1
Background

1.1
CHEMICAL ENGINEERING IN TRANSITION

According to the American Chemistry Council, over a quarter of the jobs today in the United States depend in one way or another on chemistry, with over $400 billion of products that rely on innovations from this field flowing through the economy.1 Chemical engineering, as an academic discipline and profession, is an American invention that has enabled the science of chemistry to achieve this stunning impact. While George E. Davis of England was the first (in 1880)2 to publicly discuss the need “… to found a distinct branch of the Engineering Profession” that would address the problems facing industry, industrial chemists, and chemical manufacturers at the end of the 19th century, it was in the United States that the nascent concept of chemical engineering was put on firm ground through the groundbreaking introduction of the concept of “unit operations” by Arthur D. Little3 in 1915:

Chemical engineering … is not a composite of chemistry and mechanical engineering, but a science of itself, the basis of which is those unit

1

See http://www.americanchemistry.com/s_acc/bin.asp?CID=381&DID=1278&DOC=FILE.PDF. Accessed February 6, 2007.

2

J. D. Perkins, “Chemical Engineering—The First 100 Years.” Chapter 2 in Chemical Engineering: Visions of the World, R. C. Dalton, R. G. H. Price, and D. G. Woods, eds., Elsevier Science B. V., 2003.

3

Report to the president of the Massachussets Institute of Technology.



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International Benchmarking of U.S. Chemical Engineering Research Competitiveness 1 Background 1.1 CHEMICAL ENGINEERING IN TRANSITION According to the American Chemistry Council, over a quarter of the jobs today in the United States depend in one way or another on chemistry, with over $400 billion of products that rely on innovations from this field flowing through the economy.1 Chemical engineering, as an academic discipline and profession, is an American invention that has enabled the science of chemistry to achieve this stunning impact. While George E. Davis of England was the first (in 1880)2 to publicly discuss the need “… to found a distinct branch of the Engineering Profession” that would address the problems facing industry, industrial chemists, and chemical manufacturers at the end of the 19th century, it was in the United States that the nascent concept of chemical engineering was put on firm ground through the groundbreaking introduction of the concept of “unit operations” by Arthur D. Little3 in 1915: Chemical engineering … is not a composite of chemistry and mechanical engineering, but a science of itself, the basis of which is those unit 1 See http://www.americanchemistry.com/s_acc/bin.asp?CID=381&DID=1278&DOC=FILE.PDF. Accessed February 6, 2007. 2 J. D. Perkins, “Chemical Engineering—The First 100 Years.” Chapter 2 in Chemical Engineering: Visions of the World, R. C. Dalton, R. G. H. Price, and D. G. Woods, eds., Elsevier Science B. V., 2003. 3 Report to the president of the Massachussets Institute of Technology.

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International Benchmarking of U.S. Chemical Engineering Research Competitiveness operations which in their proper sequence and co-ordination constitute a chemical process as conducted on the industrial scale. The ensuing development of the first structured educational curriculum at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the publication of Principles of Chemical Engineering (McGraw Hill, 1923), authored by W. H. Walker, W. K. Lewis, and W. H. McAdams, defined the intellectual scope of the new profession and the role of chemical engineers in industry. The MIT Course X was followed quickly by similar educational programs in other universities in the United States and around the world. The subsequent publication of a series of landmark textbooks, Chemical Process Principles: Part I-Material and Energy Balances (O. A. Hougen, K. M. Watson, and R. A. Ragatz, 1958), Mass-Transfer Operations (R. E. Treybal; 1958), Transport Phenomena (R. B. Bird, W. E. Stewart, and E. N. Lightfoot, 1960), Introduction to the Analysis of Chemical Reactors (R. Aris, 1965), and others, all originating from U.S. universities, deepened the intellectual scope of the discipline and solidified its American identity. Today, chemical engineers are in central positions determining the course of the chemical industry worldwide. From its inception, chemical engineering has aimed to respond to and create solutions that satisfy societal needs, as every engineering discipline, almost by definition, does. These societal needs are cumulative; new societal needs arise on top of previous ones. Their evolution over the past 65-70 years, in sequence, includes defense (World War II); living standard and well-being (creating the petrochemical industry, the “plastics” phenomenon, and scale-up of antibiotics; 1950s); space and military (the cold war and accompanying “space race” for satellites, orbiting stations and lunar exploration; 1960s); the environment (auto exhaust catalysts, clean air, clean water; 1970s); energy (energy crises beginning in the early seventies and reemerging today, alternative forms of energy); health (the biotechnology and biomedical revolution; 1970s-1980s); and the IT revolution (1990s). These waves have overlapped, creating cumulative effects, have become increasingly globalized, and coupled with technological progress have had the tendency to drive chemical engineering from macroscopic to microscopic, to nanoscale, and eventually to molecular dimensions. Chemical engineers have been particularly effective at leading these innovations, because they have been trained to think at the molecular level—in terms of chemical, biological, and physical transformations—as well as at the process and system level. As a result, as innovations have moved from macroscopic towards microscopic, and to the nano- and molecular scales, chemical engineering has continued to provide fresh and creative insights and breakthroughs. Furthermore, the historical dependence of industrial sectors on specific

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International Benchmarking of U.S. Chemical Engineering Research Competitiveness engineering disciplines is changing and chemical engineering has become more important for many industrial sectors than ever before. For example, sustainable energy supply and global warming are acknowledged as key challenges facing the United States and the world. Energy generation was dominated by mechanical and civil engineers (turbine design and project engineering). IGCC (integrated gasification combined cycle) puts a chemical plant at the front of a gas turbine and requires creative solutions from chemical engineering. The medical equipment industry (e.g., computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging) was dominated by electrical and computer engineering. The next generation of medical diagnostics is “molecular imaging,” where we examine the biological/biochemical processes, not just the deformity that occurs as a result of those processes. These are just two of the many examples demonstrating the expanding scope of chemical engineering and its significance in advancing U.S. competitiveness. Maintaining a cohesive core with intellectual stimulus has been chemical engineering’s most attractive feature for generations of chemical engineers. Its primary strength is the strong basic, yet practical, education it offers, permitting chemical engineers to respond rapidly and in a competent fashion to changing societal and technical demands. The continuous expansion of chemical engineers to an ever-increasing range of scientific and technological problems and their substantive and pivotal contributions to many of them, are testaments to the discipline’s powerful intellectual core and its value in addressing a broad range of industrial and societal problems. Chemical engineers are even highly sought after for nontechnical jobs such as investment analysts in the U.S. public equity markets because of their strong ability to think analytically and be effective problem solvers. Educational curricula in nuclear engineering, environmental engineering, biomedical engineering, and biological engineering owe a great deal to chemical engineering’s academic core and to chemical engineers who helped their founding. However, over the last 10-15 years, we have witnessed the following three developments, which have raised many discussions and concerns about the identity and future prospects of the chemical engineering enterprise (education, research, employment): drastic restructuring of the global chemical industry and its strategic business philosophy continuous expansion of chemical engineering’s research scope at the interfaces with several sciences and engineering disciplines continuous narrowing of chemical engineering’s ability to address important scientific and technological questions across all length scales—its “dynamic range”—as the field has evolved from the macroscopic to the molecular level

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International Benchmarking of U.S. Chemical Engineering Research Competitiveness Much has been said and written about structural changes in the global chemical industry and how they have affected trends in all aspects of chemical engineering and chemistry. For the purposes of this benchmarking exercise, the following changes are of significance: The number of diversified chemical companies has been decreasing, and the ensuing consolidation has led to improvements in operating and financial efficiencies. Commodity chemicals-producing companies faced with large raw materials and energy costs in the United States and slow sales growth are directing their fixed capital investments to regions with large deposits of low-cost raw materials and energy (e.g., the Middle East) or rapidly expanding markets (e.g., Asia, where approximately 50% of the chemicals-consuming markets are expected to be by 2020). Currently there are plans to build about 80 large chemicals plants globally.4 Each of these plants will require over a billion dollars—and in some cases tens of billions of dollars—to build and none will be built in the United States. The R&D outlays for 18 major U.S. chemical companies in 2005 were 2.9% of sales;5 down from 4.5% in 2000 and more than 5% in the early 1990s. Chemical companies have become more focused and purposeful in their business portfolio and R&D efforts. These developments have had multifaceted effects on chemical engineering research, such as increased efficiency of industrial R&D and new research directions. Chemical companies strive for higher value-added products and applications and thus become more sensitive to the market trends. The evolution of the U.S. chemical industry from a process-centered to integrated product-process centered one is of profound significance and has an effect on the type of researchers needed, their educational training, the research directions they pursue, and their career paths. Globalization of technology transfer followed globalization of science transfer, which in turn came after globalization of capital flows. Industrial research and development (R&D) centers, under global management, are being established around the world to take advantage of cost-effective human talent that is close to a rapidly growing customer base. Therefore, R&D of new technologies in the chemical industry result from the synergistic efforts of researchers dispersed throughout the world. Local (national) advantages can be derived from low compensation of researchers, high and differentiated talent, academic institutions of world-class quality, availability of venture capital, business-friendly regulations and laws, and 4 Andrew Liveris, Chairman and CEO, The Dow Chemical Company, address to the Detroit Economic Club, October 30, 2006. 5 Chemical Engineering News 84(6):11-14, February 6, 2006.

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International Benchmarking of U.S. Chemical Engineering Research Competitiveness progressive general culture, all of which have serious implications on the type of chemical engineering research that a national enterprise follows. The chemical industry in an advanced economy has decidedly changed from a capital-intensive industry to one that relies more and more on knowledge (e.g., scientific, technological, market preferences) as the following developments manifest: (1) industrial R&D outlays are now increasingly considered “investments” and not “expenses,” leading the government to redefine how to compute GDP; (2) strong intellectual property (IP) positions now determine the rate of economic success; and (3) IP strategies are today a core part of many corporations R&D strategies. The intellectual challenge of scientific questions and technological problems at the interface with chemistry, materials science, biology, medicine, electrical engineering, and other disciplines is very attractive and has been drawing chemical engineering researchers in ever-increasing numbers, fueled and supported by accommodating governmental funding policies. In all these areas of interdisciplinary interest, chemical engineers bring a unique combination of analysis and engineering synthesis, which allows them to make contributions with impact far beyond their numbers. It is hard to resist the temptations of these interdisciplinary problems, and it is certainly not advisable to raise obstacles that would discourage them. However, while the intellectual stimulus is satisfied by the evolving interdisciplinary research interests, questions about the cohesion of the disciplinary core have been raised and need to be answered in a convincing manner. The questions are not addressed by this Panel, but it is clear that they need to be answered to maintain the intellectual cohesion that has propelled chemical engineering research so far. While there is no question that the effort of chemical engineering research at the interfaces with other disciplines has been increasing, there has been no quantitative evidence as to the extent of this shift. The Panel did address this issue. As chemical engineering research has migrated from the core to the peripheral interdisciplinary research areas, there is a perception that chemical engineering research has been losing its “dynamic range,” i.e., its ability to address important scientific and technological questions covering the entire spectrum from macroscopic to microscopic, to nanoscale, and eventually to molecular-scale products and processes and offer complete solutions. As an example, response to the modern energy crisis seems to require more chemical engineers trained in product and process design, electrochemistry, catalysis (heterogeneous), and reaction engineering, all of which are areas that have “peaked” in academic novelty and need to be revitalized in a balanced fashion. Is the perception of decreasing dynamic range in chemical engineering research correct? If yes, to what extent, and what are the consequences on the competitiveness of U.S. chemical engi-

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International Benchmarking of U.S. Chemical Engineering Research Competitiveness neering research vis-à-vis that of the rest of the world? These are questions that the Panel has asked and explored. There is a widespread perception that chemical engineering and chemistry are both facing issues of identity and purpose in a time when the disciplines are shifting away from their traditional core and towards areas related to biology, medicine, materials science, and nanotechnology. Concerns about the pipeline of students, the nature of future employment opportunities, and the fundamental health of the disciplines are regular topics of discussion at meetings of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), the American Chemical Society (ACS), and the Council for Chemical Research (CCR), and have been the topic of exercises such as the chemical industry’s Vision 2020 and the recent ACS effort, Chemistry 2015. Leaders within the disciplines identify both disciplines as being at a crucial time of change and are struggling with how to position the disciplines to meet the needs of the future. Chemical engineers must also consider the implications for the discipline outlined in the draft NAE report, Assessing the Capacity of the US Engineering Research Enterprise. 1.2 STUDY CHARGE AND PANEL APPROACH Before addressing questions of whether or not and how chemical engineering should change to meet future needs, it is imperative to understand where the discipline currently is with respect to health and international standing. To that end, a benchmarking exercise was proposed, following the process established in Experiments in International Benchmarking of US Research Fields (COSEPUP, 2000). The discipline was then benchmarked by a Panel of 12 members, 9 from United States and 3 from abroad, with expertise in each of 9 selected areas and an appropriate balance from academia, industry, and national labs. In addition, all the Panel members have extended familiarity of and experience with chemical engineering research not only in Europe but also in Asian countries. Several of the Panel members have set up industrial research centers in Asia (China, India, Japan, Singapore), and all of the Panel members have developed close collaborations with industrial and academic research centers in Europe. The nine areas of chemical engineering covered in the report are engineering science of physical processes; engineering science of chemical processes; engineering science of biological processes; molecular and interfacial science and engineering; materials; biomedical products and biomaterials; energy; environmental impact and management; and process systems development and engineering. The Panel considered both quantitative and qualitative measures of the status of the discipline in the above areas and corresponding subareas in response to three questions:

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International Benchmarking of U.S. Chemical Engineering Research Competitiveness What is the position of U.S. research in chemical engineering relative to that of other regions or countries? What key factors influence U.S. performance in chemical engineering research? On the basis of current trends in the United States and abroad, what will be the relative future U.S. position in chemical engineering research? The Panel was asked to develop only findings and conclusions—not recommendations. They focused on leading-edge research, intermixing basic and applied research and process, product, and applications development. The measures used by the Panel include: development of a Virtual World Congress comprising the “best of the best” as identified by leading international experts in each subarea; analysis of journal publications to uncover directions of research and relative levels of research activities in the United States and the rest of the world; comparison of journal submissions by U.S. authors with those by non-US authors; analysis of citations to measure the quality of research and its impact; analysis of trends in prizes, awards, and other recognitions received by chemical engineers, chemists, or mechanical engineers; evaluation of leadership determinants such as recruitment of talented individuals to the discipline, funding opportunities, infrastructure, and government-industry-academia partnerships; quantitative analysis of trends in degrees conferred to and employment of chemical engineers, chemists, or mechanical engineers. The resulting report details the status of U.S. competitiveness in chemical engineering by area and subarea. The benchmarking exercise determines the status of the discipline, and extrapolates to determine the future status based on current trends. The Panel does not make judgments about the relative importance of leadership in each area, nor does it make recommendations on actions to be taken to ensure such leadership in the future. In response to the first charge, the Panel assessed current U.S. leadership in chemical engineering research at large and in nine specific areas. The benchmarking results are shown in Chapters 3 and 4, respectively. The Panel responded to the second question by identifying the determinants of leadership that have influenced U.S. advancement in chemical engineering and the supporting research infrastructure. It also discussed the trends for the future evolution of the key determinants of leadership.

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International Benchmarking of U.S. Chemical Engineering Research Competitiveness Chapter 5 of the report details the Panel’s findings. Chapter 6 provides a summary of the Panel’s findings and conclusions. In the final step, the Panel attempted to predict the future U.S. position in chemical engineering at large and in each of the nine specific areas of research. The prediction was based on the assessment of current U.S. positions and trends, as well as the trends in the determinants of leadership and corresponding developments around the world. Chapter 4 of this report includes the Panel’s predictions for each of the nine areas assessed.