Chemical Engineering A Boundaryless Profession by sdfsb346f


Chemical Engineering A Boundaryless Profession

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									Chemical Engineering: A Boundaryless
Greg Lewin, IChemE AGM on 5 May 2006, Billingham,

Opening remarks

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a great honour to be here.

The 19th century author and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Not in his goals
but in his transitions is man great.”

My own belief is that, when it comes to chemical engineering, both our goals and the
transitions we help to effect are great. Most of the great advances that benefit society – in
healthcare, nutrition, energy, materials and other fields – involve chemical engineers
somewhere along the line. We are at the heart of technological progress for sustainable
development – that is, development that balances financial, societal and environmental
benefits in a way that can allow today’s generation to meet its needs without jeopardising the
ability of future generations to meet their own.

And, as my predecessor Professor John Archer stressed throughout his presidency, we
ourselves are a profession in transition.

I agree wholeheartedly with John. And I believe we now need to take that transition to a
higher gear. Otherwise, we risk losing, not only the benefits that have been achieved so far,
but also the power to continue helping society to create a healthy, prosperous and
sustainable future.

So I am making this address a ‘call to arms’ – a call that I will be repeating throughout my
year as President; a call to step up the pace in the advances we have made so far; to reach
out even more across disciplines, across geographic borders, and into society at large; so
that we can play the role we’re capable of in creating the future that society, and we ourselves
as members of society, aspire to.

Today I would like to outline for you my vision of the future – one I believe many people
share. And I will put to you my view of what will support the gear change we need to make, if
that future vision is to become a reality.

Vision of the future

Imagine a world where clean water is freely available to everyone, everywhere. A world of
green energy, where people continue to enjoy the convenience and efficiency of fossil fuels
without the environmental side effects of yesteryear; and where renewable sources of energy
are prominent in the overall mix.

In this future world, everybody has access to adequate and effective healthcare, to the
diagnostics and therapies they need to live longer, more fulfilling lives. Everyone has enough
food to eat.

Picture, in this world, the people working, learning and taking their leisure in safe, healthy
surroundings. In doing so, everybody is able to enjoy a quality of life that is limited today to a
small portion of the world’s population… comfortable in the knowledge that they are
preserving the planet for the generations yet to come.

This is my vision for the future. This is not “dreaming the impossible dream”; it is not about
“fighting the unbeatable foe”. For me, this vision is achievable if scientists, engineers and
technologists – with chemical engineers at the heart of the process – really put the pedal to
the metal.

Chemical engineering has a role in making vision a reality

As a chemical engineer of more than 30 years’ standing, I have a strong sense of what
chemical engineering can achieve.

Early in my career, I had the opportunity to be involved with the design, build and start-up of a
manufacturing plant which isomerised n-paraffin waxes into i-paraffin luboils. It’s a
straightforward textbook chemical reaction – but truly another thing to witness on a
commercial scale: a stainless steel plant operating at 150 atmospheres pressure, 500
degrees centigrade, utilising a flourided nickel tungsten catalyst to produce some 700,000
litres per day of the highest quality lubricating oil from candle wax – a fourfold increase in

Being part of this achievement reinforced two things tremendously with me: the power of
chemical engineering in taking things out of the laboratory to world-scale commercial
production; and the fact that this could not have been achieved without all the required
engineering and scientific disciplines working together.

Throughout the 20th century, the world has seen mounting evidence of the power of chemical
engineering, and its contribution to society.

For instance, we all take plastic more or less for granted these days – in our workplaces and
our homes, our cars and our kitchens, in items of daily life from tools to jewellery. But it took
chemical engineering insights to bring the laboratory-based advances made by 19th and 20th
century polymer chemists into economically viable mass production. Without those insights,
the world would be a very different place.

Chemical engineering techniques have also driven a healthcare revolution. Mutation and
special fermentation techniques have allowed small amounts of antibiotics such as penicillin
to be mass produced. Without chemical engineers, we simply would not have today’s
affordable high-volume therapies. And the revolution continues, with major advances in DNA
and other bioscience technologies.

Our profession has contributed to dramatic changes in how the world is fed. In regions of the
world where food is scarce, such as parts of Asia and Africa, chemical fertilisers play an
essential role in helping to provide the nitrogen, potassium and other nutrients that plants
need to grow. Chemical engineers who work in food processing are constantly finding ways
to improve the nutritional value and taste of foods produced in volume – in a paradoxical
world where people are increasingly more health-conscious yet less healthy.

In my own industry, chemical engineering processes such as catalytic cracking enable us to
break down crude oil into ‘building blocks’ that form the basis of products from gasoline and
lubricants to synthetic fibres – products that support so much of modern life.

Chemical engineering is also at the heart of developing new, cleaner fuels – for example,
based on Gas to Liquids technology – that are both economically and environmentally viable.

Coal gasification processes are enabling clean coal usage, unlocking indigenous coal
reserves in an environmentally acceptable manner to serve markets like China with growing
energy demands and large coal reserves.

I personally find it very energising that colleagues of mine in Shell Global Solutions are now
involved in a project in my home country Australia, working with the Queensland Government,
to demonstrate that electricity can be generated from coal, cleanly, with a zero CO2 footprint.

I’m referring to the joint project with Stanwell Corporation at its headquarters west of
Rockhampton in Queensland. Those involved in the project are seeking to cover the full cycle
– mine the coal; adopt modern gasification technology for an integrated gasification combined
cycle system; and geologically sequestrate the CO2 – to deliver “clean power” from coal.

This project has great relevance for politically stable environments and key developing
economies where there is an abundance of coal. In Queensland alone, it is estimated that
there is enough coal to supply the state’s needs for 300 years.

This is just one example of future potential. I could also spend a long time cataloguing the
past and present achievements of our profession. We chemical engineers should be proud of
these achievements. Most importantly, we need to engage with others in and outside the
profession to build on them, in order to realise the future we aspire to.

Current reality

The first step in reaching that future is recognising where we’re starting from.

As I said at the beginning, our profession is already in transition and I believe we have
established a good foundation for the future.

There is an exciting sense of growing internationalisation – probably most visible at the World
Congress last year in Glasgow, with 2000 visitors from 60 nations.

Our profession continues to forge and strengthen links around the world. The IChemE is at
the forefront of that activity.

As well as having increasingly active branches in Australia and Malaysia, the Institution
continues to work on establishing grounds for future collaboration with our sister organisation,
the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

Currently more that one-quarter of our 26,000 members are non-UK based, and that
proportion is growing steadily.

The number of accredited universities and colleges also continues to grow. In Malaysia the
Universiti of Malaya recently gained accreditation, the second in the country after the
Universiti of Teknologi Petronas. Agreements on accreditation have also been signed with
nine leading Chinese university departments of chemical engineering.

They join 30 or so institutions already accredited beyond UK shores: in Singapore and Hong
Kong, in Australia and New Zealand, the Middle East, Europe and the West Indies. There are
more accredited institutions outside the UK than within its borders. These developments
demonstrate the growing international reach of the IChemE professional qualification,
reflecting very appropriately the internationalisation of our profession as a whole.

As well as becoming more international, the chemical engineering profession can be proud of
its progress on diversity and inclusiveness, with a higher proportion of women among our
members than any other engineering profession.

It is also good to see our growing collaboration with other chemistry-using disciplines, for
example through IChemE’s links with the Royal Society of Chemistry, the EPSRC, and the
Engineering Council UK. The associations established with the Science Council and the
Society for the Environment continue to pay dividends, in the growing numbers of chemical
engineers applying for the Chartered Scientist and Chartered Environmentalist qualifications.

In the public policy arena, we have increased our ability to contribute to public debate and
policy making, through greater engagement with government. Just in the energy sector here
in the UK, we participate in the Government’s Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, and in
the Parliamentary Group for Energy Studies; we take part in UK government consultations on
matters such as carbon capture and storage technology, and scientific policy-making. We are
taking the message to the public policy arena in Australia as well, emphasising the role
chemical engineers have to play in decision-making about areas such as power and water

With that in mind, I am happy to report that, earlier this year, Council approved both the
operating principles and the terms of reference for a strategy team that will work under the
leadership of our technical vice president, Ian Shott. The team’s remit is to develop a series
of position statements that will give our institution a sharper profile in the arena of public
policy making. The statements will also form the basis of a follow up to the Future Life report,
which is set for publication in 2007 – the 50th anniversary of the granting of our Royal Charter.

That anniversary is a great milestone in our history, and we should be proud of it. But the
future of our profession concerns me more. There is a serious skills shortage today in the
engineering and technical disciplines in general, with chemical engineering no exception. So
I am particularly pleased to see how IChemE is playing an effective role in building for the
future through the “whynotchemeng” campaign.

At the beginning of the current 2005/6 academic year, more than 1200 students entered
university chemical engineering courses in the UK – a 10% rise from the year before.
Applications to higher education courses in chemical engineering, more than 6,300, were 9%
higher than the previous year.

Training and accreditation is another vital area of activity to maintain a healthy pipeline of
professionals. The expansion this year of the Institution’s programme of Accredited Company
Training Schemes, and the ongoing development of our in-company training portfolio, with
courses being held in locations all over the world, and online, are all important signs of

And I believe all the activities I have mentioned are contributing to society’s growing
recognition of the importance of technical professionalism.

Getting from here to there

So, as I said, a good foundation is in place. But that does not mean the urgency for action is
less. Far from it. We need to put even more effort into building on this foundation, or it will

Let me outline for you what I see to be the two key drivers for shifting to higher gear. They
are: the continuing emergence of the knowledge economy; and the increasing complexity and
engineering intensity of challenges and their solutions in today’s world.

First, the knowledge economy – a term I’m sure many of you are familiar with, brought to
prominence by Peter Drucker in his book The Age of Discontinuity as long ago as 1969.
Even then it was starting to become clear that the engine of economic growth going forward
was going to lie less in manufacturing things and more in developing and sharing thoughts
and ideas.

Countries like India – with its massive service industries in telecommunications, software and
financial services for global markets – are positive proof of the concept in action. Our fellow
chemical engineer, Dr Ramesh Mashelkar – with whom I am glad to work closely – is an
expert in this field. In particular, he emphasises the need for user-focussed, performance-
driven and accountable organisations that innovate to convert knowledge into wealth and
social good.

I share Dr Mashelkar’s view that the 21st century will be a century of knowledge, what he calls
“a century of the mind”, where a nation’s ability to convert knowledge into wealth and social
good through the process of innovation will determine its future. This philosophy generates
the hope that emerging economies may be able to short-circuit the traditional path of
industrial development and move straight to a knowledge economy – to the benefit of their
own citizens and the world at large.

I believe that, similarly, the future of more and more professions – including ours – will be
increasingly determined by this ability to convert knowledge into wealth and social good
through innovation. Are we ready for such a future?

The second driver I named is the increasing engineering intensity and interdependence of
problems in today’s world, and the complexity of their solutions which require multidiscipline
skill sets working together in a holistic way.

You may remember reading about a good example of this in the April edition of tce. It’s the
paediatric heart assist device developed at Penn State University. A multidisciplinary team of
engineers and doctors was involved in addressing a multitude of challenges. One of them
was finding the right smooth materials and making the necessary seamless connections so
that red blood cells and platelets do not find places where they can start to form clots.
Another challenge was the size of the pump in this device designed for children; smaller
pumps have quite different fluid flow characteristics from those in adult devices, and these
characteristics had to be understood in detail to maintain efficiency and make sure slow-
flowing blood did not form clots.

There are equally complex examples from many other spheres. Across the spectrum of
industry, more companies are finding that, in markets where they are established, they need
deeper technological expertise to realise the remaining potential of opportunities that are
becoming smaller and more complex. Meanwhile, seeking growth in new, unfamiliar markets
requires new skills, technologies and expertise. These two factors combined are fuelling
huge demand for engineers and technologists of all disciplines, in all geographies.

A highly complex issue that affects everyone – with no respect for political or geographic
boundaries – is climate change. It is generally agreed nowadays that greenhouse gas
emissions contribute to climate change; but there are many possible routes to abatement.
Getting people to use less energy, finding viable energy alternatives, sequestering and storing
CO2 – all these are important options, and they require a huge spectrum of skills, from
chemical engineers, transportation engineers, electrical engineers, petroleum engineers,
material scientists, geologists, chemists, physicists, and others, including behavioural
scientists. This is our planet; we need to work together.

In fact, everywhere I look, I see examples that demonstrate how real progress depends on
interdisciplinary working.

Consider the development and rapid expansion of the global LNG, or liquefied natural gas,
industry over the last few decades. Liquefaction of natural gas is a very straightforward
physical process. Yet engineers from a lot of areas, working together, have been able to
reduce process costs by 50%, by optimising the heat and cold integration, while upscaling
gas turbine design.

Alternatively, look at the modern road transportation industry. The efficiency gains and
reduction in emissions that have been achieved are on a scale that we might have said were

unrealistic – impossible, even – some years ago. Advances such as this cannot be made by
one branch of engineering alone!

Moreover, I don’t believe our current pace of advance overall, impressive though it has been,
is enough for what lies ahead.

The two drivers I have mentioned – the knowledge economy, which demands that chemical
engineers increasingly demonstrate added value to society’s wellbeing, and the growing
complexity of what we are dealing with – mean that, as a profession, we need to shift to a
higher gear. At the same time we need to build on the profile we have achieved if we do not
want to lose the momentum we have gained and become – in the worst case – marginalised.
What could prevent our making that gear shift?

I think we should be concerned about three possible barriers in particular.

The first is lack of understanding in society of the benefits we bring – a lack of understanding
that leads to refusal of permission and funds to carry out necessary research, development
and deployment.

The second potential barrier is a shortage of people with the right skills and motivation to join
in our mission.

And the third potential barrier is the danger of a ‘silo’ mentality, where there is not enough
integration between disciplines and sectors – along the lines that is clearly needed, from the
examples I have just outlined.

I believe our fundamental duty as chemical engineers is therefore clear: to create what I
would call “a profession without boundaries” to eliminate these barriers. By this I mean the
profession I described at the beginning of my remarks: one that reaches out to society,
reaches out to other disciplines and sectors, and reaches out across geographic borders to
create a global knowledge and skill pool that is greater than the sum of its parts.

What will happen if we don’t do this?

Consequences of insufficient action

Obviously, I am a chemical engineer, not a soothsayer with a crystal ball. However, I can
imagine a very different future from my vision earlier:

One in which society misses out hugely, because the youth of today who have potential for
maths and science do not develop that potential.

A future in which lack of collaboration between engineers and scientists and across borders
prevents us from finding the true solutions the world needs – which generally lie at the
intersections between disciplines and sectors.

A future in which prejudice is born of society’s ignorance about the beneficial power of
chemical engineering, which in turn prevents us from developing the essential technologies
that will help global society to better understand and address what the US Centre for Strategic
and International Studies calls the Seven Revolutions:

        •   the shift from land and labour based economies to knowledge economies that I
            described earlier;

        •   the increase in economic integration which has already enabled the developing
            countries to achieve in the last 30 years what the industrialised nations took 100
            years to accomplish;

        •   the dramatic changes expected between now and 2025 in world demographics;

        •   the impact of population changes and conflict on food, water and energy
            management and their impact, in turn, on the environment;

        •   the threat of conflict waged through cyber-warfare;

        •   the role of emerging technologies such as genomics and nanotechnology;

        •   and the strain that all these developments will place on governance systems at
            every level, from non-governmental organisations to corporations to national
            governments and international organisations.


None of us wants to live in a world where we observe these things happening and can do
nothing about them. So this is why I am making my ‘call to arms’.

I believe we all have a duty to society, and a duty to our profession, to believe in this
profession and promote it to the outside world. It’s about conviction and commitment.
Living up to our duty is essential to create the future we all – as members of society – aspire

As President of IChemE, I want to encourage all members to be as proud of your affiliation as
I am, and to be proud of what we can deliver going forward.

In the coming year I will be doing all in my power to encourage members to work together to
promote competence and best practice in all sectors where we operate, all those we touch,
across geographic borders, within society and policy-making forums as well as industry and

I agree fully with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s statement on another occasion: “Nothing great was
ever achieved without enthusiasm.”

It makes me very excited that my personal journey as a chemical engineer has brought me to
a point where I can inject my own personal contribution to making a difference.

As President, I am fully committed to the work of IChemE, especially that of bringing our
message to society. I look forward to a world where people who really want to make a
difference aspire to being a chemical engineer or to engaging us in their decision-making,
because our understanding of process, materials and technology enables us to add real

To quote Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

I trust I am preaching to the converted here today, with virtually all of you members of
IChemE. Next month, I will be making a Presidential address to a group of external
stakeholders in London, on the 22 of June. I want to make my case – our case – as
compelling as possible. And so I would be very grateful if you could take a couple of minutes
now to note down your thoughts on what I have said this morning.

I look forward to your feedback, and to working with you over the next year.


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