Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Blind Chemist: Future Cities Royal Society of Chemistry Road Map

Update 4/4/2012

The lectures and discussion can be 'viewed' on-line at: .

** end of update
Future Cities Policy Event - Friday 16 March 2012
Sustainable Future Cities has been highlighted as one of the top challenges that the chemical sciences can help to address in a changing world. 

I was invited to participate in the first evening of a special series of policy lectures for 2012 run by the Royal Society of Chemistry, bringing together research leaders in their fields with policy makers. The event took place at the Chemistry Centre in Burlington House, London.

There were two lectures and there was a panel discussion on the related science policy issues, followed by further informal discussions over drinks and snacks.  The Lectures were delivered by Dr Richard Miller of the Technology Strategy Board and Professor AbuBakr S. Bahaj of the University of Southampton.

These events bring a wide cross section ranging from some retired people like me and those working in several fields.  Sustainability may be a buzzword but the ideas are not new, certainly not to chemists, and it is worth noting that after the International Year of Chemistry, the Royal Society of Chemistry is maintaining contacts across disciplines and sectors.  This was apparent in some of the questions which followed both lectures.

I attended a conference when at school for young scientists in 1969 and the theme was “Man and his Environment”.  In 1985 I was at a conference in Berlin (West) concerned with chemicals.  The buzz then was growth and predicting demand in China.  At this conference one of the speakers from a Japanese Sogo shosha (trading house) remarked on the Chinese worker carrying their lunch to work in a bamboo lunchbox, and would it not be a good idea to convert the Chinese bamboo lunchbox to one made from polystyrene.  The forecasters were busy working the demand for ethylene, benzene, ethyl benzene and styrene monomer.  At this time a large expansion of petrochemical production had taken place in Saudi Arabia and was to be followed by many Greenfield units in the Gulf, South East Asia and Latin America. 

In 2012 we have the reverse, with many natural materials “replacing” synthetic ones.  This has had mixed results with cloth bags being used in a highly non sustainable way.  I have commented on the “Lucky” bags on offer at the EdinburghBook Festival last year.  Biofuels have also had a mixed press with resources being transferred from food markets to meet the gas guzzling demand of some countries. 

The evening was recorded and though not webcast at the time will be available on the web soon.  Broadly, the lectures covered the following:

• concept of sustainability
• economic statistics relating to current infrastructures in our cities
• current predictions for population growth, and impact on city growth and infrastructure requirements
• the key role of chemists in reducing this impact
• current research being undertaken and technologies available
• an examination of ‘technological’ solutions within the wider context of economics, politics and social practices (i.e. behaviour)

I made a few mental notes and though they are not directly concerned with the cities theme, nevertheless fit into the sustainable “box.”

Futurology may be verging on science fiction and it was interesting that someone from the Arthur C Clarke Award was present.
Peer to Peer is a phrase which often crops up with platform and trading as a mechanism for doing away with the “middle man”, whether it is in banking and finance or in energy trading

While the decarbonising of economies was treated as a given, modes of transport have to be discussed within a city and between the city and beyond cities for leisure. 

The thought of living in Metropolis did not sound too attractive to this post modern visually impaired person. 

Developments in personal electric transports were raised and I thought a flying carpet was mentioned. 

A point was made by Professor Bahaj that behaviour was unpredictable and that forecasts were not always correct in retrospect.

Electric bikes in China cost Euro 250 versus Euro 750 in Europe.  One had visions of Chinese commuters going to work on electric bikes and burning of the fat in the gym fitted with a peer to peer energy trading system.  This raised issues of battery storage and life.

The insurance industry was now calling some of the shots in valuation of building and development such as Swiss Re and Willis Re.

Materials for the manufacture of magnets say in turbines were easily recycleable compared to those used in mobile phones and consumer electronics.  This harks back to the work of Mike Pitts and Hywel Jones described in earlier posts. WIMS

Thermal insulation of buildings was mentioned especially the layers of materials which can be sandwiched between the walls.  The development of an alternative to paraffin wax, which has been used as a phase transfer temperature control, joined with prospect of buildings and glass Photovoltaic systems for energy transfer.  An example was made of a large building in Dubai which generated power and reduced the energy demand for air conditioning. 

Innovation in pumps and design of materials was proceeding but architects and engineers had to be more imaginative. 

Chemists are ideally suited to “improving” some of nature’s processes be it in photosynthesis.  No doubt those specialising on Moral and Ethical issues view us as creators of Frankenstein products and there has been some concern at aspects of bio engineering in agriculture, silviculture and the creation of monoculture industries based on Palm Oil and Eucalyptus for feedstocks.

This was an interesting range of subjects which were covered and there were a healthy amount of sceptics to ensure no one got too carried away.  Energy and sustainability are issues to which I shall return and will add comments and updates to this post.

Many thanks to Andrea and Charlotte of the Royal Society of Chemistry for looking after me.  The RSC has various twitter accounts and RSC_RoadMap may be of interest as could be the Hash Tag #FutureCities
Full report on:
Summary report on: