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AIChE-CCR Joint Session - October, 2011

AIChE-CCR Joint Session, October 17, 2011, Minneapolis, MN

At the 2011 AIChE Annual Meeting, Council for Chemical Research (CCR) co-sponsored a plenary session “Chemical Science Innovation – The Future of the U.S. Chemical Enterprise”.  The session featured leaders from academics, industry, national laboratories, and research institutes.  The session featured eight speakers, who talks are summarized below. The session was co-organized by Professors Jennifer Sinclair Curtis (University of Florida) and Stuart Cooper (The Ohio State University).  The session was conducted in two parts on Monday October 17th.

Several themes emerged from the speakers.  Growth comes from innovation.  We live in an interconnected global economy.  The global economy impacts research, education, and manufacturing, and virtually every other aspect of the chemical enterprise.  Large segments of the economy are impacted by the chemical enterprise.  Partnerships and collaborations can drive innovation, and therefore, economic success.  Organizations are most successful when they focus on their core competencies.  Fostering an innovation culture in an organization can significantly impact innovation success.  Success requires that we attract the best talent to the field.

  • Larry A. Wendling (VP Corporate Research, 3M) presented “The Future for 3M in Nanomaterials Science and Engineering”.  Dr. Wendling highlighted that 3M's fundamental business model can be described as technology-driven innovation.  3M’s technology platforms are driven by the ability to access to access novel size dependent properties via nanoscale materials science and process engineering.  Innovation provides significant opportunities for differentiated product performance across many of 3M's businesses.
  • Robert Brown (President of Boston University) presented “Educating Global Chemical Engineers in the 21st Century”. Dr. Brown is a distinguished scholar of chemical engineering.  Chemical engineering thrived in the United States during the 20th century because of the confluence of discoveries in chemistry, innovations in process technology, the abundance of raw materials, and markets fueled by economic growth. Dr. Brown highlighted how information technology has reduced barriers to information access, redefined global access to education,  and  and the timescale for innovation.  To retain leadership we must assume that we have equal access to information and gain a competitive edge by consolidating that information more effectively.
  • Sangtae Kim (Executive Director, Morgridge Institute for Research) presented Novel Structures for Public-Private Partnerships: Case Studies with Medical Devices and Biopharmaceuticals.  University of Wisconsin’s Morgridge Institute is a private, not-for-profit interdisciplinary organization accelerating science for human health.  Dr. Kim emphasized that we are in a time when the growth rate in research opportunities towers over the funding capacity of traditional sources.  Universities are turning to translational research and the associated licensing revenue streams as the untapped resource to close the gap.  He proposes a new model for a public-private partnership with the goal of higher success rates for translational research and development.  Academics uses a Euler system, where you are rewarded for continuing to focus on your expertise.  Industry uses a Lagrangian system where you are rewarded for getting the project moved down the pathway.  Success requires alignment of the reward systems.
  • Joseph A. Miller (CTO & Executive VP, Corning) presented Innovation Principles to Drive New Product and Process Growth Opportunities - Experiences from DuPont and Corning.  Dr.  Miller presented a set of innovation principles, developed while at DuPont and at Corning.  The principles were applied to new product and process innovation at Corning and enabled the enterprise to navigate and grow through two economic disruptions over the past decade.  You need a balance between synergy and trust.  You must value a talented innovation culture.  You need state of art facilities to attract talent. Shut down peripheral facilities.  You need stable partners and collaborator relationships. You must employ a strict innovation governance process. Allocate resources to growth areas. Innovation is more than a process. It is an interconnected system. Imbedded in organizational culture - it must be managed. It is a probability game so you must explore multiple avenues.  Don't try to manage R&D people like business people. They respond differently. It takes an individual to lead innovation. Dr. Miller provided examples based on Corning’s touch-sensitive gorilla glass.
  • William Banholzer (CTO & Executive VP, Dow Chemical Company) presented “The Future of Fuels and Alternative Feedstocks - Recognizing Hype vs. Practical Limitations”.  Dr. Banholzer laid out a paradigm:  The world now agrees that the ideal future requires 100% sustainable sources of energy and product feedstocks in adequate amounts to support a high standard of living for all.  (1) Which new pathways and technologies will emerge to transform our situation? (2) You must consider the mass and energy balances, capital investment and resource requirements of several key alternative energy and feedstock technologies.  This template was used to outline how to succeed at research and innovation.  There is no “right” to do research. We earn the ability to do research if we make products that people want to buy.  Dr. Banholzer wants to create high business value using great science.  There are important factors to consider.
    • A regulation going into effect in 2022 must be based on current technology. Deployment takes 5+ years. A plant that Dow is building for 2015 commissioning is based on 2005 technology.
    • Dr. Banholzer is not optimistic about biobased feedstocks replacing fossil. You get equivalent products at higher costs. People won’t pay for sustainability outside of regulations. You must consider the cost of the feedstock on a carbon or BTU content.  For example, with corn starch prices are higher than the value of platform chemical - you cannot be successful.  The cost of sugar in Brazil makes it economical to produce ethylene (and polyethylene) from sugar cane ethanol.
    • Small companies may have innovative technology, but their primary VC investors are focused on exit strategies, not project capitalization.
    • Dow is concerned that U.S. academic chemical engineering programs are too focused on biology.  Learning genomics will not help you design a better heterogeneous catalyst.  Therefore Dow is making large investments in core chemical engineering skills at 11 U.S. universities.
    • The real question for innovation - what is practical!
  • ​John Anderson (President, Illinois Institute of Technology) presented “Importance of Human Capital: Why Major in Chemical Engineering?”  As a professor of chemical engineering, Dr. Anderson highlighted the role of a chemical engineer.  Innovation is driven by people who are smart, creative and assertive.  Opportunities for careers in technical fields are much different for today’s students than five decades ago.  Engineering in general has lost market share of students at universities.  Dr. Anderson is focused on steps that higher education and industry can take to attract future innovators to the chemical enterprise and meet their educational objectives.  In the U.S. only 4.5 % of students graduate with a degree in engineering, whereas 20% of degrees in Asia and 12% in Europe are in engineering. We need to highlight that chemical engineering offers some of the highest starting salaries for a B.S. degree.  We need to define engineering as a discipline. We need to emphasize that you need to be competent at math, not necessarily like math.  We need to change the image that engineering is not people oriented.  Definitions are a challenge to overcome.  The image is that scientists create things that never existed before while engineers find practical solutions. We need to highlight the societal benefits of chemical engineering.  This has to be done in K-12.  We need to stress creativity and entrepreneurship. We need to open up the curriculum and realize that the fundamental skills define the academic major not the profession.
  • Anthony Cugini (Laboratory Director, National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL)) presented “The Future for Emerging Energy Technologies”.  Dr. Cugini opened with a comment - Buy a truckload of coal and a truckload of dirt and you learn that coal is cheaper than dirt.  We need to look at CO2 emissions reduction and to do it economically.  NETL supports and conducts a variety of R&D initiatives to develop alternative clean fuels and chemicals from fossil sources, including coal, natural gas and biomass. NETL leads a large multi-organization program in CCUS – carbon capture, utilization, and storage.  Work includes development and demonstration of advanced separation membranes, advanced IGCC power systems, and reactions in the gasification process.
  • Monty Alger (CTO, Air Products) presented “Chemical Product Life Cycle Management and Enterprise Environmental Stewardship”.  Dr. Alger defined sustainability to include people, products, and profits.  The chemical industry has moved from compliance with safety, environmental, and quality requirements to proactive stewardship of products throughout their life cycles.  Sustainability – the integration of environmental, social, and economic considerations – has become an important element of business management and product development strategy.  Sustainability requires innovation.  Dr. Alger concluded with the remark “This is a great time to be a chemical engineer”.

Throughout the session, recurrent themes arose.  Chemistry and chemical engineering is a cross-disciplinary field that impacts society in everything from health care to materials to electronics.  Success is based on innovation.  Innovation is driven by people.  To retain global leadership the chemical enterprise must attract the best and the brightest.  Recruiting requires highlighting both the personal rewards and societal benefits.  When considering projects, it is hard to predict the pathway of R&D.  Innovators must be given freedom, but the process must be managed.  Feedstocks, processes, and products must be considered.  Information technology has leveled the playing field, and the U.S. no longer has large competitive advantage.  We must use our creativity to invent practical products that are sustainable and economically efficient.  As an interesting highlight, a similar session was conducted at the 2010 Fall National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.  In comparison to this session, the ACS session revealed significantly larger divergence of opinion regarding the role of innovation in industry and academics.

The plenary session was well attended and included graduate students to senior faculty members.  Audience asked probing questions regarding the speaker’s vision of innovation as well as details about innovation process in their organization.  There was significant dialog and debate in small groups about innovation after the session.