Thursday, 13 February 2020

Towards a Hydrogen-based Economy

On the evening of 11 February 2020 a large audience of RSC Belgium members and friends gathered at the British School of Brussels to hear Prof Joris Proost from the Universite Catholique de Louvain deliver a talk entitled 'Towards the Hydrogen Economy: Challenges and Pitfalls'. This lecture followed on from our Cafe Chimique event in November 2019 where Prof Proost was originally hoping to contribute but had to withdraw.

Prof Proost took the audience through the issues around a transition towards a hydrogen-based economy and society. The global energy system requires a profound transformation to achieve the targets of the Paris Agreement and in this context, low-carbon electricity from renewable energy sources may become the preferred energy carrier. The share of electricity in all of the energy consumed by end users worldwide would need to increase to 40% in 2050 to achieve the decarbonised energy world envisaged by the Paris Agreement.

However, Prof Proost pointed out that the total decarbonisation of certain sectors, such as transport, industry and uses that require high-grade heat, may be difficult purely by means of electrification. This challenge could be addressed by hydrogen from renewables, allowing large amounts of renewable energy to be channeled from the power sector into the end-use sectors. Hydrogen could therefore be the missing link in the energy transition with renewable electricity used to produce green hydrogen (via water electrolysis), which can in turn provide energy to sectors otherwise difficult to decarbonise through electrification.

Prof Proost emphasised three characteristics of the use of hydrogen that as an energy vector compared to fossil fuels: 1/ it embodied a zero tolerance for carbon (vital to reach climate change targets); 2/ it represented a potential doubling of efficiency; and 3/ it was fully reversible.

Hydrogen sectors
Hydrogen is widely used in several industry sectors (refineries, ammonia production, bulk chemicals, etc.), with the vast majority of it currently being produced from natural gas by steam-methane reforming (SMR). Green hydrogen from renewables could replace such fossil fuel-based feedstocks in high-emission applications.

In the transport sector, fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) provide a low-carbon mobility option when the hydrogen is produced from renewable energy sources, and offer driving performances comparable to conventional vehicles. FCEVs are complementary to battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and can overcome some of the current limitations of batteries (weight, driving range and refuelling time) in the medium to high duty cycle segments. But in the longer run, electrofuels (e-fuels - liquid fuels produced from renewable power) can replace fossil fuels without the need to change end-use technologies.

The talk stimulated a lively question and answer session. Useful report for further reading on the subject is the IRENA report 'Hydrogen from renewable power: Technology outlook for the energy transition' that was published in 2018 and the IEA Report 'The Future of Hydrogen', published in 2019.

Hydrogen expert
Prof. dr. ir. Joris Proost holds a Master and PhD in Materials and Process Engineering from Louvain University (KUL) and after spending three years at Harvard University, he joined the Faculty of Louvain University at Louvain-la-Neuve (UCLouvain) in 2003, where he has been a tenured Full Professor since 2009. His current research interests focus on electrochemical process intensification, with a particular interest on developing new reactor and electrode technologies for renewable hydrogen production. Prof. Proost is currently the Belgian representative at the Hydrogen Technology Collaboration Program (TCP) of the International Energy Agency (IEA), for which he is involved as one of the sub-task leaders on Power-to-Hydrogen. He was also invited as a participant of the high-level strategic IEA H2 workshop in February 2019 in Paris, and acted as a Peer Reviewer of the resulting report that was launched mid-June 2019 at the meeting of the G20 energy ministers in Tokyo.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

RSC Belgium 2020 AGM and Annual Dinner

The 2020 Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the RSC Belgium International section took place on the evening of 17 January 2020 at Les Amis Dinent restaurant in Wezembeek-Oppem from 19h30. This was followed by the section's Annual Dinner.

The meeting kicked off with the approval of the Minutes of 2019 AGM which were moved (Matt Andrews), seconded (David Terrell) and unanimously adopted. The meeting then recieved the secretary's report on the section's activities in 2019.

2019 activities
Tim Reynolds presented the report saying that 2019 was another very good year for the section with seven public lectures organised, including a Café Chimique, plus a major schools’ tour, a fund raising social and our two annual school outreach events: the Chemistry Challenge and annual Top of the Bench Eliminator. In addition, we supported a Memorial Symposium for our good friend Prof Istvan Marko. To complete the year RSC Belgium was represented once again at RSC Kent’s curling day. According to HQ, section membership currently stands at 115, a decrease of some 15 over the year.

The report was unanimously approved (proposed by David Terrell and seconded by Julie Tuppeny).

2019 finances
Julie Tuppeny presented the 2019 financial report and accounts. On 1 January 2019, the net assets of RSC Belgium Section were €10 311.51. The Annual Grant for 2019 received in June 2019 from RSC UK was €1 900.00 with an additional instalment for the Outreach Grant received on 25 October of €210, somewhat less than the requested €7 668.

Major items of expenditure are listed below. 
  • € 1 906.70 hotel cost for the Istvan Marko Symposium
  • € 905.00 to organise the Chemistry Challenge of which € 400 was prize money
  • € 1 578.00 to organise and run the Kitchen Chemistry tour
  • € 1 051.00 for the Café Chimique
For the Year ending 31 December 2019, the net assets of RSC Belgium International Section amount to €5 929.46.

The meeting moved (Tim Reynolds), seconded (Bob Crichton) and unanimously adopted the presented accounts and the Treasurer’s report.

5. Chairman’s Remarks (Bob Crichton)
The Chairman thanked the committee for their hard work and support during a very successful year. He gave specific thanks to Tim Reynolds for his work in making the Kitchen Chemistry tour a particular success.

Bob looked forward to working with the new committee in 2020.

Committee election
Two ordinary members were elected to the committee: David Terrell and Jane Downing.

Election to the committee is for a two-year term. Bob Crichton (Chair), Tim Reynolds (Secretary), Julie Tuppeny (Treasurer) and committee members Rita Woodward and Matt Andrews are mid-way through their current term on the committee.

At the first committee meeting of 2020 Bo Dahlqvist and Fabio Lucaccioni will be co-opted onto the committee. The membership of the 2020 committee can be found here.

Having reviewed the section rules (which state the section auditor could be any member of the section who was not a current member of the committee) and the financial audit requirements for the section reports to RSC HQ (no formal audit required) it was decided to review the need to appoint an auditor to the section at the first committee meeting of 2020.

With no further business to discuss the meeting adjourned at 19h55. The first meeting of the 2020 committee took place on 4 February 2020.

Annual dinner

The AGM was followed by the 2020 Annual Diner of the section, which was a resounding success.

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Sixth Norman Lloyd Scholar selected

RSC Belgium is proud to announce that the sixth recipient of the Dr Norman C. Lloyd Scholarship at Cardiff University has been selected and is enjoying their first year at the university. Annabel Hendley-Jones started her MCheM degree in Chemistry at the end of September.

The Norman Lloyd Scholarship is given to new students to the Cardiff School of Chemistry who are of high academic standing and a resident of Wales.

In an email thanking the section for sponsoring her award Annabel (pictured above) wrote:

"I want to first thank the friends and family of Dr. Norman Lloyd, the Royal Society of Chemistry Belgium and the Cardiff University School of Chemistry for the honour of being the recipient of this generous scholarship. This scholarship will help me tremendously to invest in learning resources and tuition fees I will require for my upcoming years at university and has given me the extra initiative to do well during this time," she said.

"I had always had a keen interest in the challenging content of chemistry and its widespread importance to the world and always enjoyed the cohesion of practical lab work and academic lessons in school. Equal in importance was continuing to live and study in Wales as I have huge affection for the history and culture of my country, so Cardiff was the obvious combination of this and chemistry for me. After my degree I am looking to enter the energy industry looking at renewable materials," she continued.

"Once again, I would like to extend my greatest thanks to everyone involved with this scholarship, it was a big surprise to be chosen out of so many other talented students but also a privilege to learn about Dr. Norman Lloyd’s fantastic achievements as a chemist and inspired me greatly," Anabel concluded.

We all wish Annabel every success in her studies at Cardiff.

The scholarship
The Norman Lloyd scholarship was set up by RSC Belgium in collaboration with Norman’s family and Cardiff University in memory of our old friend and supporter Norman Lloyd. Norman was himself a student at an institution that is now part of the university. The funds raised provide an annual scholarship of £1,000 for an undergraduate student, usually in their first year of study, at the Cardiff School of Chemistry.

Café Chimique: The Future of Transport

On the evening of 27 November 2019 RSC Belgium held its latest Cafe Chimique at the Auderghem Cultural Centre in Brussels. The topic was 'The Future of Transport' with a focus on the role and opportunities for chemical sciences in the future transport mix (electric vehicles, hydrogen etc), but also taking a wider view on transport policy.

Our three speakers were:

All three gave short introductory talks on the subject supplemented by a brief outline of the status of hydrogen and fuel cell research from RSC Belgium chairman Prof Bob Crichton before a lively and extended audience-led discussion ensued.

As with our previous Cafe Chimique debates the audience was seated in a café-style format and a gratis bar and light refreshments were available before and during the whole event.

The event was free entry, but we collected for our Norman Lloyd Scholarship Fund during the evening raising a further EUR 220 to support chemistry students from less affluent backgrounds during their first year at Cardiff University.

RSC Belgium Top of the Bench 2019

Our annual 'international eliminator' for the Royal Society of Chemistry's Top of the Bench (TOTB) competition was held at the British School of Brussels (BSB) on Saturday 23 November 2019 with teams from Belgium and Luxembourg taking part. In total 12 teams from 6 schools participated. An exciting afternoon of chemical problem solving ended with the announcement of the 2019 winner of the Keith Price Cup: Team Sulfur from St George's School in Luxembourg. They will now represent RSC Belgium at the TOTB grand final in the UK in 2020.

The teams completed individual written question papers and then enjoyed a challenging team Practical Problem Solving Exercise. As usual both the 'hands-on' practical and the paper-based component were developed by our resident competition guru, Rita Woodward. The competition was designed to really test the teams’ chemistry knowledge and problem-solving abilities and encourage young talented chemical scientists to consider further education and careers in Chemistry.

The individual scores from the written paper were added together for each team with the placings from the practical session to give an overall score.

Members of the winning Sulfur team (pictured above) received our TOTB Keith Price Cup as well as some RSC goodies. All the student participants will receive a certificate.

Conkering foams
The practical component of the challenge was based around making and measuring 'foam'. Saponins are natural detergents found in many plants including the seeds of the horse chestnut tree - traditionally called ‘conkers’. Saponins contain both water soluble and fat soluble components and as a consequence form stable foams. 

The teams were asked to prepare a detergent extract from saponin present in conkers and then, in the shortest time produce a declared volume of chemical foam from a mixture of the liquid detergent, sodium hydrogen carbonate and lemon juice.

The judges were particularly impressed by the approach to and quality of the practical work this year and once again the outcome for the practical was very close with hardly anything between the teams. However, when taken with the performance on the written papers the Team Sulfur from St George’s International School was the clear winner.

Commenting on the practical competition, Rita Woodward said: "Overall I was impressed. It was very pleasing to see how well the teams worked together to make good use of the equipment and the time allowed."

Thank you
Our huge thanks to everyone involved in the 2019 TOTB challenge including our judges, staff at BSB and to all the teachers and other volunteers involved in preparing and organising the event.

The full list of participating teams for our 2019 competition was:

Silicon - European School Brussels 4 (Laeken)
Chromium - European School Brussels 2 (Woluwe)
Oxygen -  International School of Flanders (Rhode St Genese)
Nitrogen - British School of Brussels (Tervuren)
Calcium - British School of Brussels (Tervuren)
Copper - European School Brussels 3 (Ixelles)
Sulfur - St Georges International School (Luxembourg)
Vanadium - St Georges International School (Luxembourg)

The TOTB Finals will take place at the University of East London campus on Saturday 21 March 2020 and RSC Belgium will sponsor the travel arrangements for our winning team. The RSC Belgium team is usually the only competing school team not based in the British Isles.

Our next TOTB Eliminator Round will take place in Autumn 2020. Get your school involved!

Curling in Kent again!

For the third year running RSC Belgium participated in the RSC Kent Curling tournament in the UK. This is becoming established as an annual event in our calender and takes place at Fenton's curling rink near Tunbridge Wells in Kent; this year on Saturday 30 November. For 2019 Kent section reserved all three lanes at the curling rink for the whole day as the event has become so popular.

The Kent section have been organising a curling event for a few years now and the main protagonist, Dave Alker (pictured left below), has seen the event grow and grow in recent years. This year saw a significant innovation with teams in each two-hour session playing against each other in a Round-Robin type tournament, which worked really well.

This year's RSC team included of section secretary Tim Reynolds, committee member Jane Downing, Helen Lee (Mrs Secretary), Antony Lee Reynolds (Secretary's son) and two locally recruited 'ringers' (friends of the Secretary) Sally Wellsteed and Richard Hucker. Sad to say , despite a good start the Belgium team's performance tailed off somewhat!

Winter sport
Curling has been an Olympic Winter sport since 1988 and is one of the few events everyone can try. It is fair to say that curling is a game that is easy to play, but may take several lifetimes to master... however it was great fun and RSC Belgium participants will return again!

The game is suitable for young and old, and can be played as a social or competitive sport. As England's first and oldest dedicated ice curling rink, Fenton’s three lanes offer a unique opportunity for people to give curling a go or just meet up for some fun. And there was very little slipping over thanks to the special 'sticky' shoes supplied by the venue.

Participants were a mixture of ‘regulars’ i.e. those who had embarrassed themselves on the rink in previous years, and newcomers. The participants ranged from 18 to 80 and included RSC members, guests and partners. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Dave and the Kent section are already preparing for the 2020 event with the venue provisionally booked for Saturday 28 November.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

The Periodic System of the Chemical Elements

2019 has been designated by the United Nations and UNESCO as the International Year of the Periodic Table (IYPT2019), so on the evening of 7 November the section was delighted to welcome Prof Brigitte van Tiggelen from the Science History Institute (Philadelphia, USA and Paris) and le Centre de Recherche en Histoire des Sciences (UCLouvain, Belgium) to the British School of Brussels to talk to us about the origins of the Periodic System of the Chemical Elements.

The International Year of the Periodic Table (IYPT2019) coincides with the celebration of the anniversary of the first publication of the Periodic System by the Russian chemist Dmitry Ivanovich Mendeleev. However, Mendeleev was not the only one to propose a classification of all the elements then known, and he shared with Lothar Meyer the idea of making it a periodic system.

Brigitte's talk was entitled 'A work in progress: the Genesis and Development of the Periodic System' and covered the genesis of the periodic system including the significant contributions of scholars other than Mendeleev, such as Lothar Meyer; the question of the true significance of the predictions made by Mendeleev in the acceptance of the system by contemporaries, and the gradual but relatively slow dissemination of this tool within chemistry education. 

She also focused on the unique feature of Mendeleev's approach in his desire to produce a law of nature, the Periodic Law, that could be used to make predictions about the existence and sometimes even the properties of elements still to be discovered.

Brigitte described the development of the ideas behind the periodic system and the multiplicity of different periodic tables that have been generated over the century and half of its existence. In particular how it has adapted to successive new discoveries relating to the constitution of matter and its interpretation in terms of quantum mechanics. Not only could Mendeleev not have foreseen these developments, but he had a very hard time accepting the discovery of radioactivity and unstable elements, not to mention the isotopes of the elements, or the disruption of the atom and the atomic nucleus. 

Today, it is not possible to imagine the teaching or publication of a chemistry textbook that did not include a Periodic Table. But research conducted by historians of science show that the table did not enter the educational syllabus until quite late, demonstrating that what we now consider to be the indispensable and universal tool was absent from chemical training for many generations.

We hope to invite Prof Van Tiggelen back in 2020 to talk on the subject of 'Women in Science'. She has recently been the joint editor of an important book on the contribution of women to shaping the chemical sciences - 'Women in their Element' - that provides ample evidence of the female contributions to the iconic table of chemistry. The book shows how women contributed to the building and understanding of the periodic system and to the discovery of  many elements.