Climate Panic: How Can We Create Greater Sustainability In Chemical Engineering?

Sustainability is of utmost importance for most sectors of industry are we head into 2019 and the Paris Climate Agreement figure looms over our heads. Ensuring our global temperature does not increase by more than 1.5 degrees is enough to try to limit some of the damage, so businesses will need to take a look at how they operate in their field in order to improve their sustainability status. Some industries are more culpable than others, and yet some are doing far more to prove their ecological aptitude than they are given credit for.

The chemical engineering industry is already making headway with its environmental targets in order to achieve sustainability. But what else can be done?

Sustainability Through Fuel Sources

Sustainable fuel sources dominate the conversation when it comes to improving our outlook. Virgin Atlantic recently showed their commitment, with the first recorded flight in aviation history to use fuel made from waste. The biofuel flight, aided by LanzaTech, shows a push by one of engineering’s giants, Virgin, to look at ways in which they can rely less on fossil fuels. The push will also aid UK business as the jet biofuel plant is looking to set up in the UK as it looks to cut carbon emissions from flights.

At the same time, Cranfield University is working to use plastic bags to make fuel for our cars. The research team, partnering with WestAfricaENRG and Syngas Products will look at the plastics that can’t be recycled, but could be used in a town-scale pyrolysis plant in order to become fuel suitable for motor vehicles. Finding ways of creating more sustainable sources of fuel is a huge challenge in the industry and anyone who makes headway will likely be lauded by their peers. This will also help drive healthy competition between competing companies. Increasing ways in which more sustainable and less pollutant sources of fuel can be generated will increase the sustainability in this aspect.

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Sustainability Through Recycling Processes

Recycling in general is a huge aspect of the chemical engineering process. Not only can the equilibrium reaction conversion be increased, but catalysts and reagents can be recovered to be reused in the process again. Yet, the functions of the industrial processes themselves are also open to reducing waste by reusing materials.

A lot of industrial equipment can be sourced pre-used yet still fully workable with years left of functioning properly. By ensuring every single part is given a new lease of life, the waste from the industry can be reduced and the recycling processes can be further streamlined. For example, Centrimax offers used centrifuges, which still act to dehumidify solids, clear fluids and separate fluids of different densities. Moreover, an Aberdeen company, Wood Plc has won a contract with a Saudi crude oil company to help develop a crude oil to chemicals complex, which looks to recycle byproducts and enhance the output of chemical processes. Recycling can also encompass making processes more efficient and therefore using less energy.

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Sustainability Through Pollution Reduction

Transboundary pollution is a huge problem that chemical engineers are facing, and one which impacts their development of sustainability programmes. The Royal Academy of Engineering and Royal Society reported that a greenhouse gas removal could work to offset greenhouse gas damage and reduce the figure to zero by 2050. This would entail the UK offsetting 130 megatonnes of CO2 emissions by 2050, which is a 3% decline per year. Greenhouse gas removal would not be a replacement for reducing emissions but would instead work to help curb some of the damage.

Reducing pollution and attempting to claw back some of the harmful gases that have already been released into the ether could work towards achieving sustainability in chemical engineering. By working to bring sustainability through chemical engineering to create products and processes that limit their damage to the environment, the byproduct of pollution will be brought down. Mitigating against transboundary pollution across the industry still needs to come to fruition, but the steps taken already show that many players in the sector actively address the issue of reducing pollution in the chemical engineering sector.

The chemical engineering industry is arguably at a disadvantage compared to other similar industries as it is traditionally linked to un-sustainability. However, in practice, chemical engineering does create processes and ways in which sustainability can be increased and champions almost all of the advances in improving the environmental nature of how things have previously been done.

While no sector is fully green, and there are still ways to go, the evidence shows that the chemical engineering industry is still forging forward with its plans to improve sustainability. Healthy competition in the sector is rife, so the more one company does to forge ahead, the more their competitors will attempt to best them, creating a greater push for sustainability.

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