Chemical Engineering impacts every aspect of our modern lives. It provides the materials that we use to create the objects and structures that surround us, the energy that we use to move from place to and to make those places habitable, the fertilisers that we rely on to feed ourselves and the medicines that keep us healthy. In its first 100 years IChemE has overseen so much that we are justifiably proud of and that we are celebrating as part of the ChemEng Evolution activities.
It’s impossible to predict the future, but it’s clear that the profession has the potential to make an equally significant contribution to the next century. Indeed, it’s critical that we do so for the sake of society as we know it and the planet on which we live and depend. Chemical engineering uniquely encompasses a systems perspective with the ability to rapidly scale concepts to global significance and a fundamental understanding of how to realise meaningful, intended outcomes through material and energy transformations. No other community can provide this in our place.
The ChemEng Evolution themes have been selected to highlight and celebrate the enormous contribution that Chemical Engineering has made to society over the last century. They also provide a lens through which we can identify the concepts, practices and capabilities that we can learn from as we evolve to meet society’s future needs and expectations of us. Sustainability in its broadest sense - environmental, economic, societal and political – will be the single biggest challenge that we face as we strive to provide for a global population of 10 billion people; a level of need and demand that could quite literally exhaust all of our natural and human resources.
The themes don’t stand alone as independent concepts – but they do provide a framework and focus for our reflection. For example, there is much that we can contribute to the decarbonisation of the energy system in the interests of environmental sustainability. A review of transportation systems is already part of that consideration, amplifying other technological and economic trends to fundamentally change the nature of our built environment and urban spaces. Providing mega-cities and other forms of settlement with the essentials of food, water and sanitation will prove a challenge in itself, even before we start to address what it will mean to keep people safe, healthy, wealthy and fulfilled – securing societal sustainability is key to avoiding a descent into crime and corruption and ultimately an unmanageable global system.
The individual and collective challenge that we face is first to understand where we fit and what we can contribute (which theme or themes do we operate in). We must then consider how our local action impacts on the wider system (the other themes) to fully consider unintended consequences and enable adjacent opportunities. I hope that the ChemEng Evolution themes provide you with a framework and inspiration to explore your role, and the that of the profession as a whole, in creating the future that we all aspire to.