Tag Archives: engineering

Integrated energy for all

An integrated energy system has large potential to revolutionise our energy economy. If the UK  is to achieve Net Zero by 2050, it requires little less than transformation of our current energy system in becoming smarter, cleaner, affordable and low-carbon. In light of the recent power cut in England and Wales, integration could also help make the energy system more resilient to faults and prevent failures.

In the final podcast of the Science Perspective series from #awriterinthelab, we speak with researchers in key areas of the integrated energy revolution from electrical, cyber security and transport engineers, to material scientists and industry practitioners innovating the future of solar PV, EVs, energy storage and hydrogen for an integrated energy system. Enjoy.

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Digital twins ‘the final frontier’

Digital twin technology means a lot for flood preparedness, drainage and wastewater management and a host of other things in the water sector and beyond. It also has a lot to do with running business differently as the knowledge obtained from digital twins, including how to aggregate and visualise data, has large potential to shape the future of decision-making and data.

For those unaware, digital twin is a bit of buzzword that is catching on in academic, industry and policy worlds that refers to a live real time digital counterpart of physical systems we encounter in the real world. It’s closely related to what people in academia and industry also call ‘cyber-physical’ (more about this in our podcast on ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’). Continue reading Digital twins ‘the final frontier’

Moving towards a circular economy

What we waste has the potential to aid or severely harm us. As a species, we have the tendency to waste material resources at a scale that is unprecedented, especially plastics.

Many countries (mostly richer ones), live in a culture of excess or so called ‘throwaway culture’. The fashion industry as a whole doesn’t seem to even attempt to acknowledge this, probably not unlike the injustice of sweatshop labour in factories that produce their clothing. Similar to transparency in the garment industry, we need transparency on waste too.

But there are of course exceptions and likely many more are growing in response to planetary pressures. One of them is Sea Pigs based in Newcastle who make footwear designed to be recycled. I actually ran into their CEO once on Northumberland Street while giving a public survey on climate change, so thought it worth mentioning them.

Textiles as I learned at the Ending Waste event at Newcastle Helix, have a high carbon footprint, one that is easily ignored by consumers (I have many cloth bags too, just remember to use them for shopping at least 300 times). To really value materials, we need to move to something better – use less and do more with what we have.

A circular economy begins and ends with resource instead of waste, in fact, it doesn’t really end at all. It valorises products derived from natural resources that we otherwise throw away, and which inevitably clog the ecological systems we depend upon for survival. Cities throughout the world are doing more to embrace or at least help along mainly linear modes of material disposal and recycling, shaping them into circular ones. Continue reading Moving towards a circular economy

Team Tao’s subsea drones make a big splash

I knew little about subsea engineering until I met Team Tao – a team of engineers from Soil Machine Dynamics and Newcastle University. Turns out, we know very little about the things below water when it comes to the deep sea, and there is much more to explore. But there’s a catch…We don’t really have the technology to do it in a very efficient way…yet.

I had the pleasure of visiting Team Tao at Tyne Subsea in Wallsend, which operates one of the largest hyperbaric chambers in the world. Basically, it’s a really cool massive bit of kit capable of testing things at extremely high pressures – simulating water depths of 15,000m!

I had the privilege of interviewing Dr HK Chang who showed me around the facility and introduced me to prototypes of the subsea drones Team Tao developed for the Ocean Discovery X Prize. I also spoke with Jeff Neasham who has developed a unique type of sonar that doesn’t harm marine life, which they employed for their novel subsea drone technology. Continue reading Team Tao’s subsea drones make a big splash

Tools for making cities better prepared for disasters

If cities are to overcome the numerous challenges they are currently facing, including disasters, then it requires an array of sustainable techniques, methods and approaches for managing them. Cities are robust, often resilient but also fragile in the wake of perplexing environmental problems, such as climate change.

To clarify things a bit – hazards themselves are not disasters until they harm or eliminate life. A large-scale asteroid impact is most certainly a hazard but it will not be a disaster unless it harms life or damages the processes that support it. Earthquakes and flood hazards may be potentially disastrous but only in reference to the living things they are at risk of destroying.

The good news about disasters is that while they are not always preventable, it is possible to reduce their impacts through human means. In this geological epoch, climate change will persist regardless of human intervention, but its future impacts remain an open question – and humans have a strong role to play.

The people involved are as, if not more important, than the technical and scientific tools employed. Now is the time for cities to move forward in using the many available  tools for improving cities, some of which are created and demonstrated through publicly-funded research. Continue reading Tools for making cities better prepared for disasters

Remembering women in STEM

As International Women’s Day was just last week it is a good time to reflect upon the  women of today in STEM, and the pioneers of the past.

The role of women in STEM cannot be overlooked as it has been fundamental to the growth of science (including social science), technology and society as a whole. The history of science tends to under-represent women, however, there is a range of examples of women in the ranks of physics, chemistry, biology, archaeology, anthropology, civil engineering and many other fields throughout history.

I have had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing many brilliant women scientists, mathematicians and engineers throughout my career. People who have inspired countless others through research, teaching and simply living.

This video showcases some famous women scientists and engineers, some you may have heard of, others perhaps not so much. It’s important that we tell the stories of women in STEM for whom without science would be at a great loss, not to mention our future. Continue reading Remembering women in STEM

Achieving water security for all

Water security is a major challenge for countries throughout the world, especially urban and rural communities in developing countries. Water related disease kills more than 3.4 million people every year, making it the leading cause of death.

While water is a human right according to the United Nations, for everyone to have access to safe, potable drinking water and adequate sanitation requires significant advancement in water infrastructure, governance and education.

To provide the 2.1 billion people on the planet who lack readily available drinking water at home requires more than technological innovation, it demands collaborations that may appear ambitious in scope, but nevertheless are necessary for resolving deep rooted problems of water security.

The GCRF Water Security Hub led by Newcastle University makes possible the collaborations needed to address water security in the developing world in a holistic way. I had the pleasure of speaking with some of the key researchers in the Hub from Newcastle in engineering and the social sciences.

In Part 2 of this episode of the Science Perspective podcast they explain the importance of water security, and how the Hub is working with multiple stakeholders to achieve SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation.

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You can also catch up on Part 1.

 

Engineering life with synthetic biology

The possibilities for synthetic biology are numerous. It could play a key role in resolving global environmental challenges that policy makers and regulators are struggling with. It could make industry less polluting, more sustainable and likely more profitable. This is especially true for companies with large ecological footprints who are working to decarbonise. The chemical industry could also change drastically as new forms of life could be designed to produce chemicals that otherwise would have to come from unsustainable sources like petrol.

Plastic pollution could likely become a thing of the past if replaced with bio-based instead of oil based polymers. Cheap, clean ‘next generation’ biofuels are also a major prospect that would help countries succeed in phasing out petrol based fuels altogether. Politically speaking this will take time as oil is likely not to be replaced overnight by sustainable alternatives, but synthetic biology is without a doubt a major player in energy and decarbonisation for multiple reasons.

Imagine for a moment:

Continue reading Engineering life with synthetic biology