UCL News


Comment: Society 'needs the right chemistry'

29 June 2007

There has been a real surge in carbon offsetting companies setting up shop, keen to take advantage of increasingly environmentally-savvy consumers concerned about their carbon footprint.

But, paying away the guilt over carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions does little to change our actual behaviour and will not help save the planet from the very real problem of rising emissions and global warming. …

Chemical engineers are playing a major role in helping industry reduce the amount of carbon emitted and thereby reducing its impact on the environment in a number of ways.

Carbon capture programmes, where CO2 emitted by power stations, oil and gas production plants is stored in geological formations instead of being released into the atmosphere, are critical. …

Yet, while capture programmes enable us to deal with much of the carbon we emit, they do little to cut back on the amount we are producing. …

Chemical engineers are working hard to develop low carbon technologies and carbon abatement processes for industry. This means adopting radical changes in the way we produce chemicals and how they are used. …

We must learn to produce chemicals using technologies that require less energy and produce less carbon if we are to have a real and lasting effect on the level of emissions. This is where chemical engineers have a vital role to play.

For example, in my own laboratory at UCL we are developing a process to radically alter the way we produce titanium dioxide, the base pigment used in paints.

The current process is very energy intensive, produces CO2 as a significant by-product and some rather nasty waste streams that are generally disposed in landfill sites.

We believe our alternative process is not only less energy intensive but produces minimal waste and no CO2 by-product. …

Stefaan Simons, The Green Room, BBC News Online