Chemical Engineering Outside the Pipe: Industrial Ecology and Sustainability

Liaison Functions
2010 AIChE Annual Meeting
AIChE Annual Meeting
November 7, 2010 - 7:00pm

The 2010 Danckwerts lecture is concerned with explaining the emerging field of Industrial Ecology (IE) and why it represents a new and important area for application of the skills of the chemical engineer. Wikipedia, defines Industrial Ecology (IE) as “a ‘systems-based, multidisciplinary discourse that seeks to understand emergent behaviour of complex integrated human/natural systems'. The field approaches issues of sustainability by examining problems from multiple perspectives, usually involving aspects of sociology, the environment, economy and technology. The name comes from the idea we should use the analogy of natural systems as an aid in understanding how to design sustainable industrial systems”. Wikipedia also says that “Chemical engineering is the branch of engineering that deals with the application of physical sciences…. and life sciences…. with mathematics to the process of converting raw materials or chemicals into more useful or valuable forms”. While surprisingly sound, these definitions do not bring out the close relationship between industrial ecology and chemical engineering. Put simply, chemical engineering principles can be applied to managing material and energy flows and transformations in an economy or an industrial sector or a company - i.e. to industrial ecology - as much as to flows and transformations in pipes and vessels. The common ground is shown by two of the analytical tools which are central to IE: Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Material Flow Analysis (MFA).

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