Five chemical engineering research stories from September 2016

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

September’s five stories of amazing chemical engineering research and innovation are:

The Popeye effect – powered by spinach

spinachPopeye was right; we can be powered by spinach! Researchers from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have developed a bio-photo-electro-chemical (BPEC) cell that produces electricity and hydrogen from water using sunlight, using a simple membrane extract from spinach leaves. The article, publish in the journal Nature Communications, demonstrates the unique combination of a man-made BPEC cell and plant membranes, which absorb sunlight and convert it into a flow of electrons highly efficiently. The team hope that this paves the way for the development of new technologies for the creation of clean fuels from renewable sources. The raw material of the device is water, and its products are electric current, hydrogen and oxygen.

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Improving battery design by blowing them up (Day 344)

Lithium ion batteries are used in a wide range of applications and technologies. As it happens; if you are reading my blog on a smartphone, laptop or tablet, you are probably holding one right now.  From mobile phones to electric cars, Li-ion batteries are all around us, but how do we make sure they are safe?

As I have remarked previously in my blog ‘Bulletproof batteries‘, there are significant safety issues associated with Li-ion batteries. In 2013, a problem with overheating batteries forced airlines to ground their Boeing 787 ‘Dreamliner’ aircraft, after reports of batteries bursting into flames.

An exploding lithium ion battery Photo Credit | Donal Finegan, UCL

An exploding lithium ion battery
Photo Credit | Donal Finegan, UCL

The use of Li-ion batteries is becoming more wide-spread. So we need to gain a better understanding of the hazards and risks associated with their use.

That’s why a research group led by chemical engineers from University College London (UCL) UK, with the European Synchrotron (ESRF), Imperial College London and the National Physical Laboratory, have been working to figure out what happens to Li-ion batteries when they overheat and explode.

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The Complexities of Carbon Capture and Storage (Day 238)

CO2One of the things I love most about chemical engineering is the fact that it encourages us to consider all the possibilities.

Some of the best work being done in carbon capture and storage (CCS) is helping us to question whether the assumptions we make are correct.

Research from the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology at the University of Cambridge suggests that natural geochemical reactions can delay or even prevent the spreading of carbon dioxide (CO2) in subsurface aquifers.

This implies the carbon storage in the underground reservoirs of the Earth may be more complex than originally thought.

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Perseverance brings breakthrough in catalytic converters (Day 132)

A team of chemical engineering researchers have discovered a breakthrough in catalytic converter research through perseverance. This research will help manufactures of cars reduce the need for the use of expensive platinum in catalytic converters.

Eric Peterson, Andrew DeLaRiva and Abhaya Datye in the lab Photo credit | University of New Mexico

Eric Peterson, Andrew DeLaRiva and Abhaya Datye in the lab
Photo credit | University of New Mexico

Eric Peterson, a graduate student in Nanoscience and Microsystems Engineering at the University of New Mexico, began this discovery when he refused to accept that the measurements he recorded using x-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) were incorrect.

In order to find a solution, Eric collaborated with a wide group of researchers from the University of New Mexico, US, Fuzhou University, China, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, US, New Mexico State University, US, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, US and Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology, Korea, to help explain and resolve what was happening.

Professor of chemical and biological engineering, Abhaya Datye, worked with Eric on this project to improve our ability to measure the sizes of nanoparticles, focusing on those smaller than one nanometre (one billionth of a metre).

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