A key factor influencing leadership in chemical engineering is how rapidly and easily new ideas can be tested, developed, and extended into the U.S. economy as well as the global marketplace. This process by which research ideas are developed and funded in the United States has been defined as our “innovation system.” The U.S. innovation system, like that in other countries, is characterized by a set of unique attributes. Some of the factors that influence the U.S. innovation process for the field of chemical engineering are discussed below.

A Strong U.S. Industrial Sector

Leadership in chemical engineering research in the United States over the years has been strongly linked with the development of the U.S. chemicals industry. According to Landau and Arora,2 “the rise of the research university in science and engineering gave a strong boost to the American chemical industry” particularly in the early part of the 20th century. And this relationship has been a vital part of the success of the United States as a nation. Landau and Arora further point out that the U.S. chemicals industry: (1) “was the first science-based, high-technology industry”; (2) “has generated technological innovations for other industries, such as automobiles, rubber, textiles …”; and (3) “is a U.S. success story.”

At the same time, the U.S. chemical manufacturing industry is not what it used to be. Once a major net exporter, the U.S. chemical industry is now essentially a net importer (trade went negative in 2000-2001).3 Some feel that today the U.S. chemical industry is in fact fundamentally disadvantaged relative to the rest of the world because of its dependence on oil and natural gas for raw materials, which have become less abundant and much more costly than they used to be. The chemical industry consumes only 5% of the tota production of oil and natural gas, while the majority is used in transportation, residential, and other industrial requirements such as energy generation; and the cost of natural gas is 2 to 10 times higher than anywhere else in the world. This is greatly influencing investment for new plants, jobs, and even research outside the United States.4


 R. Landau and A. Arora, “The dynamics of long term growth: Gaining and losing advantage in the chemical industry,” Pp. 17-43 in U.S. Industry in 2000: Studies in Competitive Performance, D.C. Mowery, ed., National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1999.


 W.J. Storck, “UNITED STATES: Last year was kind to the U.S. chemical industry; 2005 should provide further growth,” ChemicalEngineering News 83 (2):16-18.


 M. Arndt, “No longer the lab of the world.” Business Week, May 2, 2005.

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