Chemical engineer

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Chemical engineers design, construct and operate plants. Colonne distillazione.jpg
Chemical engineers design, construct and operate plants.

In the field of engineering, a chemical engineer is a professional, equipped with the knowledge of chemical engineering, who works principally in the chemical industry to convert basic raw materials into a variety of products and deals with the design and operation of plants and equipment. [1] In general, a chemical engineer is one who applies and uses principles of chemical engineering in any of its various practical applications; these often include


  1. design, manufacture, and operation of plants and machinery in industrial chemical and related processes ("chemical process engineers");
  2. development of new or adapted substances for products ranging from foods and beverages to cosmetics to cleaners to pharmaceutical ingredients, among many other products ("chemical product engineers"); and
  3. development of new technologies such as fuel cells, hydrogen power and nanotechnology, as well as working in fields wholly or partially derived from chemical engineering such as materials science, polymer engineering, and biomedical engineering.


Portrait of Johann Rudolf Glauber Glauber.png
Portrait of Johann Rudolf Glauber

The president of the Institution of Chemical Engineers said in his presidential address "I believe most of us would be willing to regard Edward Charles Howard (1774–1816) as the first chemical engineer of any eminence". [2] Others have suggested Johann Rudolf Glauber (1604–1670) for his development of processes for the manufacture of the major industrial acids. [3]

The term appeared in print in 1839, though from the context it suggests a person with mechanical engineering knowledge working in the chemical industry. [4] In 1880, George E. Davis wrote in a letter to Chemical News "A Chemical Engineer is a person who possesses chemical and mechanical knowledge, and who applies that knowledge to the utilisation, on a manufacturing scale, of chemical action." He proposed the name Society of Chemical Engineers, for what was in fact constituted as the Society of Chemical Industry. At the first General Meeting of the Society in 1882, some 15 of the 300 members described themselves as chemical engineers, but the Society's formation of a Chemical Engineering Group in 1918 attracted about 400 members. [5]

In 1905 a publication called The Chemical Engineer was founded in the US, [6] and in 1908 the American Institute of Chemical Engineers was established. [7]

In 1924 the Institution of Chemical Engineers adopted the following definition: "A chemical engineer is a professional man experienced in the design, construction and operation of plant and works in which matter undergoes a change of state and composition." [8]

As can be seen from the later definition, the occupation is not limited to the chemical industry, but more generally the process industries, or other situations in which complex physical and/or chemical processes are to be managed.

The UK journal The Chemical Engineer (began 1956) has a series of biographies available online entitled “Chemical Engineers who Changed the World”, [9]


Chemical engineers use computers to manage automated systems in production plants. Chemengg.jpg
Chemical engineers use computers to manage automated systems in production plants.

Historically, the chemical engineer has been primarily concerned with process engineering, which can generally be divided into two complementary areas: chemical reaction engineering and separation processes. The modern discipline of chemical engineering, however, encompasses much more than just process engineering. Chemical engineers are now engaged in the development and production of a diverse range of products, as well as in commodity and specialty chemicals. These products include high-performance materials needed for aerospace, automotive, biomedical, electronic, environmental and military applications. Examples include ultra-strong fibers, fabrics, adhesives and composites for vehicles, bio-compatible materials for implants and prosthetics, gels for medical applications, pharmaceuticals, and films with special dielectric, optical or spectroscopic properties for opto-electronic devices. Additionally, chemical engineering is often intertwined with biology and biomedical engineering. Many chemical engineers work on biological projects such as understanding biopolymers (proteins) and mapping the human genome.

Employment and salaries

According to a 2015 salary survey by the AIChE, the median annual salary for a chemical engineer was approximately $127,000. [10] The survey was repeated in 2017 and the median annual salary dropped slightly to $124,000. The decrease in median salary was unexpected. A factor contributing to the decline may be that 2017’s survey was conducted by a different research and analysis firm. Median salaries ranged from $70,450 for chemical engineers with fewer than three years of experience to $156,000 for those with more than 40 years in the workforce. [11]

In the UK, the IChemE 2016 Salary Survey reported a median salary of approximately £57,000, with a starting salary for a graduate averaging £28,350. [12] Chemical engineering in the USA is one of the engineering disciplines with the highest participation of women, with 35% of students compared with 20% in engineering. [13] In the UK in 2014, students starting degrees were 25% female, compared with 15% in engineering. [14] US graduates who responded to a 2015 salary survey were 18.8% female. [10]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Chemical engineering Branch of engineering

Chemical engineering is a branch of engineering that uses principles of chemistry, physics, mathematics, biology, and economics to efficiently use, produce, design, transport and transform energy and materials. The work of chemical engineers can range from the utilisation of nano-technology and nano-materials in the laboratory to large-scale industrial processes that convert chemicals, raw materials, living cells, microorganisms, and energy into useful forms and products.

Engineering Applied science

Engineering is the use of scientific principles to design and build machines, structures, and other items, including bridges, tunnels, roads, vehicles, and buildings. The discipline of engineering encompasses a broad range of more specialized fields of engineering, each with a more specific emphasis on particular areas of applied mathematics, applied science, and types of application. See glossary of engineering.

Mechanical engineering Engineering discipline and economic branch

Mechanical engineering is an engineering branch that combines engineering physics and mathematics principles with materials science to design, analyze, manufacture, and maintain mechanical systems. It is one of the oldest and broadest of the engineering branches.

A Bachelor of Engineering is a first professional undergraduate academic degree awarded to a student after three to five years of studying engineering at an accredited university. In the UK, a B.Eng. degree will be accredited by one of the Engineering Council's professional engineering institutions as suitable for registration as an incorporated engineer or chartered engineer with further study to masters level. In Canada, the degree from a Canadian university can be accredited by the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board (CEAB). Alternatively, it might be accredited directly by another professional engineering institution, such as the US-based Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The B.Eng. contributes to the route to chartered engineer (UK), registered engineer or licensed professional engineer and has been approved by representatives of the profession.

ABET, incorporated as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc., is a non-governmental organization that accredits post-secondary education programs in applied and natural science, computing, engineering and engineering technology.

Engineering management is the application of the practice of management to the practice of engineering. Engineering management is a career that brings together the technological problem-solving ability of engineering and the organizational, administrative, and planning abilities of management in order to oversee the operational performance of complex engineering driven enterprises. A Master of Engineering Management (MEM) is sometimes compared to a Master of Business Administration (MBA) for professionals seeking a graduate degree as a qualifying credential for a career in engineering management.

Process engineering is the understanding and application of the fundamental principles and laws of nature that allow us to transform raw material and energy into products that are useful to society, at an industrial level. By taking advantage of the driving forces of nature such as pressure, temperature and concentration gradients, as well as the law of conservation of mass, process engineers can develop methods to synthesize and purify large quantities of desired chemical products. Process engineering focuses on the design, operation, control, optimization and intensification of chemical, physical, and biological processes. Process engineering encompasses a vast range of industries, such as agriculture, automotive, biotechnical, chemical, food, material development, mining, nuclear, petrochemical, pharmaceutical, and software development. The application of systematic computer-based methods to process engineering is "process systems engineering".

The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) is a professional organization for chemical engineers. AIChE was established in 1908 to distinguish chemical engineers as a profession independent of chemists and mechanical engineers.

Chemical engineering is a discipline that was developed out of those practicing "industrial chemistry" in the late 19th century. Before the Industrial Revolution, industrial chemicals and other consumer products such as soap were mainly produced through batch processing. Batch processing is labour-intensive and individuals mix predetermined amounts of ingredients in a vessel, heat, cool or pressurize the mixture for a predetermined length of time. The product may then be isolated, purified and tested to achieve a saleable product. Batch processes are still performed today on higher value products, such as pharmaceutical intermediates, speciality and formulated products such as perfumes and paints, or in food manufacture such as pure maple syrups, where a profit can still be made despite batch methods being slower and inefficient in terms of labour and equipment usage. Due to the application of Chemical Engineering techniques during manufacturing process development, larger volume chemicals are now produced through a continuous "assembly line" chemical processes. The Industrial Revolution was when a shift from batch to more continuous processing began to occur. Today commodity chemicals and petrochemicals are predominantly made using continuous manufacturing processes whereas speciality chemicals, fine chemicals and pharmaceuticals are made using batch processes.

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The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) is a UK engineering institution whose activities encompass the whole materials cycle, from exploration and extraction, through characterisation, processing, forming, finishing and application, to product recycling and land reuse. It exists to promote and develop all aspects of materials science and engineering, geology, mining and associated technologies, mineral and petroleum engineering and extraction metallurgy, as a leading authority in the worldwide materials and mining community.

Biological engineering Application of biology and engineering to create useful products

Biological engineering, or bioengineering/bio-engineering, is the application of principles of biology and the tools of engineering to create usable, tangible, economically viable products. Biological engineering employs knowledge and expertise from a number of pure and applied sciences, such as mass and heat transfer, kinetics, biocatalysts, biomechanics, bioinformatics, separation and purification processes, bioreactor design, surface science, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, and polymer science. It is used in the design of medical devices, diagnostic equipment, biocompatible materials, renewable bioenergy, ecological engineering, agricultural engineering, and other areas that improve the living standards of societies. Examples of bioengineering research include bacteria engineered to produce chemicals, new medical imaging technology, portable and rapid disease diagnostic devices, prosthetics, biopharmaceuticals, and tissue-engineered organs. Bioengineering overlaps substantially with biotechnology and the biomedical sciences in a way analogous to how various other forms of engineering and technology relate to various other sciences.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to chemical engineering:

Institution of Chemical Engineers organization

The Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) is a global professional engineering institution with over 37,000 members in over 100 countries worldwide. It was founded in 1922 and awarded a Royal Charter in 1957.

Manufacturing Engineering is a branch of professional engineering that shares many common concepts and ideas with other fields of engineering such as mechanical, chemical, electrical, and industrial engineering. Manufacturing engineering requires the ability to plan the practices of manufacturing; to research and to develop tools, processes, machines and equipment; and to integrate the facilities and systems for producing quality products with the optimum expenditure of capital.

Nicholas A. Peppas Greek-American chemical engineer

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Industrial engineering Branch of engineering which deals with the optimization of complex processes or systems

Industrial engineering is an engineering profession that is concerned with the optimization of complex processes, systems, or organizations by developing, improving and implementing integrated systems of people, money, knowledge, information, equipment, energy and materials.

Professor Bodo Linnhoff is a chemical engineer and academic who developed pinch analysis, a technique for minimizing energy usage in the process industries. In its early days, the technique helped companies such as ICI and BASF to design plants that used roughly 30% less energy. As of the 1990s, Pinch Analysis became industrial standard in the oil refining and petrochemical industries. In 2010, Linnhoff founded a finance company, Harvester International, which nurtures innovation and guides smaller companies, such as Inview Technology.

Industrial and production engineering (IPE) is an interdisciplinary engineering discipline that includes manufacturing technology, engineering sciences, management science, and optimization of complex processes, systems, or organizations. It is concerned with the understanding and application of engineering procedures in manufacturing processes and production methods. Industrial engineering dates back all the way to the industrial revolution, initiated in 1700s by Sir Adam Smith, Henry Ford, Eli Whitney, Frank Gilbreth and Lilian Gilbreth, Henry Gantt, F.W. Taylor, etc. After the 1970s, industrial and production engineering developed worldwide and started to widely use automation and robotics. Industrial and production engineering includes three areas: Mechanical engineering, industrial engineering, and management science.


  1. MobyDick Dictionary of Engineering", McGraw-Hill, 2nd Ed.
  2. Transactions of the IChemE (1951) Volume 29 page 163
  3. Herman Skolnik in W. F. Furter (ed) (1982) A Century of Chemical Engineering ISBN   0-306-40895-3 page 230
  4. Ure, Andrew (1839) A Dictionary of Arts Manufactures and Mines, London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green & Longman, page 1220
  5. Colin Duvall and Sean F, Johnston (2000) Scaling Up: The Institution of Chemical Engineers and the Rise of a New Profession Kluwer Academic Publishers
  6. The Cornell daily Sun Volume XXV, Number 25, 26 October 1904
  7. John C. Olsen (December 1932), Chemical Engineering As A Profession: Origin and Early Growth of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Archived 2012-08-13 at the Wayback Machine
  8. Transactions of the Institution of Chemical Engineers volume 2 page 23 (1924)
  9. Archived 2017-02-11 at the Wayback Machine Chemical engineers who changed the world
  10. 1 2 Chemical Engineering Progress June 2015
  11. "Announcing the 2017 AIChE Chemical Engineering Salary Survey". 2017-06-14. Retrieved 2019-11-02.
  12. Institution of Chemical Engineers Annual Review 2016
  13. Brawner, C. E., Lord, S. M., Layton, R. A., Ohland, M. W., & Long, R. A., (2015) International Journal of Engineering Education Vol. 31, No. 6(A), 1431, "Factors Affecting Women’s Persistence in Chemical Engineering"
  14. The Chemical Engineer, March 2015 p 20