Colloquium Series SS 2018 by the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
Process intensification is key to living organisms. Within the constraints posed by the environment, various properties are needed: scalability, efficient transport across length scales, the emergence of robust and resilient operation by collective processes (in a cell, amongst cells, amongst organisms and their environment), and more. When resources are scarce, efficiency and sustainability are essential for survival. Clearly, all these features apply equally to industrial catalytic processes. However, current processes and materials are often designed using bottom-up principles, matching constraints a posteriori, while applying rational design principles at individual length scales only.
Discovering and applying the principles behind desirable traits in natural systems, like scalability and efficiency, can guide the intensification of chemical processes and the design of novel catalytic and separation systems. We demonstrate the potential of this “nature-inspired chemical engineering” (NICE) approach, in which (1) fundamental mechanisms omnipresent in nature (hierarchical transport networks, force balancing, dynamic self-organization) are utilized instead of imitating a single feature and (2) these mechanisms are properly translated within the context of the technological application.
I will give concrete examples of how the NICE methodology is applied to the intensification of multiphase reactor operation (fluidized beds, in particular) and catalytic processes (including heterogeneous, bio- and electro-catalytic processes, such as fuel cells). Time permitting, I will also touch upon membrane separations.