Industrious: Why the Planet Should Be Glad Sridhar Seetharaman Is Not a Physicist

Emerging Technologies, Energy, Process Intensification, Sustainability

Sridhar Seetharaman’s parents didn’t want him to become a physicist.

“My parents are from a different generation,” said Seetharaman, who moved from India to Sweden with his family when he was only 1 year old. “Their immediate challenge was just surviving. They thought I’d never get a job in physics.” 

To Seetharaman’s parents, physics was an impractical, abstract endeavor and not a path to survival. But engineering? Engineers build things. They get jobs. The world needs engineers. 

So, Seetharaman became an engineer. And his parents would be proud: He doesn’t have a job. He has several. He’s also working to fix one of the most concrete, fundamental challenges our world faces today: industrial pollution.

Over 30% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions are from heavy industry,” Seetharaman said. “And that’s limited to a couple of industries: chemicals and petrochemicals, iron and steel, cement, paper and pulp, and food and beverage.”  

Today, Seetharaman is the vice dean for research and innovation in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. And in May 2023, he was appointed the director of a new U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Clean Energy Manufacturing Innovation Institute, which is funded by DOE’s Industrial Efficiency and Decarbonization Office

The institute, called Electrified Processes for Industry Without Carbon (or EPIXC, for short), supports DOE’s Industrial Heat Shot™, which aims to fight greenhouse gas emissions associated with process heating. Process heating is used in manufacturing to pasteurize milk and cream, melt steel, produce cement, and much more. Through the Industrial Heat Shot, DOE aims to develop cost-competitive technologies that could lower greenhouse gas emissions associated with this process by at least 85% by 2035.  

If successful, that technological shift would make a huge impact. Process heating is so ubiquitous in the industrial world that it’s responsible for about a third of industry’s total greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 10% of the world’s