Climate change is a priority for future chemists and engineers

The Fuel Change “Net Zero Challenge” gives young students and apprentices an opportunity to work together to come up with fresh ways to tackle climate change. FUJIFILM Ink Solutions Group mentored a group of students across our UK sites, looking at the problem of capturing, using and storing carbon.

Wendy Boyd, Research and Development Technical Manager, and Jordan Taylor, one of the students, share their experience of this challenge, and how it helped them to see climate change from a new perspective. 

Wendy Boyd
Jordan Taylor

What was the project you worked on?

Wendy: My own project was about recruiting talented and enthusiastic undergraduate chemists and engineers in order to engage them with the idea of being a part of the future Fujifilm R&D team. At the point of recruitment, I was introduced to the Grangemouth Net Zero Challenge being run by Fuel Change, and it seemed like the perfect project to bring the students together and get to know them. Originally my enthusiasm was more for engaging with the students rather than specifically working on projects to address climate change.

Jordan: The overarching project was to provide viable and scalable solutions to the problem of carbon emissions at an industrial site in Grangemouth, Scotland. The site produces over one third of all Scotland’s emissions and has targets to reach net zero by 2045. Within this challenge were sub projects, and ours was Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage. The outcome of our team project was to propose algae farming as a solution. Growing algae is an effective form of carbon capture as it grows very quickly and processes a lot of carbon dioxide to do this. Further to just growing the algae, we highlighted that it is a valuable crop to farm for a variety of uses; particularly we focussed on producing bioplastics. They biodegrade quicker than regular plastics and have the added benefit of degrading fully rather than becoming micro plastics that eventually make their way into the surrounding environment and our diets. Some of the other uses we proposed included algae-based footwear, extracting agar jelly as a gelatine alternative for vegans and vegetarians, or producing biodiesel. The farms can even be used as photobioreactors to produce green energy.

What were the challenges? 

Wendy: None of the students knew each other or those of us trying to engage with them. Additionally, the students were based in different parts of UK. So, we had to work on the challenges of shyness, team working, understanding the Fuel Change brief, and trailing brainstorm strategies all via video calls. The challenge of not being able to meet in one room and get to know each other was a big hurdle to overcome. In fact, some of the students have still not met each other face to face.

Jordan: Narrowing down our focus to a single idea was a big challenge. We spent a few weeks brainstorming and came up with a huge variety of ideas. We followed through with three ideas quite far along the process before settling on algae farming. The main challenge was deciding how best to utilise the farmed algae to reduce wider emissions by replacing less sustainable products. With plastic waste being such a large-scale problem, finding a way to reduce it felt like the best opportunity to make an impact, particularly single use plastics.

What did you enjoy the most from this project? 

Wendy: I enjoyed working with such talented and enthusiastic individuals who were keen to not only assist with Grangemouth’s Net Zero Challenge, but also to be a part of the Fujifilm team. I really liked seeing them grow individually, and as a team, and engage with different people across the business. They took on board everyone’s ideas and suggestions, and their confidence grew immeasurably. There was also plenty of laughter along the way.

Jordan: I enjoyed getting to engage with something new. I had never worked on a project with the chance to come up with innovative solutions completely from scratch, and then have to refine those ideas into something that could be made into a reality. The weeks spent coming up with ideas and then discussing the different reasons they would or wouldn’t work and how to overcome those challenges with the team were a lot of fun.

What have you learned from the scheme? 

Wendy: I have learned a lot about the issues around carbon dioxide production. The students have also taught me that carbon dioxide production can be a benefit to society, not just an undesirable industry by product. I knew very little about carbon capture, storage and usage, but having listened to the students over the last few months I have become far more aware of climate change issues and solutions.

The R&D team now has a team of undergraduate students that can network easily across the group of companies with confidence, collaborating and presenting to company members of all levels. The challenge has also shown both Fujifilm’s managers and students that climate change action is open to all. We can all make a substantial contribution. However, another benefit has been the ability to network with other industries allowing understanding of each other’s issues and strategies, along with collaboration on solutions, not just for our own industries, but also for the local community.

Jordan: I’ve learned that being able to combat climate change on an industrial scale doesn’t require the best of the best working 24/7. With just a few people putting in a few hours a week for a few months we, as a group of students given a start point, were able to build the foundation to a project that could be scaled up in a variety of ways and actually have an impact given the necessary time and financing.

I was fortunate enough to get to go to a showcase event for Fuel Change at COP26 in Glasgow which, aside from being a benefit in and of itself, allowed me to see how many people want to make a positive change. I was really encouraged to see how many ideas had been presented for all sorts of projects, and that there is potential for change. I also benefitted from the opportunity to present to, and connect with, people I may otherwise not have had a chance to interact with and learn from.

Has this influenced your attitude to climate change? 

Wendy: The whole project has made me far more aware of my own day to day activities that can positively or negatively affect climate change. I’m now very keen to start recruiting the next set of undergraduate students so that we can get involved with Fuel Change’s next challenge which will be a national one. I’m keen to maintain Fujifilm’s commitment to generating ideas for climate change projects. Also collaborate with local communities and partner with future chemists and engineers for both their and Fujifilm’s development.

Jordan: I would definitely look to do more work in the area of climate change and sustainability. I’ve been excited by the way this project showed there are meaningful ways I can get involved. As well as the day-to-day things we all hear about doing as individuals, I know now that there is room to get involved with larger projects, and share ideas with other people looking to make a difference on that scale.