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Chemical Engineering, a Key Player in Sustainable Development

ACSGCI
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Contributed by Prof. Dr. Jun Huang, School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, The University of Sydney; The University of Sydney Nano Institute

 

Q: What sparked your passion for chemistry and engineering?

A: The significance of chemical engineering for people’s lives. Chemical engineers developed 1) fertilizer production for higher agricultural productivity to feed huge populations; 2) pharmaceuticals for diseases; 3) clean fuels and energy storage for our daily life; 4) processes to provide clean water for drinking; 5) new technologies for waste disposal and recycling; and 6) greenhouse gas reduction technology for climate change. The progress and achievement of my work in chemical engineering can benefit our society and improve our quality of life, which attracts my passion for chemistry and engineering. 

 

Q: What led you to focus on your specific area of research?

Jun-Huang-sm.jpgA: My research is focused on catalysis for sustainable technologies such as green processes, renewable energy, and CO2 and waste conversion. Catalysis plays a dominant role in the modern chemical industry and promotes the production of more than 90% of all chemicals. The global market of chemicals is over $5 trillion, and the total global demand on catalysts is over $60 billion annually. The market continues to increase due to the increasing demand for energy and chemicals from an increasing global population, which will also cause more waste and CO2 emissions.

Catalyst innovation has become the heart of enabling sustainable manufacturing to exploit new commercial opportunities for these challenges. For example, my research is developing novel catalysts and catalytic technologies to minimize CO2 emissions for oil-refining, to advance biorefining for renewable resources, and to convert CO2 and solid wastes to high-value fuels and chemicals. My research outcome enhances the economics of sustainable technologies and will promote the commercialization of them in most developing countries in the region of Asia/Pacific. My research in catalysis is a significant step forward in solving the current major technical and economic challenges faced in sustainable development. The outcomes can be moved out of the laboratory and into industry.

 

Q: As a professor, what advice do you give students beginning their undergraduate or graduate careers?

A: Chemical engineering is a multidisciplinary and fast growing area involving knowledge of chemistry, engineering, physics, biomolecules, materials, computational modelling, safety and environment. Students can acquire this broad knowledge in a university, while the students should also have a more specific focus in subjects they are good at. Students need to develop their soft skills for unexpected challenges in their future careers. Research internship in the lab is very helpful to build up the skills, vision, and experience for students. I also encourage students to participate in the international exchange program to get real experience rather than to learn a new culture from media or a book. Take me as an example. I completed undergraduate and research masters in China, Ph.D. thesis in Germany, postdoctoral research in the USA and Switzerland, and finally started my faculty position in Australia. This multi-country research experience not only improved my knowledge and skills, but also helped me to build up an international network for significant collaborations and access to unique facilities.

 

Q: What advice would you give others interested in sustainable approaches to chemistry and engineering?

A: Please take time to get to know the area at first—and make sure that you are interested in sustainable approaches based on the significance of the area as well as your passions and capability, rather than it’s ‘hot’. By thinking  first about what you are good at and what could be your potential contributions to sustainability, then you can plan a long-term goal and try new topics in the area.

 

Jun will present his award-winning research of 'Optimising the sustainability of the catalytic conversion in producing fuels and chemicals' at the upcoming GC&E Conference (gcande.org).