On Thursday 27 October 2011, Dr Les Bolton gave a talk on "The Process Engineering Challenges of Renewable Transport Fuels". In his talk, Dr Bolton talked about his background and career to date, and discussed the chemical engineering challenges of bio-fuels, particularly second and third generation fuels.
Dr Bolton completed his undergraduate studies here at Cambridge, then stayed on for a PhD from 1984-1987. His project was on circulating fluidised beds and he was supervised by Professor Davidson, who attended his talk today.
He joined BP after graduating where he is now Reaction Engineering Advisor. This role has been primarily focused around the support of new technology development in Aromatics and Acetyls and the Conversion Technology Centre.
Providing sustainable and affordable energy is one of the big three challenges facing the world in the next few decades – along with providing food and water to an ever growing population. Biofuels currently account for quite a small portion of global energy consumption but both the EU and US have set challenging targets for biofuels over the next decade.
It is important that the biofuels should come from sustainable, inexpensive feedstocks, grown on land not used for food production, and not displacing important ecosystems. The crops should not require large energy (such as ammonia-based fertilizers) or water inputs for cultivation and they should not require large energy inputs for upgrading to final products. Ideally biofuels should also be completely compatible with current fuels, which is not the case at the moment.
Dr Bolton concluded that
- The US and EU biofuel targets are likely to motivate companies, both small and large, and universities to invest heavily in biofuel research programmes.
- The processes are complex, and are likely to be needed at huge scale.
- The process technology is challenging in many areas, and offers some fascinating career options for chemical engineers, particularly in research.