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The practical side of R&D

By Chemical Engineering |

William Banholzer gave an opening keynote address at the AIChE Spring Meeting (New Orleans, La.; March 31) that was interesting, fun — and brave. It reminded me of the “Six Sigma for Research and Development [R&D]” training that UOP provided to me many years ago. The following principles regarding R&D were taught in that training: the goal is profit, not data; new apparatuses do not necessarily lead to new products; there must be a market for any new product and that product must be manufacturable at a reasonable cost; and the new product must be protectable (such as via patents). Banholzer’s presentation, entitled “The World Needs Engineering Judgment,” contained some similar themes directed at commodity chemicals. R&D should be regarded as a privilege and not a right. In today’s companies, new products provide only about 8% of their profits. Invention is not enough. The new product must be desirable and affordable. Banholzer gave some micro and macro examples of new technologies. He was skeptical regarding all of the following: the conversion of greenhouse gases into biodegradable plastics; the conversion of algae to crude oil; the use of graphene nanotubes for desalination; the…
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