Change Climate by inspiring our Engineers to think of the Environment

It was used as a political carrot, but it is now a call for the younger generation to change our perspective. Did you know that some older engineers and their companies still don’t believe in climate change? When I left university as a young chemical engineer some 30 years ago I believed that we could change the world, but the more engineering companies I worked for, the more I felt they dulled my thinking and forced me to be just another cog in the machine. I now feel that my idealistic belief that we can change things doesn’t seem to resonate as much with the older generation of engineers as it does with the younger ones, so now we need to entrust the safety of the planet to young engineers.

At UNSW chemical engineers have been taught to consider the carbon footprint of engineering processes. “For the past 10 years energy and emission impacts have been incorporated into our core learnings’ says Professor Rose Amal, “Chemical engineers need to consider the impact of their work on our planet. Nowadays chemical engineering graduates don’t just accept previous practices but they innovate with the environment in mind”.

EcoMag welcomes young engineers into the team and “we try to push their way of thinking to be as far reaching as possible” says Dr Tam Tran, chief scientist at Ecomag. “The only way we are going to adequately address climate change is to have all engineers focused on solutions”. EcoMag has the opportunity to show what can be achieved through resource recovery, without impacting negatively the environment.

EcoMag makes the purest magnesium for the food and pharmaceutical markets, a highly sought-after material for the wellness industry. Magnesium has moved up from number 4 to number 3 on the supplement register. The general community and even medical doctors have been surprised at how a diet higher in magnesium is able to relieve inflammation. This has led to a big demand for organic magnesium and there are only a few suppliers that can provide such high purity products. It is important to note that our magnesium comes from a concentrated form of ocean water, free from all harmful impurities and heavy metals.

Uniquely, EcoMag recovers its magnesium from highly concentrated magnesium reject bitterns/brines dumped into the ocean by solar salt fields or stored in tailing ponds by potash producers. These are waste streams that are produced from seawater or subterranean brines that have been sun dried for an extended time. As a result, EcoMag magnesium products have a far lower carbon footprint than any other commercial product currently on the market. Removing the magnesium further reduces the impact of the original waste during discharge rendering it more acceptable for ocean outfall.

In addition, EcoMag has also started developing processes for CO2 sequestration using the magnesium waste streams, taking this waste gas from a nearby industry and using it to make the pharmaceutical magnesium. In this respect, two waste streams are combined to make highly profitable products in a process that has true green credentials. At EcoMag we have the opportunity to make our magnesium pharmaceutical grade products, earning real money whilst treating the environment with care and respect.

‘Our work with UNSW and CSIRO extends into making MgO structures that are highly porous (mesoporous). These are used to hold CO2 to react with H2 to make renewable methane/methanol that can be used as fuel and chemical feedstocks”. Tam remarks “Australia has an opportunity to make use of its resources for the good of the world”  

Every young engineer who works at EcoMag are all inspired with this strategy, producing novel and disruptive products with great creativity and care for the environment. We are further developing building boards that are fire resistant and products having highly porous structure that can be used as drug carrier for slow-release applications. We are actively seeking potential partners to work in these areas toward commercialization.

We are thankful to the Western Australian and the NSW state governments for their grant support to conduct our work.

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