Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies

Scientists and engineers working together for a sustainable future

Topic: Prizes & awards

CSCT team wins 'Engineering YES' Bristol Heat


📥  Events, Prizes & awards

This post was contributed by James Coombs OBrien.

“Explain it to me like I’m a clever 12-year-old” was blurted at me as I tried to explain my PhD, and potential business, to a straight faced venture capitalist. “Quite frankly I couldn’t give a monkeys about the technology, sell me the benefits!” he exclaimed during my second attempt. Selling benefits over features was the first of many things I learnt during the Engineering YES 2016 Bristol Heats.

Engineering YES is a competitive three-day course directed at researchers. It aims to help bridge the gap between academic research and a viable business, a journey often christened “the valley of death”.

Our company, Calcaneus (named after the strongest bone in the body…..probably), aimed to solve the worlds persistent microbead issues with the use of biodegradable cellulose beads made via a unique technology.

“Explain it to me like I’m a clever 12-year-old”

“Explain it to me like I’m a clever 12-year-old”

For us, and probably most other researchers from the CSCT, it is easy to sell an idea to someone on sustainability grounds, “this process is more sustainable therefore give us money”. However, we quickly learnt that at best this is the third thing a potential investor is looking for after “how much money will I make and how quickly” and “who are the people I’m investing in”.

Team Calcaneus - From left to right – James Coombs OBrien (Founder and Chief scientist), Tristan Smith (Marketing Director), Kasia Smug (Finance Director) and Jon Chouler (Managing Director).

Team Calcaneus - From left to right – James Coombs OBrien (Founder and Chief scientist), Tristan Smith (Marketing Director), Kasia Smug (Finance Director) and Jon Chouler (Managing Director).

The event was composed of a mixture of seminars, professional networking sessions and one to one mentoring on every aspect business from financial planning to marketing and, crucially for us, intellectual property (IP). The mentoring session were by far the greatest help to our business leading to its development from a manufacturing company to one which, through clever use of IP, licensed out its technology to larger companies. This development required a lot of hard work and many a late night.

11:15 pm is spreadsheet time

11:15 pm is spreadsheet time

However, it all paid off! I’m happy to report that we, Calcaneus, won both the judges and peer review prizes (voted for by the other contestants). It’s a shame that no one told Tristan (see below).

We only went and won the heats!

We only went and won the heats!

The whole experience was eye opening. You quickly get used to the way business minded people think and talk, which is very different from a scientist. For me, a chemist by background, working at the interface of chemistry and chemical engineering who has had no exposure to how a business works, this was an intense and thought provoking experience.

That leaves me to thank all the organisers and mentors that help during the Engineering YES 2016 Bristol heat, in particular Kate Beresford, John Boyes and David Scott. I’d also like to thank the CSCT for funding myself and my team mates to attend this fantastic course. Anyway, back to some more spread sheets for the final in Birmingham, watch this space.

See more info about engineering YES.

CO2 Utilisation Faraday Discussion

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📥  Prizes & awards, Seminars & Conferences

George Gregory went to the Faraday Discussion - Carbon Dioxide Utilisation in Sheffield to present a poster and won the poster prize. Here is George's account on her trip:

A conference with a difference! Held over three days at the University of Sheffield and ran by the RSC, academics who had submitted a manuscript for Faraday Discussion under the umbrella theme of CO2 utilisation were invited to briefly present their work (strictly five minutes) before the floor was opened up for discussion. Lively discussion ensued, everyone attending having received pre-printed copies of all the papers being showcased prior to the event. The whole experience was a real insight into the peer review process with all questions and subsequent answers being published alongside the article.

Evident was the broad range of different research topics that tap into the area of carbon dioxide utilisation. New catalysts and mechanistic insights into catalytic activity for the synthesis of cyclic carbonates and polycarbonates presented by Richard Heyn from SINTEF Materials and Chemistry and Charlotte Williams form Imperial College London were particularly relevant to my research.  Reactive capture of CO2 with Grignard reagents raised in George Dowson’s submission sparked a lot of discussion regarding the underlying sustainability issues to be addressed in CO2 chemistry. This was nicely complemented by Christopher Jones from the Psychology Department of the University of Sheffield reporting his findings on the public perceptions of CO2 utilisation technology. Compared to the work presented on the hydrothermal and electrocatalytic conversion of CO2, plasma-based technologies were a completely new realm for me.

All this was sandwiched between an inspiring opening by Martyn Poliakoff who simplified the aims of CO2 chemistry and complimentary closing by Michael North from the University of York. The answer to rising atmospheric CO2 levels was likened to piglets feeding suggesting that a multitude of different technologies are required.  Like any conference, discussion was broken up by poster sessions and a conference dinner, offering a great chance to network and I certainly received a lot of interest and helpful suggestions regarding my work. Faraday Discussion tradition also dictates that the loving cup ceremony be performed requiring a few words of Latin to be spoken, bowing and drinking port from a silver chalice. I was also honoured to win the £200 poster prize.


George and Antoine celebrating with wine after winning the poster prize.

In conclusion, Faraday Discussions by their very nature offer a great opportunity to learn about, challenge and defend research - definitely worth attending.

George is working towards her PhD on "Cyclic carbonates from sugars and CO2: synthesis, polymerisation and biomedical applications" with Dr Antoine Buchard, Professor Matthew Davidson and Dr Ram Sharma.


Could hydrogen be the answer?


📥  Events, Prizes & awards, Research updates

Second year CSCT student, Jemma Rowlandson, writes about her research topic of materials for hydrogen storage. Jemma recently won the regional finals of the Institution of Engineering and Technology's Present Around the World Competition and won a prize of £300 and a place at the national finals.

One of the greatest challenges faced by our generation is global warming. As global temperatures continue to rise, this will lead to severe and potentially irreversible climate change. The big question is, how do we stop it?

team-hydrogen1Transport accounts for a quarter of domestic carbon dioxide emissions in the UK. Not only this, but vehicles produce particles which lower the air quality and can be harmful. This is why a lot of research in the CSCT and elsewhere focuses on replacing diesel and petrol cars. One potential technology we could use is hydrogen.

Hydrogen is the most lightweight and abundant element in the universe, and it could be the answer to a lot of our problems. Hydrogen is used as rocket fuel, and with good reason; it has a very high energy density, meaning you need to use a lot less of it in comparison to petrol or diesel. Not only this, but hydrogen has the amazing potential to be completely green. This is because you can make hydrogen by splitting water, use that hydrogen to power your car, and out of the exhaust comes only water!

Although this seems like a perfect solution, there are a couple of very big problems associated with hydrogen technology. One of the most critical is that hydrogen is a gas and so very difficult to store, because it takes up a lot space. To store 4 kg of hydrogen at room temperature and atmospheric pressure (enough to get you from Manchester to London) you would need to attach about 600 party balloons full of flammable hydrogen gas to your car. Not a great idea.

So what can we do instead? Well the best way at the moment is to compress the hydrogen into a gas cylinder, at either 350 or 700 times atmospheric pressure. This in turn comes with its own problems. For a start not everyone is entirely comfortable sitting above a highly pressurised flammable hydrogen gas cylinder. The other is that this is actually very expensive! You’ve not only got the energy cost of compressing the gas, but also the cost of the cylinder itself which has to be able to withstand a car crash. If we ever want to see mass market hydrogen cars we need to drop the price of this fuel tank.

There are many different approaches to hydrogen storage; the one focused on at Bath is to use a nanoporous material. There are lots of materials to choose from but they all work in pretty much the same way, using a process called adsorption. Now this is different to absorption, which is the process of taking something in (like a sponge absorbs water). Adsorption by contrast is when something sticks or ‘adsorbs’ onto a surface. For hydrogen storage this means the hydrogen gas molecules stick to the surface of the material, packing closely together and increasing your hydrogen storage capacity. If you put this material inside a gas cylinder you could store the same amount of hydrogen but at a lower pressure, making it both safer and cheaper.


Related Post:
Jemma Rowlandson wins the local round of the IET PATW


Renewable Resources and Biorefineries Conference

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📥  Prizes & awards, Seminars & Conferences

On 3–5 June, CSCT student Sonia Raikova attended the 11th annual conference on Renewable Resources and Biorefineries which was held in the beautiful city of York. Out of 112 participants at the conference, Sonia won the prize for the best poster! The conference was attended by delegates from academia, government and industry, as well as fellow representatives of the CSCT:  Joe Donnelly, Reggie Wirrawan and Dr. Chris Chuck

Over the course of three days, I was able to attend two excellent plenary talks, two keynote lectures, two poster tours, and frantically run around between three parallel sessions to sample as many of the 79 presentations and 17 invited lectures as I could! The talks covered a wide range of topics, from the chemical principles behind the synthesis of useful products from renewable and biological sources to economic assessments of biorefineries and the importance of policy to encourage R&D and commercialisation of renewable feedstocks and technologies, tied together by the idea of moving to an entirely “bio-based economy”. After a first day jam-packed with great talks, we were rewarded for our hard grift by a very ‘Horrible Histories’-esque walking tour of York (with constant reference to the lack of sanitation back in the olden days) and a drinks reception in the gorgeous Guildhall.

The second day was the highlight for me, kicked off by an interesting insight into the process of starting a renewable materials business from Preben Krabben of Green Biologics, followed by sessions on nutrient recovery from pleasant things like swine manure and aeroplane bathroom waste. Great scientific ideas are nothing without an awareness of the economics and politics that can enable them to actually be implemented, so it was fascinating to attend the final session of lectures discussing the importance of policy and standards in the drive towards a bio-based economy. Regular caffeine breaks were also a great opportunity to chat to academics and students from around the world. After the Thursday sessions, we were treated to an absolutely magical dinner surrounded by beautiful steam engines at York’s National Railway Museum – an evening made even more memorable by the shocking revelation that, out of 112 participants, I’d won the prize for the best poster!

Sonia avec poster

Sonia and her winning entry.

Conveniently for me, on the final day there was an entire session on microalgal technology, which I have spent my first MRes project working on, as well as Chris Chuck’s a fantastic lecture on a biorefinery based around oleaginous yeasts. I’ve come out at the end of the three days absolutely exhausted but overall, my first experience attending an international conference has been overwhelmingly positive, and finding out about all the great, proactive work being carried out to try and create a sustainable bio-based economy has left me feeling incredibly hopeful for the future.

Sonia is in her first year of the CSCT, working on her second MRes project titled "Sustainable synthesis of high surface-area, highly porous materials using gas-expanded liquids and supercritical fluids" with Dr Asel Sartbaeva and Ulrich Hintermair.


Birthday talk on solid-state materials in New Zealand

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📥  Prizes & awards, Seminars & Conferences

Our third year CSCT student, Jessica Bristow gave a talk on her research at a conference in New Zealand where she also won a $200 Amazon voucher as a prize. Here is how she got on.

Advanced materials and nanotechnology 7 was a conference held in Nelson, New Zealand from 8 to 12 February 2015. The conference was by far the most enjoyable I have ever attended, not least due to the picturesque location but also the high quality of the talks and poster sessions.

The most memorable day was my birthday, this just happened to fall on the same day as my talk within the solid-state materials session and conference dinner. My talk was 20 minutes long and summarised the progress of my PhD to date. The room was full and the talk was well received – the motivation to do well was strong as Professor Jeff Long, who was chairing the session, had a water pistol that would be used if a talk went over time! The end of the sessions that day meant there was just enough time to enjoy the beach before attending the conference dinner.

There was also an award session at the conference for student talks where I won a $200 Amazon voucher!

Jess and other prize winners at the conference.

Jess (first left) and other prize winners at the conference.

The conference offered a broad range of research areas including traditional binary materials to more recent hybrid perovskites, biological systems, magnetic materials and applications for recent material developments.

In summary, I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to attend AMN-7 and will always look back with fond life changing memories and thank the organizers for the opportunity.

Jess is in cohort '12 of the CSCT and is currently working on her PhD project with Prof Aron Walsh (Chemistry) and Dr Valeska Ting (Chem. Eng.).


ChemEngDay 2015

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📥  Events, Prizes & awards, Seminars & Conferences

Four students from the CSCT: Stephen Bradley, Dominic Ferdani, Richard Maltby and Jon Chouler, recently attended and presented posters at ChemEngDay 2015, hosted by the University of Sheffield for IChemE. The event had over 350 Chemical Engineers from academia and industry. This report is written by 1st year PhD student, Jon Chouler, who also received the first prize for his poster in the Food and Water category.

ChemEngDay 2015 was held in the magnificent Sheffield City Hall, and upon arrival on Wednesday morning at 9 am,  it was clear that the conference would be a good one.  Posters were displayed on subjects ranging from food and water, to innovative materials, and engagement and outreach. Stalls from industrial sponsors were a plenty too, and IChemE also had plenty of interesting displays up.

The day kicked off with introductory talks from Prof Mike Hounslow on the history of Sheffield engineering (interestingly started off from donations by nearby workers nearly 100 years ago), and Prof Geoff Maitland about the importance of Chemical Engineering in our world. An exaltation of our importance was  enabled by an excellent “how we make a difference” through Chemical Engineering competition, where we had to write in few words on how our research makes a difference in the world.

The first plenary lecture of the day was given by Joroen van der Veer, former CEO of Shell, with some very inspiring words on scenario development for driving a business, as well as leadership models for creating change and impact in a company. As well as giving some very interesting insights into the global energy future from a petrochemical company perspective, he also highlighted the importance of young chemical engineers in inspiring the next generation of engineers.

On the afternoon of the first day,  I attended a series of lectures on water and food security. Prof David Butler discussed the impending ‘Perfect Storm’ that approaches us relating to water, food and energy scarcity. He also previewed some very interesting work that looks at addressing this issues by ‘thinking globally, but acting locally’. Jon McGagh presented on water and energy challenges that are prevalent in the mining industries in Australia, and it was hearkening to learn about how serious these challenges are to the planet, as well as the need for excellent engineers to overcome these. Lastly, Constantijn Sanders from Nestlé, discussed his perspectives on sustainable food, which myself being an avid community gardener in Bath, was very fascinating. The key to enabling sustainable food he suggested was in creating stability in access, availability and use of food. His analysis of the nitrogen cycle of growing animals for protein also highlighted that we could all create a big positive impact f we reduced our meat based food consumption. However, I don’t think some are ready to give up the steaks just yet.

With the formal lectures for the day concluded, all the attendees descended upon the beautiful Cutler’s Hall for an excellent dinner, and a chance to talk to fellow Chemical Engineers, as well as to let loose and have a boogie to the Sinatra-esque tones of the Paul Pashly Band. Stephen enjoyed it very much as you can see:

Bright eyed and bushy tailed, we arrived nice and early for the final day of ChemEngDay 2015. I attended a series of lectures on Education and Outreach for engineers, which was run as a very discussion based session with a good amount of dialogue and experience sharing throughout. Jarka Glassey and Eva Sorensen gave fascinating talks on engaging and motivating first year chemical engineers through the use of problem based learning very early on in the course, which indeed sounded like a very effective learning tool for undergraduates. Mark Haw presented his work as part of Really Small Science, an initiative that engages young children through experiments and exhibits to educate and inspire them all about nanotechnology. As someone who really enjoys engaging younger audiences with my research, it was really helpful to hear the experiences of someone who does this very well.

The day progressed with a poster session over drinks (of course), where I got to present my own poster on how Microbial Fuel Cells can be used as water sensors for developing countries, as well as to peruse the excellent amount of research that is going on at various institutes for Chemical Engineering.

Poster session

The day concluded with Philip Wright giving the closing words on the day in the Memorial Hall, and also with prizes for the best posters at the conference. Low and behold, my poster received first prize in the Food and Water category and I received a shiny new iPad mini!

So all in all, an excellent conference with so many fascinating and inspiring talks. I for one will most certainly be attending next year’s ChemEngDay at the University of Bath (and not only because it’ll be very local!).


CSCT team wins Energy YES 2014

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📥  Events, Prizes & awards

On 21-23 May 2014, a team of PhD students from the CSCT took part in Energy YES, a national competition giving students the opportunity to learn about business and entrepreneurship through mentoring, workshops and pitching a business idea to a panel of "Dragons Den" style judges. PhD student Emily Hayward brings us this description of how she and the rest of Team CSCT won the top prize.

Stephen Wood, Heather Parker, Jon Wagner, Will Mahy and myself took part in the Energy YES (Young Entrepreneurs Scheme) competition based at Alstom’s site in Rugby. The event lasted 3 days and over this time we had the opportunity to meet students from other energy related DTCs, hear from entrepreneurs about their experience setting up an SME (small and medium enterprises) and receive mentoring from a range of business experts.

Before the event we researched areas of technology where there is a gap in the market but research to fill it is still ongoing. After looking at a number of different options we decided we would look at composite materials to make lightweight shipping containers allowing a huge reduction in fuel requirements. We got the idea from the sustainable development course we did during the MRes year and looked at plausible technologies which could be used for this.

While at the event we conducted more in depth research business plan, with the help of various mentors and came up with our company “Absol Composites” based on this. There were a lot of things we had to consider, including the scientific theory of our design, financing, marketing strategies, risk analysis and IP. Each of the presenters and mentors were very helpful and we were able to gain an insight as to how to be successful, as well as hearing of businesses which have struggled to go from the R&D to full scale production. Over the 3 days our idea began to take shape with issues we needed to consider being highlighted to us.

The competition was tough with other groups presenting very strong ideas and business cases, therefore it was a real surprise to win! It was really interesting to hear the ideas other groups had and see how they had taken on board the training we were given. Along with winning a very nice trophy, we now have the opportunity to compete in the Engineering YES final in mid-June.

Farnborough air show trip

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📥  Prizes & awards

Jess in the cockpit of an Airbus A400M

Jess in the cockpit of an Airbus A400M

As recently mentioned on the CSCT news, DTC students Jessica Sharpe and Rhodri Jenkins won a trip to Farnborough Airshow as special guests of CSCT partner EADS.

Here's a short report on the experience from Jess:

On the 13th July, I attended Farnborough International Airshow as a guest of EADS after winning a poster competition. The morning was spent wandering around the various stalls and exhibitions, my favourite of which were a remote controlled robotic arm designed for use in space, an unmanned aerial vehicle display, and a talk from Paolo Nespoli, an astronaut who had travelled into space abroad the Space Shuttle Discovery.

From there I went to the EADS hospitality area, where I was provided with a fantastic lunch alongside members of the EADS Innovation Works UK. Following this, we got taken on private tours of the EADS aircraft, the Vulcan and the new A400M, and then were taken into the press
area where we could sit on the balcony and watch the flying displays. All in all it was a very successful day which I enjoyed greatly.