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Call for chemical industry to 'emerge from the Middle Ages'

The European chemical industry is in urgent need of modernisation, according to Andrzej Stankiewicz, inaugurated as the new Professor of Process Intensification at the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands, on 21 April - one of the first such posts in the world. Th...

The European chemical industry is in urgent need of modernisation, according to Andrzej Stankiewicz, inaugurated as the new Professor of Process Intensification at the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands, on 21 April - one of the first such posts in the world. The Polish-born professor's comments stem from his vision of a sustainable future. Today he perceives on the one hand a move to sustainable biological resources, such as sugar cane or cellulose, but no corresponding move to more modern, efficient chemical processes - something that he would like to redress. He said that simply 'being green' is not enough, and that a change within the chemical industry is urgently required so that it can 'emerge from the Middle Ages'. Unfortunately, he says, the chemical industry is wedded to old fashioned methods that require a minimum of risk. 'If you look at the equipment used in the chemical industry, and also in the biotech industry, the technology is very old, traditional and inefficient, so I am addressing not particular processes, but the whole industry,' Professor Stankiewicz told CORDIS news on his way to the inauguration. 'Productivity is low and energetically inefficient.' To achieve modernisation, Professor Stankiewicz, who also works as an industrial chemist, believes that there should be significant investment in 'process intensification', which would include the miniaturisation of chemical reactors, so that there is less waste, less energy needed and most importantly, more efficiency, thanks to the use of novel reactions, safely running at extreme parameters due to size constraints. 'Process intensification is the discipline I represent,' said Professor Stankiewicz. 'There are new processing methods and equipment available which are able to drastically increase processing power by orders of magnitude. For example, microtechnology is a feature, able to generate products, but by factors more efficiently than traditional methods.' Newer methods of process intensification are under development all the time, but require further research. New methods include the use of microwave radiation or light, or supersonic shockwaves in the chemical process, to increase the efficiency or speed of reaction.

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