The Inspiration of Travel

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In mid-April, I attended GasTech 2017 in Tokyo. The focus of GasTech was Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and its impact on the world’s energy balance, carbon emissions and technology. At the same time I was focused on all the interesting characteristics of Japan itself — it was my first time visiting. I always find I am truly inspired by travel and the new experiences it brings.

Novel Experiences in Japan

As in all countries, Japan has its own unique characteristics. There is a sense oforderliness that you do not find in many places around the world. On escalators, for example, you stand on the left and walk on the right. Plus, smoking, eating, drinking, cell phone talking in public are considered impolite and are frowned upon.

However, bicycles have free rein. During our trip, we biked 13 miles throughout Tokyo; what a ride! Speaking of rides, the trains go everywhere and run all of the time and are the safest that I have used. You only need two maps (rail and subway) and then you are fine.

We were also there during the famous cherry blossom season. We enjoyed white, red, pink, weeping willows. Who would have known there were so many different types? Even if you travel there in another season you won’t want to miss the beauty of Japanese gardens. SLS Charlotte

All You Need is Arigato

Handling money and credit cards is rather interesting. There are small trays near every register and you place your money the tray. Credit cards are presented with two hands and a nod of the head. Don’t worry about tipping as there is no tipping and high quality service is the norm. Only an “Arigato,” or thank you, is necessary.

You may be familiar with Japanese food such as sushi or tempura but the taste in Japan is unique. Also try specialty ramen, soba and udon noodles. Japanese “hot pot” styles, nabemono, are common with many different types of oils and broths including tofu and my favorite vegetables of konjac and the satoimo root (sweet taro). With your meal, enjoy a Japanese beer or cold, lukewarm, or hot sake. You might even try a paired dinner with different sake for each course.

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Finally, be sure to balance your business with visits to the imperial palaces, Shinto and Buddhist shrines, and Tokyo’s 47 neighborhoods. We also enjoyed a Tokyo Giants baseball game! Check out my photos, and let’s meet in Japan for business together.

Cruising Into a Future with LNG

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Image source: Travel Weekly

In mid-April, I attended GasTech 2017 in Tokyo. The focus of GasTech was Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and its impact on the world’s energy balance, carbon emissions, and technology. Now, I didn’t take a cruise ship all of the way from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Japan, but there are some interesting overlaps between LNG and cruising.

Why Liquefied Natural Gas

First, we need to understand LNG and its growing market share.

LNG is an odorless, colorless and non-corrosive natural gas that has been converted to liquid form for ease of storage or transport. It takes up about 1/600th the volume of natural gas in the gaseous state (cruise ship stewards likely wish human luggage could take up 1/600th the volume too!).

The liquefaction process involves removal of certain components, such as dust, acid gases, water and heavy hydrocarbons. The natural gas is then condensed into a liquid at close to atmospheric pressure by cooling it to approximately −162 °C (−260 °F); maximum transport pressure is set at around 25 kPa (4 psi).

LNG is principally used for transporting natural gas to markets, where it is regasified and distributed as pipeline natural gas. LNG is expected to hit 10% of the global crude production by 2020.

Yet LNG is also being used to power ships worldwide. There are 100 LNG-outfitted ships today with another 72 LNG-ready and another 100 in manufacturing. This growth reflects a demand for energy efficiency and new international rules on sulfur content of fuel.

Smooth Sailing for LNG Ships

The primary use for LNG ships today is car and passenger ferries. Cargo ships rank second, and now the cruise industry is getting into the action with 11 ships already on order. According to Travel Weekly, Lloyd’s Register predicts “there will be 653 LNG-powered ships of all types built between 2012 and 2025, including 25 cruise ships.”
Soon you’ll be able to cruise to the islands with more efficiency. Talk about a win-win proposition! Although a trip to Tokyo would be worth taking, even without the cruise experience – I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the trip in a future blog (along with some photos).

In the meantime, GasTech was a great learning opportunity. I enjoyed discussions of LNG technology, gas transmissions and pipelines, infrastructure to use LNG as well as operator training. Check out the website, http://www.gastechnews.com/. The conference, once again, showed how the world is tied together for energy and environmental issues. Let me know your ideas and LNG questions.

Innovating Zero Gravity Espresso

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Image source: foter.com

Ambition to improve is everywhere, and not only limited to corporate labs and academia. I love to see examples of innovation in any field — from wind turbines to cloud seeding or surfing to strawberries. Those who are loyal readers of this blog know that I’ve already written about each of those. Today though I am turning to some new tech that relates to what we do every day to solve chemical engineering problems.

Despite what contrarians might say, humans long ago solved the mystery of making perfect coffee on earth. Yet building an espresso machine for the international space station was a much bigger challenge. Bloomberg last year featured an Italian engineering firm, Argotec, spent over 18 months with 11 engineers working to develop a microgravity brewing process that could meet NASA’s rigorous safety standards.

In Earth gravity, we force almost boiling water through finely ground coffee beans. The water boils, becomes less dense and the steam pushes into the air above. But hot water behaves differently in near-zero gravity. The steam does not rise; staying put it can create a dangerous vapor bubble suspended in a ball of water. So, to avoid bubbles, Argotec used a special thin-steel pipe to ensure the water couldn’t build up heat bubbles.

The next problem was pressure. NASA safety rules anything over 60 psig a concern. Espresso brewing requires at least twice as much pressure. Argotec engineers determined that they could address this by eliminating a traditional rotary pump and instead using an electric motor to drive the plunger.

What about leaks and pressure relief? This is a common problem for all chemical plants, but even more difficult in zero gravity. Argotec made it so that every piece of pipe had relief valves with piping back to a central pressure containment chamber.

 

That left the question of how to drink an espresso in outer space? Think, after all, of the Tang crystals that are so famous as a space drink. The espresso-loving engineers designed a mechanism to blow air through the coffee capsule into a zip-lock coffee cup.

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We all know how nice it is to have a hot espresso when trying to solve a process problem. Now our astronauts have the same opportunity to get the brain cells jumping in space. This is yet another exciting example of how process engineers have to brainstorm new approaches to separation problems.