Monday, 28 December 2009

The Big Freeze

I was called out on Christmas Eve through the freezing fog to a groundwater treatment plant supposedly frozen solid. Four bags of rock salt and a fair bit of persistence by myself and an assistant allowed us to get the plant back up and running, an outcome the client had thought vanishingly unlikely. Most satisfying.

Happy New Year from all here.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Xmas Break

Coming up to the Christmas break, with only a bit of coursework and some babysitting of a groundwater treatment plant to do over the next couple of weeks.

Merry Xmas from all here...

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Lean times

Only two tenders in the European Journal for the whole of the UK today, as opposed to the normal count of around 50. We aren't out of the recession yet!

I've been teaching and had a call-out to problems at a groundwater treatment plant in Manchester, but work has been pretty quiet overall. We are tendering for some new public sector work, and hope to fill any gaps with some bread and butter consultancy. We are not too worried, as teaching is proving time-consuming enough at present.

It looks like I'm not going to be getting better than 40p in the pound from Invent Water Features' unpaid debt, and even that is based on some pretty optimistic expectations of repayment of their own outstanding debts.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Invent Water Features

A long-time client, Invent Water Features are in receivership, owing us a bit of money. Just as well we weren't relying on them to keep us afloat. Things are clearly still tough in the UK economy.

Emergency Callout Groundwater Treatment

A call-out to a groundwater treatment plant earlier in the week showed a few interesting problems. "Dirty" power from a failing generator caused the failure of a single instrument (a Siemens Hydroranger), but the knock-on effect was total plant failure.

The software programmer had "interpreted" the requirements of the Functional Design Specification in such a way that this instrument became critical for plant operation. This was especially annoying as there was a backup instrument working on a more robust principle, but no way to switch plant operation over to this alternative instrument without a programmer on site.

Of course at the point where I was called, the working day was coming to an end, the plant's feed lagoon was on the point of overtopping, and it was raining. I love a challenge!

Naturally there was an expedient way to get the plant to go again, but the fix was a little questionable. I consequently thought it best to connect a web-cam into the system so that I could see and hear what was going on remotely, as well as being able to see what the SCADA shows. All is now well with the plant.

Anaerobic Digestion Lecturing

I gave my first unattended University lecture yesterday, a seminar on Anaerobic Digestion, which seemed to go well enough. We'll see when I get the feedback questionnaires how well.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

More of the same...

I'm finishing the materials to be used in my anaerobic digestion course for Loughborough today, and preparing for a visit to Nottingham next week to see their first-years in action in a field experiment.

I've upgraded my teaching course to an MA, as there is little point in doing initial teacher training to teach in Higher Education. We learn as we go...

I got some interesting results from the laboratory trial of various coagulants for the pharmaceutical effluent treatment plant. Note floating sludge and reduced clarity in left-hand cylinder.

The best coagulant tested is around 1/10 the price of what is being used at the moment. It works better in the lab, but experience tells me that until we trial it on the plant, no firm conclusions can be drawn.

There is an added complication that the client has signed up for a long-term contract with a chemical supplier, so unless they can provide an equivalent product, there will be some serious contractual wrangling to be done. Rather them than me!

Monday, 12 October 2009

Troubleshooting, Teaching , and so on

I've been quite busy with learning to teach, but I went down to see a plant I upgraded about a year ago last Friday for a "health check".

As it took the operators three-quarters of an hour to even find the O+M manual, it looked as if it hadn't seen much use. The recommended daily checks had been reduced to a quick look through the fence as they went past, and no checks at all on weekends or holidays. They had turned the coagulant dose right down and filled the plant with 32% acid and alkali to save on chemical costs, and unsupervised tanker drivers had been walking on the tray-work. Despite all of this, everything was still basically working.

I'm going to do a bit of lab-work this afternoon to see if they can use a cheaper coagulant than the fancy blend the original plant installers recommended. At £2 a litre, I can see how they want to turn the dose down, even if it does degrade plant performance.

I'm off to Nottingham this morning to see a few examples of good lecturing practice, and if I have time, I'm going to make a start on the anaerobic digestion course I'm doing for Loughborough.

Saturday, 12 September 2009


A quiet month so far, other than getting confirmation that I will be able to teach at Nottingham University as well as Loughborough as part of my formal training as a lecturer.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009


Picked up some lecturing work at Loughborough Uni.'s Engineering Dept. yesterday, which will give me an opportunity to practice the teaching skills I will learn in the diploma course I start in September.

I've got an interview at another relatively local University next month to see if I can pick up a little more, I need at least 75 hours of UK based teaching time per year for the practical bit of the teaching course.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Sewage Treatment Plant Operation and Maintenace

Looks like we will be delivering the Sewage Treatment Plant Operation and Maintenance course in London come November. Spaces are available.

It will be being run two-handed between myself and a colleague who spent 20 years as a municipal plant manager and trade waste officer, so there will be a very practical slant.

Will have started the teaching course by then, so there will be an opportunity to integrate what I have learned into preparation of the course material.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Sudan, and continuing work

Talking to someone about giving a course in Sudan in September. I won't be flying with the local airlines. They can crash without even getting off the runway.

Other than that, things are ticking over nicely. On site in Manchester a fair bit, water feature design on-going, discussions with Universities with respect to teaching continuing...

Monday, 27 July 2009

Iranian air travel, work and training

Not so long ago a potential client told me that Iranian air travel was more or less as safe as anywhere when I declined to take internal flights in the country. He seemed pretty angry that I declined to fly with local carriers to save him a bit of money.

Recent events have however suggested that my concerns were well founded. Al Jazeera's report glosses over matters a little-Caspian Airways may not have crashed a plane since it was founded in 1993, but the Tupolev Tu-154 has had three serious crashes in Iran alone since 2002.

The combination of dodgy old Russian 'planes, poor maintenance procedures, and lack of spare parts are all contributors to Iran's poor aviation safety record. Look how overrepresented both Iran and the Tu-154 are on the BBC's Air Disasters list.

Water feature hydraulic design work is continuing, and am providing cover for plant operation in Manchester pretty regularly recently.

I'm looking to get a formal teaching qualification to boost my skills on the training side of things. I've been accepted on the course, now I just need to get a bit of UK based lecturing to practice with. I have a few Universities interested, just need to get something agreed before September...

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Picking up...

Things have picked up a little, with a callout on Monday to nurse a malfunctioning plant, as well as continuing work on the water feature job.

Got an enquiry to go and look at an underperforming effluent treatment plant from a very old contact on Tuesday too. Sounds like someone bought on the cheapest quote, without qualified professional advice. I've come across the equipment vendor before.....

Pharma effluent treatment plant health check visit negotiations continue. There's a lot of negotiation going on for a one-day visit!

Saturday, 11 July 2009


Lots of calls from agencies last week seeing if I can provide jobs for engineers working in the municipal water sector. Looks like things are tight there, based on my discussions with the consultants from the agencies.

My water feature work continues, after a meeting last week to square the aesthetic requirements of architects with Montgomery Scott's traditional cry: " I canna' change the laws of physics".

I might be going back to see what the operators have made of the pharma effluent treatment plant I commissioned back at the turn of the year.

Oh, and there might be a training opportunity in Papua New Guinea.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Wednesday, 24 June 2009


Went to see a man about a job in Iran yesterday. It's an interesting one, but under the present circumstances, I'm not falling over myself to go there.

I'm going to see UKTI this morning and discuss, and then send in my quote afterwards, once I have quantified the risks and seen how well they can be controlled.

One of the things I certainly won't be doing is taking any internal flights, despite the prospective client's protestations.

It is well known that the internal carrier's fleet is ageing and poorly maintained due in part due to lack of parts as a result of US sanctions. They are consequently rated 85 of a possible 88 in the world's airline accident ratings.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Chemical Engineering for Non Chemical Engineers Course

Last weeks' Chemical Engineering for Non Chemical Engineers course in Abu Dhabi went well, and we got good feedback from the delegates.

As this course covers the same ground as the AIChE's most popular course ever, we hope to get a bit more mileage from the material.

I've been sprucing up the website today, adding a bit of new content, and updating the existing stuff. The new content includes my review of what may be the worst book ever published.

Enquiries from Iran, Sudan, and a few other really hot places. We'll see what comes through.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Green shoots-with roots?

So, some of those enquiries came to fruition.

I'm off to Abu Dhabi next week to deliver a course (on Chemical Engineering for non-Chemical Engineers). They say Abu Dhabi is the new Dubai, but they will need a lot more flights laid on before it is anything like as easy to get to.

I've also been out to see a few people with industrial waste problems (on a paying basis, things are never so bad that people don't want free visits) and put a new tender in to WRAP.

Oh, and the lab finally managed not to smash all of the sample bottles in transit, so I got the results back on my tests of hydrogen peroxide versus aeration for methane removal.

Maybe things are looking up. I'm certainly pretty busy.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Green Shoots?

Not sure if it is just chance, or something significant, but we have had an upsurge in enquiries in the last couple of weeks.

Misbehaving domestic package sewage treatment plants, industrial waste problems, overseas training opportunities, and quality issues work have all had a little upturn.

Maybe there is something in this green shoots stuff, whether real or psychological...

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Wastewater Watch

I have been reading the no-holds-barred "Wastewater Watch" newsletter from South Africa for some time, but now they have produced a website. Fantastic!

Thursday, 12 February 2009


Things have been pretty quiet recently. Tenders have been submitted recently for Water and Waste Minimisation visits, training courses in the Middle East, and so on, but not working all that hard at the moment.

I'm looking into reducing dissolved methane in a treated groundwater by a number of chemical and physical means, as well as the usual bits and bats of consultancy.

Who knows why things are quiet. It's hard to see how the sort of thing we do here becomes any less pressing when things are tough, so we think that things should pick up when the regulators start pushing people to do the things they have presumably been putting off. Or it might just be a chance dip in enquiries. We take a pretty philosophical view of such things here.