Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies

Scientists and engineers working together for a sustainable future

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.

 

European Materials Research Society 2015 Spring Meeting

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

Three CSCT students, Adam Jackson, Suzy Wallace and Oliver Weber, attended and gave talks at the 2015 European Energy Materials Research Society (E-MRS) Spring Meeting. Suzy writes about her experience:

CSCT student Suzy Wallace (left) and University of Bath student Ruoxi Yang (right) at the conference venue.

CSCT student Suzy Wallace (left) and University of Bath student Ruoxi Yang (right) at the conference venue.

The conference was held in Lille (France) from 11 - 15 May. The meeting included international workshops such as the UK-Korea workshop and 32 parallel symposia on key topics for the synthesis and characterisation of nanostructured, functional and advanced materials for energy applications, such as water treatment and splitting, photovoltaic and nuclear power generation. There was a particularly strong presence from the University of Bath at the conference in symposium D (Earth abundant and emerging solar energy conversion materials) with three talks from CSCT students, another from a PhD student at Bath (Ruoxi Yang) and an invited talk from Professor Aron Walsh from the CSCT.

I was fortunate enough to be speaking on the first day of the conference so was able to get my nerves out of the way nice and early! It was incredibly motivating to hear so many talks about the particular earth-abundant PV material I’ve just begun to study this year for my MRes project by academics from various other institutions all over Europe. Discussions with other researchers in the field after giving my talk were also great for sparking new ideas for further studies. Hearing fellow students from Bath talk about their work on different materials was also very interesting. My personal favourite nugget of knowledge here was that the Chinese translation of 'antimony' (Sb), from the PV material Ruoxi’s been studying (antimony sulphide), is 'idiot'. As well as gaining knowledge on my specific area of research during the conference, I was also introduced to some other seemingly weird and wonderful areas of research, such as studies involving skyrmions. Although they sound like evil alien invaders, it turned out that skyrmions are quasi-particles that are important in devices made from nanoscale magnetic materials.

There were poster sessions for each symposium most evenings apart from Wednesday evening. I particularly enjoyed the poster sessions (in addition to the wine, cheese, bread and various other very French treats); the sessions were a great opportunity to ask all the questions you’d rather not ask in front of a room full of people during the talk sessions. In my case, as a theorist, I seize the opportunity to badger experimental scientists to get a better understanding of their techniques. Wednesday evening was the big event with the plenary session followed by dancing. The plenary session was attended by everyone at the conference with invited talks from four academics including Professor Aron Walsh from the CSCT who spoke to the huge audience about the hot topic in the PV world - perovskites - with his talk entitled ‘Why hybrid halide perovskites keep me awake at night’ and received the EU-40 Materials Prize in recognition of outstanding contributions to materials research by a scientist under 40 years of age. This was definitely a very proud moment for the whole research group with Aron on the big stage!

Suzy is in her first year of the CSCT, working on Metastability and Octahedral Tilting in Halide Perovskites with Professor Chris Bowen and Professor Aron Walsh

 

MOFs with Curtin University in Australia

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📥  Internships & visits

Our third year CSCT student Jessica Bristow undertook a six week internship at Curtin University in Perth, Australia. Here’s what she had to say about her experience:

Developing computational methods to resolve structural and materials properties of MOFs (Metal-Organic Frameworks) is not an easy task! The primary focus of my PhD is to develop a transferable forcefield to model MOFs. A forcefield is a cheap and powerful method to accurately resolve mechanical materials properties if they are parameterised correctly.

Professor Julian Gale at Curtin University (Perth, Australia) is the developer of a forcefield program that I use called GULP (General Utility Lattice Program) and an expert in many computational methods. As a named international supervisor of my PhD project the opportunity arose for me to gain experience and knowledge in his research group. This was an incredible opportunity that could not be refused!

The work conducted at Curtin focused on improving work already done at Bath. Most importantly, was to transfer our current forcefield into GULP and increase the transferability of our approach for the analysis of the properties of MOFs. Thanks to the support of Professor Gale and the kindness of all the staff in the department the entire 6 weeks at Curtin were not only productive but also amazing fun!
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The outcomes of the 6 weeks at Curtin are numerous and work conducted there has initiated many projects now I am back at Bath. Whilst in Australia I also travelled both around Perth and in New Zealand and taking a well-deserved holiday! Locations travelled include the outback to see limestone formations in Perth, Rottnest island; an island with 65 beaches just off the coast of Perth and the entire of the north island of New Zealand. I miss everything about the other side of the world including all of the people I have met on my travels – I can only promise that I will be back!
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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 (Chemical Engineering).

 

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.).

 

Biomaterials with University of São Paulo in Brazil

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📥  Internships & visits

Our third year CSCT student Marcus Johns undertook a three month internship at University of São Paulo, one of our partners in Brazil. Here’s what he had to say about his experience:

Improving the bio-functionality of cellulose in order to use it as a scaffold for human tissue growth is a challenge. Enough of a challenge that it’s the primary focus of my PhD. So far I’ve been developing materials based on blends of cellulose and chitosan – which is bio-functional but lacks tensile strength – and have had mixed success with them, so any opportunity to try an alternative method was more than welcome.

DSCF1622Fortunately one arose via our Global Innovation Initiative project “Transatlantic discovery, characterisation and application of enzymes for the recycling of polymers and composites”; a current collaboration between the University of Bath; the University of São Paulo, and Ohio State University. Researchers under Professor Igor Polikarpov at USP had reported that they had managed to isolate the section of protein that was responsible for allowing a particular enzyme to attach to cellulose, and had modified it to allow other chemicals to be cross-linked to it. If a bio-functional chemical – such as a peptide – could be cross-linked to this protein, it would potentially be possible to improve the bio-functionality of my cellulose scaffolds once the compound had been adsorbed onto their surface. My three month internship was then organised.

Going to a country where you don’t speak the language – and didn’t learn one with a similar root at school – can be daunting, particularly when you don’t start learning the language till a month before you go. From experience, I strongly recommend learning at least a series of basic sentences before anyone attempts this as it saves many minutes of confused looks and expansive hand-gestures used to be understood. My second piece of advice is to never underestimate the size of a country – the University of São Paulo has a number of campuses and the one that I was to work at was located in São Carlos, a three and half hour drive from São Paulo. Many of my friends were expecting me to spend a fair amount of time on a beach, unfortunately this wasn’t realised as the nearest beach was five hours away by car.

However, I managed to overcome these issues and spent a productive three months in Brazil. The facilities in the laboratory were very impressive – six HPLCs for a lab of less than twenty students with three dedicated support staff – and it was clear that São Paulo state’s commitment of 13 % of its GDP to higher education and research and development was being well spent. I also was able to visit the National Centre for Research in Energy and Materials in Campinas for a week, with time spent at the Brazilian Nanotechnology National Laboratory using their scanning electron microscope and atomic force microscopy facilities. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to definitively prove that the compound could improve cell attachment and growth on cellulose, but I did obtain a number of novel results that have raised further questions and hopefully set-up further collaborations for the future.

I also managed to do a little travelling whilst I was out there, including visiting São Paulo during Carnival. I didn’t notice the water shortages that have been prevalent in the news recently whilst I was there, but a trip to Furnas – which is next to one of the main reservoirs for the region of São Paulo – proved more eye-opening. To see the extent by which the water-level has dropped in the reservoir in the last three years was shocking. Many house-owners on the shore now have two boathouses – one where the water-level used to be and one where the water-level now is – and tree-tops can be seen sticking out of the water. It brought home the challenges associated with climate change – which also includes the recent increase in dengue cases in the region due to people storing rain water in open containers, the perfect places for mosquitos to breed – and why the research being carried out at the centre and our public engagement activities are so important. Overall, I had a great time in Brazil and would recommend it to anyone thinking of going there.

Marcus is working towards his PhD in the CSCT and is supervised by Dr Ram Sharma and Dr Janet Scott at University of Bath and Dr Sameer Rahatekar at University of Bristol.

 

Global CO2 calculator launch

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📥  Comment, Events

Second year CSCT student, James Stephenson recently attended the 2015 Global CO2 calculator launch and had a go at calculating projected CO2 levels using his own energy and climate pathway. Here are his thoughts after attending the event.

Recently I attended the 2015 Global CO2 calculator launch, marking the release of a new open-source software. Developed by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the software is a tool to calculate projected carbon dioxide levels according to an energy and climate pathway designed by the users. By adjusting different global variables, the user can create a “pathway” which addresses as many country sized sources/sinks of CO2 as possible.

Speakers at the launch included MPs, developers, collaborators and representatives from the industry. The development team aimed towards making a very streamlined user interface. UK's energy secretary, Ed Davey joked that the software was indeed “MP proof”. I got the opportunity to use it myself and I certainly agree that it is very intuitive and does not take long to get to grips with. The variables are organised into a number of categories (technology and fuels, lifestyle, land and food, demographics) and sub categories such as food under “lifestyle” and transport under “technologies and fuels”. Adjusting each variable is performed using sliders. Rather than expecting users to quote exact numbers for their plan, the variables are set between 1 and 4, representing an effort level from “minimal abatement” to “extremely ambitious” respectively. An example quantitative figure is given for each effort level to rid the subjectivity of what “extremely ambitious” actually means. As each variable is adjusted the life cycle calculations are performed in a downloadable spreadsheet and outputs are changed respectively.

The calculator is expected to be used in the Paris 2015 climate change conference. The tool may be used to facilitate discussions and as a means to test ideas with numerical data, which will prove invaluable in many otherwise hand-wavey discussions. Global CO2 levels up to and beyond 2050 are displayed in one output, but there are countless other data outputs available from predicted changes in precipitation to car ownership. By using the tool you will find it is indeed possible to avoid a 2 degree increase in temperature, however it will take a large effort in a number of different areas. An individual aspect does not have a very significant impact upon CO2 levels. In reality economic constraints affect policy decisions concerning climate change, therefore the addition of cost outputs to the calculator will help this tool become even more useful.

A representative from the multi-disciplinary consulting company, Mott Macdonald discussed how the tool can be used by businesses. The calculator may help a business align themselves with energy policies and predict technology trends to evolve according to change. This tool may also be used to open dialogue with general members of the public as a way to engage and educate about factors causing climate change and their respective significance.

After attending this launch I was of course excited to use the calculator. Therefore I decided to use the tool to see if I have a realistic understanding of what it will take to stay below a 2 degrees global temperature raise. I made my own plan with the intention of staying below 2 Celsius increase whilst minimising the cost in doing this. I assumed the world population will increase without restriction and that more people will shift towards a consumerist lifestyle using the UN predictions for consumption variables in the calculator. Whilst I am not keen on the idea of a growing population and an ever more consumerist society, I feel pessimistic about controlling these parameters. I then focussed my efforts as follows:

  • Extremely ambitious efforts towards improving the efficiency of technologies/fuels/manufacturing/vehicles
  • Extremely ambitious efforts towards minimising waste in the food industry and improving crop yields. Also moving towards high density farming (less space for cattle).
  • Allowing a vast amount of land to become reforested, and trying to stop society from becoming too urbanised.
  • A modest effort towards carbon capture and storage
  • Shifting towards a virtually fossil fuel free society
  • Investing very heavily in nuclear energy
  • Very ambitious efforts towards solar energy and focussing less of other renewables
  • Ensuring there is a large energy storage capacity.

Personally I feel industry and government are most likely to be able to combat climate change. Relying on people committing towards severe lifestyle changes is perhaps naïve, unless it is motivated elsewhere, through subsides for example.

The global calculator overview page with my tailored pathway.

The global calculator overview page with my tailored pathway.

Unfortunately whilst my plan has managed to keep global temperatures below a 2 degrees raise, it is a very expensive plan. It is in fact more expensive than any of the example pathways. Potentially because I assumed that it would be possible to offset the emissions caused by ever increasing consumerism though efficiency improvements.

This simple exercise showed me how my ideas were flawed and through this I can make adjustments to my plan, and my way of thinking. Potentially I should not assume lifestyle changes are impossible? This just highlights how the calculator can help educate us and help open informed discussion. Hopefully the calculator will be used in December and will help towards the formulation of a new climate action plan. Use the global calculator and design your own pathway.

Access my pathway.

James is part of CSCT cohort '13, researching graphene-based electronics with Dr Alain Nogaret (physics) and Dr Andrew Johnson (chemistry).