jueves, 14 de mayo de 2009

The technological revolution of the process industry

Excerpts of an article (*) in a special english edition of the Spanish magazine INGENIERIA QUIMICA ("Chemical Engineering") on occasion of ACHEMA 2009, the 29th International Exhibition-Congress on Chemical Engineering, Environmental Protection and Biotechnology, Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

"In the new deteriorated economic and social scenario, originated by financial disasters, innovation is a must in business and industry. Today innovation has to do with interdisciplinarity. For example, oil companies now are becoming “energy companies”, and are yet important players in alternative energies (wind, solar, biofuels, etc.). This is why ACHEMA 2009 claims to be the summit of the process industry in a broad sense, enclosing the chemical industry, biotechnology, the pharmaceutical and food industries, environmental technology, materials technology and energy production. Because, as stated in the ACHEMA 2009 brochure, “The process industry constantly faces new challenges; they can only be overcome by focussed interaction between the various disciplines”...

..."Innovation has always been important for the industry to be competitive. Now it has become a matter of survival, for today, tomorrow and in the medium and long term. In past years several challenges had to be met by industry such as environmental care (abatement of air pollutants, liquid and solid wastes treatment and disposal, water reclaiming, etc.), safety and health (at the workplace and of products), energy savings and diversification of energy sources... Since 1992 the reduction of GHG emissions to stabilize global warming has come on top of them. Also Corporative Social Responsibility, strongly related to these challenges, has appeared as a moral obligation for enterprises. Despite the efforts already made, the compromises of reducing GHG emissions are far from being met in several countries. New and bigger efforts are required from now on, in spite of the present unfavourable scenario of a profound economic crisis."

"This is why the so called “third industrial revolution” that is already going on is not a spontaneous phenomenon, but a lifeboat for survival. Revolution equals innovation. The borders between industrial sectors are vanishing, as industries must become interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary. Interdisciplinarity first started in science, already in the fifties. Samuel Glasstone, Professor of Chemistry in the University of Oklahoma, wrote in his Textbook of Physical Chemistry (1955): “Chemistry may be said to deal with matter and its transformations, whereas physics is concerned with energy and its transformations. It is clearly not possible to draw a sharp distinction between the two points of view, for many problems in both physics and chemistry are concerned with interactions between energy and matter; it is these problems which constitute the fundamental basis of the subject of physical chemistry.” The same has happened now with technology, where the borders between disciplines have disappeared. Now interdisciplinarity is also entering in manufacturing and product distribution logistics. The number of science and technology parks is growing. Innovation is extending to the level of company management. It means intensive interaction and teamwork between different company departments, alliances between enterprises and with stakeholders, with administration, institutions and academics. Not only locally, but also globally, using the global virtual networks, where knowledge circulates at real time velocity."

"As a result of interdisciplinary R&TD efforts, new sophisticated technologies and products are continuously appearing and will appear in the next years, and hopefully could help to meet the tedious new challenges. These technologies cover a spread of disciplines, such as: new generations of biofuels and feedstocks (for bioethanol, biodiesel and biogas), new products and materials (coatings, paints, new materials and composites – of particular interest for the automotive industry-, catalysts, clays, sensors, textiles, enzymes, etc.) with revolutionary properties and applications thanks to the development of nanotechnology and biotechnology, both technologies at the molecular scale. They create also new challenges and risks with respect to safety and health. But also new methods and ideas of design are needed to improve and renew conventional processing technologies to increase their efficiency and to adapt them to the new market and environmental requirements."

"We are passing the threshold of an amazing new era driven by imagination, creativity, and knowledge, but necessarily also to be guided by moral conscience and global responsibility. “Humanity is faced with the major challenge of making a drastic reduction in GHG emissions, which will require shifts in lifestyles in rich countries, while meeting urgent development and growth needs in the poorer countries, the home of the vast majority of humanity underlining the right to development.” (The Potsdam Memorandum, October 2007)."

(*) R. Aga, Dr.Sc. (SECOT), Ingeniería Quimica, Nº 469. SECOT is a not for profit Spanish association of senior expert volunteers and is member of CESES, the Confederation of European Senior Expert Services.

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