Ecological Engineering and Sustainabitity: A New Opportunity for Chemical Engineering
In its short history, chemical engineering has moved far beyond the bulk production of commodity chemicals that first motivated the discipline's development. The concept of “unit operations” enabled chemical engineers to “see” the underlying similarity of, for example, separating alcohol from water in a fermenter, and separating gasoline from diesel in a refinery. The identification of the fundamental unit operations allowed chemical engineering to focus on the processes as opposed to the product, which in turn has enabled the discipline to move into a multitude of new directions. The application of chemical engineering principles to biological processes at the cell-to-tissue scale has been particularly successful, leading a number of prominent departments to change their names to include some variant of “Biological.” Yet the emphasis of the research in these departments has largely remained focused on the smallest biological scales, missing the opportunity to tackle the most complex and interconnected biological system on Earth—the biosphere.