what is chemical engineering 2018-01-27T23:41:46+00:00

What Is Chemical Engineering

The real life alchemists of the 21st century.

Chemical Plant

Understanding Chemical Engineering

Chemical engineering transforms raw materials into useful, innovative products for public and commercial consumption. The chemistry background of this discipline allows engineers to get the most out of raw elements (metals, gases etc) by creating fuels, drugs and construction materials. The engineering component is concerned with the methods that enable the products to be created from these natural resources. It can be said then that chemical engineering allows the practical application of chemistry to occur.

Chemical engineers often collaborate with chemists as their skills tend to complement one another. Chemical engineers are trained in economics, business practice, environmental factors and ethics as well as chemistry. Chemists are trained solely in the theoretical understanding of chemistry. Engineers ensure that chemical theory is implemented in everyday life to solve problems. They allow the advancements in chemistry to exist outside of the labs they are generated in. Engineering graduates of this discipline possess advanced computing skills and utilize simulation software if they are involved in plant design. Data analysis is another common function of chemical engineering.

Jobs and career positions are often associated with large companies, as they need the skill of engineers to make their products accessible and useful. Opportunities exist for graduates and professionals to start their own business by offering design services or consulting.

Students who excel at chemistry are fantastic candidates for a chemical engineering course. The course structure is heavily focused on theory (chemistry) compared with the other major disciplines. However, be aware that chemical engineers are not chemistry experts. Their purpose is to apply chemistry to PRACTICAL problems. If you are the type of student that wants to only focus on chemistry, you may be more suited to a career as a chemist. For those of you with the knack for fixing things and using your hands, we suggest electrical or mechanical engineering as more suitable alternatives.

Common Industries for Chemical Engineers

Chemical engineers most commonly work within the industries of:

  • Mining
  • Mineral Extraction and Processing
  • Petrochemical
  • Food Production
  • Pharmaceuticals


Chemical Engineering Salaries

Now the important part, how much chemical engineers get paid! Engineers are paid quite well, usually well above the average salary for many other professions. It should be noted that these figures are not comparable between countries, are subject to change at any time and should be used only as an indication of average salaries within each discipline.

    Average Chemical Engineering Salaries:


  • Australia: AU$ 144,799 (includes senior and management positions)
  • India: Rs 121,435 – Rs 1,169,787 (salary range)
  • United Kingdom: £ 22,258 – £ 67,504 (salary range, excluding senior and management positions)
  • United States: US$ 84,680



Sub-Disciplines of Chemical Engineering

Chemical engineering is a broad discipline, covering various industries and fields. The different sub-disciplines available to specialise in are listed below, allowing graduates to specialise in a single area for work in a specific industry.

Ceramic Engineering

Ceramic Engineering is a specialised field in materials engineering, concerned with the development of ceramic materials. Ceramics are traditionally made from clay (a naturally occurring substance) and commonly used in pottery and brickwork. Ceramics Engineering also deals with ceramics made from inorganic (lifeless), manmade substances. Ceramics engineers perform similar tasks to materials engineers, the main difference is that they specialise entirely in ceramics and its applications.

Industries a ceramic engineer works in include aerospace, mining, medicine and developing components for electrical circuits.

Crystal Engineering

Crystal Engineering is another specialised field in materials engineering, involved with the development of crystal materials. Crystals are solids with a highly unique atomic structure and are usually identified by their flat surfaces and transparency.

Drilling Engineering

Drilling engineering is an important field within petroleum engineering. Drilling deep underground is a key part of the oil extraction process and drilling engineers are focused on safe drilling procedures and the logistics of this process. Drilling engineers usually work closely with geologists to identify potential hazards. This information is then used to determine the most effective drilling equipment, technique and plan. Other tasks include injection well development, where the aim is to increase the ease with which oil can be extracted from a reservoir.

A drilling engineer will spend the majority of his time on site, which can involve extended periods of travel to the remote locations where oil is located.

Materials Engineering

Materials engineering is dedicated to create materials from raw resources for specific applications. A material is defined as any substance that can be used to make something, from iron to sand. A materials engineer will define a material’s properties so that they can be selected for any suitable application. The two purposes of this discipline are the extraction and processing of raw materials and selection for an appropriate application. Materials engineers get to play with testing equipment and experiments to identify suitable materials for an application. While all disciplines of engineering has a materials component during their coursework, materials engineering also deals with materials on a more fundamental level. It is a discipline that may interest those fascinated with destroying objects and then analysing why or how they broke.

Almost all disciplines and industries require the use of a materials engineer at some stage. A materials engineer may contract their services to companies that require a unique material to satisfy a particular requirement (such as waterproof aluminium for a marine application). Materials engineers spend the majority of their time in a lab with occasional site visits if they work in certain industries (construction for example).

Paper Engineering

Paper Engineering is a particular field in materials engineering focussed with the transformation of raw lumber and bark into useful writing and packaging products. Paper is created by processing and bleaching wood pulp into thin sheets. The two most commonly produced products are paper (obviously) and cardboard. The recycling of paper is much more common approach to deal with the large waste generated by paper products. Paper engineers are actively involved in forest management schemes to ensure the natural balance of trees remains.

Petroleum Engineering

Petroleum engineering is all about the production of fuel for vehicles and machinery. Petrol is created through the blending and refinement of hydrocarbons (crude oil and natural gas are the two most commonly used hydrocarbons). Petroleum engineering is used to extract and refine these hydrocarbons in a safe and feasible way. It is categorized into the following three specialisations; drilling, reservoir and production. Petroleum engineers work with geologists to determine the exact location of crude oil underground. They also collaborate when determining the depletion rates of oil reservoirs. Much of this work is completed using software for simulation and analysis. The skill set of petroleum engineering graduates is well rounded and contains aspects of many engineering disciplines including economics, simulation, geophysics, data simulation, automation and sustainability.

Engineers in this discipline are highly sought after due to the world’s reliance on using hydrocarbons as a fuel source. Many petroleum engineers work for some of the biggest companies in the world and, in most cases, are the best paid compared to other engineering disciplines.

Plastics Engineering

Plastics engineering involves the development and manufacturing of plastic materials. Plastics are either completely synthetic or semi-synthetic. A plastic engineer possesses the same abilities as a materials engineer, but they are also experts in plastic. As plastic contains very unique and stubborn properties, it requires its own field of research and education. While there is a lot of fascination with the impressive abilities and applications of plastic, it is a specialised field with limited career options depending on the country you wish to work in.

Process Engineering

Process engineering relates to the improvement and execution of all processes. A process is best described as a structured set of actions to achieve a definite goal. Every process is designed to transform an input (raw materials) to an output (products and services). Engineering a process will specifically involve saving time and cost by optimising the design and training the people involved. Process engineering is related to all chemical, biological, mechanical and manufacturing processes. Process engineers use computer software to design and monitor the processes used across these engineering industries. While generally working behind a computer in an office, some engineers work on-site to monitor the actual outcome of their processes. Process engineers will not actively involve themselves in the process. For instance, if a process is obstructed by a malfunctioning tool, the process engineer will notify the technical worker involved to remedy the issue.

Graduates of process engineering obtain expert knowledge of process theory along with training in computer-aided technology. Process engineers are generally hired to work for large companies to monitor various processes. It is highly unlikely that a process engineer will have the ability to start their own business, although they may be able to contract their services. The majority of process engineers work in the chemical engineering industry.

Production Engineering

Production engineering is another specialised field within petroleum engineering, focusing on the equipment and processes used to refine the oil into a usable form. Production engineering is used for the daily production of oil; unlike reservoir engineering which has applies long-term views for oil extraction. It is potentially more dangerous due to being located on rigs and near hazards. This job is specifically on-site with some supervision of machinery and staff working in the process.

Reservoir Engineering

Reservoir engineering is a specialised field within petroleum engineering. All hydrocarbons (such as crude oil and gas) are commonly located in subsurface reservoirs. These reservoirs are large rock structures that contain oil within them. Reservoir engineering deals with the overall strategy of extracting oil from a well. Using a long-term perspective, engineers determine the most efficient (cost) and effective way of recovering the available oil in the safest manner. The use of modelling and simulation is able to determine the level of the oil reserves and reservoir depletion.

Compared with the other specialisations in petroleum engineering, reservoir engineers tend to spend most of their time in an office.

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