Dr Caroline McFarlane from the Department of Chemical Engineering writes about why she worked to develop our new MSc in Sustainable Chemical Engineering
Hello, my name is Dr Caroline McFarlane and I’m the Director of Studies for the MSc in Sustainable Chemical Engineering. In this blog post I’m going to talk about some of thinking that led us to develop the new MSc, in particular our view of the need for chemical engineers who understand sustainable development. In future posts I’ll be introducing you to some of the people who teach on the course and talking about some of its highlights, like the interdisciplinary group case study, the design project and the research projects that our students could be working on.
So why did we decide to develop a new MSc in Sustainable Chemical Engineering?
We know that many of the practices and lifestyles of a modern society can’t be sustained indefinitely. Many people can’t meet even their basic needs, and at the same time we’re exceeding the capacity of the planet to meet our demand for many resources and to accommodate our emissions. Across the globe we’re facing major challenges, just take for example climate change or the severe air pollution that is affecting large areas of Europe and Asia and is linked to millions of premature deaths every year. Sustainable development needs all of us – as citizens and engineers– to consider the impact of our own lives, the processes we run and products we produce, both now and in the future.
As chemical engineers we can play an absolutely central role in changing practices and driving forward innovative solutions in order to live within the constraints of the planet. We can apply our understanding of the ways in which complex systems behave to understanding the problems faced. We can contribute to sustainable development by applying our technological knowledge in innovating, designing and managing processes to improve environmental, social and economic outcomes. This might be through more efficient use of material and energy resources, minimising resource consumption and waste generation (for example, through cleaner technology, good practice, process intensification and material and energy integration) and also by recovering, valorising and re-using waste streams within a process or between different sectors. We also have a vital role to play not only in problem-solving but also framing problems and participating in political and social decision-making processes using our expertise.
So, sustainable development requires chemical engineers these days to take on a very challenging and potentially very fulfilling role as agents of social change. This requires a new knowledge and skills-set to frame and address the complex issues involved. Chemical engineers need a holistic approach, which takes into account environmental, social as well as techno-economic objectives, and the ability to work with a range of stakeholders, including professionals from other disciplines and the public. This is why we’ve combined courses in advanced chemical engineering with courses in holistic and life cycle approaches and give students lots of opportunities to practice and apply transferable skills, such as, interdisciplinary/team working, problem solving, negotiation, big picture and critical thinking, in order to improve their employability.
With these skills and knowledge our students will be well-prepared for a career in academia or in industry, working in the traditional industries (for example, chemicals, pharma, food and beverage) or the emerging and rapidly growing green sector, such as, renewable fuels, resource and waste management.