Chemical engineering scenario is changing rapidly in 21st century. Chemical companies today are highly diversified and knowledge based relying on technology, science and innovation to create value added products. Some of the basic sectors like petroleum refining, power plant engineering, and cement are witnessing large capacity installations. Refinery of 21st century apart from using novel concepts like reactive distillation and membrane separation will also look at biotechnology for bringing improvement in chemical conversion and efficiency. New developments for efficiency improvement in power plant technology like combined cycle / once through boiler / supercritical technology and IGCC will need successful development of advanced materials for higher duty. Chemical Engineering research will need to be interdisciplinary integrating knowledge from traditional chemical sciences, biotechnology, and material technology. This will need curriculum to be more interdisciplinary incorporating the disciplines of biology, biochemistry, physics and computational methods.
Process and product development, starting from a basic idea, steps through research, laboratory, bench / pilot scale and scale-up to final process. Accurate models based on sound theory with process modeling tools significantly reduce scale-up and marketing time and cost of new products/ processes. This is also the current trend for meeting challenges of reactor design in complex plants of ever growing size, though it still needs integration with metallurgy selection, advanced manufacturing methods and high end stress analysis. Design softwares and codes like HTRI, HTFS and CFD has enabled optimizing heat exchanger sizes and material selection.
Plant design includes all engineering aspects involved in the development of commercial process in a chemical plant. Involvement of chemical engineer starts from development of basic engineering package or carrying out front-end engineering and design activities. This FEED activity covers activities like design basis formulations, definition of appropriate codes and standards, process simulation, detailed PFD and P&ID preparation, material selection, equipment and line sizing. Chemical engineer also integrates inputs from different engineering disciplines like mechanical, structural, electrical & instrumentation and piping. Chemical engineers need to be acquainted with the general problems and approaches in each phase of plant design. Plant design also considers aspects like safety, health and environment concerns. Chemical engineers must be versed with statutory norms involving environmental protection, workers safety and health.
Advances in computational technologies are improving the application of fundamental sciences. The most critical for the chemical industry are process modeling, simulation, operations, optimizations and control. Static and dynamic modeling/simulation along with optimizers achieves optimal design and operation. Use of computer softwares has become indispensible part of process design. Advances in computer hardware / software coupled with fundamental knowledge will change the way processes are designed and plants are operated. Faster incorporation of computer based ideas into curriculum will enable its use from design phase to commercialization.
The rapid development of process industries has given rise to multiple environmental issues. Incorporation of sustainability concept into industrial operation has become important to the future of corporate performance and for public acceptance of industrial facilities. Chemical engineers are in a position to make significant contribution to achieve sustainable development by promoting sustainable chemical plant design, eliminating the need of toxic chemical usage, reducing waste and improving process operations. Chemical engineering tools like steady state and dynamic simulation, advance process control, pinch analysis helps in design of more sustainable product and process. Sustainability concepts/tools like waste audit and inventories, health and environmental impact assessment, life cycle assessment, sustainability matrix help in evaluating sustainability of a technology and benchmarking sustainability index of operation. Presently sustainability is treated as add-on concept and not integrated or embedded in the core subjects. Embedding sustainability and sustainability evaluation tools with relevant chemical engineering subjects will enable to develop sustainable products/process in design stage itself.
Skills and knowledge which chemical engineer needs to acquire as a part of curriculum could be such that it aligns with technology vision/ needs specific to the country or the region. India with its large population base needs to concentrate on sectors like food, water, energy pharmaceuticals and minerals. The purpose is to ensure sufficient availability of basic needs at affordable costs. Chemical engineers have a pivotal role to play in developing and applying appropriate technologies and develop products using locally available raw materials. Industry and academia need to work seamlessly in identifying and executing the projects, which will benefit the masses.
Chemical engineering graduates are facing a new environment as a consequence of technological developments, globalization and widened scope of modern chemical engineering. Challenges before chemical engineers are to develop products / process and produce energy in a sustainable manner. Curriculum developed should therefore provide engineers with balanced education in technical as well as non-technical disciplines of engineering to broaden their skills and knowledge that will satisfy the needs of industry and society.