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This book is a companion book to Materials for a Sustainable Future published by the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2012. In the Materials book we focused on the elements and compounds that are becoming ‘endangered’, the ways of dealing with increasing quantities of methane and carbon dioxide, the use of biomass as a chemical feedstock and specialised materials for use in advanced technologies such as water splitting and energy conversions. This book, Chemical Processes for a Sustainable Future, is about chemical processes aimed at sustainability with a focus on developments in new technologies and on processes using renewable materials as chemical feedstocks. The chapters give an up-to-date account of some of the new processes that are either currently in operation or are planned for the future. The overarching theme is to showcase new ideas in the chemical industry related to a sustainable existence.

The book is divided into five themes:

  • An Introduction

  • Chemical Transformations

  • Biochemical Transformations and Reactors

  • Separations and Purifications

  • Process Integration

The topics we have chosen for our 27 chapters are not exhaustive. They cover areas that we feel are important in the quest for more sustainable processing and production of chemicals and materials. There are many areas that are not mentioned such as biomass engineering, further topics on biomass processes, adsorption and absorption processes, and advances in distillation. Furthermore, waste and emission treatment technologies are not covered since these would be better dealt with in a stand-alone volume. Extensive coverage of different process intensification technologies (such as spinning disc reactors) is also not given, as this is well covered in recently published volumes.

To help readers, each theme section is preceded by an overview chapter setting the scene for the chapters within the section. Moreover, each chapter begins with an introduction and finishes with a conclusion written with non-experts in mind.

Sustainability is slowly becoming more and more important in our everyday lives. We are aware of renewable forms of energy, more eco-friendly and sustainable ways of disposing of our rubbish collections, and of the chemical industry's move to more sustainable processes and ‘greener’ ways of doing things as espoused in their advertising campaigns and annual reports. These issues are important, but there is much more to sustainable processes, as will become clear in Chemical Processes for a Sustainable Future. We hope that this book will demonstrate that a close connection between sustainability and chemical processes is both possible and important.

Over the past 200 years, chemistry has been at the forefront in reducing poverty and making our lives not only longer, but easier, with improved pesticides, fertilisers, pharmaceuticals, fuels, plastics and even micro-electronics. Hand-in-hand with this, chemical engineers have developed processes to manufacture these chemicals and products quickly, cost-effectively and in useful quantities. All this has unfortunately come at a cost. Our generation is not only rapidly dispersing some vital elements and compounds thinly across the planet, but is filling the environment with pollutants, some of which are difficult to contain. We are compromising the lives of future generations. In the same way that chemistry and chemical engineering have led the way to an easier life, chemists and chemical engineers are being called upon to lead the world in organising a sustainable lifestyle for all, so that our children and their children will have the same advantages as the present generation. Our society was born out of the Industrial Revolution. It changed our way of life. The next revolution will be to develop a way of life that can be sustained from one generation to another. We hope that this book will show the contribution made by new chemical processes aimed at sustainability. This involves the cooperation of chemists and chemical engineers, working towards this common goal. Chemical Processes for a Sustainable Future aims to be part of this process.

One of the great advantages of this book is that the chapters have been written by scientists or engineers who are experts in their field and include up-to-date statistics, recent research and references to the latest work. The combination of science and engineering allows both perspectives and expertise to be voiced. We have chosen to write the book in a very readable format, with the hope that all readers, whether experts or not, will gain much in knowledge and appreciation of the concept of sustainable living. A second advantage of this book is that it brings together many apparently disparate topics, but all are related to sustainability, so that comparisons can be made, synergies developed and issues put into perspective. The book should encourage more and more people to investigate ways of ensuring the survival of future generations.

The audience we hope to reach includes: industrialists and investors looking at future developments with an eye on suitable investments; policymakers in local and central governments who need to become acquainted with the latest developments in the chemical industry related to sustainability; students, teachers, researchers, professors and scientists, engineers and managers working in the field of chemical processing who need information, direction and references to new developments; and last but not least, editors, journalists and the general public who need information on the vitally important concept of a sustainable future.

The International System of Quantities is reflected in the book with the use of SI units where ever possible. Furthermore, International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) recommendations on notation and spelling have been used throughout. The book has been supported by IUPAC.

In true IUPAC style the editors have attempted to give the book an international flavour with authors coming from many different countries including Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

The success of the book ultimately rests with the 47 authors and, we the editors, would like to thank all of them for their cooperation and their valued, willing and enthusiastic contributions. We would also like to thank Professor Ron Weir who, on behalf of the IUPAC subcommittee, the Interdivisional Committee on Terminology, Nomenclature and Symbols (ICTNS), advised us on the correct use of thermodynamic quantities, units and symbols. Finally we wish to thank the Royal Society of Chemistry, whose representatives were helpful and patient in producing this monograph on Chemical Processes for a Sustainable Future.

Trevor M. Letcher

Janet L. Scott

Darrell A. Patterson

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