Blog posts

How to cut emissions from international shipping and heavy goods vehicles – what are our options?

Article by Dr Jasmin Cooper, Research Associate at the Department of Chemical Engineering and Sustainable Gas Institute

A large proportion of things we use every day have had to have travelled long distances to reach us. Be it fruits and vegetables grown in Spain or South Africa or electronics and textiles made in Asia, the UK is a large importer of goods from afar. The majority of goods are transported to the UK in container ships or freight trucks. While the transportation of goods is essential for maintaining current living standards and quality of life, the impact of importing things from other countries has a high impact on climate change and air quality.

Both the international shipping industry and global road freight sector contributed 2.6% and 7%, respectively, towards total global greenhouse gas emissions in 2015 and 13% and 17%, respectively, to nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions. The emissions from both sectors are currently at levels higher than they were 20 years ago, thanks mostly to the increase in globalisation, cheap productions (food, clothing, electronics) and disposable income but have remained stable since 2010. However, this has led to both sectors being large sources of emissions. The main cause for emissions is the dependence of fossil fuels; heavy fuel oil is the primary fuel in shipping while diesel is the main fuel used in heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) in the freight sector.


Interview with Professor Geoff Maitland CBE, Professor of Energy Engineering

Professor Geoff Maitland CBE was recognised in this year’s New Years Honors List for ‘services to chemical engineering following a distinguished career where he drove connections between industry and academia’. He first joined the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London is 1974 as a Lecturer in Applied Polymer Science. In 1985 he left to take on several senior roles at Schlumberger, rejoining us in 2005 with a wealth of expertise which he has applied not only to teaching and research but the department’s strategic vision. In addition to his teaching and research responsibilities Geoff has been an active member of several departmental committees, and was pivotal in establishing the Greening Imperial initiative. He also played a crucial role in the Carbon Capture Usage and Storage (CCUS) Cost Challenge Taskforce, which produced a report for government in December 2018 setting out how CCUS can be developed at-scale in the UK.

Geoff is a very valued member of the department, and Imperial College as a whole. We took the opportunity to interview him and find out more about his early interest in chemical engineering, his career, and his thoughts on climate change.


Researchers in Chemical Engineering develop next generation of multi-functional precision polymer

Researchers in the Livingston Group at Imperial College London have developed a new class of multi-functional sequence-defined polyether that shows potential across a broad range of applications from drug delivery, to nanotechnology and information storage.

Published today in Nature Chemistry these sequence-defined polymers are the first of their kind to be reported, and have been created by coupling a novel liquid-phase iterative synthesis to size-exclusion membrane nanofiltration technology, producing a monodisperse polyether with over 98% chain purity, much higher than conventional synthetic polymers.


One-Stone, Two-Bird Synergies: Next-generation solar technologies

The solar sector is experiencing by far the highest global growth and new investment in renewable technologies. Solar energy is the world’s most abundant permanent energy source: one hour of solar radiation is equivalent to more than the world’s total annual energy need. It is projected that solar energy will cover one-third of the world’s energy consumption by 2060 under favourable conditions. Solar energy can be converted into other energy forms that are useful in sustaining society; in particular, it can be converted to electricity by solar photovoltaic (PV) systems or into thermal energy by solar-thermal (ST) systems.

Christos Markides, Professor of Clean Energy Technologies at the Department of Chemical Engineering, Imperial College London and Head of the Clean Energy Processes (CEP) Laboratory, recently won the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) Global Award for Best Research Project for the lab’s work developing a promising emerging hybrid PV-T solar-energy technology, which synergistically integrates PV and ST technologies, and is capable of delivering both electricity and heat.


“Engineers are absolutely essential to solving so many of the world’s problems”: Dr Marlene Kanga on engineering, diversity, and her role as President of the WFEO

Dr Marlene Kanga AM is President of the World Federation of Engineering Organisations (WFEO), the international body for engineering institutions representing some 100 engineering institutions and approximately 30 million engineers around the world. She is the first chemical engineer to hold this position, specialising in process safety and risk engineering for the oil and gas industry in Australia and New Zealand.

Dr Kanga completed her Masters Degree in Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London in 1977, prior to which she achieved a Bachelor of Technology in Chemical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai. She also holds a PhD in Business Administration from Macquarie University in Sydney.

In October she will be attending the Global Engineering Congress, co-hosted by the WFEO and the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), where she has organised two sessions on diversity. It’s a subject she’s passionate about, so we caught up with her in advance of the conference to find out more.


“It’s satisfying to know that something I’m working on will have an impact”: Completing a UROP in Chemical Engineering

This summer the department is hosting several Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) placements, which enable students to take part in research activities at Imperial College London. As well as providing practical research experience, undertaking a UROP can help students develop their interest in specialised subjects, or get a sense of whether a particular career path is right for them.

Henry and Aniket are two Chemical Engineering undergraduates who will spend ten weeks over the summer with the department’s Analytical Services creating a series of videos which will teach new staff and students how to use equipment correctly and safely.

They spoke to us at the beginning of their placement to tell us why they chose to complete a UROP this summer and what their experience has been like so far.


The value of gold in chemical engineering

Gold can make things happen. This has been true since it was first discovered; it looks precious, it’s relatively rare, and it can be easily transformed into items for trade. A symbol of wealth and status for thousands of years, it was originally made into coins in 550BC, and has a history of being used to create valuable items such as jewellery. 

Research published by Chemical Engineering PhD student Motaz Khawaji and Professor David Chadwick has demonstrated how gold can make things happen on a chemical level, by using gold particles to create reactions. Their work has recently been featured on the covers of two academic journals, Catalysis Science & Technology and ChemCatChem. Here we take a look at how they use gold nanoparticles and how they could be utilised by industry.


Why does the UK need to invest in carbon capture and storage?

The CCUS (Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage) Cost Challenge Taskforce recently delivered their report to the Government which puts forward a strategy to develop large-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) in the UK. The key message outlined in the report, Delivering clean growth, is that the Government needs to act urgently to invest in CCS if it is to meet its goal of having projects delivered and operational from the mid-2030s. Without this, the UK will not meet its emissions reduction target, as set out in the Climate Change Act 2008.

Geoff Maitland, Professor of Energy Engineering at the Department of Chemical Engineering, Imperial College London, and Director of the Qatar Carbonates and Carbon Storage Research Centre (QCCSRC), is a member of the CCUS Cost Challenge Taskforce. He explains what carbon capture and storage means, and why it’s so vital in tackling climate change.

INWED18: My journey into engineering and how I’m smashing the engineering stereotype

Our final blog to celebrate International Woman in Engineering is written by Dr Maria Papathanasiou, who tells us about her journey into engineering and how she combines her two loves: science and acting. She wants to empower female engineers to be themselves, regardless of whether or not they fit the stereotype, and help ensure that engineering is an accepting and welcoming environment.