Guest Blog: Does oil have a future?

UCL Ramsay Society Panel

UCL Ramsay Society Panel L-R: Jama Salimov (moderator), Paul Ekins, Abhishek Goswami, Myrian Schenk and John Kemp

The UCL Ramsay Society held its Annual Debate on the Friday 4 March. The topic – ‘Does oil have a future?‘ – explored areas such as energy policies, emissions, sustainability and the cyclic nature of the oil and gas industry.

The panel members were; Professor Paul Ekins , Dr Myrian Schenk, Abhishek Goswami and John Kemp.The event ended with a Q & A session with members of the audience.

IChemE member Matthew Howard was there to report on the debate. Here are his thoughts:


Matthew HowardName: Matthew Howard
Job: Process Engineer
Course: Chemical Engineering (MEng), University of Cambridge
Graduated: 2011
Special Interest Group: Oil and Natural Gas SIG Webcast & Education Officer

Quote startIt quickly became clear that this year’s UCL Ramsay Society Debate “Does Oil Have a Future” was somewhat of a forgone conclusion; its title mirroring alarmist traditions of media headlines which you could imagine exclaiming “Oil is Dead”.

While this would be great news for atmospheric CO2 concentrations, there was agreement between the speakers that yes, oil does have a future. But the question remains, for how long?

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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 accidental biochemical engineer (Day 260)

As you can guess from the title of this blog, this entry isn’t about me. Today’s guest blog is by a fellow panellist at last year’s Chemical Engineers and the Media event, Dr. Tarit Mukhopadhyay, a lecturer at the department of biochemical engineering at University College London (UCL).

So enough from me, I’ll let Tarit explain his route into the world of biochemical engineering.

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TaritName: Dr. Tarit Mukhopadhyay
Job: Lecturer
Course: MEng, biochemical engineering, University College London
Graduated: 2002
Employer: Department of Biochemical Engineering, UCL

 

I didQuote startn’t originally plan on becoming a biochemical engineer. The main bulk of my applications through UCAS were to study medicine – my dad was a GP and perhaps it was an expected route for me to take.

But one of my applications was to study biochemical engineering and to be honest, at that time, I didn’t really know what it was. I chose biochemical over chemical engineering because I was more interested in the pharmaceutical aspect of the discipline.

At my UCAS interview, I felt as if I was being recruited. I don’t recall being asked a lot of questions, but instead being drawn into a world of ‘what if’. What if experimental procedures such as gene therapy or biofuels were successful? And how could I, as a biochemical engineer, be part of the solution?

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Model maths (Day 231)

PharmaceuticalsSeparations in manufacturing can be challenging and energy intensive. For many products, careful removal of impurities is essential to the formulation of the end product – particularly areas such as pharmaceuticals.

With the growth in biochemical engineering and biopharmaceuticals, the challenge of bio separation is also being more widely addressed. In some mixtures, there are the issues of multi-component separations.

Biopharmaceuticals include proteins and other large molecules which may require complex chromatographic separations. Purification of biopharmaceuticals can account for 50-80% of the total cost of production and is often considered the bottleneck in the process.

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A precious catalyst (Day 210)

GoldMany people won’t look beyond jewelry and coinage for the most important usage of precious metals, but chemical engineers know that precious metals like gold, silver, platinum, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium, iridium and osmium have many more valuable uses.

Solar and other fuel cells, batteries, electronics, drugs, after shaves, bandages and even traditional photography have some reliance on precious metals.

Of particular interest to chemical engineers are their uses as chemical catalysts. But, being precious, chemical reactions that require large volumes of the metals are naturally going to be expensive and unsustainable.

One of the solutions is to use computational modeling below the nanoscale level to design more efficient and affordable catalysts from gold. And a transatlantic alliance of three universities have collaborated to achieve just that.

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The drugs of tomorrow (Day 188)

Old pharmacyIf being able to remember the ‘unusual’ names of medicines is an indicator of their impact on society, then drugs like penicillin, insulin, ether, aspirin and morphine achieve top marks.

But these medicines are mature and relatively old in drug-years. So what about the next generation and where are the innovations likely to come from?

According to professor Nigel Titchener-Hooker, the next decade will see biologically derived therapies – or ‘biologics’ – dominate the treatment landscape.

In 2013, eight of the top ten selling drugs worldwide were biologics products manufactured in a living system such as a microorganism, plant or animal cell.

Most biologics – including the top sellers, Humira, Enbrel and Remicade – are very large, complex molecules produced using recombinant DNA technology.

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The Zebrafish solution (Day 133)

ZebrafishIf you’ve ever had a tropical aquarium there’s a good chance you’ll have owned and been delighted by the vibrant colours of a darting Zebrafish.

What you may not know is that the Zebrafish has become a firm favourite of the research community. One reason for this is that Zebrafish embryos are completely transparent making them ideally suited for studying developmental processes as they occur.

As a general introduction to why Zebrafish are so attractive to the science community, take a look at this YouTube video produced by University College London (UCL).

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