#EarthDay2018: Energy and resource efficiency is key to reducing environmental waste

22nd April 2018

Today, along with many others across the globe, we’re celebrating Earth Day. The Earth Day Network leads this campaign on 22 April each year with their mission to diversify, educate and activate a worldwide environmental movement.

This year’s theme is to end plastic pollution. Poor consideration of resources through their entire lifecycle not only results in pollution (such as plastics in our rivers and oceans), but also has a wider impact on our planet.Plastic has been a hot topic in the news this week. Researchers at the University of Portsmouth have accidentally created an enzyme that could “eat” PET plastic and potentially support in the recovery and recycling of millions of tonnes of plastic products.

While this is an exciting breakthrough, much more would need to be done before it could be widely applied in industry.

So, in the drive to tackle pollution and climate change, it is essential to consider the energy required to obtain resources and manufacture them into products, such as plastics. There is a drive to encourage industry and consumers to adopt a circular economy. This involves using materials to extract maximum value - re-use, recover and recycle products and materials at the end of a use, rather than dispose of them.

An increase in energy and resource efficiency is vital for decarbonisation to meet national and global climate objectives. It is estimated that this represents 40-60% of potential greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions - a significant contribution to decarbonisation.

This year the IChemE Energy Centre is renewing its focus on these challenges, with the hope that chemical engineers will drive the conversation forward and progress work in these areas.

The Energy Centre brings together chemical engineers from across the energy landscape and from around the world, with experts ranging from the oil and gas sector to those in renewable energy, sustainability and nuclear power generation. There is also representation from people who work in the energy-intensive industries.

The Energy Centre is currently conducting a programme of work to highlight examples of good practice in energy and resource efficiency.

Mark Apsey from the IChemE Energy Centre Board and who leads the ERE programme, said: “Energy and resource efficiency is applicable across all areas of chemical engineering. Chemical engineers are well placed to deliver ERE improvements through application of the principles of systems-thinking and the circular economy. As a profession we can bring about positive change and we must encourage people to act.”

The programme will include case studies from a wide range of sectors, such as chemicals, oil and gas, food and drink, and the pharmaceutical industry. They will highlight improvements and the role of chemical engineers in driving positive change.

Examples of case studies currently in progress include carbon reduction initiatives at different companies and how valuable products can be obtained from municipal solid waste. Similarly, how heat from one industrial process can be recovered and used for other purposes.

The case studies will be supported by a guidance framework focussing on good practice in energy and resource efficiency. This will be designed to help chemical engineers (and those they work with) identify opportunities and approaches to deliver positive action both technologically and culturally.

If you’re aware of good practice examples of energy and resource efficiency, please join the discussion by commenting below, or if you’re an IChemE member start a conversation on our members forum Interface.

For more information or to get involved with the IChemE Energy Centre’s work on energy and resource efficiency, please contact energycentre@icheme.org.