages in separation over alternatives such as distillation, sublimation or crystallisation. They permit the use both fractions (the permeate and the retentate) after separation and because no heating is involved, less energy is used.
The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) prediction that over two thirds of the world’s population will face living with severe water shortages by 2050 is daunting.
The combination of population growth, climate change and dwindling resources make this a complex problem.
As someone who lives in the UK, this is something that has not really affected us. There have been summers when the water companies impose bans on using hose pipes to water gardens and wash cars. It makes the news headlines and interrupts daily lives, but a dirty car is nothing compared to the problems experienced elsewhere.
In other areas of the world, water scarcity is a daily reality – it’s not just areas of famine hit Africa, but the Middle East and Singapore too. We will all have to address this challenge, in our homes and in the industries that we work in.