Process engineering is a broad division of engineering that deals with all the basic unit operations involved in turning raw materials into useable end products via chemical and bio-chemical processes. The field is therefore relevant to manufacturing in a vast range of industries including the chemical, petrochemical, mineral processing, advanced material, energy, food, pharmaceutical, and biotechnological industries. It also contributes to the functions of national infrastructure by helping to design such things as waste disposal or treatment plants. Therefore, process engineers have much to contribute towards the UK's future socioeconomic prosperity, and this area directly addresses the skills challenges identified in multiple reports and by the research community.
Researchers entering the field require a good grounding in a core set of engineering competencies which include fluid dynamics, reactor design & engineering, heat & mass transfer, particle technology, and formulation. In addition to these skills, success requires a solid understanding of the key cross-cutting mathematical, computational and experimental approaches associated with the design, optimisation and integration of a scaled-up continuous or batch-run process system. Process engineering also interfaces with and draws strongly from other fields such as chemistry, mathematics, physics, life sciences, economics, control and (micro)systems engineering. Therefore an ability to work at disciplinary interfaces is essential; particularly the interface with the chemical sciences, but also biology for the specific area of bioprocessing. The cohort-based approach offers an opportunity to develop competency in core underpinning skills as well as an ability to work effectively with a variety of different disciplines - an important skill given the prevalence of multidisciplinary teams within the process industries.
To be sustainable the process industries require continuous progress towards increased productivity, selectivity and reduced life cycle impacts. New challenges for process industries arise from the increased focus on alternative feedstocks, e.g. renewables (biomass, waste recycling), and Carbon Dioxide (CO2). This along with the requirement to minimise water/energy usage and reuse/recycling of by-products are key future drivers for process innovation. Therefore researchers entering these industries as well as needing strong technical and scientific skills will need to be creative about finding new solutions or techniques that support sustainable, safe and novel future manufacturing processes.
It is anticipated that (bio)process engineering proposals will feature significant cross-sector industrial input, and be cognisant of the major manufacturing challenges. All proposals should demonstrate the depth of science and engineering knowledge/skills developed through training, as well as interdisciplinary training and new skills in sustainability. As appropriate they should address the opportunities presented by a growing industrial biotechnology sector and the emerging area of synthetic biology.