We all know chemical engineering is pretty cool, right? What other field combines physics and chemistry with microbiology and biochemistry, and also gets to use math? So much fun! Chemical engineers create products and materials that improve society, and they often involve industries that use fuel, drugs, food, or chemicals (obvious, right?)
Chemical engineers can come up with the ideas for, or the designs of processes for the production, transformation and transportation of materials.
That all sounds so formal and technological. What does it really mean on the ground?
Let’s take a look at Chemical Engineering and projects involving that gorgeous necessity for life; water!
Chemical Engineering and Water
Researchers have created a technique that recovers nearly all water from brine waste. This is helpful for both arid regions and industrial waste. Membrane distillation usually only recovers 6% of water, but with this new method close to 100% of water can be recovered!
Engineers at the University of California, Riverside have developed a novel technique to recover nearly all water from brine waste. The discovery can help water-poor arid regions and also has industrial applications such as removing salinity form hydraulic tracking waste.
Did you know the secret to Roman concrete is seawater? Researchers found that when seawater mixed with the cement they used, it reacted with the volcanic ash and crystals to form Al-tobermorite and a porous mineral called phillipsite.
Modern concrete-used in everything from roads to buildings to bridges-can break down in as few as 50 years. But more than a thousand years after the western Roman Empire crumbled to dust, its concrete structures are still standing. Now, scientists have finally figured out why: a special ingredient that makes the cement grow stronger-not weaker-over time.
Most of us know we have lots of chemicals in our drinking water. Engineers usually use activated carbon to remove some of the chemicals but now, engineers have found a new adsorbant than removes 99% of one of the most common and dangerous of these chemicals, PFOA; the activated carbon removed only 56% of it.
Long-chain perfluorinated chemicals contaminate millions of Americans’ drinking water. These compounds are a legacy of industrial pollution and the use of firefighting foam at military bases and airports; they persist in the environment because of their strong carbon-fluorine bonds.
If you’ve got the nose for it, scientists use both analytical chemistry and plain old sniffing to identify a spectrum of off-putting scent molecules in drinking water. This helps utilities to design treatments specific to their water chemistry that keeps their water taste- and odor-free.
Mel Suffet stood at a whiteboard, dry-erase marker in hand, and asked me sarcastically, “Did you have fish for dinner?” He wasn’t commenting on my breath. For the past hour, I’d been sitting in a mini-cubicle, taking part in a six-person odor-sniffing panel in his lab at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Who would have thought that tiny robots might be the key to providing clean water around the world? Using iron, gold, and silver, these little robots might actually be able to swim in the water to capture and kill bacteria! Check out the video to see these guys in action!
American Chemical Society: Chemistry for Life.