Leading Chemical Engineers Discuss the Impact of I&ECR - ACS Axial | ACS Publications

Leading Chemical Engineers Discuss the Impact of I&ECR

In 2019, Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research (I&ECR) is celebrating 110 Years of publishing with features such as a timeline infographic, invited articles and perspectives, and an ACS National Meeting event in Orlando, Florida. The journal continues to commemorate this momentous anniversary.

“Indeed, the esteemed history of I&ECR demonstrates that it is attuned to the needs of its readers and able to lead and adapt to changes in chemical engineering research,” said I&ECR Editor-in-Chief Phillip E. Savage.

Several leading chemical engineers admire the journal’s reputation for leading and adapting in a changing field, including: Andrzej Stankiewicz, Professor of Process Intensification at Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands; Ignacio Grossmann, the Rudolph R. and Florence Dean University Professor of Chemical Engineering, and former Department Head at Carnegie Mellon University; Joan Brennecke, Cockrell Family Chair in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin; and John Prausnitz, Professor of the Graduate School at the College of Chemistry, University of California Berkeley.

The journal asked these 4 renowned researchers to take the time to discuss the impact of I&ECR as it celebrates its 110th Anniversary.

Andrzej Stankiewicz

My name is Andrzej Stankiewicz, and I am a professor of process intensification at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. I had the pleasure and honor of serving as a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of I&ECR between 2001 and 2004. The journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research has accompanied me throughout my entire professional career. My career started many many years ago in the pre-digital age, where engineering calculations were done on slide rules rather than electronic calculators or computers. In those years, I&ECR was actually one of five journals published by ACS under the common title of Industrial & Engineering Chemistry. So we had Industrial & Engineering ChemistryIndustrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Fundamentals, Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Process Design and Development, and finally Industrial &; Engineering Chemistry Product Research and Development. The role of those journals in the chemical engineering research of those years cannot be overestimated.

For the purpose of this interview, I took out my master thesis – a thesis that was written and successfully defended in 1977, so 42 years ago. The thesis was about the mass transfer to non-Newtonian liquids in granular beds, and I checked the literature references and found out that 16 out of 57 papers cited, so more than a quarter of the entire reference list, were coming from the Industrial & Engineering Chemistry journals. In later years, I published regularly in I&ECR and the paper I am particularly proud of is the paper on fundamentals of process intensification that I wrote together with Tom Van Gerven on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the journal, exactly 10 years ago. The paper has been cited circa 300 times so far.

Obviously, many years have passed since then, and nowadays there are many more specialized chemical engineering journals on the market. Being the editor of one of these specialized journals myself, I still think that the general interest journals, such as I&ECR, have a very, very important role to play. This is simply because the new game-changing trends and directions in chemical engineering are born in general journals. Specialized journals appear only later, once the new trends have been established. If you take an example like flow chemistry or microfluidics research, you will see that before specialized journals in that field appeared, papers had been published in general journals, such as I&ECR. The same goes for process intensification, the field I’m working in.

So what could be the expected game-changing discovery that could set new trends in chemical engineering science in the foreseeable future? I think those discoveries will include – among other things – tailored energy responsive catalysts and novel reactor concepts with enhanced field control. The concept  will be utilizing electricity as the primary energy source simply because, in the long term, electricity is destined to play the key role in process industries, being a fully renewable, widely available and flexible form of energy on the earth. The industries utilizing fossil energy will actually never really be “green,” and the gradual shift to clean, renewable electricity as the primary energy source is unavoidable.

In conclusion, I would say that Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research has an extremely important role to play in setting new trends within chemical engineering. And on the 110th anniversary, I wish the journal lots of success in fulfilling that role.

Ignacio Grossmann

Hello, my name is Ignacio Grossmann, I am from Carnegie Mellon University. I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate the journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research for its 110th anniversary. As somebody who is actively involved in the area of process systems engineering, we do consider I&EC Research as one of the premier journals, together with Computers & Chemical Engineering, and the AIChE Journal.
In my particular case, I have tended to publish papers that are more in the areas of planning and scheduling in I&ECR. Now, here I’d also like to make the point that somebody in the process systems engineering area would, of course, also publish in journals outside of chemical engineering, in our case in the area of optimization. In that sense, I would really like to encourage my colleagues in chemical engineering who publish outside chemical engineering to also consider publishing their work in journals like Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research. I think it’s extremely important, in order to be able to provide a foundation, to articulate that we continue publishing in the mainstream journals of chemical engineering. If we only publish in journals outside of chemical engineering, I’m afraid that the long term viability of our discipline is going to be threatened. Therefore, just in closing again, I would like to congratulate I&ECR, and I encourage everybody to submit papers to this journal.

Joan Brennecke
Joan Brennecke

I’m Joan Brennecke in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. The impact of I&EC Research on my research has been around since my very first publication on research from my Ph.D. thesis, which appeared in I&ECR. It was about understanding what the local density was around solutes in supercritical fluids and I can’t tell you how excited I was when we got the notification that the paper had been accepted for publication. It is, in fact, my second most-cited paper in I&ECR.

However, the most important research contribution that I feel I have been able to make is in the opening up of the use of ionic liquids for separations. At the time – and this is related to my most-cited paper in I&ECR – at the time, chemists were mostly using ionic liquids for various different reactions. When I learned about them, I realized there was potential, and importance, in separating compounds from ionic liquids and using ionic liquids for doing a wide variety of separations. So, that most-cited paper, which is the “Recovery of organic products from ionic liquid using supercritical CO2”, was published in 2001. We were able to extract a wide variety of different liquid and solids that had been dissolved in an ionic liquid using supercritical CO2 without any contamination of the supercritical CO2 phase because the ionic liquids had infinitesimal, or non-measurable, solubility in the CO2. And the importance of this is it really opened up the entire field of using ionic liquids and thinking about ionic liquids with separations. That’s why it was important for this to be published in I&ECR, where we could reach a very broad audience of chemical engineers and subsequently there’s now thousands of publications on ionic liquids and separations. There’s even an entire conference, ILSEPT, focused on ionic liquids and separations. I think that having that paper published in I&ECR was a way for it to reach a big swath of the chemical engineering community, who could then appreciate where this might have an impact and have uses in their own research.

That kind of leads into ‘what’s the thought process for having a paper published in I&ECR.’ I’d say I&ECR is one of maybe two journals that has the widest reach among the full cadre of chemical engineers, whether they do separations and thermodynamics like I do, or whether its fluid mechanics or reactions and catalysis or process systems engineering. So, it’s a journal that essentially all chemical engineers would have on their radar and would look to that, and could understand and appreciate the significant advances. If you want to reach a broad spectrum of the industrial chemistry and chemical engineering community, then I&ECR is the place where you should publish your findings.

That  leads to  how do we make decisions on journals when there is such a proliferation of new journals in very specialized areas? For me, if I have something that’s very detailed, that only the thermodynamics community would really appreciate, then I would go to a more specialized journal. However, if it’s a very broad finding with a variety of applications, that many more chemical engineers and industrial chemistry folks could appreciate, that’s when I would make the decision to submit it to I&ECR.

The next question is how I decided to do work in chemical engineering and industrial chemistry in the first place, and that is kind of simple. I very much am interested in chemistry, but not just for the sake of chemistry. I’m interested in doing phase equilibria, understanding interactions between molecules, but for the purpose of solving a problem. That makes me an engineer, a chemical engineer, and so it just makes perfect sense that I would be focusing my research more towards  applied fundamental research in chemical engineering.

What are the biggest game-changers that have come around in my field of research? I would like to look at my field of research more as separations technology, so thermophysical properties and phase equilibrium as we need it to apply to doing chemical separations. To be honest, I think the biggest game-changer in the last few decades has been the development of polymeric membranes. We can see this very easily in the commercialization of reverse osmosis membranes for desalination of seawater. This is something that is desperately needed: the availability of clean drinking water in the world is one of our biggest needs and the ability of reverse osmosis membranes to do that separation with much lower energy consumption than would be needed by evaporation or distillation, has really been a game-changer. What I see now moving forward is the ability to make more exquisitely designed membranes that can have a big impact on a wide variety of other separations. This is where we can do composite membranes. Of things of interest to me, of course, is polymer ionic liquid composite membranes or mixed matrix membranes that include other exquisitely designed materials, like metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) and other solids that we would normally consider as being designed as adsorbents. So the ability to make membranes that combine – and this doesn’t always happen – but can combine the benefits of a membrane separation, which is essentially an athermal separation (i.e. doesn’t require nearly as much energy as many of the things that we have been used to using in terms of distillation and so on), but being able to combine those membranes, an athermal process, with carefully designed materials that can improve selectivity along with capacity and permeability. I think this is a real forefront for separations technology.

Finally, what is my advice for young researchers in the area? Specifically, with regard to publications, I would encourage young researchers to avoid the trend that we have seen so frequently in terms of slicing your research into the ‘smallest publishable unit.’ This certainly helps with numbers of publications, but what I’ve found in my own research is by putting more understanding and more research results into a single paper, that paper can have significantly more impact than if I had five papers with the same information in them. So my advice to young researchers is to avoid the pressures of bean counters and numbers, and to really look where you can publish your work and have it make an impact on the community that makes a difference to you. If that’s more in chemistry, if that’s more specific in reaction engineering, or if you’re trying to make an impact on the broader chemical engineering community in your publications in I&ECR.

John Prausnitz

I’m very glad to be able to congratulate Industrial Engineering & Chemistry Research on its special birthday. Certainly, this journal has played a big role in my professional work, especially in my education. I’ve always urged my students to read it, and I think most of them have done so – at least every so often. What I most like about the journal is that it covers such a wide area. My own area is in thermodynamic properties of fluid mixtures, and there are quite a few articles in that area. But there are many many more articles in other areas, and so I count on this journal to keep me informed about what’s going on in the area of where I am myself active.

I think one of the nice things about I&ECR is that it’s edited very well, in the sense that the sentences are not too long, it’s not too much jargon (there’s some, of course, it’s unavoidable). But in most cases, the articles are quite understandable, and one does not have to be an expert in the area to understand what’s going on. So, I’ve found that a very valuable part of my education. I started reading the journal when I was a graduate student many years ago, and I’ve never stopped.

For a while, I was on the Editorial Advisory Board. We would have meetings on how the journal might be improved and what sort of things we might look for. One of the things that I suggested is that the journal publish reviews or commentaries – experts that we asked every so often to summarize what has been going on in their field and to discuss what not only what has been achieved but what remains to be achieved. In other words, to give some perspective on a given area; what has been done in recent years; what problems have been solved and very important – what problems remain to be solved. This is a very valuable service to anybody doing research and also to other people who are not necessarily in that area who want to know about it, and want to know what they can do and what they should not do.

One of the things that I also suggested when I was on the board was to mix up the sequence of articles. The prevailing practice was to have one section on fluid mechanics, another section on chemical kinetics, and so on. And then underneath each section head, the various articles that applied to each section would be published in order. Now I didn’t like that at all. I didn’t like it for the simple reason that it discourages searching, or what one might call browsing. The thing I liked about the journal is that I would look at an article that interested me and when I would get to the end, I would find an article about something that I didn’t know anything about at all – didn’t even know the author existed – and then I would spend five or ten minutes and learn something about the subject that was entirely new to me. And that came about strictly because I was browsing. I was looking at an article in my own area, but then at the end of the article, there would be some other article in a different area, and that was a very fine feature. We want to encourage people to look at, and not necessarily study in detail, but at least to look at articles in other fields.

I also like the fact that through the years the editor has always been very kind. I’ve never really encountered an editor who was nasty in any way and so I’m grateful for that. There are editors of other journals who can be quite sharp. The editors of I&ECR have all been very gentle as far as I can remember, I’m grateful for that. The reviewers also, most of the time, have been gentle. A couple of exceptions, but most of the time, they have been quite positive. Not necessarily that they liked everything, but they were constructive in their suggestions and not describing things in an angry or negative way.

One experience I had with a journal – and this was a long, long time ago – I guess I was a young, assistant professor at the time, so I was very gung ho and ambitious. There was an article about a subject, and it was an article where I had a bit of knowledge. I knew most of the literature in that area. So I got this article, which was, as far as I could tell, full of errors and lots of mistaken ideas. I said so nicely, gently – I wrote a long review of all the details that I thought needed fixing. And the editor, I don’t know who it was, the editor wrote me back and thanked me very much for the review. He said, ‘we’ve decided not to publish the paper, but we’ve decided to publish your review instead.’ So I thought that was kind of interesting, I was happy to see that the editor had a sense of humor. That is something that I certainly recommend to the editors of all journals: maintain your sense of humor, it makes everything so much easier. Let me just once more congratulate I&ECR on its big birthday and many many more years of publishing.

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