• News
  • 23rd December 2022

Goodbye Centenary year, and what to read while we’re away

Article by Adam Duckett

AS our editorial team power down their computers until 3 January, here are some features you may have missed and can catch up on while we’re away.

100 years in the making

IChemE has marked its 100th year by looking back at the benefits chemical engineering has brought to society, and discussing how it should contribute in the coming 100 years.

Throughout the year, experts inside and outside the community have hosted webinars centred on key themes aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. You can read all our writeups of these events and watch the webinar recordings here. We’ve also published articles on each of these topics in our themed issues throughout the year. We’ve collected these together by theme for easy access: Sustainability; Education; Social Experience; Energy; Processes & Safety; Food & Water; Built Environment & Transport; Health; Materials; and Inspiration.

If like Janus you want to peer backwards as well as forwards, read Martin Pitt’s historical centenary series which chronicles the development of chemical engineering and IChemE. He has looked at topics as diverse as the signs and symbols that shaped chemical engineering; the explosive start to IChemE; and the £300 industrial secret that changed the world. Read all his articles here.

Editor’s picks

Our magazine relies on volunteers both inside and outside the chemical engineering community who generously give their time to write articles for The Chemical Engineer. Looking through the last year’s issues crystallises just how fortunate we are to have such an enthusiastic and engaged community, so a huge thanks to all of you who helped make the magazine what it is. Picking out a selection of favourite articles from the year has been really tough, but here goes:

  • Industry 4.0 is helping to re-shape how industry conducts manufacturing. Digitalisation has been a common topic throughout the year, and for me one of the highlights was reading Jonathan McDonough explain how 3D printing can help with process intensification, new reactor designs and better mixing.
  • The microwave is a common convenience in our homes, but the benefits of uniform heating powered by renewable electricity has found limited application in industry. In this article, researchers at the University of Nottingham and Torftech R&D outline the promise of a new high-temperature, hybrid microwave reactor for large-scale industrial use. It goes way beyond cooking food.
  • Biochemical, chemical and process engineers have a key role to play in improving access to medicines. In this intriguing article by Noor Al-Rifai and Rene Holm we learn how the development of long-acting injectables promises treatments that last longer, withstand high temperatures, are easily administered, and place less of a burden on the healthcare system.
  • On the topic of biochemical engineering and medicines, David Gemmell wrote an excellent series on chemical engineers and the biopharmaceuticals industry. For me, the highlight was his discussion on the evolution of continuous and intensified bioprocessing.
  • This year, we launched a series on Ethics and The Chemical Engineer which urged the community to "think ethics before taking action”. If you missed the series, I was really taken with the opening opinion piece from Dame Judith Hackitt, who said engineers must speak the truths others might not want to hear. Read Dame Judith’s piece here, and find all the articles in the series listed here.
  • One of the common themes throughout the centenary was how chemical engineers can avoid producing harmful unintended consequences as we look to help solve the biggest challenges society faces. If we need an example of a problem of our own making, look no further than the forever chemicals that our industries have polluted the environment with. Here, Paul Stevenson outlines the processing options we have to clean up these persistent PFAS contaminants.
  • The science fiction of manufacturing in space is edging ever-closer to engineering reality. It was intriguing to learn about efforts to extract and process resources in space; collect the junk we’ve released into orbit and recycle it in space factories to produce metals and fuel; and efforts to launch feedstocks into space, and bring them back home as unique manufactured goods that cannot be made on Earth.

Safe and sustainable development

IChemE has three priority topics. I’ve already discussed digitalisation. The two remaining are responsible production, and major hazards management. These topics can be found intertwined into much of the topics we cover – for engineers, safe and clean reproduction should be a red thread seen running through everything we do.

On the topic of sustainability, I’d recommend this article about the launch of IChemE’s Sustainability Hub with links to training courses and resources designed to help members make a positive contribution to sustainable development.

When it comes to the future of our energy systems and a shift to greener fuels, hydrogen is proving a vector of divisive debate. Will blue hydrogen hamper the development of green hydrogen or is it necessary as a bridge to a cleaner future? Are fossil fuel companies promoting widescale use of hydrogen against the interests of society and in the face of sounder engineering choices? And then, is it safe? A piece that stirred up a lot of debate was Tom Baxter’s article investigating the evidence behind whether it’s safe to have hydrogen in our homes.

For engineers to make timely decisions on safety and manage risks they need to learn lessons from previous accidents. If you forget history, you’re doomed to repeat it. In this strident opinion piece, Keith Plumb warns that we’re not learning lessons fast enough and that the UK needs a separate process industry accidents investigation unit that rapidly shares safety lessons with the engineers who need them – before more mistakes are repeated.

Careers and Christmas

Last year readers asked for us to publish more content on careers development. If you missed them, I recommend our ongoing Career Paths series which profiles chemical engineers working in careers outside the fossil fuel sectors. We also have the Safety is My Job series published in partnership with IChemE’s Safety and Loss Prevention SIG.

We’ve also been working with IChemE’s National Early Careers Committee (NECC) to publish articles profiling engineers and providing early careers advice. Here’s an insightful piece discussing What I Wish I knew as an Undergraduate.

And if you ever doubted the difference that chemical engineers can make, look no further than the interviews we conducted with Nobel Prize winner Frances Arnold about how the profession can help humanity survive and thrive, and with biotech pioneer Robert Langer who co-founded Moderna, which helped develop mRNA vaccines and tackle Covid-19.

Finally, as we’re breaking for the holidays, I’ll close with a link to Mark Yates article on the Apollo programme whose Challenger module blasted off from the moon 50 years ago to safely carry its astronauts home for Christmas. He looks at the engineering behind that inspirational achievement and highlights the continuing importance of science and R&D teams on the ground.

A big thanks to all our readers, all those who volunteered to write for us, and all the advertisers who supported us this year. We look forward to bringing you more news and features when we reopen our laptops in the New Year.

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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