50 technologies that could change the world

Article by Adam Duckett

BIOLOGICALLY-INSPIRED AI, data stored in DNA, and power beamed from space are among 50 emerging technologies that the UK’s innovation agency says could shape the economy in 2040 and beyond.

Many of the technologies discussed could impact the work of chemical, biochemical, and process engineers or be shaped by the community. These range from technologies that might be considered central to the discipline, such as methods of separation depolymerisation, and raw materials processing.

For example, the report says that biocatalytic membranes inspired by the structure and functions of cell membranes could improve reaction efficiencies and remove pollutants to make manufacturing more sustainable. It also notes how novel, more efficient hydrogen production and storage technologies have the potential to accelerate the decarbonisation of raw material extraction and refining.

Nanoparticle manufacturing and 4D printing are listed among the advanced manufacturing techniques that could impact our future. The first could provide stronger, cleaner, and smarter surfaces and systems and better batteries. Meanwhile, technology is being developed to stimulate 3D-printed structures with heat, light, electricity or liquid to create 4D structures. This could enable engineers to design materials that repair themselves or medical devices that change with the patient over time.

Innovate UK interviewed scientists and researchers to produce its list and is calling on feedback from industry, academia, and institutions. Its CEO, Indro Mukerjee, said: “In this report, we are not seeking to predict the future, but to stimulate curiosity, share knowledge, and consider the art of the possible.”

Simone Boekelaar, head of horizon scanning at Innovate UK, added: "Our hope is that by discovering these technologies, you can consider original combinations. These may then inspire new applications or solutions to societal challenges.”

Read the report here.

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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