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“Chemical engineering is the field of applied science that employs physical, chemical, and biochemical rate processes for the betterment of humanity.” This opening sentence of Chapter 1 has been the underlying paradigm of chemical engineering for at least a century, through the development of modern chemical and petrochemical, biochemical, and materials processing, and into the twenty-first century as chemical engineers have applied their skills to fundamental problems in pharmaceuticals, medical devices and drug-delivery systems, semiconductor manufacturing, nanoscale technology, renewable energy, environmental control, and so on.
The role of the introductory course in chemical engineering is to develop a framework that enables the student to move effortlessly from basic science and mathematics courses into the engineering science and technology courses that form the core of a professional chemical engineering education, as well as to provide the student with a comprehensive overview of the scope and practice of the profession. An effective introductory course should therefore be constructed around the utilization of rate processes in a context that relates to actual practice. Chemical engineering as an academic discipline has always suffered from the fact that the things that chemical engineers do as professionals are not easily demonstrated in a way that conveys understanding to the general public, or even to engineering students who are just starting to pursue their technical courses.
(Every secondary school student can relate to robots, bridges, computers, or heart-lung machines, but how do you easily convey the beauty and societal importance of an optimally designed pharmaceutical process or the exponential cost of improved separation?) The traditional introductory course in chemical engineering has usually been called something like “Material and Energy Balances,” and the course has typically focused on flowsheet analysis, overall mass balance and equilibrium calculations, and process applications of thermochemistry. Such courses rarely explore the scope of the truly challenging and interesting problems that occupy today’s chemical engineers.
I have taken a very different approach in this text.My goal is to enable the student to explore a broad range of activities in which a modern chemical engineer might be involved, which I do by focusing on liquid-phase processes. Thus, the student addresses such problems as the design of a feedback level controller, membrane separation and hemodialysis, optimal design of a process with chemical reaction and separation, washout in a bioreactor, kinetic and mass transfer limits in a twophase reactor, and the use of a membrane reactor to overcome equilibrium limits on conversion. Mathematics is employed as a language, but the mathematics is at the most elementary level and serves to reinforce what the student has studied during the first university year; nothing more than a first course in calculus is required, together with some elementary chemistry.
Yet we are able to incorporate design meaningfully into the very first course of the chemical engineering curriculum; the design and analysis problems, although simplified, are realistic in format and scope. Few students of my generation and those that followed had any concept of the scope of chemical engineering practice prior to their senior year (and perhaps not even then). Students enrolled in a course using this text will understand what they can expect to do as chemical engineering graduates, and they will appreciate why they need the courses that follow in the core curriculum.
There is more material in the text than can reasonably be covered in one semester. The organization is such that mass and energy balances can be given equal weight in a one-semester course if the instructor so desires. I prefer to emphasize the use of mass balances in order to broaden the scope of meaningful design issues; any negative consequences of deemphasizing thermochemistry in the introductory course, should the instructor choose to do so, are minimal. Much of what once formed the core of the traditional material and energy balances course is now covered in general chemistry, sometimes in a high school setting, and thermodynamics offerings in many chemical engineering departments have become more focused, with more emphasis on chemical thermodynamics than in the past.