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Perry's helps send rockets to Mars

Chemengers design engines

CHEMICAL engineers are helping to design, build and test rocket engines that would power future European missions to Mars. The European Space Agency(ESA) has awarded the contract for the development of next-generation rocket engines for interplanetary missions to American Pacific Operations (Ampac-ISP). The ESA contract will involve the development of new processes, materials and technologies to improve the performance of engines used to send spacecraft into orbit and other in-space propulsion manoeuvres. Lolan Naicker, a chemical engineer and propulsion engineer with Ampac, told tee that his work will cover the design, build and hot-fire test of a new 1.1 kN hypergolic rocket engine for the mission. I started out in the petrochemical industry but later drifted to the nuclear industry, to theoretical physics, to astronomy, and now to the space industry. An unexpected circular move which, strangely enough, sees me with Perry's open in front of me, hut this time using it to help me design a chemical rocket engine to place a spacecraft in orbit around Mars." Ampac-ISP will carry out the work at its Rocket Propulsion Establisbment at Westcott, UK, as well as in Ireland. Further computational fiuid dynamics (CFD) has been sub-contracted to the Irish company Engineering Solutions International. Ampac-ISP specialises in the development and supply of propulsion systems, fluid controls, and launch vehicle structural components and has been involved with the Ariane 5 Launch Vehicle for over 20 years.

I't hold your breath' for EU fracking boom

Europe unlikely to see US-style shale gas revolution
MINERAL rights and a densely-packed population stack the odds against a European shale gas boom, according to head of Shell Chemicals Ben van Beurden. Fueiied by advances in hydraulic fracturing - or 'fracking' - technology, Norfh America has been undergoing a natural gas rvolution for the besf part of a decade. The sudden upswing in producfion has ^ flooded fhe markef wifh cheap gas, leading pefrochemical producers away from naphfha feedsfocks, and prompfing Sheii fo make ifs firsf cracker invesfmenf on fhe confinenf for 30 years. On fhe ofher side of fhe Aflanfic, European firms are beginning fo explore fhe possibllify of fhe fechnoiogy for themselves, buf if remains unclear whefher shale gas will be adopfed on anywhere near

Stuxnet successor surfaces

EVIDENCE of a new computer virus based on fhe Stuxnet worm fhaf appeared in 2010 has emerged in compufer systems in Europe, computer securify firm Symanfec has warned, Symanfec says that the virus doesn't appear to disrupt industrial confrol sysfems, as Sfuxnef did. Instead, it is a 'remofe access Trojan', specifically developed fo collect dafa from the manufacturers of industrial controi sysfems in preparafion for a fufure affack. it can relay both keystrokes and system information back to a controi and command server. The new virus has been dubbed 'W32,Duqu', or 'Duqu' for shorf, as if creates files with fhe file name prefix "~DQ", Uniike Sfuxnef, if cannof self-replicate, and automaficaiiy removes ifself from a system affer 36 days. Duqu, which was identified by an unnamed European research lab, contains much of the same code as Stuxnef, indicating that it may have been created by fhe same developers or, at very least, someone with full access to fhe Sfuxnet code. Like ifs predecessor, Duqu uses a stolen Symantec digital security certificafe fo gain access fo computer systems, though fhis has now been revoked by the company, Stuxnet operated only in very specific conditions, affacking Siemens' Supervisory Confrol and Dafa Acquisition (SCADA) systems used in a limifed number of applications, including controlling fhe speeds of cenfrifuges used in uranium enrichment processes. The fact fhat 66% of affecfed sysfems were in Iran ied many fo speculafe fhaf fhe virus had been specificaiiy developed to sabotage Iran's nuclear enrichmenf programme.

november 2011

Flickr/Ron Akers


the same scale. "Don't hold your breath," warned van Beurden, who studied chemical engineering at the Netherlands' Delft University. "In places iike North America, quite a lot of the landowners love to see a drilling rig because it means money in their pocket. In northwest Europe, however, mineral rights are generally held by the state, so the only thing landowners get is inconvenience." He explained that the region's comparatively dense population also posed a barrier to widespread operations, as large amounts of both wells and surface activity are needed to develop shale fields. Van Beurden insisted, however, that fracking "is not an invasive technology" and that much of the public opposition to its use is "not founded on scientific insights."

"What a lot of people don't realise is that we have been fracking wells since before the Second World War Just in the US we have, as an industry, fracked over a million wells without any major issue." He acknowledged that some incidents had been caused by smaller, independent companies with lower safety standards, but maintained that "there is no fundamental reason why [fracking] should be an issue." Though confident that Western Europe is unlikely to be dotted with wellheads any time soon, van Beurden acknowledged that the more eastern countries, such as Poland, stood a much higher chance of capitalising on their unconventional .' resources. /

EU court bCQis

stem cell patents

Ruling could drive research away from Europe
THE European Court of Justice bas banned patents based on embryonic stem-cell lines; a decision researchers fear will drive work out from tbe continent. The verdict is legally binding throughout the EU, and while it does not make the research itself illegal, an inability for scientists and companies to protect their work is expected to undermine future investment. It will affect a huge amount of stem-cell treatments, because even labmultiplied cells can be traced back to the destruction of an original embryo. "Once a fundamental discovery has been made in the laboratory, further research is required to produce a clinically safe and effective product. This is a particularly expensive part of the entire process," explained Sir Ian Wilmut, professor at the University of Edinburgh's MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine. "Companies in Europe will now be less likely to invest in this stage of the research with embryo stem cells because they would be unable to protect their procedures." The ruling has been 14 years in the making, and hinged on a dispute between Greenpeace's German branch and neuropathologist Oliver Brustle. The environmental lobbying group argued that Brsde's patent was in violadon of a European law banning protection for inventions "contrary to public order and morality." Despite strident protests from the scientific community, the court eventually chose to side with Greenpeace, stating that "an invention is excluded from patentability where the implementation of the process requires either the prior destruction of human embryos or their prior use as base material." Its decision strips away the protection established for more than 100 separate patents in the UK and Sweden.

Unlocking a field's potential

SHELL is developing a technology that it hopes will unlock some of the vast amounts of oil still trapped in ageing fields. The process uses surfactants to coax the liquid from rock pores. On average, most wells will only extract around 40% of a field's full potential of oil, a figure that Shell hopeS to increase "significantly'! I One of the major reasons for so much oil staying in the ground is down to its refusal to mix with the water used to force it out.

Introducing surfactants into the mix reduces the tension between them to roughly a thousandth of its normal level, allowing the droplets of hydrocarbon to fiow much more easily. The process is being trialled at several sites throughout Southeast Asia, the Middle East and the US. Currently, around 1 kg of surfactant produces 1 bbl of oil, though the compounds used are diluted to 0.3% of the volume of the water used.

BASF sells fertiliser businesses for 700m

BASF is selling its fertiliser facility in Antwerp, Belgium, to Russian chemicals firm EuroChem, along with its 50% stake in the PEC-Rhin joint venture (JV). The total value of the two transactions is 700m (US$946m). BASF says that it's carving out its fertiliser assets, which include CAN/ AN (calcium ammonium nitrate/ammonium nitrate) and Nitrophoska fertiliser plants, a nitrophosphoric acid plant and three nitric acid plants, into a separate business, which will be bought by EuroChem. Around 330 employees will transfer to EuroChem. PEC-Rhin is BASF's fertiliser JV with GPN, a subsidiary of Total, and produces CAN/ AN fertilisers, nitric acid and ammonia. The plants produce 2.5m t/y of fertiliser and account for less than 1 % of BASF's sales. BASF's fertiliser facilities in Ludwigshafen, Germany, aren't included in the sale. Subject to regulatory approval, both sales are expected to be complete by the end of Q1 2012.

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