Process systems engineering: From Solvay to modern bio- and nanotechnology.. A history of development, successes and prospects for the future

George Stephanopoulos, Gintaras V. Reklaitis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

119 Scopus citations

Abstract

The term Process Systems Engineering (PSE) is relatively recent. It was coined about 50 years ago at the outset of the modern era of computer-aided engineering. However, the engineering of processing systems is almost as old as the beginning of the chemical industry, around the first half of the 19th century. Initially, the practice of PSE was qualitative and informal, but as time went on it was formalized in progressively increasing degrees. Today, it is solidly founded on engineering sciences and an array of systems-theoretical methodologies and computer-aided tools. This paper is not a review of the theoretical and methodological contributions by various researchers in the area of PSE. Its primary objective is to provide an overview of the history of PSE, i.e. its origin and evolution; a brief illustration of its tremendous impact in the development of modern chemical industry; its state at the turn of the 21st century; and an outline of the role it can play in addressing the societal problems that we face today such as; securing sustainable production of energy, chemicals and materials for the human wellbeing, alternative energy sources, and improving the quality of life and of our living environment. PSE has expanded significantly beyond its original scope, the continuous and batch chemical processes and their associated process engineering problems. Today, PSE activities encompass the creative design, operation, and control of: biological systems (prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells); complex networks of chemical reactions; free or guided self-assembly processes; micro- and nano-scale processes; and systems that integrate engineered processes with processes driven by humans, legal and regulatory institutions. Through its emphasis on synthesis problems, PSE provides the dialectic complement to the analytical bent of chemical engineering science, thus establishing the healthy tension between synthesis and analysis, the foundation of any thriving discipline. As a consequence, throughout this paper PSE emerges as the foundational underpinning of modern chemical engineering; the one that ensures the discipline's cohesiveness in the years to come.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4272-4306
Number of pages35
JournalChemical Engineering Science
Volume66
Issue number19
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2011
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Process control
  • Process design
  • Process modeling
  • Process operations
  • Product design
  • Systems engineering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering

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