July 14, 2016

Carbon Capture Options

There have been recent articles about “CarbFix, a pilot program at Iceland’s Hellisheidi Geothermal Power Station utilizing carbon capture and storage (CCS). CO2 gas is pumped underground and leads to its transformation to minerals.  This process eliminates the concern for underground storage sites that will remain stable for a long period of time (i.e. no earthquakes or geological faults are going to occur:  any rupture of underground storage layers would lead to catastrophic release of CO2 that affects the biomass near surface layers.)
Along with this single advantage come a few issues to consider with this approach, including its broader applicability:
(i)                 The geology of the Icelandic underground reserve. The process is intrusive to the natural balance. Per literature estimates, 1 million ton of CO2 would require 1 km3 of basalt reserve.
(ii)               According to literature and assuming the underground storage facility is at the right temperature to ensure fast kinetics per the article claim, a pressure of 200 to 400 bar might be required to drive the storage process.  Formation of carbonates might even make seeping of carbonated water more difficult.  How many kgs of CO2 are released to atmosphere by large capacity pumps per ton of CO2 sequestered underground per cubic meter of Basalt? (This question is moot if the pumps operate using hydrothermal power).
(iii)             Water requirements. What volume of Icelandic water is required to dissolve 1 ton of CO2 gas where the pH of the water is a crucial factor in getting the maximum dissolution of CO2 gas?    If the process uses saline water or seawater, then implications to underground mineral water contamination have to be considered.
(iv)             The process is localized to the Icelandic territory. Most coal fired power plants or other CO2 emitting industrial facilities do not have the advantage of an underground basalt reserve, which became transformed to their present state from other minerals that already lost their CO2 content due to thermally elevated conditions above ground or underground.
Compared to other carbon capture and conversion processes (i.e. Carbon Capture and Mineralization (CCM) or Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU)), the Icelandic project is expected to handle a much greater quantity of CO2 conversion at a minimum power loss. There are few industrial CCM and CCU processes that are either under pilot test or production stage that claim CO2 capture. If these facilities are powered by fossil fuel, then these cannot claim any carbon capture. Examples of these CCM/CCU processes are modified Solvay, Chlor-alkali, urea, polymerization, pilot electrochemical processes, and others.  The major advantage over the CCS basalt project is that the end products are usually commodity chemicals used for commercial purposes.  Finally, one process that uses membrane/ion exchange technology to process alkaline waste from industrial sites can compete with CCS basalt project in terms of energy and chemical byproducts.
Another trend that is getting serious consideration by scientists around the world is CO2 gas conversion to carbon monoxide (CO) gas and other basic precursors heavily used as start-up chemicals in chemical industry. That is, recycle CO2 gas instead of losing it to underground storage. A major hurdle in this regard is energy consumption, and scientists are searching for a breakthrough. A multibillion dollar CCU recycle process that is not CCM can have a major contribution to CCS technology at the global scale with world geopolitics. However, this topic will require a separate discussion.

The author of this blog post has a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry and is the inventor in 10 patents. His experience includes research in carbon capture, cartridge membrane mineral concentrators, semiconductor, metal, and ceramic surface cleaning and functionalization with surface coatings.   Click to read more about this technical expert. 

Since 1985, CECON has been placing experts in over 200 scientific disciplines.  CECON Consultants also include Chemical Safety Experts, Nanotechnology Experts, FDA Regulatory Expertsand Polymers& Coatings Experts.

May 17, 2016

Hazard Identification: The Mitigation Hierarchy and Human Interface

Hazard Identified; What Next?

As we’ve discussed in recent articles, once a hazard is identified as legitimate, it needs to be mitigated.  A time-tested approach is what is known as The Industrial Hierarchy of Controls. While effective if applied properly, we must consider the human interface when utilizing the hierarchy of controls. A quick refresher of the hierarchy of controls will remind us that it is historically comprised of 4 components: Substitute/Eliminate, Engineer, Administrate and PPE. Depending upon what it is we’re trying to control, any one component could be effective, or a combination might be called for to mitigate the hazard.

Initially, when using the hierarchy, we would prefer to substitute or eliminate the hazard if possible. Eliminating is obviously the simpler action. Let’s say we have a board with protruding nails laying in a walkway. We don’t need the board for the completion of our task, so we simply remove the nails and discard or re-use the board, thus eliminating the hazard.

Now, let’s say we’ve been using a particular cleaning compound. A revised MSDS reveals that it contains a carcinogenic component in its composition. Not wanting to expose anyone to the chemical hazard, we now have to determine how to control that hazard. We need to use a cleaner in order to complete our task. The question now is, How? A bit of research finds that there are several other cleaners that perform as well, but they have no carcinogens in their composition. In this case we can opt to substitute a new, hazard-free cleaner for the old cleaner and complete the task as desired.

To Engineer a hazard control may take a group of professionals with specific skill sets. Depending upon how complex the hazard control may be, it’s possible that you may require certain experts in a particular field, or simply a creative individual with a practical solution. Using an example from my own work history, let’s solve an excessive noise issue. In a compressor building, we had monitored SPL’s of 121dba. That is loud by anyone’s standards! Even with double hearing protection, the long-term effects on workers were undesirable. Our solution needed to be the best in terms of long-term performance and protecting our employees. An assessment revealed that the manifold/muffler systems used on the 2-cycle, gas-burning engines produced a harmonic conducive to extreme sound levels at the RPM’s the engines operated at. After consulting with numerous specialists, the determination was to install new, quieter manifold/muffler systems on the engines and use sound-deadening, portable barriers during maintenance work. What we did was use a combination of substitute and engineer to control the hazard.

Sometimes, it’s a matter of removing people as opposed to removing a hazard, to arrive at the best solution for hazard control. During summer months when temperatures are highest (and employees working outside are most exposed to heat stress) many companies will arrange work schedules to compensate for the heat. It may simply be a matter of having employees arrive earlier in the day, or working later at night to remove them from the exposure to the hazard of heat stress. In this case, the best hazard control is administrative.
Finally, we arrive at what has been considered the last control in the hierarchy. PPE is the only control that is always utilized in the workplace. While the other controls can either be combined or used exclusively, PPE is always used with any of the other controls. While selection of PPE will be determined by the level of hazard exposure, most employers require a minimum of ANSI-spec hard-hat, safety glasses, gloves and safety boots/shoes for any task undertaken at their workplace.  PPE is considered by many Safety professionals to be the last step in any risk assessment. The logic being, if you’ve done a proper assessment and utilized the hierarchy of controls effectively, then theoretically, PPE should not have to be called upon to protect the worker. In simpler terms, if your PPE kept you from getting hurt, it’s possible that you didn’t conduct a thorough risk assessment.

The Human Interface – A Benefit or a Detriment?

While the hierarchy of controls can be a wonderful Safety tool, it only is as effective as the individuals utilizing it. Sounds logical, but let’s start factoring in human elements. Such things as fatigue, distraction, lack of training, rushing (getting in a hurry), poor communication, or lack of/poor supervision (leadership!) among others, can all contribute to less-than-effective hazard control. A workplace can have the best safety processes in place, but if the end-user (the worker) is not mentally engaged in that process, it may be all for naught.  So, what to do?

Since we’re now dealing with human interface, we introduce other human factors. Such factors as: empowerment, positive reinforcement, proper communication, personal intervention and coaching/teaching. All these are proactive human factors and are critical when countering the afore-mentioned detrimental factors. The secret to using these proactive factors is simple; use them consistently and without fail. Many in the Safety profession (this author included) believe a fifth step should be formally added to the hierarchy of controls. That would be the personal assessment. While many agree that a last-minute risk assessment such as Take 2, Step Back 5x5 and SPSA are all part of a worker’s daily routine, a personal assessment should consist of additional human factors, not just task-specific concerns. Once again, the only way a worker will arrive at such a mindset will be via effective leadership. A fully-engaged worker will be a safe worker and a safe worker requires Safety Leadership to become fully-engaged.

Founded in 1985, CECON LLC specializes in providing science and engineering consultants and expert witnesses. Consultants in their global network typically have more than 25 years of experience; CECON offers consultants in more than 200 disciplines, including pharmaceutical development and regulatory compliancechemical processing and safety, oil & gasbiotechnologymedical devicesnanotechnology, and polymers and coatings.

For details, visit www.cecon.com or call 302-994-8000.

July 1, 2014

6 Tips for Controlling Costs When Engaging a Consultant or Expert Witness

The right expert witnesses can be a key component to helping an attorney win a case. A great deal of attention is paid to finding and contracting with a good expert. While hourly rates may seem high and a large number of hours may be needed for an expert to review the facts of a case and provide a meaningful written opinion, there are ways you can manage the engagement of an expert to keep costs at a minimum.

1. Don’t give your expert more documents to read than necessary – this can drive up charges if the consultant has to spend time reading unnecessary documents

2. Don’t lead expert opinion. While you may have a case strategy, leading or influencing the report can place the expert in an ethical dilemma if he disagrees with your conclusions, require additional research to support, and add to time spent on the case. If you have selected the right expert, allow them to present their professional opinion to you without a requested outcome.

Presenting your case strategy when interviewing a potential expert can let you know if the expert is likely to be on your side, without influencing him. If the expert feels as if his/her opinion has been influenced, he/she may be required to disclose this in court, which may hurt your case.

3. Be easy to contact. This will eliminate delays while the expert is waiting to have questions answered and time charges for multiple contacts.

4. Pay your bill on time. This keeps the consultant focused on the job rather than on following up on payment.

5. Make sure the scope of the project or case is clearly defined.  Being on the same page from the start of the project will help insure that your expert or consultant is working on the tasks most important to your case or project.

6.  Communicate frequently to insure the project is on track and that key deadlines and trial dates are on everyone’s calendar.

For more hands on tips on managing expert witnesses, see our three part series Guidelines for Your Expert Witness and other Expert Witness Management Tips on this blog. This series is also available as a Whitepaper; call our offices or email us at info@cecon.com to request a copy.

Founded in 1985, The CECON Group specializes in providing science and engineering consultants and expert witnesses. Consultants in their global network typically have more than 25 years of experience; CECON offers consultants in more than 200 disciplines, including pharmaceutical development and regulatory compliance, chemical processing and safety, biotechnology, medical devices, nanotechnology, and polymers and coatings.

For details, visit www.cecon.com or call 888-263-8000.

June 17, 2014

Case Study: A New Design for a Water-Cooled Furnace Brings to Life the Concept of “Conservative Innovation”

When a CECON consultant specializing in chemical and process engineering presented his idea for a new design for a water-cooled furnace to the expert designers he worked with they said one word: IMPOSSIBLE.  But employing his concept of “conservative innovation design,” he persisted and built a furnace that not only operated successfully, it became far more practical to maintain and repair than the traditional design.

Over the course of five years, I have built and operated a total of seven rotary induction water cooled furnaces—giant furnaces capable of processing hundreds of tons of ore per hour—in two different factories.  

When No. 6 was running, my electrician, who I had been working with since No. 1, came into my office and declared: “We must get rid of this water cooling nuisance. You must make an air-cooled coil!” He had a point. Water leakages and sometimes blocked water passages, created safety risks, demanded problematic repairs and consequently caused lengthy down time of the furnaces.

I immediately responded: “Our furnaces are not the first in the world. If this were possible, the Chinese experts who supplied the equipment would have done it long ago. Forget about it! We have enough on our hands.”

He was disappointed, but he understood my point.

But that evening I found myself considering the possibilities. I started writing notes and making sketches. I assumed that if this was really impossible, my engineering calculations would run into a dead end, or some expert will convince me to let go of the idea.

My criteria were that I need the new design to be suitable for conversion of the existing furnaces without major modifications including the need to modify the power supply and control mode. Getting rid of the cooling water nuisance was tempting but not enough to justify a major design revolution, especially considering that we already 6 furnaces running.

It took some calculations and consulting with experts of heat exchange and electrical bus bar designers to come up with an alternative design of an air-cooled coil that would have the same Ohmic resistance as the original despite of the higher working temperature. The copper weight was 2.5 times the original. More expensive but still not prohibitive. I now knew that I had a suitable design.

We knew the maximum current in the coils so we could calculate the power needed to overcome the Ohmic resistance of the coils. We then measured the cooling water flow rate and temperature difference and thus verified that we know the heat load to be removed by the surrounding air. With this in hand, and using some heat exchange coefficients found in literature, we could calculate the surface temperature of any suggested copper profile to be used for the construction of the new AIR-COOLED INDUCTION COIL. 

Knowing the service temperature of the Copper we could now find the new specific resistance of the Copper and calculate the required cross section in order that the total coil resistance will be the same as the original. The copper weight was 2.5 times the original. More expensive but still not prohibitive. I now compared my results to engineering tables which I received from an electrical engineer showing service conditions and loads for bare copper cables and bus bars used in electrical panels. The comparison was encouraging. I now knew that I had a suitable design.

What is Conservative Innovative Design?
At this stage I would like to spell out the main characteristics of what I call Conservative Innovative design. The innovative part of this is easy to understand. Once you face a problem, which the existing technology cannot solve satisfactorily, keep your mind open to innovative ideas even if, at first glance they look unsuitable. Do not be afraid of innovation. Have the guts to try new things.

How do you apply innovation in a conservative way? We must remember that we are within an operating facility where a lot of money was invested and time is highly valued. We must respect the “old” technology even if we are critical of it, as this is actually what we have and what is paying the bills and providing pay checks.

We must not be too adventurous or too arrogant. We must consult with many experts, listen to many opinions, especially those which reject our ideas and predict failure. We must be critical to prove to ourselves that the rejecting opinions are wrong–or maybe they are right or partially right and maybe we can learn something and improve. This requires patience and hesitation. A thinking process that does not go through the hesitation stage had simply not been examined deeply enough. Never assume that things will go right. Prove it to yourself!

June 3, 2014

The Best Way to Source Consultants/ Legal Expert Witnesses: Social Media or Placement Firm?

5 Advantages of (and 1 Misconception about)
Using a Consultant Placement Firm over Searching Social Media to Hire a Consultant

 With everyone on Linked In and websites so easy to build, it is easier than ever to search for a client or expert on the internet and skip the “middleman” or expert placement firm when hiring a consultant. But should you? Is it really cheaper? 

What are the advantages to using an expert placement firm?

1. Vetting. Did the expert whose profile looks so appealing on social media really attend that school? Does he/she really have those skills? A placement firm can vet their experts.

2. Additional experts are available if needed. If you need multiple experts or additional experts in a complementary field,  a placement firm can be “one stop shopping.” Your “rep” will already know the details of your project and the expertise you already have, so you don’t need to start over multiple times to engage additional help. You will also just get one invoice, which streamlines paperwork for you.

3. Filtering: Having so many choices of experts can be confusing. A placement firm with experience in a specific practice area is able to help you discern which of a long list of experts is the one who meets your needs. Experts may use a variety of terms in their resumes or websites, whose relevance may be difficult to interpret for someone not in that field. A placement firm can send you a filtered list of candidates.

4. Expertise discernement: What type of expertise is actually needed for your job? It may be different than you think.
In one of CECON’s successful expert placements, a plaintiff’s attorney sought a pharmaceutical consultant with a specific skill set from our expert database. After discussing the case with the client and getting more details, the CECON Project Manager suggested that an expert with a slightly different background would be more appropriate. An expert on regulatory issues and innovative/generic drug labeling was engaged, per CECON’s suggestion. The outcome was a judgment was for the plaintiffs, with a $500 Million Punitive Award.

5. Scope definition. A placement firm whose client service reps have expert experience themselves can often help define and narrow the scope of your job.
For example, CECON Project Managers have helped clients define technical specifications for engineering projects, then sourced the necessary consulting team to complete the projects. If you are uncertain about the full scope and hidden tasks involved with a project, an experienced technical project manager can help you.

And, the one misconception: that fees will be higher. This is not always the case. Fees may be comparable to hiring an expert directly when sourcing a consultant through a placement firm. Because placement firms provide a higher volume of work to a consultant than one client will, they may get a lower rate, which compensates for the placement fee. Placement firms usually understand market pricing and will work to make the net end fee to the user competitive.

So don’t rule out using a placement firm because you think the fee may be higher. The services provided will also save you time in searching, another cost savings.

Founded in 1985, The CECON Group specializes in providing science and engineering consultants and expert witnesses. Consultants in their global network typically have more than 25 years of experience; CECON offers consultants in more than 200 disciplines, including pharmaceutical development and regulatory compliance, chemical processing and safety, biotechnology, medical devices, nanotechnology, and polymers and coatings.

For details, visit www.cecon.com or call 888-263-8000.

May 19, 2014

Research News: What’s on the Horizon for the Controversial Medical Stent?

About 500,000 angioplasties are performed in the United States every year. Dr. Stanley Tocker, a CECON Group Vice President and consultant in this controversial subject area, reports on important happenings in the research of stents.

Medical stents, small expandable mesh tubes used to open narrowed vascular sites or support weakened vessels, have been in the news in the face of multiple lawsuits and two leading medical societies publishing a report calling stents “one of the five most overused procedures in medicine.” The report called into question elective procedures versus emergency situations using stents for patients having heart attacks—where the life-saving benefit is clear.

Angioplasty typically costs around $30,000, and in rare circumstances it can lead to tears in blood vessel walls, bleeding and the formation of blood clots.

All aspects of the stent design, surgical techniques for their use, anti-plaque coatings, coating methodology and materials of construction have been studied. One aspect of stents where some fascinating research is currently taking place is in the material choice.

Most stents are made of stainless steel mesh coated with drug eluting coatings containing drugs that resist plaque formation at the stent site (restinosis). Other than stainless steel, decomposable metals are being tested for the base platform such as magnesium, iron, zinc and tailored metal alloys. The idea is to have the stent physically break down over time, leave the patient and not act as a possible site for reclogging (restenosis) as might be expected for a foreign body in the vascular system.

 Chemists are also currently studying polymeric materials for stents that dissipate over a predetermined time frame. Initially, this work has involved polymers based on polylactic acid, used in dissolvable sutures, but it has branched out to other polymers. Such systems can have minimal systemic toxicity because the breakdown products can be similar to those already present in vivo. For example, lactic acid copolymers such as those having glycolic acid units are being studied as well other non-toxic proprietary systems. These “dissolvable” systems also have been accompanied by anti-plaque drugs used within or as coatings.

The goal in these non-stainless steel stents is to maintain the proper strength to survive the surgery ,  show favorable  ductility, dissolution rate and anti plaque character.  Considering that these are critical interrelated factors, this is extremely difficult but important research.

Other questions arise such as if everything works well, with dissolvable or biodeecomposible stents, will the application site “bloom” again and become restricted.  After all, the on-site plaque is being compressed by the stent, and not being removed. Of course the patients’  individual genetics, age, diet and other human factors also add to the technical uncertainties and difficulties.

A dissolvable stent is already used in Europe. Depending on the results of current research, it could be approved here in a few years. Will dissolvable or biodeecomposible stents totally replace metal stents? Probably not. But it is potentially a breakthrough innovation in a well-tested therapeutic area.

 Dr. Tocker consults in this subject area and is a vice president of the CECON Group. Since 1985, The CECON Group has been placing experts in over 200 scientific disciplines. CECON Consultants include medical device expertspharmaceutical consultants, clinical trials expertsbiotechnology expertsand chemistry experts.

May 1, 2014

Questions to Ask when Hiring an Expert

When hiring an expert for a consulting project or expert witness testimony in a legal case, it is important to ask the right questions, in the right order, to obtain relevant information to make the best choice.

We asked CECON Vice President and placement specialist Barry Bowen, as well as one of our long-time consultants, a former FDA Science Branch Manager, what they believe the most important questions are to ask potential candidates:

1. Do you have any potential conflicts of interest with any of the parties, such as previous employers? This could include cases you have been involved with, etc.

2. After describing the case: Can you handle this case?

3. Are you available to assist during the required timeframe?

4. What is your experience with the subject matter? This should include discussions of relevant and related background in the subject matter, such as chemistry, clinical studies, device production, packaging, CMO, CRO, quality, regulatory compliance, etc.
5. Do you have a tendency to support client technical views for legal cases? Or are you able to be objective and unbiased?

6. What is your previous experience as an expert witness? Describe your activities surrounding consulting, reporting, deposition, and trial, including appearing on camera.

The answers to these questions will help the hiring manager select the very best expert consultant for the project.

Founded in 1985, The CECON Group specializes in providing science and engineering consultants and expert witnesses. Consultants in our global network typically have more than 25 years of experience in more than 200 disciplines, including pharmaceutical development and regulatory compliance, chemical processing and safety, biotechnology, medical devices, nanotechnology, and polymers and coatings.

For details, visit www.cecon.com or call 888-263-8000.