The Michigan Engineer News Center

Impact of engineers on society: Differentiating practical from merely possible

William Banholzer discusses new technological discoveries and argues that engineers must better explain and differentiate between what is possible and what is practical.| Short Read

William Banholzer, Executive VP at Dow responsible for Venture Capital, New Business Development, Licensing and Dow’s Chief Technology Officer, discusses the impact of engineers in the modern market and general public. William Banholzer discusses new technological discoveries and argues that engineers must better explain and differentiate between what is possible and what is practical.

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Today, more than ever, we need to tap into the power of engineers to cut through complexity and to create technologies that succeed in the market.William Banholzer

John Mellor credits his engineering studies for providing him with the tools to solve complex problems and the ability to translate technology into the business world. Today, more than ever, we need to tap into the power of engineers to cut through complexity and to create technologies that succeed in the market. Most of the general public does not have an appreciation for the energy flows, chemical transformations, and the scale of the systems that support our standard of living. That same general public is asking that we do more with less; less energy use and less environmental impact. Thermodynamic, material and economic challenges stand in the way.

Engineers must lead the way, separating hype from truly practical options. Practical limitations were ignored as the development of cellulosic ethanol rode a wave of optimism and hype earlier in this decade. It is now clear that cellulosic ethanol is not delivering on the promises made, leading the cellulosic community to move into “high value chemicals”. This pivot fails to address the grand challenges targeted by cellulosic community and, upon inspection, fails to create the societal value that launched the cellulosic fuels effort.

Announcements occur daily of some new energy related technology touted by the discoverers as something that could revolutionize energy. Much of what is shown to be possible will never be practical. As engineers, we must do better job explaining the difference between the subset of discoveries that offer practical solutions from those that are simply possible. We have a responsibility to focus resources on those technologies capable of yielding practical solutions.

About the Speaker

William Banholzer, is an Executive VP at Dow responsible for Venture Capital, New Business Development, Licensing and is the company’s Chief Technology Officer. As CTO, he manages Dow’s $1.7 B per year global research and development portfolio. He chairs Dow’s Innovation Committee, which controls venture capital investing for the company. He serves on the board of Dow Corning, Dow Kokam, and the Dow Foundation, and on Dow AgroSciences members committee. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and on the NRC Board on Energy and Environmental Systems.

Sponsored Lecture: Part of the James R. Mellor Lecture by the College of Engineering

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