Buildings are functional and complex spaces. A well-designed building sits and endures comfortably in its environment and fulfils its purpose safely and efficiently. To achieve these seemingly modest aims requires specialist expertise throughout the life of a building.
Particularly when designing industrial, commercial or large buildings, the skills of a chemical engineer can ensure the correct measures are in place up front, from the construction materials selected, the management of hazardous wastes, a thorough understanding of heat flow and loss, through to how the building will function once operational.
Through systematic risk assessments, chemical engineers can ensure that industrial plants have no/minimal deleterious impact on their environment. Furthermore, knowledge of materials and energy flows can be applied to mitigate fire risks in large residential towers, a priority that has been sadly brought into sharper focus through the Grenfell Towers tragedy in 2017 (London, UK).
Once a building is operating, ongoing input is required to adapt designs when functional requirements change. Engineers take a proactive role in monitoring energy and water consumption, as well as waste disposal or treatment. In the unfortunate event there is an emergency, for example, a hazardous waste spill or toxic leak, chemical engineers are well placed to work with emergency services in the clean-up and remediation process. If a building is re-purposed, or demolished, chemical engineers can drive the responsible closure and remediation of contaminated environments if necessary.
Looking ahead, chemical engineering researchers are innovating materials and processes for passive buildings in the hope that industrial plants can leave a lighter footprint than ever before.