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What are the major growth areas for chemical engineers over the next decade

March 25, 2014

So far it appears that the next generation of chemical engineering technologies focuses on the redesign, at the molecular level, of manufacturing processes and products, with the aim of reducing or eliminating the use of hazardous materials. The most notable example of sustainability and resilience is probably “Nature”. Hence learning from nature is one challange for the chemical industry in the next decade. Mimicking of bio-processes(biomimicry) is a new frontier in chemical engineering.The following is a list of the some of the developments on that front; Thermal processes in desalination plants mimic the natural process of producing rain. Condensing steam is used to supply the latent heat needed to vaporize water (Abu Arabi, 2007).

The architecture of the lung uses minimal entropy generation, which is equivalent to the highest thermodynamic efficiency for air transport (Gheorghiu et al., 2005), Such fractal structures of channels are effective fluid distributors and collectors, connecting a huge volume and surface area to a single point. This concept led us to propose a fluid distributor, the so-called fractal injector, which distributes gas or liquid uniformly over a large reactor volume from a single inlet (Coppens, 2005). The fluid leaves the injector via outlets at the deepest generation (the “twigs”), which are equidistant to the inlet, resulting in equal pressure drops from the inlet to each of the outlets, and uniform flow. The low pressure drop saves energy. In a small reactor, the distributor only has one or two generations of branching tubes. In a larger reactor, generations are added, conserving the size of the outlets and the distance in between. This differs from conventional reactor design, in which larger tubes are used to distribute fluid over larger reactor vessels, with often empirically determined outlet position(s) and added baffles or mixers to compensate for scale-dependence (Coppens, 2008). In addition, the chemical industry has led a number of sustainable commercial productions of chemicals using Metabolic pathway engineering (Chotani et al., 2000), a rapidly developing technology Metabolic engineering to channel that resource into desirable building blocks with great potential to impact dramatically the development of the bio-based economy (DOE, 1998). For example Aromatic compounds provide some of the first examples of chemical production using microorganisms through the use of pathway engineering such as the natural end products of the aromatic amino acid pathway, tryptophan.

Finally, there are a number of barriers involved in switching to sustainable practices, these are categorized as technical and non technical. Nontechnical barriers include slow turnover of existing equipment, higher upfront costs, slow return on investment, limited incentives, inflexible regulations, and customers’ demand that sustainable alternatives must also be superior to existing products (Satterfield et al., 2009). However many of which cannot be fixed simply by improving pollution abatement costs, technology and disruptive changes. In terms sustainability transition in chemical engineering industry it is evident in tertiary education where it is not uncommon for environmental courses and others find way in chemical engineering undergraduate programs (Yu et al., 2008) Micro/nano processing, Alternative (renewable) energy, Health safety and Environment, Water Pollution Control, Air Pollution Control, Hazardous Solids Waste Processing, cleaner production, Life cycle analysis, green chemistry and engineering, industrial ecology and sustainable development; Waste audit and inventory, and pollution prevention options for unit operations; Environmental impact assessments: LCA assessment, total cost analysis and environmental systems analysis; Eco-industrial parks: material and energy exchange and integration, reduce/recycle/reuse of wastes and by-products (Bi, 2005).

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