Will the 21st Century be the century when chemical engineers will provide leadership for the world? I think there is a good chance of that happening.
What are the biggest problems/ emerging needs of the Century? Energy (fossil fuel based, renewable), Food & water, Security, Materials, Health, Environment and wastes, Resource efficiency & optimization, Infrastructure products etc — all domains that will leverage chemical, materials and biological sciences; industries that chemical engineers operate in.
As we head into the future, everybody is operating on the assumption that humans will find technological solutions to the impending crises as we have in the past. That said, new technology solutions are increasingly interdisciplinary and complex. Chemical engineers often operate with comfort across disciplines and revel in complexity.
Technology innovation, invariably, require advancing laboratory inventions through stages of de-risking, refinement/ scale-up, testing/ certifications etc and finally market-entry. This is a process that comes naturally to chemical engineers. Furthermore, technology orientation and pursuing “usefulness” in science is also a part of the creed of all engineers.
A lot of decision making on important global and national matters will need “systems engineering” approaches. For example, decisions and agreements on climate change, pollution control, energy security, resource efficiency etc. Chemical engineers can help make decisions more objective and based on facts/ data/ models rather than whims of leaders.
(Excerpts from talk by V. Premnath at Azeotropy, IIT- Bombay, 10 March 2013)