The R&D 100 Awards & Technology Conference, held Nov. 12 to 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, boasted a speaker program full of industry experts in four tracks, including R&D Strategies & Efficiencies, Emerging Technologies & Materials, Innovations in Robotics & Automation, and Instrumentation & Monitoring. In this new series Four Questions For… , Laboratory Equipment Editor-in-Chief Michelle Taylor got the chance to sit down with a some of the speakers for their insights into the future of R&D and critical global concerns.
Four Questions For…: Mark Jones, Executive External Strategy and Communications Fellow, Dow Chemical
Jones, who holds a doctorate in Physical Chemistry, has spent most of his career in catalysis and process development, where his focus has ranged from chlorocarbon chemistry to alkane activation to renewables to methane coupling. He developed catalysts for production of motor fuel oxygenates, to recycle less desirable byproducts and has been involved in several of Dow’s efforts to use renewable feedstocks. Jones’ presentation focused on collaboration and its importance in today’s R&D efforts.
R&D: Why is it important for scientists and inventors to consider the entire lifecycle of a new product?
Jones: This is a really critical phase. The example I like to point to is the fluorescent light bulb. You have something like the incandescent bulb that takes about 300 Watt hours to make, and you have the compact florescent bulb that takes about 1,200. If you were a manufacturer asking about trying to make something and use the least amount of energy, you would make the incandescent bulb because that only takes a quarter of the amount of energy,
What you really need to consider is across the lifecycle of the product, where the materials came from, how they were processed, how they were moved and used, and only by doing that can you make the right choices as a manufacturer.
R&D: How is collaboration a key aspect of innovation?
Jones: The world has gotten way more complicated. It’s almost impossible for any individual or company to work across all the parts of the market, or all of the parts of the innovation ecosystem without some help. We have to collaborate with people who have paths to market to solve customer needs. Without that interaction we can’t be successful. Similarly, we still require innovations, and academics make a lot of innovations. What we really have to be able to do it tap into those in the early stages in order to turn them into successful products moving forward. It’s more critical than ever before because of the complexity of the world we live in today.
R&D: What tools and techniques are critical for water use and conservation?
Jones: There are many. Certainly one of the things that Dow participates is the reverse osmosis area. That is a technology that today is the most energy-efficient way to process water. That is both processing water for first-use, but also for subsequent use. In industrial applications, recycling that water and removing things from it so it can be reused again safely is a critical aspect.
That’s one technology. There are certainly many others. One of the things we really have to do it just look at the overall use in general. Water had typically been something that was not on everyone’s radar screen. It was something we considered infinite. So there are two things going on—you have to have the technology to do the broader re-use, and focus on things that reduce water use in the first place.
R&D: What are two segments of industry Dow is heavily involved in currently in the hopes of building a better future?
Jones: Dow is looking at the global mega-trends within the marketplace, so there are many. One, if we look at where our energy use as a society is, it’s very much in our homes first and our cars second. Things we are working toward in infrastructure areas, like more insulation, have a huge and long-term impact on society.
Transportation is our second biggest consumer of energy. Dow is working in many ways there. We have a number of adhesive products that help things like the Ford F-150 pickup—which is the aluminum body. You can’t weld steel and aluminum together. We had to come up with something new for that. We’re working on carbon fiber, which would make a vehicle dramatically lighter and save a lot of energy.
4 Questions For … Vicki Barbur, Senior Vice President & Chief Technical Officer, Concurrent Technologies Corp. (CTC)
Barbur, who holds a doctorate in physics, is responsible for setting the vision and strategic direction of CTC’s scientific and technical capabilities. Her efforts focus on building and directing the company’s technical capabilities, overseeing research and development activities and maintaining a sound plan of technical organization. Barbur also leads the execution of technology strategy for technology offerings, partnerships and external relationships, as well as providing visible leadership for CTC within the technical community. Her presentation discussed a “different” approach to innovation through targeted efforts and well-defined thrusts to manage company expectations alongside a pipeline of delivered value over time.
R&D: How can the industry make new technology more accessible?
Barbur: Industry has to look at technology. One of the challenges is always the cost of new things as they arrive on the market. Looking at how we can manage those introductory cost positions is very important to ensuring we have technology widely available at that initiation stage.
It’s also a case of not thinking about failures. Sometimes, it’s important to fail fast because if you try to wait until it is absolutely perfect, it is going to take a long, long time. I always encourage my teams to move out, take that risk, get ideas and opportunities out there, and then get the feedback from customers to ensure you are actually meeting their needs in the end.
R&D: What are one or two key R&D elements for growing a company?
Barbur: In terms of R&D, I think it’s important to never think about things being impossible. I encourage my teams to always think about the possibilities and to have that experience of everything is possible given time and money.
I think also it’s having the right people on the bus, having the right attitude, the enthusiasm, and willingness to try things. That is really important to growing R&D in a company.
R&D: Innovation is a buzzword, but it has different definitions and can be overused. How does CTC engage appropriately in innovation?
Barbur: Innovation is one of those words that means all things to all people these days. I am not necessarily a big proponent of open innovation. I believe in innovation within guardrails and knowing who your clientbase is. At the end of the day, if you don’t have landing zones for the opportunities, if you don’t have the marketing channels or the brand positioning, that idea is going to fail. It’s bringing together technologies, new and old, to deliver unique solutions to problems. That’s my definition of innovation.
R&D: What technology has the potential to be the most disruptive in the next five years?
As we go forward, one of the things that is definitely making a big impact is the fact that we have always been able to capture a great deal of data, but how do we crunch that data and interrogate it? How do we deal with structured and unstructured data? We need to look at big data architecture framework and how we build the predictive analytics because that is what is actually changing data into information so we can ultimately make decisions.
4 Questions For…: Rakesh Govind, President, PRD Tech, Inc. and Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Cincinnati
Govind, who holds a doctorate in chemical engineering, is the co-founder of PRD Tech, Inc., located in Cincinnati, Ohio. PRD Tech specializes in designing, building and installing full-scale bio-treatment systems. Govind obtained his MS and PhD from Carnegie-Mellon University and joined Mellon Institute as Director of the Industrial Control and Process Safety Center. He worked at Polaroid Corporation as Senior Scientist in Boston before joining the faculty in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Cincinnati. Govind’s research interests include biological treatment, membrane systems and organo-metallic, high-surface-area adsorbents.
R&D: What impact does climate change have on wastewater treatment?
Govind: Climate change is going to have a big impact. It is going to result in global warming, as the temperatures go up, there is going to be a need for more water in agricultural use. A lot of municipal water is used for agriculture, so it has to be purified. There are going to be a lot of impacts. Climate change will also impact food supply, wastewater impact and some of applications we don’t even recognize today.
When you really sum it up, climate change is going to be the single most important factor in the quality and treatment of water.
R&D: What role do new, advanced sensors and communication capabilities play in wastewater monitoring?
Govind: The sensors are going to have a tremendous impact. Right now, we can measure flow water, temperature and turbidity, among others. But we can’t measure the quality, and quality of water is very tenuous because it depends what you are trying to measure really. You’ve got contaminants at parts-per-billion and parts-per-trillion that can impact human health. If you want to measure drinking water quality, that’s one issue. If you want to measure municipal water quality, that’s another issue. We have sensing capabilities today in laboratories that are huge instruments that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. But we need sensors that can be part of the field, that can do monitoring over the entire lake or ocean—that’s a big proposition right now. A big development needs to occur in terms of communication and sensing quality in order for us to really tell what water contains and at what level.
R&D: What kinds of materials can you derive from wastewater?
Govind: Wastewater has a lot of materials in it. One of the things we don’t recognize is it has a lot of cellulose. All of that toilet paper goes somewhere—that’s cellulose! Cellulose can now be converted into energy, as well as chemical raw material. Can we covert it to sugars or food? Even if it’s not converted to human consumption, it can be used as animal feed. We throw cellulose into the water right now without thinking about it twice. We actually spend energy to get rid of it. But it’s a commodity.
Wastewater has other things, of course, such as organic material that can be converted to biogas , as well as other types of chemicals. It’s more a question of what you want to do with it and what is economical. If we can develop economical methods to remove cellulose, we will certainly do that.
R&D: In your opinion, what is the one essential thing we can do to help prevent future water shortages?
Govind: Water re-use is central, and that means we have to treat water in a decentralized fashion. We can send the water to a central facility, which is what we do now. But the problem is getting it back to where it came from. And then to what level of treatment we are going to achieve.
If we can treat water behind every house and reuse it for irrigation, if we can treat it in a local sense and then put it back where it came from, that’s huge.
I think if there is one thing we can do it’s essentially treat the water and reuse it in a local way. That will save almost half of the water consumption.
Think about California–they are trying to reduce water consumption during a drought by just 10 percent. I’m talking about a 50 percent reduction by not changing anything in how we do business or how we live our lives. It’s just a matter of treating it locally and returning it back reused.
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