ICOSSE III: Water-Innovative Technology, Manufacturing, and Energy

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The International Congress on Sustainability Science and Engineering (ICOSSE) met for the third time in Cincinnati, OH, on August 11-15. The Congress opened with a presentation from Vice Mayor of Cincinnati, Roxanne Qualls. Her opening talk focused on how Cincinnati is an epicenter of water-centric research and history. The Vice Mayor noted that Cincinnati is embedded in the annals of municipal water treatment history by being the second metropolitan area to deploy activated carbon water treatment technology (second to Paris), by having a water quality station in operation since 1913, and as the birthplace of the Streeter-Phelps equation where studies were done on the Ohio River in 1925.

Additional sustainable highlights of the state of Ohio includes per capita lead in the nation in LEED certified buildings, although little mention was made to specific energy metrics, benchmarking of the impact that LEED buildings and associated operations have. Several of the city of Cincinnati’s sustainability action plan details were discussed, in particular noting civic garden centers to alleviate food deserts and the support of car-optional lifestyles via a car-sharing service and bike-share program.

At the Vice Mayor’s recommendation to get to know the city, I took in a Reds game at the Great American Ball Park.

One of the dominant question of the event was water’s central role in climate change. Many coastal water plants are near sea level and could be susceptible to major storm events and rising sea levels. Water use will be stressed globally due to forecasts of population increases from 1.6 billion people to approximately 2.8 by 2025. Further, approximately 40% of food is currently produced on irrigated lands (putting pressure on water supplies, which are not all managed sustainably) and it is estimated that the US will require over $600 billion for water infrastructure in the same timeframe.

Twice over the course of the 2013 summer I have had a chance to interact with David J.C. Constable, who is the Director of the American Chemistry Society’s Green Chemistry Institute. For those interested in a forum for green chemistry and a multidisciplinary discussion including policy issues, check out the newsletter that ACS offers. As chemical engineers, we share a common language with chemists and often make use of chemistry skills to perform our individual ChE roles. David’s speech at the Congress highlighted relevant areas for making chemical manufacture more sustainable. Here are a few of the main points:

There are five-year to 50-year reserves of the following minerals, which the greatest emphasis on those in bold: Zn, Ga, Ge, As, Rh, Ag, In, Sn, Sb, Au, Hf.Critical minerals and the US economy rely heavily on South Africa and Russia.Reference to a treatise on a nutrient life requires but is in scare supply: phosphorus (Elser, J. Nature 2011 478 (7367): 29.)Inspired question: How can we re-envision common unit operations (i.e. batch reactors, distillation, and crystallization) to support process intensification?All science starts as science fiction. The author would like to point out Feynman’s talk (“There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.”? Richard Feynman, Pasadena, 29 December 1959).Green Chemistry Simplified – 1) maximize resource efficiency, 2) eliminate and minimize hazards and pollution, 3) apply systems level thinking holistically (i.e. life cycle thinking).

Hopefully these bullet points illustrate some critical focus areas for chemical engineering innovation. After some of my study in the area of science technology studies, I realize that action to implement some of this change may not seem popular or welcomed; however, it was noted during Dr. Constable’s talk that outcomes from such endeavors could have Nobel implications.

The 2013 ACS Green Chemistry Summer Workshop T-shirt

There was a new spin put on poster presentations, with a rapid-fire format, which involved all poster presenters giving a 90-second (maximum) introduction to their posters to the Congress. The thought is that this would help those attending identify presenters they would like to visit during the poster session. The practice also develops presenters skills that can be likened to an elevator speech (a skill sought in AAAS fellows) or preparing the presentation of transformative-disruptive science (e.g., publication in high impact journals).

Also spotted at the Congress was the well-known AIChE pocket book, but don’t call it a comeback….yet. The pocket book contains some of the basic equations and relationships that chemical engineers use and fundamental mathematical relationship as part of the profession.

Back to Basics, the AIChE Pocket Handbook made a comeback. Maybe we’ll see an update of some of this knowledge, or even an app?

A presentation by Dr. Jeff Seay on the topic of sustainability credentialing being undertaken by the Institute suggests that sustainability and chemical engineering education, as a part of AIChE, will have at least 10 focus areas. The author wonders if this could be a point in time where the pocket book possibly gets an upgrade and if professional topics such as ethics will actually be incorporated. With the mind-numbing assortment of electronic mind games available for your smart phone, maybe there are some professional training tools the AIChE, NCEES, and NSPCE could develop that would actually move similar interests forward.

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AIChE’s Global Presence at MEPEC in Bahrain [On Location]

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On LocationThe Middle East Process Engineering Conference & Exhibition (MEPEC), created by the Saudi Arabian Section of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (SAS-AIChE) and co-sponsored by AIChE, is taking place from September 29 – October 2 in Bahrain.

AIChE Operations Director Bette Lawler attended the global conference with 2013 AIChE President Phil Westmoreland, who was the keynote speaker. MEPEC attracted more than 1,700 delegates and 300 speakers from 30 countries. They had a chance to take some photos during the conference with members of the Kuwait Student Chapter, one of the first AIChE international student chapters.

AIChE’s Bette Lawler, 2013 President Phil Westmoreland, Khaled A. Mahdi, PhD, PMP, CE Chemical Engineering Department Kuwait University pictured with student-chapter members at MEPEC 2013

AIChE’s Phil Westmoreland and Khaled A. Mahdi, PhD, PMP, CE Chemical Engineering Department Kuwait University at MEPEC 2013

The president of the Kuwait AIChE Student Chapter, Ahmad Safar, provided this quote about the chapter’s participation:

Believing in the importance of participating in professional and scientific forums, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers – Kuwait Student Chapter participated in this conference for the first time. Moreover, we have assembled a team in collaboration with the Saudi Chapter to organize two competitions— process simulation and a chemical engineering debate — at future conventions.

The chapter was fortunate to enjoy the privilege of being well received by the organizers and the specialists in the field of chemical engineering and promises to continue its active presence at future conventions. This would expose the students to the professional world and enable them to acquire the necessary skills that will enrich their knowledge.

Finally, on behalf of the Kuwait Chapter, we’d like to thank the organizers for their efforts in organizing the conference and for the opportunity extended to the students to participate in such gatherings.

2013 AIChE President Phil Westmoreland with Award Winners at MEPEC 2013

AIChE 2013 President Phil Westmoreland and Operations Director Bette Lawler with Kuwait Student Chapter President Ahmad Safar and a fellow member at MEPEC 2013

See more photos on ChEnected’s Flickr.

See more photos, conference news, and announcements on the MEPEC site.

Use hashtag #AIChEGlobal in your social media posts about this conference.

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Simulating dynamic tanks in EMSO (Part 1)

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This post starts to our section of HOW-TO texts. My objetive with this specific post is to introduce using some free tools to different applications.

A classic problem in process engineering is the case of a dynamic tank where the output flow is proportional to its level (Fig. 1). This example is part of EMSO tutorial so that more details would be to consult in the EMSO manual.

Fig. 1. Dynamic tank. Fig. 1. Dynamic tank.

In this approaching, the problem of dynamic tank involves 3 variables and 2 parameters such below:


Fin: Input flow (m3/h)Fout: Output flow (m3/h)h: Tank level (m)


A: Tank area (m2)k: Valve constant (m2.5/h)

This system is modeled as simple material balance given to:

\frac{d(hA)}{dt} = F^{in}-F^{out}

where the proprieties are considered constants so that, the volume that goes into tank minus the volume that goes out tank are equal to accumulated volume.

The output flow is given to valve equation:

F^{out} = k \sqrt{h}

where Fout is proportional to square root of the tank level h and a valve constant k.

EMSO modeling language is based on concepts of object-oriented programing. These kinds of applications get us possible to represent the problem through a code. As a result, when we are reading the code we are also reading a description of the problem. EMSO modeling language presents 3 basic entities: Model, DEVICES, and FlowSheet. An flowsheet of process is represented by the entity FlowSheet which is constituted by a set of components calls DEVICES. The DEVICES are equivalent to the true units of a process. In its turn, the mathematical description of each DEVICES is represented by the entity Model.

The Model of a single tank is given below:

12345678910111213141516171819using “types”; Model tank PARAMETERS k as Real (Brief=”Valve constant”, Default=4, Unit=’m^2.5/h’); A as area (Brief=”Tank area”, Default=2);  VARIABLESin Fin as flow_vol(Brief=”Input flow”);out Fout as flow_vol(Brief=”Output flow”); h as length(Brief=”Tank level”);  EQUATIONS “Material balance” diff(A*h) = Fin – Fout;  “Valve equation” Fout = k*sqrt(h);end

The line 1 indicates that Model used a external file (“types”) where contains all useful definition of unit of measurements such as area (line 6), flow_vol (lines 9-10), length (line 11), etc. In the line 4, the parameters are declared. In the line 8, the variables are declared. The in and out indicate that are input and output variables respectively.

Since there is a structure that represents a single tank, we can easily model a set of tanks in series (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2. Dynamic tanks in series. Fig. 2. Dynamic tanks in series.

That set of tanks in series can be represented by FlowSheet below. This structure requires 1 input specification (line 32) and 2 initial conditions (line 35). The time of integration, step, and other specifications to solver are made in the section OPTIONS (line 39).

202122232425262728293031323334353637383940414243FlowSheet tanks VARIABLES Fin as flow_vol;  DEVICES tank1 as tank; tank2 as tank;  CONNECTIONS Fin to tank1.Fin; tank1.Fout to tank2.Fin;  SPECIFY Fin = 10*’m^3/h’;  INITIAL tank1.h = 1*’m’; tank2.h = 1*’m’;  OPTIONS TimeStep = 0.1; TimeEnd = 2; TimeUnit = ‘h’;end

The solution of problem can be viewed in the own simulator’s GUI. Plots of variables to an analyze of the system dynamics are showed at Fig. 3-4.

Fig. 3. Tank input and output flows. Fig. 3. Tank input and output flows.

Fig. 4. Tank levels. Fig. 4. Tank levels.

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New Graphene Desalination Requires Nearly 100 Times Less Energy

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Alarmingly, clean drinking water is becoming a severe global security issue. Competition for water is leading to instability and state failure, with Syria the most recent example. Between now and 2040, as the availability of fresh water evaporates due to population growth, agriculture, industry and urbanization, more people will fight just to survive on the lowest rungs of society.

Among wealthier countries like Israel and Saudi Arabia, when fresh ground water isn’t available, water is diverted from nearby oceans or rivers into desalination plants where the salt is removed through a relatively new process called reverse osmosis, which produces clean drinking water.

Before the adoption of reverse osmosis, the main process of desalination had been “multistage flash distillation,” which uses heat to evaporate water, leaving the salt behind. That accounted for 80% of all desalination installations until the 1990s.

Currently, reverse osmosis is the most popular desalination technology, where water is pumped through membranes to purify it by trapping larger particles and letting the fresh, salt-free water through pores to the other side. Unfortunately, both methods are energy intensive, making them costly and preventing poorer countries from building the necessary desalination plants. But a new technology may have leap-frogged over problem. Reuters reports:

Engineers at US-based Lockheed Martin Corp say they have found a way to slash the amount of energy needed to remove salt from seawater, potentially making it much cheaper to produce clean water, and possibly eliminating water scarcity as a global issue.

The process, which uses thin graphene sheets, would enable filter manufacturers to produce thin membranes with holes about a nanometer in size that are large enough to allow water to pass through but small enough to block the molecules of salt in seawater.

Because the graphene sheets are so thin – just one atom in thickness – it takes much less energy to push the seawater through the filter to separate the salt from the water. This could spare underdeveloped countries from having to build expensive reverse osmosis pumping stations.

“It’s 500 times thinner than the best filter on the market today and a thousand times stronger,”John Stetson, the engineer who has been working on the idea, told Reuters. “The energy that’s required and the pressure that’s required to filter salt is approximately 100 times less.”

Stetson, who began working on the issue in 2007, said if the new filter material, known as Perforene, (press release) was compared to the thickness of a piece of paper, the nearest comparable filter for extracting salt from seawater would be the thickness of three reams of paper – more than half a foot thick.

“It looks like chicken wire under a microscope, if you could get an electron microscope picture of it,” he said. “It’s all little carbon atoms tied together in a diaphanous, smooth film that’s beautiful and continuous. But it’s one atom thick and it’s a thousand time stronger than steel.”

So once Perforene is installed, the energy used to force water through today’s best membranes is gone. Stetson says,”It just literally pops right through because the membrane is thinner than the atoms it’s filtering.”

Lockheed expects to have a prototype by the end of the year that could be used as a drop-in replacement for filters now used in reverse osmosis plants.

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Published by on October 29th, 2008 at 1:29 pm in Process simulation, Softwares with 2 comments
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ASCEND is an open source modelling environment and solver for large or small systems of non-linear equations, for use in engineering, thermodynamics, chemistry, physics, mathematics and biology. Solvers for both steady and dynamic (NLA & DAE) problems, are provided. It offers:

– An object-oriented model description language for describing your system,

– An interactive user interface that allows you to solve your model and explore the effect of changing the model parameters, and

– A scripting environment that allows you to automate your more complex simulation problems.

ASCEND was originally written at Carnegie Mellon University in the 1980s and includes powerful and reliable solver routines that analyse the structure of your model and can solve thousands of simultaneous nonlinear equations in a few seconds on everyday computer hardware. It is under active development and is licensed under the GNU General Public License ensuring that it is free software and will remain free.

Project website:



Graphic plotting Graphic plotting

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‘Breaking Bad’ Aliquots

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Today’s post was written by C&EN Senior Editor Jyllian Kemsley, who, when she isn’t watching the TV show “Breaking Bad,” enjoys surfing the Web for “Breaking Bad” links and then writing about them.

The end is almost here, and the Internet is gearing up. With the series finale of “Breaking Bad” set to air this Sunday on AMC, media outlets have unleashed a barrage of retrospectives and stories about the hit TV show. What’s more, a surprising number of these tributes actually focus on the science behind the show.

Take, for instance, the above video in which Boing Boing counts down the top 11 “Breaking Bad” chemistry moments. Or, simply pick up this week’s issue of C&EN, in which I have a story about Donna Nelson, a University of Oklahoma chemistry professor who has spent the last several years volunteering as a science adviser to the television show. I connected Nelson with show producer Vince Gilligan after I first wrote about the show in 2008—something Nelson has graciously acknowledged in many interviews—and I enjoyed chatting with her as the series nears its end.

To help all of us get through the last few days before the finale, here are a few of my favorite “Breaking Bad” offerings from across the Web. If, like some of my colleagues, you didn’t get the memo early enough and are only on season two, tread carefully—I won’t promise no spoilers!

Wired interviewed some other “Breaking Bad” staff who help get the science right, researchers Gordon Smith and Jenn Carroll: “One day, Gordon and the writers asked me to figure out a way to knock out a surveillance camera, or—at the very least—to make a passerby invisible to the camera. As you might imagine, there aren’t many legal or convenient ways to go about this.”The Washington Post went over what “Breaking Bad” gets right, and wrong, about the meth business: “Could a genius innovator like Walt really become this successful? Are charismatic businessmen like Gus Fring running front businesses to hide their meth trade? Are super labs real?”“Today” talked “Breaking Bad” science and Walter White psychology with the show’s co-executive producer Peter Gould: “We went online and found this way of making a battery using pennies,” Gould said. “We actually built one in the writers’ room. It created a mild amount of current, and was sort of our proof of concept. Every once in a while, there would be a science experiment right there in the writers’ room. It turned out to be kind of a big mess.”At Slate, physician Haider Javed Warraich called “Breaking Bad” “TV’s best medical drama, ever“: “While most medical shows—much like the health system at large—focus on acute presentations, hospitalizations, and procedures, ‘Breaking Bad’ follows its patients far beyond the walls of the hospital.” Bytesize Science caught Donna Nelson on camera.

Last but not least, if you’re really desperate to fill your “Breaking Bad” hankering, let me suggest Reddit: general and chemistry-specific.

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In Print: Nature’s Call, Nature’s Mimic

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The Newscripts blog would like to be closer Internet buddies with our glossy print Newscripts column, so here we highlight what went on in last week’s issue of C&EN.

When you’ve gotta go, it doesn’t matter if you’re thousands of feet above the earth. In 1961, Alan B. Shepard Jr. became the first American to fly into space … and likely became the first American to pee his pants in a space suit (unverified).

Zero-gravity relief: The International Space Station's Zvezda Service Module is home to this space toilet. Credit: Wikimedia Commons. Zero-gravity relief: The International Space Station’s Zvezda Service Module is outfitted with this space toilet. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

As Senior Correspondent Steve Ritter writes in last week’s print column, NASA’s space program was light-years ahead of its onboard facilities program. Because the first spaceflight was so short–only 15 minutes–NASA engineers put the pee problem on the back burner, only to regret that decision when launch delays left Shepard in the suit for more than eight hours. (To learn about the more-detailed discussion that went on, Steve points us to the movie “The Right Stuff” about the first NASA astronauts. Without having watched it, the Newscripts gang really hopes that Shepard said, “Houston, we have a problem.”)

Steve says that researchers were developing catheter-based and other devices for the Air Force for high-altitude and long-range airplane flights. But, understandably, these were uncomfortable and often leaked. After learning the hard way during Shepard’s flight, NASA planned something new for their second spaceflight. Later in 1961, Gus Grissom went to space wearing two pairs of rubber pants that he got to take a leak between. On the third flight, John H. Glenn Jr. was the first in the U.S. space program to use a urine collection device (UCD).

Now, astronauts in the International Space Station have vacuum-like toilets that work in zero gravity. What about when they’re in their space suits during takeoff, landing, and space walks? The space shuttle program in the 1980s replaced these UCD storage bags with “absorbent technologies” suitable for men and women, writes Steve. So, giant diapers, Newscripts guesses. The Washington Post reports that they’re called maximum absorbent garments, or MAGs, which sounds slightly more dignified.

Toilet troubles aside, Steve is undeterred. “I have always dreamed of being a space cowboy,” he says. “The best part would be seeing if the moon really is made out of cheese or if the little green men on Mars have been hiding from us. The worst part is a fear of running out of air to breathe.”

Steve has had adventures a little closer to home, however. His next Newscripts item discusses ball lightning, which people only have a one in 1,000 chance of seeing in their lifetimes. Steve’s a lucky winner, he recounts:

“Once I was hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, on the Appalachian Trail on a ridgeline about 5,000 feet. A sudden thunderstorm came up. I could see lightning striking the ground a quarter-mile or so ahead of me. I knew I needed to get off the ridge, so I started bushwhacking down the side of the mountain. I looked up and saw a lightning bolt hit bare rock about 100 yards away. I felt the shock of the thunder, and saw the ball lightning, maybe a foot or so in diameter, floating above the spot for a couple of seconds and dissipating. It was pretty cool. I could smell the ozone in the air from all the lightning. Later, I went to the spot where the lightning struck and could see a little charring/fusing of grains of the rock.”

The scientists in last week’s Newscripts were clearly jealous (more curious, probably), and they decided to try to re-create the phenomenon in the lab. Their study was inspired by electroscientist Nikola Tesla–considered by some to be the greatest geek who ever lived, Steve points out–who had done similar experiments starting in the late 1890s in Colorado near where the Air Force Academy is located today.

And re-create ball lightning they did, recording the phenomenon with a high-speed camera and analyzing the balls with Fourier transform infrared absorption spectroscopy. Lesson learned: If you can’t glimpse something in nature, make it yourself.

As for what unexplained natural phenomenon scientists should tackle next, Steve suggests investigating why some animals adopt synchronous behavior. For example, some birds flock and fly in unusual patterns, thousands of fireflies have been seen flashing together, and cicadas sometimes sing together in a circuitous pattern of new-age music.

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