Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Chemical engineers publish vision for the future

Possible solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges are outlined in a new report published recently by the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE). Chemical Engineering Matters focuses on securing sustainable energy supplies, food and nutrition, access to clean water, and health and wellbeing, four areas where chemical engineers can make a positive impact. The report explores the application of chemical engineering and presents current thinking on safety and risk, education, training, and research. It maintains that there will be no universal solution to meet growth in global energy demand. The report acknowledges that fossil fuel assets will maintain a central position in the world’s energy economy for decades but warns that a shift towards decarbonisation and sustainable energy use is required.

Population growth, industrialization, and urbanisation are cited as the main factors increasing pressure on water supplies. The report suggests that the role of the chemical engineer in delivering sustainable water solutions is underplayed and that chemical engineers must explore new ways of promoting process technology in securing viable industrial and municipal water supplies.

Published in Manchester, UK, the document insists that the Institution remains politically neutral but does cite the need for greater engagement with policymakers to ensure decisions that impact funding and regulation be evidence-based.  It also highlights the need for increased public engagement to overcome a negative, often inaccurate, public perception of chemistry, chemicals, and chemical engineering. The report is an update of the Institution’s technical strategy, first published in 2007, and identifies ten priorities for IChemE:

• Safety – Promote a thorough understanding of hazard, risk, and reduction at all stages in the process lifecycle and introduce a new international qualification for process safety professionals

• Education – Support a global professional community via integrated training and professional development

• Research – Press for investment in applied research

• Energy – Support chemical engineers in all parts of the energy economy from world-scale carbon management to renewable energy

• Water – Provide support to chemical engineers in the water community and explore ways of securing viable industrial and municipal water supplies

• Food and Nutrition – Promote the role of chemical engineering in the delivery of sustainable food solutions

• Health and Wellbeing – Deliver more healthy and sustainable lifestyles and highlight the impact of the discipline in the pharma and bioscience sectors

• Political dimension – Work with groups and leadership around the world to develop coherent policy goals

• Economic dimension – Continue to highlight the role of chemical engineering in improving process efficiency and reducing costs to deliver cheaper, more sustainable consumer products

• Public understanding – encourage members to engage productively in public conversation about the impact of chemical process and products.

IChemE chief executive David Brown says Chemical Engineering Matters will help steer the future direction of both the Institution and the profession: “This is not just a document that will sit on our desks. It will guide policy development and how we plan our work for the future." He adds, “Chemical engineers have a long history of action. They are innovators who have brought numerous benefits to society from pharmaceutical developments such as the scaling up of penicillin to the production of high-power rechargeable batteries used in many of our devices from mobile phones to laptops."

The report was unveiled at the opening of Manchester University’s new home of chemical engineering, the James Chadwick building. Go to www.icheme.org to download Chemical Engineering Matters.