Reaction engineering is the discipline that quantifies the interactions of transport phenomena and kinetics in relating reactor performance to operating conditions and feed variables. This quantification requires a thorough understanding of the microscale (molecular level of scrutiny), mesoscale (transport-kinetic events on a catalyst-particle level) and macroscale (reactor design in context of process and plant design). It is the field that deals with chemically reactive systems of engineering significance. Chemical reaction engineering results in a general methodology useful in approaching a variety of systems (chemical, biochemical, biological, electrochemical) where engineering of reactions is needed; i.e., where the cause-and-effect relations imparted by reactions and observed in small laboratory vessels need to be “scaled up” to commercial production. Reaction engineering first arose as a discipline to meet the needs of the rapidly growing petroleum, petrochemical and chemical industry in the 1940s and 1950s. The utilization of the unifying reaction-engineering concepts played an important role in establishing the leadership of American industry in the above fields.
Chemical reaction engineering is needed in the development of both new and existing technologies. It is necessary in speeding up commercialization of new specialty and commodity chemicals, materials (e.g., plastics), and pharmaceuticals. It will have to be applied in the development of fuel-cells for automobiles, novel processes for synthesis-gas production, novel reactors exploiting the use of metallocene catalysts as well as the exploitation of combinatorial catalysis for economical development of new processes.
Papers that advance or which utilize the reaction-engineering methodology are published in numerous journals (the principal ones being AIChE Journal, Chemical Engineering Science, and Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research) and are presented at prominent meetings, such as those of the AIChE and ACS. The importance of the field has been acknowledged in the United States by a series of (National Science Foundation funded) Engineering Foundation Conferences on Chemical Reaction Engineering that were initiated in the 1980s and have been very well received. Four such conferences have thus far been held.
The most important events for the international reaction engineering scientific community-- the “crown jewels,” so to speak-- have been the ISCRE Conferences (International Symposia on Chemical Reaction Engineering). The location of such meetings has alternated between Europe and North America until recently, when ISCRE 17 was held in Hong Kong. These conferences bring together for three days distinguished international researchers in reaction engineering, prominent industrial practitioners, and new researchers and students of this multifaceted field. These conferences are a unique gathering place for reaction engineers where research gains are consolidated and new frontiers explored. The state of the art of various sub-disciplines of reaction engineering is reviewed in a timely manner, and new research initiatives are discussed.
The biennial format provided by ISCRE for exchange of research results between North American and European reaction engineers has been successful. Following the ISCRE 17 meeting in Hong Kong, it was proposed that future ISCRE meetings be held every two years, rotating among sites in North America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region, on a six-year cycle. In October 2002, this proposal was adopted.