President’s Corner | 2016

Think of Engineering Challenge for Change

Mr. Kimikazu Sugawara
President, SCEJ

I’m honored to be appointed Chairman of the Society of Chemical Engineers, Japan (SCEJ) to take the place of Professor Mae. One year is a short term, but I aim to contribute to the growth of the SCEJ by taking a proactive stance toward corporate citizenship. As we embark upon a new year together, I look forward to further cooperation with, and the support of, our members.

Chemistry and the chemical industry as “solution providers”

Chemistry has attracted attention as a solution provider. Goods and materials produced by chemistry are providing solutions in countless fields, and are used to address global-scale problems such as global warming, energy-, resource- and food-related issues and advanced health measures for aging societies.

No matter what the technological advancement or innovation, none of them can be realized without materials and products developed using chemistry. The chemical industry is the source of all the industry and the infrastructure that makes Japan a manufacturing powerhouse, and which is why the 21st century is being called the “chemistry century.”

Paradigm shifts are occurring in society and technology. In other words, as we move toward the “future that have already happened,” as Peter Drucker styled it in his famous eponymous essay, new dramas in innovation have already begun to unfold. Examples of this are medical approaches to non-diseases and incurable diseases, the fourth Industrial Revolution utilizing Internet of Things, and AI, robots and other technological innovations

In connection with such trends, chemical engineering is being put to the test to find processes by which to develop competitive products and materials. New and innovative materials simply cannot be created without innovative processes.

A combination of multifarious technological processes will assuredly give way to completely new production technologies. Hence, there are high hopes for and expectations placed on industry-academia collaborative research.

Energy crises and chemical engineering

Global CO2 concentrations have yet to be mitigated. The Earth is crying out. Population growth and rapidly developing industry have caused a drastic increase in the consumption of the world’s energy, especially in the emerging countries. However, their dependence upon fossil fuels has not decreased and, as a result, CO2 emissions continue to rise.

Food insecurity and changes in marine and terrestrial ecosystems are tightly linked to the global energy and environmental issues. In order to solve them, quantitative theories for both individual advanced inventions and overall systems must be established. With respect to material balance and energy balance, I believe such theories are the fundamental perspectives of chemical engineering.

Take the problems related to energy consumption at chemical plants, for example. Chemical plants generally consist of equipment requiring an immense amount of thermal energy input. Therefore, efforts to create innovative energy-efficient processes are urgently required, including the acceleration of development projects for membrane concentration/separation as well as discussions on the use of microreactors for conventional processes.

Setting and achieving numerical targets are important, but engineering inventions that lead to social innovations in energy are also long awaited.

On the other hand, while the current situation in regard to crude oil may be volatile, I see crude oil as a raw material that could well determine outcomes for the chemical industry. Geopolitical risk and supply-demand balance have short-term effects, but there is a need to understand how technological innovations will affect crude oil over the long-term. In other words, because the need to reduce CO2 emissions from automobiles has resulted in an increase of EVs and HCVs, the change from engines to motors is expected to greatly reduce the demand for gasoline. Such changes will have a major impact on trends in petrochemicals.

SCEJ transcending boundaries

Many academic societies, including the SCEJ, have been facing the problem of declining memberships and subscriptions. One reason might be the evolution in information retrieval techniques where the way of accessing information and how researchers communicate with each other have dramatically changed.

I understand that the SCEJ has taken steps to unite several academic domains of other societies and is thereby extending its activities into diverse organizations. Could it be possible to create brand new social values by combining and systematizing the numerous inventions developed in multiple disciplines? To make this happen, could we somehow provide a venue where researchers and engineers of many different disciplines can get together? I hope that SCEJ will give rise to a chemical academia with a sense of oneness and which brings people and the sum of their knowledge together.

Furthermore, it is clear that each of the issues mentioned here requires initiatives on a global scale. INCHEM TOKYO 2015 saw greater numbers of exhibitors from abroad, and I would like to commend all of my predecessors for their endeavors.

Priority measures for 2016

“Vision 2023″ is the foundation of the priority measures of SCEJ this year. Among our objectives, the following three are deemed especially important:

  1. Advance international exchange through industry-academia interaction.
  2. Foster a wider perspective and greater expertise on the part of global leaders in engineering, and stimulate their collaborative efforts through cooperation between industry and academia.
  3. Promote consolidation of multiple disciplines in academia, technology and industry; and “Be united” in terms of knowledge.

In SCEJ, the barrier between industry and academia is low and collaboration with other industries and academic domains is progressing, which gives good grounds for expecting the establishment of new industries and new technologies. Moreover, the SCEJ serves a key role in fostering human resources capable of responding to globalization and other changes in the industries, and this must be addressed in a collaboration between industry and academia.

Cultivation of global engineers with strong entrepreneurial spirit is considered a major mission of the Society of Chemical Engineers, Japan.