"Survey on the needs of the chemical engineering community"? That's an odd way to announce it: buried Phillip Westmoreland's reply to a post on a different subject in AIChE Engage. I do not recall hearing of this "future directions of chemical engineering" initiative or the survey until that reply, yet I like to think of myself as having a better-than-average connection with AIChE. My definition of "better-than-average connection?" I attend and present at local section events. I attend and present at national meetings. I've been an active participant (attendee, presenter, organizer) in our Process Development Symposium off-and-on since its inception in 2003. I read CEP every month. I read the emails from AIChE Engage almost every morning. So, why have I not heard of this initiative? And if I haven't heard of it, probably most other members have not heard of it either. Until I saw your post, I certainly had not been asked to participate in the survey. Before sending this post, I thought I'd better check the AIChE website to see if I missed something. A search on "survey" brings up many items, some with the not-too-compelling title of "webform," but nothing on a survey on the needs of the chemical engineering community. If AIChE wants members to take the survey, then I feel that AIChE should ask the members for it in a much more obvious way than in this reply to a post on AIChE Engage. Also, Phillip Westmoreland's post says that "All AIChE members will have chances to participate through Town Halls at our national meetings." What fraction of our membership have the opportunity to attend our national meetings? Is that fraction an appropriate representation of the needs and interests of all AIChE members? And how is AIChE going to actively solicit input from members who cannot or do not attend our national meetings? Is this an opportunity to engage the local sections and virtual section? I know that if I had known about this initiative and survey, I probably would have structured the Interactive Session that I ran at the 2019 Process Development Symposium to explore the initiative and get attendee input for AIChE. Missed opportunity, especially since the 2019 PDS theme was "Developing Processes for Today and Tomorrow." Getting back to the original post, I have no personal information to compare IChemE and AIChE. It may be interesting, though, to compare and contrast the experiences of both organizations on getting input from their membership.
Although the lists seem to include everything in one way or another, I would like to suggest Reuse & Recycling as a stated class.
There are several reasons for this. In attempting to make a "cradle to grave" or "cradle to cradle" analysis, engineers generally understand and have access to information for for processes inside their fence but lack enough accurate knowledge of suppliers and users to put together a valid analysis.
Another aspect is the lack of understanding of researchers on what is actually important to potential users. For example, in developing medical applications, the researcher might be aiming at maximum detection of conditions but physicians may focus on problems related to false positives. Developing improved road surfacing materials that might require new application machinery or techniques might not appeal to the companies who will get contracts with conventional methods and materials that do not require retraining or equipment purchases. An offshore oil platform needs very expensive power generation for which any other improvement might have to carry part of the cost.
It isn't that the people in each step don't have the information or ability they need in their particular area, but they don't know the right questions to ask to come up with a successful overall result.
One example from many, many years ago: DuPont developed reverse osmosis membranes and the researchers knew that many municipalities had water with arsenic in it. They assumed that the towns would be happy to charge a small premium in order to remove the arsenic. It turned out that to the municipalities, water was a revenue source and they wouldn't take a chance on reducing the profit from selling the water if the citizens balked at paying more. Improvements in home construction materials would have to survive jurisdictional fights from unions and manufacturers of devices being replaced.
So what I think would be helpful would be a way to improve communication along the proposed supply and recycle/reuse chain so that researchers on the front end would focus more clearly on how their technical success would be translated to a commercial success in the most overall sustainable and economically effective way.
NASEM's topics are incomplete. I feel that the future of chemical engineering needs to go beyond the 13 proposed topics and reflect how our profession must adapt to meet future societal needs.
Part of AIChE's Vision is to "Provide Value as The Foremost Catalyst in applying chemical engineering expertise in meeting societal needs." The list of 13 topics from NASEM does not really reflect the societal needs that chemical engineers will need to meet in the future. In fact, I find that the list of 13 topics is a hodge-podge of work processes, parts of unit operations, and some market segments.
The additional areas that Kirsten lists in her post are relevant to the types of technological challenges we will need to meet in the future, but I'm wondering if there is another way to look at societal demands.
Though I sometimes shudder at the cliché "megatrends," different groups have classified future societal needs under certain headings. One example is from MIT Sloan (https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/the-world-in-2030-nine-megatrends-to-watch/) who list:
There are other lists.
Maybe the study on the future of chemical engineering should be driven by how chemical engineering needs to adapt or refocus to be able to meet these needs. Certainly, we have a role in the infrastructure, food, and health challenges related to Demographics, Urbanization, and what MIT Sloan calls Clean Tech. Certainly, we have a role in Industry 4.0 (what they call Technology Shifts). Certainly, we have a role in meeting challenges in Climate Crisis and Resource Patterns. It seems to me that those megatrends are more closely aligned to the future demand for chemical engineers than what NASEM is proposing.