What is Chemical Engineering?
Chemical Engineering (ChemE) is one of the four core branches of engineering, the others being Mechanical, Electrical and Civil. ChemE involves the understanding and application of physics, chemistry, biology and engineering principles to perform the chemical production and manufacture of different products. In simple words, it is about converting raw materials into useful products, anything from clothes and food to pharmaceutical products. People who hold either a Bachelors Degree or higher in Chemical Engineering are referred to as Chemical Engineers.
Main Topics covered in Chemical Engineering
Fluid Mechanics & Heat Transfer
Fluid Mechanics involves the study of applying laws of force and motion to fluids (gases and liquids). On the other hand, heat transfer is the study of generation and transport of heat through various mediums and geometries. These two topics go hand by hand, and many universities have a course combined in both topics.
Process Engineering is the fulcrum of ChemE. It is a multidisciplinary understanding and application to convert raw materials and energy into useful products. It includes studying topics such as Process Design, P&ID, Control Theory, Mass/Energy Balance, Separation Processes, Process Optimisation, Modelling and Simulations. Additionally, working in labs and with unit operations.
Programming & Simulations
Programming languages essential for chemical engineers include MATLAB and Python, primarily used for data analysis, ODE Solving and simulations. Whereas Maple, SQL, R, GAMS and Fortran is taught depending on school and specialisation. Additionally, you will be taught simulation programs such as Simulink (MATLAB), PROII, COMSOL and Aspen Plus/HYSYS.
The main focus for chemical engineers is to manage the energy use and to control the environmental load of production facilities. Engineers should understand the environmental impacts of process technologies and be able to reduce the impacts. Examples include waste water management, air pollution control etc.
Knowledge of economics is very important when scaling process equipments and entire plant facilities. As an engineer, you must be able to decide whether the process facility is economically feasible and on how to optimise the costs. Main topics include cost estimations (CAPEX/OPEX), profitability metrics (ROI, DCFR, PP, NPV), cost modelling and general economic analysis.
Chemical Reaction Engineering focuses on the study of chemistry, modelling and optimisation of chemical reactions to design reactor and model their performance. The main topics include mass/heat transfer, reaction kinetics, reactor design and transport phenomena. A major portion is covered by catalysts, and the basic understanding of catalyst design and synthesis, physiochemical properties, reaction mechanisms, mathematical modelling and performance analysis.
Chemical engineers need to have a basic and intermediate understanding of different chemistry principles such as Organic, Physical, Inorganic and Bio-chemistry. Furthermore, they are required to have a hands-on classes within laboratory to put different topics to practice in form of chemical synthesis and analysis techniques. It is important for them to understand the chemistry taking place in the reactors before designing them.
Just like any other engineering curriculum, chemical engineers have to take the fundamental engineering courses within Advanced Engineering Mathematics, Physics, Statistics and Engineering Philosophy. Some topics in mathematics include Linear Algebra, Complex Numbers, Differential Equations and Integration. Additonally, within physics, you have Thermal Physics, Quantum Mechanics and other basic topics.
Difference between Chemical Engineering and Chemisty?
Majority of students confuse chemical engineering with chemistry, whereas they are two very different fields of study.
The main difference between Chemist and Chemical Engineers is the scale of their works. Chemists tend to work with relatively small amounts using pipettes and laboratory glasswares. Whereas, Chemical Engineers work on an industrial scale with factory size equipment, f.e scaling up drug production.
In simple words, chemists develop the recipe for drugs and chemical engineers perform mass production using that recipe for thousands of patients.
FOCUS OF STUDY
Chemistry involves the study and investigating the background of organic, inorganic, analytical, physical and bio-chemistry. On the other hand, ChemE is more multidisciplinary, which includes the mentioned topics, but also in-depth understanding and application of physics engineering and mathematics.
In summary, chemists focus on developing novel materials and processes, measuring physical properties and testing theories. Engineers then apply the ideas into theory and engineering.
Chemists tend to work within laboratories to perform analysis or research, classrooms, offices and field. Whereas Chemical Engineers tend to work at industrial plants for supervision and troubleshooting, laboratories, office and design.
What roles do Chemical Engineers work in?
Process engineers work to turn raw materials into valuable products. They are responsible for designing, implementing, controlling and optimising industrial processes and machinery in the manufacturing industry.
A Quality Engineer works within the quality team to ensure the quality of a manufactured product, creating documentation and defining the criteria for quality test result. Furthermore, to work with Quality Management Systems and ensure company adheres to quality standards f.e ISO.
Safety engineers look for ways to prevent accidents in the workplace. They inspect buildings and machines for hazards and safety violations, investigate accidents and determine what caused them and educate workers on how to use safety equipment.
Manufacturing Engineers focus on the design and operation of integrated systems and machines for the production of products. The systems they focus on are computer networks, robots, machine tools, and materials-handling equipment.
Mining engineers work to create systems for locating, extracting, and transporting natural resources. Their focus is on making sure the mining equipment, extraction process and transportation work as required and put safety and the environment first.
Environmental Engineers design systems and processes to clean the production waste. They work to improve recycling, waste disposal, gas emissions and air control, as well as focus on water treatment and climate change issues.
Industries you can work in?
Common asked questions
The following is the list of the most common asked questions from different people regarding chemical engineering, which we had received. If you also have a question, which is not answered by the following, then feel free to Get in Touch with us and we will get back to you.
Is Chemical Engineering the same as Chemistry?
No, it is not.
Intermediate chemistry understanding is crucial in chemical engineering, but engineering is much more multidisciplinary which includes solving problems using knowledge from mathematics, physics, programming, and other engineering topics. For more difference between the two branches, see the block above.
Can I only work within production environment?
Many chemical engineers find employment within production in troubleshooting, designing and supervising industrial equipments. But it is not the only work place! ChemE is a very versatile degree and the skills you learn can be used to find employment within any sector and attain success. It should be noted that while getting your degree, you can expand your portfolio by working different jobs or projects to make yourself attractive to other sectors. Common sectors where chemical engineers could find employment could be Research, Consulting, Teaching, Banking, Finance and many more.
Is there a high demand for Chemical Engineers?
Yes and Yes! There is a huge demand for chemical engineers around the globe. It is because ChemE is a very versatile degree, and their skills are crucial in many fields of work, not limited to industry.
Is there a lot of mathematics in ChemE?
Yes, ChemE is a very math-heavy degree. You will be required to have an in-depth understanding of mathematics to be able to design, optimise and simulate different process designs. ChemE includes a deep understanding of differential equations, integration, linear algebra, and much more. Even simple math calculations such as balancing chemical formulas, algebra and equations are used. You will use mathematics to solve equations, but also to build mathematical designs for equipments, process automations and process performance.
What industries can I work in?
Traditionally, chemical engineers worked in the petroleum, large-scale chemical production, catalysis and cement industry. Recently, more engineers are being hired within industries such as pharmaceutics, polymer, electronics, IT, biotechnology, food production, enzymes, mining, finance and consulting.
Is there any programming within ChemE?
The programming required within ChemE involves using softwares to solve ODEs, prepare simulations and perform data analysis. As a ChemE, you will be required to have a good understanding of programming within MATLAB, Python, SQL and VBA. Some of the common simulation programs taught to ChemE include GAMs, ASPEN, PROII, COMSOL and Maple. Furthermore, chemical engineers are required to have a good understanding of automation in both industrial production and laboratories.