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On our minds recently

By Chemical Engineering |

As chemical process technology and the process industries advance, it can be useful to occasionally glance backward, to see what technical issues have preoccupied our readers in the past. In that vein, this is an apt moment to look back again at some news examples, chosen basically at random, mostly from our pages over the past few years.

Some emerging issues become more or less permanently relevant; others are more in the nature of peaking events. An example of the first type was aired in our December 2001 issue (China’s CPI: The Gateway to Opportunity, pp. 27–31), with our look at the opportunities for Western companies that were opening up in connection with China’s chemical process industries. (An organization that possesses a long-standing interest in the unfolding of China’s chemical process industries is Germany’ Dechema e.V. [Frankfurt]; for a preview of exhibits to be on display in Beijing in May at Dechema’s AchemAsia 2007, see this February issue.)

From a new-equipment standpoint, a trend that has been showing up in many contexts is the design of equipment to perform more than one function. A number of such instances related to drying are described in a news roundup in the same 2001 issue; see Dryers That Do More Than Dry (pp. 33–36). This multipurpose concept has been arising elsewhere in our news pages; for other examples, see Level Measurement Goes the Distance (December 2002, pp. 29–33) for level-measurement devices with unprecedented flexibility. And for versatility in reaction vessels, see Tweaking Chemical Reactors (November 2003, pp. 25–31).

With the recent comparatively high energy prices, it is hardly surprising that much chemical-engineering thought has been given to alternative fuel schemes — gas–to-liquids processes (A New Era for Gas-to-Liquids Technology, July 2002, pp. 27–31), renewable fuels (Renewing Interest in Renewable Fuels, October 2003, pp 41, 42) and biomass (Broader Horizons for Biomass, October 2006, pp. 21–25), and waste combustion (Pyrolysis Gets All Fired Up, March 2002, pp. 27–31), to name but a few particularly significant ones. Much of today’s relevant technology for capitalizing on wastes as fuel is an outgrowth of long-standing — and still ongoing — development work in coal gasification and liquefaction; see Coal Conversion Keeps Itself Relevant, September 1998, pp. 35ff, as well as A New Surge for Coal Gasification, pp. 18–21 in this February issue.

It has been remarked before on this Editor’s Page that the industrial gases field, for all its lack of obvious glamour, has been remarkable, especially in the past decade or so, for advancing its production technology and for carving out imaginative new markets — indeed, a notable number of the finalists and winners of this magazine’s Kirkpatrick Chemical Engineering Achievement Award (CE, January, p.23) have reached that status by finding new uses for industrial gases. For a recent update of technical developments in that industry, see Air Separation: Mature Processes, Modern Improvements, November 2006, pp. 21–28.

An industrial gas in a slightly different sense is carbon dioxide, and, in light of today’s focus upon greenhouse gas emissions and the implications of that concern for the chemical process industries and chemical engineering technology, we regularly follow greenhouse-gas-related developments. For recent examples, see pp. 5 and 15–17 of our December 2006 issue. For evidence that this field remains controversial, see this February issue, p. 6.

The articles mentioned above are all news roundups; no attempt has been made to draw attention to any of the outside-authored “how to” articles that make up so important a part of our product. It may be of interest on a future Editor’s Page to single out some of our outside-authored articles that have won strongest readership.

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