Key players who inspire production

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 August, 2008, 12:00am

The tireless work of chemical engineers has resulted in numerous inventions. Pretty much everything that involves a manufacturing, or production, process requires these professionals, whose work has given the world artificial hearts, biodegradable polymers, non-alcoholic beer, paper, dyes, drugs, plastics, fertilisers, food and petrochemicals.

Chemical engineers have long studied complex chemical processes by breaking them up into smaller 'unit operations'. The same concept has also been applied to the human body. As a result, analysis has improved clinical care, diagnostic and therapeutic devices, and has led to mechanical wonders.

Companies, such as Dunwell Petro-Chemical Company, use chemical engineering know-how to process waste oil for reuse in Hong Kong. Landfill sites also use chemical engineering know-how to collect gas which is used by Towngas to produce clean fuels.

Owen Luk Ka-fai, a chemistry engineering graduate trainee at Towngas, said, typically, chemical engineers concerned themselves with the chemical processes that turned raw materials into valuable products. The necessary skills encompass all aspects of design, testing, scale-up, operation, control and optimisation, and require a detailed understanding of the various 'unit operations', such as distillation, mixing and biological processes.

Chemical engineers are key players in meeting the demand from consumers for more sophisticated products at affordable prices. 'They must be aware of all aspects of chemicals manufacturing and how this process affects the environment and the safety of workers and consumers,' said Daphne Tam Yee-kam, a master's student in chemical engineering at University of Science and Technology. Ms Tam is working on a joint-venture project between the university and a commercial company to produce polymers to strengthen bulletproof vests.

Trevor Kwok Fu-wah, a chemical engineer with Hop Hing Group Holdings, said chemical engineers provided economical answers to clean up waste and prevent pollution. They also reduced the strain on natural materials through synthetic replacements, more efficient processing and new recycling technologies.