Chemical engineering is applied chemistry used to overcome technical problems safely and economically. It is the branch of engineering concerned with the design, construction, and operation of machines and plants that perform chemical reactions to solve problems or make useful products. Chemical engineers also work in a variety of industries other than chemical manufacturing.
They work in pharmaceuticals, healthcare, design and construction, pulp and paper, petrochemicals, food processing, specialty chemicals, microelectronics, electronic and advanced materials, polymers, business services, biotechnology, and environmental health and safety industries, among others (AlChE). As you can see, a chemical engineer can find a niche in any scientific or engineering field.
Chemical engineers apply principles of physics, biology, mathematics, mechanical and electrical engineering, and chemistry. And, of course, the draw upon and apply their engineering knowledge to solve any technical challenges they encounter. Chemical engineering is not just “making things” though, their expertise is also applied in the areas of law, education, publishing, finance, and medicine to produce and publish their products. Chemical engineers are sometimes called ‘universal engineers’ because of their scientific and technical mastery is so broad. They face many of the same challenges that other professionals face, and they meet these challenges by applying their technical knowledge, communication and teamwork skills.
Chemical engineers deal with the transformation of raw materials into useful products that have an impact on virtually every faucet of human life. Chemical engineers have helped to develop atomic science, polymers, paper, dyes, drugs, plastics, fertilizers, foods, and petrochemicals, pretty much everything (What is Chemical Engineering). They work out the processes to make all these products, while also helping to manage the world’s resources, protect the environment and ensure health and safety standards are met. Chemical engineers can make processes more cost effective or more efficient.
The unique training of chemical engineering becomes essential in the areas whenever processes involve the chemical or physical transformation of matter. For example, chemical engineers working in the chemical industry investigate the creation of new polymeric materials with important electrical, optical or mechanical properties. This requires attention not only to the synthesis of the polymer, but also to the flow and forming processes necessary to create a final product (Summary).
In biotechnology, chemical engineers have responsibilities in the design of production facilities to use microorganisms and enzymes to synthesize new drugs (Chemical Engineering). Problems on environmental engineering that engage chemical engineers include the development of processes to minimize the release of or deactivate products harmful to the environment, which are catalytic converters or effluent treatment facilities (What is Chemical Engineering).
Not only do chemical engineers develop solutions to environmental problems such as pollution control and remediation but enhance food and clothing. They improve food processing techniques, and methods of producing fertilizers, to increase the quantity and quality of available food. Other innovations include food packaging that helps improve taste, appearance, and nutritional value while increasing safety, convenience, and shelf life. New sterilization processes are being used to protect food against spoilage and people against food-borne illnesses (Summary).
Chemical engineers also construct the synthetic fibers to make our clothes more comfortable and water resistant; they develop methods to mass-produce drugs, making them more affordable; and they create safer, more efficient methods of refining petroleum products, making energy and chemical sources more productive and cost effective. Many products they produce are commodities obtained from oil and natural gas, such as soaps, detergents, cosmetics, liquid and gaseous fuels, synthetics fibers and plastics (What is Chemical Engineering). And, of course, they process chemicals which are used to make or improve just about everything you see around you.
There are many duties that are performed by a chemical engineer. Some develop safety procedures for those working with potentially dangerous chemicals. Some troubleshoot problems with manufacturing processes; evaluate equipment and processes to ensure compliance with safety and environmental regulations. Some conduct research to develop new and improved manufacturing processes, or design the layout of equipment.
Some do tests and monitor performance of processes throughout production. While others estimate production cost for management (Chemical Engineering). There are many different tasks that must be performed in order to keep a chemical engineering company up and running, all this to provide safe and efficient ways of producing everyday products.