Expert Report

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

More than $400 billion worth of products rely on innovations in chemistry. Chemical engineering, as an academic discipline and profession, has enabled this achievement. In response to growing concerns over the future of the discipline, the National Science Foundation asked the National Research Council to conduct an in-depth benchmarking analysis to gauge the standing of the U.S. chemical engineering enterprise in the world, based on measures including numbers of published papers, citations, trends in degrees conferred, patent productivity, and awards. The analysis found that the U.S. publishes more papers than any other single nation, and that 73 of the 100 most cited papers in chemical engineering literature during the period 2000-2006 came from the United States. The report concludes that the United States is presently, and is expected to remain, among the world's leaders in all subareas of chemical engineering research, especially in biocatalysis and protein engineering; cellular and metabolic engineering; systems, computational, and synthetic biology; nanostructured materials; fossil energy and extraction and processing; non-fossil energy, and green engineering. However, U.S. leadership in some classical and emerging subareas will be strongly challenged. For example, Japan and other Asian countries are particularly competitive in materials-oriented research, and Europe is very competitive in the bio-related research.

Key Messages

  • A strong manufacturing base, culture, and system of innovation, and the excellence and flexibility of the education and research enterprise have been and still are the major determinants of U.S. leadership in chemical engineering.
  • Many factors could significantly affect the position of the U.S., and these include shifting funding priorities by federal agencies, reductions in industrial support of academic research in the United State, and decreases in talented foreign graduate students, among others.
  • The United States is presently, and is expected to remain, among the world's leaders in all subareas of chemical engineering research, with clear leadership in several subareas.
  • U.S. leadership in the core areas of transport processes; separations; catalysis; kinetics and reaction engineering; process development and design; and dynamics, control, and operational optimization is now shared with Europe and in some cases Japan, as shown by decreases in U.S. journal articles and citations.