Guest Blog: How have chemical engineers advanced wastewater management? #WorldWaterDay

How have chemical engineers advanced wastewater management? #WorldWaterDay

It’s World Water Day and to celebrate Chris Short, Chair of our Water Special Interest Group has given his thoughts on this year’s theme – ‘Wastewater’.  We have members working all over the world in this area, as well as researchers looking at new and innovative ways to treat wastewater to help benefit society.

Check out Chris’ thoughts below, and don’t forget to comment with your own views on the subject.

Name: Chris Short
Job: Consultant and Chartered Chemical Engineer
Company: Chris Short Water Quality (previously Yorkshire Water)
Special Interest Group: Water, Chair

I’m not going to claim that chemical engineers were behind all the advances in wastewater management in the past century, greatly improving public health and the environment within industrialised countries.

However, chemical engineers have been increasingly involved in wastewater treatment over the last 100 years.

Whether applied to industrial processes, human, or animal wastes, their skills are ideally suited to add value in this area.

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Sheffield students win Caribbean field trip (Day 298)

BP logo - BP Hummingbird...BP has been asking STEM undergraduate students across the UK to compete in their annual Ultimate Field Trip competition Since 2010. Teams of three students are asked to propose a solution to real-world global energy challenges.

This year’s challenge was based on water – How to address the effective, efficient and sustainable use of wastewater from the production of oil, gas and biofuels.

Students were tasked with developing a novel technical solution to reduce water usage or find an effective use for water produced from operations.

trinidad and tobagoIt’s hats off to the team from the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Sheffield, UK, who ran-away with the 2015 prize – a two week field trip to visit BP operations in Trinidad and Tobago.

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Producing clean energy from wastewater treatment (Day 278)

One of the major challenges we face today is reducing our energy and water consumption whilst maintaining necessary levels of production.

Part of this challenge requires a change in the way we think about these resources. It’s a mistake to consider energy and water in isolation. We need to make sure everyone is looking at the bigger picture.

recycle water symbolIt’s their ability to think holistically and consider the big picture that makes chemical engineers so useful.

Chemical engineering is a  broad church and I feel that the reason why the discipline can be applied in so many different settings is our ability to think about systems as a whole – not just focusing on the end goal.

This type of thinking, systems engineering, is key to the advancement of the ‘nexus approach’ (which I have discussed before; ‘Water versus energy – which is more precious?’ and ‘Food for thought on the water-energy-food nexus’) and helping us think of water, energy and food as interlinked.

Today’s story caught my eye because it’s a good example of forward-thinking by chemical engineers. Researchers from the Bioelectrochemistry group at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (UAB) Department of Chemical Engineering, have been working to produce, rather than consume, energy during waste water processing.

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Energy from toilet water (Day 14)

Toilet FlushThere is potential in most things, even the waste that disappears down the toilet bowl.

But along with the waste, there’s the water we use to flush it away. Before water arrives in the toilet bowl it takes energy to process it. And once it disappears down the drains it takes more energy to re-process again. It’s something we pay for as part of our everyday utility bills.

Turning the potential of toilet water into a source of renewable energy, and a way to reduce bills, sounds like a good idea to me.

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