Chemical engineering is the branch of engineering that deals with the application of physical science (e.g., chemistry and physics), and life sciences (e.g., biology, microbiology and biochemistry) with mathematics and economics, to the process of converting raw materials or chemicals into more useful or valuable forms. In addition to producing useful materials, modern chemical engineering is also concerned with pioneering valuable new materials and techniques, such as nanotechnology, fuel cells and biomedical engineering. Chemical engineering largely involves the design, improvement and maintenance of processes involving chemical or biological transformations for large-scale manufacture. Chemical engineers ensure the processes are operated safely, sustainably and economically. Chemical engineers in this branch are usually employed under the title of process engineer. A related term with a wider definition is chemical technology. A person employed in this field is called a chemical engineer.
Chemical Engineering is the profession that combines chemistry and engineering concepts to help solve problems related to world hunger, pollution of our environment, creating new materials, or meeting demands for energy. Chemical engineers develop low cost processes for producing ammonia, which make it possible for both poor nations and the United States to manufacture important fertilizers. They are instrumental in the production of virtually all pharmaceuticals as well as life-saving devices such as the artificial kidney or angioplasty catheters. They are working on ways to recycle plastics, reduce pollution, and develop new sources of environmentally clean energy. Chemical engineers have the background knowledge of chemistry coupled with an understanding of chemical processing that allows them to tackle most any chemical problem, from waste minimization, to environmental remediation, to clean-up of stack gases, or to purification of drinking water. Most major chemical companies hire chemical engineers to fill their technical positions in environmental engineering.
Chemical engineers work in the production of chemicals and many other products that require chemical processing. They use the theories and laws of chemistry to develop industrial chemical processes. They generally build on the findings of research chemists, who work with small amounts of materials in laboratories. Chemical engineers are concerned with the design, construction, operation, and marketing of equipment that can reproduce on a large scale the processes or products developed by chemists. Chemical engineers work with industrial chemical processes to help produce a large variety of goods. They are often assisted by chemical technicians.
Chemical engineers need to have knowledge of not only chemistry and physics but also of mechanical and electrical engineering. In some cases they specialize in one area, such as oxidation, pollution control, or the production of plastics. Sometimes a chemical engineer’s title reflects his or her area of specialization. For example, some chemical engineers are known as plastics engineers.
Chemical engineers work in many industries, including those that produce chemicals, petroleum, and electronic products. In some cases these products are sold to other industries that use them to make other products ranging from fine textiles to automobile tires. Chemicals are used in the processing and treatment of many of the foods we eat, much of the water we drink, and many of the clothes we wear. Chemical engineers develop the processes and design the factories that make it possible to bring such products to consumers.
The work of chemical engineers may begin after chemists have developed a basic product or process, such as a new kind of paint or a new way of refining coal to make synthetic natural gas. The engineer will then solve the practical problems in the manufacture and use of these products. Chemical engineers consult with chemists at many points during their work. Engineers do experiments and calculate such things as the temperature and pressure to be expected during an industrial process. They help to design buildings and plan what machinery will be needed. They estimate the number of people needed to operate a plant as well as the cost of power and raw materials. They make extensive use of computers in this work. Chemical engineers must also consider the effect of a plant or process on the environment. They cannot build a plant that will release deadly fumes into the air. They cannot pollute lakes or streams or harm wildlife. Chemical engineers often build pilot plants or small-scale models of the actual processing facility. Pilot plants allow the engineers to test their work and to experiment with new processes.
Some chemical engineers supervise the construction of new facilities. They test equipment and teach operators how to use it. Other chemical engineers work in the manufacturing process itself. They solve many of the everyday problems incurred in running a plant. They make sure that standards of quality are met while production costs are kept as low as possible. Some engineers work in sales or management. A small number of chemical engineers work as consultants, offering their services to small businesses that do not need full-time chemical engineers. Still others teach and do research at colleges and universities.
In recent years chemical engineers have entered the field of biotechnology, designing bioreactors for plant cultures or developing models of ecosystem behavior following the spillage of chemicals. Another frontier for chemical engineers has been electronics, where they have researched the chemical synthesis of microelectronic components.
You usually need at least a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering to enter this field. Some engineering colleges offer work-study programs that combine work experience with formal study. It generally takes four or five years to earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering. Many jobs in chemical engineering also require advanced degrees. You can earn a master’s degree in one or two additional years of full-time study. Many chemical engineers find that a master’s degree in business administration is useful, especially if they want to become managers.
If you want to do research or teach at the university level, you will need a doctoral degree. It usually takes about four years of full-time study beyond the bachelor’s degree to earn a doctoral degree. Many engineers continue their education on a part-time basis after they have found jobs in their field. Employers often pay tuition for courses that engineers take to improve their job skills. Chemical engineers must be willing to study throughout their careers so that they can keep up with advances in engineering technology.
Engineers who offer their services to the public or whose work affects life, health, or property must be licensed by the state in which they work. They generally need a degree from an approved engineering college, about four years of work experience as an engineer, and a passing grade on a state examination before being licensed as a professional engineer.
A degree in Chemical Engineering opens many doors for diverse, challenging and rewarding opportunities. Chemical engineers develop processes and chemicals to make food products cheaper, safer, and with increased yields. From these processes come products like orange juice, chocolate, corn sweeteners, citric acid, or vitamin E. They also provide know-how for chemical processing of computer chips and integrated circuits in the electronics industry.
A vast array of consumer products like floppy disks used in personal computers, detergents, plastic sandwich bags, the soles of your sports shoes, compact discs that give much listening pleasure, car bumpers, vehicle tires, and many more are developed by chemical engineers. Biochemical engineering is an expanding field, where chemical engineers link chemical process knowledge into biotechnology areas. Chemical engineers are responsible for designing the industrial facilities that provide materials, petroleum products, and plastics that make our lives easier and more productive. To do these things, chemical engineers need to understand chemistry, mathematics, physics, and other physical and natural sciences, such as biology or geology. To help them understand the impact of technology on society, they may study economics, political science, and even a little psychology. Todays chemical engineers are also comfortable working with computers, using the latest and most powerful machines to help design newer and safer processes.
Chemical Engineering is a career that is both intellectually and financially rewarding. It is one that can lead to high level technical positions, or to jobs in management, government, or academia. Some chemical engineering graduates go on to medical, law, business, or graduate school. If they do, they usually use their chemical engineering degree to specialize – for instance, a chemical engineer with a law degree might focus on patent or environmental law. The diversity of the chemical engineering field indicates that chemical engineers are an integral part of the fabric of the world industrial complex, and they will be called upon in the future to solve the worlds environmental, energy, and chemical process problems.
Chemical engineers generally work in clean, well-equipped plants, offices, and laboratories. At times they must supervise construction or production lines. Although chemicals can be dangerous, workers follow strict safety regulations and injuries are rare. The basic workweek for chemical engineers is forty hours, but overtime is often necessary. Chemical engineers should have interest and aptitude in math and science as well as strong analytical skills. They must be able to work in teams and to communicate their ideas effectively. Chemical engineers must be creative and imaginative and enjoy the challenge of solving problems.
Advancement depends on education and experience. Chemical engineers who have bachelor’s degrees generally start as assistants to experienced engineers. After they gain experience, they are usually given more responsibility. Many become experts in their special fields. Engineers can become team leaders or technical service and development officers. Some chemical engineers go on to become managers or executives. A few start their own consulting firms or businesses. Others use their background in chemical engineering to advance in marketing or sales careers.
The employment outlook for chemical engineers is good. The number of jobs is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all jobs through the year 2014. Much of the projected growth in employment will be in service industries, such as scientific research and development. Job opportunities for chemical engineers will be better in pharmaceuticals, specialty chemicals, electronics, and plastics materials.
Earnings vary depending on the experience of the chemical engineer, the location, and the type of job. Chemical engineers earn a median salary of $77,000 per year.A graduate with a bachelor’s degree earn an average starting salary of $53,000 per year. Chemical engineers with master’s degrees earn an average starting salary of $57,000 per year. Those with doctoral degrees earn an average starting salary of $79,000. Benefits usually include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans.