You write in on plastics, lab coat pockets and virility

Cooling off

I am amazed that the picture associated with February’s leader on climate change (Chemistry World, February, p7) has the same complete misrepresentation that I rant at the television about! The image is not of chimneys but cooling towers, which certainly look quite spectacular but contribute nothing at all to CO2 global emissions.

This sort of ‘bad science’ is completely unacceptable in our publication, and is positively dangerous in distracting attention away from what is the second most important challenge to the future of this planet (the first is obviously the completely uncontrolled growth of human population). I would be delighted if the Royal Society of Chemistry took up the challenging topic of overpopulation with the same vigour, for then perhaps politicians would start to do something to save the future of our planet from this inevitable disaster.

Ted Elmer CChem MRSC
Bishop’s Stortford, UK

Editor: The image was of the Drax power station, which was mentioned in the article. Although we take your point that cooling towers give off water vapour, other chimneys are clearly visible.

Plastic thermodynamics

It is folly to consider the conversion of plastic waste into fuel without appraising the energy needed for the process (Chemistry World, February 2019, p16). This is particularly so for a society which desperately needs to make a transition to a sustainable future at the same time as managing the threat that plastic waste poses to oceanic ecology and the food chain.

There is indeed useful chemical functionality in plastics. But what cost in extracting that value? The concept takes on a different outlook when one realises that these processes are endothermic and use up more energy than the fuel that they could create.

The theme was also present elsewhere in the same issue, where proposed testing of carbon capture from Drax was reported (Chemistry World, February 2019, p10). Even without the storage element, this novel concept had a quoted energetic cost of 4–5GJ/tonne of carbon dioxide: a tremendous amount of energy, which would then have its own emissions.

Are some people merely deluded to think that we can ignore these energy demands, or do they take the ostrich approach and hope that no one will notice? If society is to make a transition to a sustainable future then we cannot arbitrarily draw a thermodynamic boundary around the engineering systems that purport to take us there. The solution, of course, is that we must reduce consumption and stop using plastics.

Andrew Rollinson, MRSC
Castleford, UK

I Likens like that

I read with great Interest Andrea Sella’s article on the Likens–Nickerson apparatus (Chemistry World, February 2019, p70).

I was very fortunate to have used this specific apparatus during my work for a spice company, where I carried out extensive research into the origin, identification and determination of trace volatile organic contaminants in solvent-based spice oleoresins, which are used in condiments. The apparatus I used was specially made by a local glassmaker, based on the two glass components and dimensions given with reference to the original paper mentioned. Since I used a less-dense solvent (n-heptane), the attachment of the two flasks was reversed with heptane placed in flask A. On completion of the extraction, the heptane extract was concentrated and made up to a standard volume ready for analysis both by gas chromatography and GC–MS.

The procedure worked beautifully. It was used to both identify and quantify the contaminants which were adulterating the spice oleoresin and condiment flavour. I also managed to develop a process to purify the spice extraction solvent used in the industrial plant.

This work was sponsored by my company and later submitted to the Council for National Academic Awards in 1984, when I was successfully awarded an MPhil via part-time study with a local polytechnic. I will always be grateful for the company’s sponsorship.

Robert Slinn CChem MRSC,
Nantwich, UK

Who wants to live forever?

I am bemused by two almost adjacent articles on aging in the latest issue. First we had anti-aging of ships outlining the change of chemicals used to prolong the seaworthiness of ship hulls. Then we had an article on the anti-aging of man and again a suggestion of the chemicals that could be used (Chemistry World, February 2019, p18 and p26).

I am less concerned about the aging of ships than my own aging: I turned 80 last September. What I wouldn’t relish is another 70 years of increasing senility and maybe 60 years in a care home. And while lifestyle has an impact on longevity, what most of us really desire is an increase in the length of our virility.

Paul Roebuck CChem FRSC
Nottingham, UK

Pocket watch

What memories the item on lab coat design raised (Chemistry World, February 2019, p56). I began work as a technician in ICI’s plastics division in Welwyn Garden City, UK, in 1951. We were issued with two thick white cotton lab coats with outside pockets and removable buttons, and they were laundered and starched (heavily) each week. I remember with pleasure each Monday morning tearing open the starch-glued garment, fitting the buttons and wearing it with the collar frozen vertically. I felt quite ‘consultant-like’.

I left after four years and only returned to another plastics company some fourteen years later. Lab coats were again issued – but they were very disappointing. No more thick white absorptive cotton to protect you; they had been replaced by thin white polyester-rich cloth, no starch and, worst of all, pockets only on the inside (for health and safety reasons) that were fairly useless! I felt cheated.

John Baldwin, CChem MRSC
Darlington, UK