Designing New Chemical Products

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Cussler, E. L.
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The chemical industry hopes to grow through the design and development of new products. Such growth would be greatly aided by a cogent theory of product design. This talk outlines early efforts to develop such a theory. The chemical industry today is changed from the chemical industry of twenty-five years ago. Clear evidence of this change comes from the jobs taken by graduating chemical professionals. Twenty-five years ago, eighty percent of these graduating students went to the commodity chemical industry, exemplified by Dupont, BASF, Shell, and Dow. Now, twenty percent do. Twenty-five years ago, around ten percent went to product-oriented businesses like PPG, Pfizer, or 3M. Now, fifty percent do. The chemical industry now has a product focus. The new product-oriented chemical industry has three categories of products with different key characteristics. The first and most obvious category is commodities, the same products which used to dominate the chemical enterprise. The key for producing these products is their cost. Styrene produced by Dow and styrene produced by BASF are chemically identical; the issue is who can produce large quantities at the lowest possible price. The second and third categories of products may be less familiar. The second category involves molecules with molecular weights of 500-700 and with specific social benefits. The most obvious examples are pharmaceuticals. The key to the production of pharmaceuticals is not their cost but their time to market, i.e., the speed of their discovery and production. These products are normally not made in dedicated equipment but rather in whatever reactors are available at that specific time. The third category includes products where the value is added by a specific microstructure. The key to these products is their function. For example, I don’t care why my shoes shine after I have applied polish; I only care that they do shine. It is the shine, not the molecule that produces the shine, which is important. Customers will pay a premium for such a function, be it in a coating, in a food, or in a cleaner. Designing new products for this altered market requires new tools beyond those supplied by concepts like unit operations, central to past engineering operations. What tools are available now and which are still missing will be reviewed here.
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60:52 minutes
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