What Is A Chemical Engineer?
A chemical engineer is a professional who applies the principles of chemistry, physics, biology, and mathematics to design, develop, and optimize processes, equipment, and systems for the production, transformation, and use of chemicals and other materials. Chemical engineers are responsible for ensuring that the processes they design and implement are safe, efficient, and environmentally friendly.
Chemical Engineer Duties
The primary duties of a chemical engineer include:
- Developing and designing chemical processes and equipment to optimize performance, increase efficiency, and minimize waste.
- Evaluating and selecting process technologies, materials, and equipment based on technical and economic factors.
- Troubleshooting and solving problems in existing chemical processes and systems.
- Conducting research to advance the state of the art in chemical engineering and develop new processes, materials, and technologies.
- Ensuring compliance with relevant regulations, standards, and best practices, including safety, environmental, and quality requirements.
- Collaborating with other engineers and scientists, as well as non-technical stakeholders such as customers, suppliers, and regulators.
Day In The Life of a Chemical Engineer
A typical day for a chemical engineer may involve:
- Reviewing and analyzing process data to identify opportunities for improvement.
- Conducting experiments or simulations to test and validate new process designs or modifications.
- Meeting with colleagues or clients to discuss project requirements, progress, and challenges.
- Preparing technical documentation, such as process flow diagrams, equipment specifications, and operating instructions.
- Keeping up-to-date with the latest developments in chemical engineering and related fields through reading, attending conferences, or participating in professional organizations.
Chemical Engineer Work Schedule
Chemical engineers typically work full-time, with some working more than 40 hours per week. They may be required to work irregular hours, such as evenings or weekends, to meet project deadlines or address emergencies. Chemical engineers often work in office settings, but they may also spend time in laboratories, pilot plants, or industrial facilities, depending on their role and the nature of their work. The job may involve some physical or mental requirements, such as standing for long periods, wearing personal protective equipment, or solving complex problems under pressure.
Growth Of The Chemical Engineer Career
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of chemical engineers is projected to grow 4% from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The demand for chemical engineers is driven by the need to develop and implement more efficient, sustainable, and environmentally friendly processes in various industries, such as pharmaceuticals, energy, and materials. Chemical engineers with specialized skills, such as experience in biotechnology or process simulation, may have better job prospects.
Typical Chemical Engineer Employers
Chemical engineers are employed in a wide range of organizations, including:
- Chemical, pharmaceutical, and biotechnology companies
- Oil and gas, refining, and petrochemical companies
- Engineering consulting firms
- Government agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or Department of Energy (DOE)
- Research institutions and universities
- Self-employed or freelance consultants
How To Become A Chemical Engineer
To pursue a career in chemical engineering, one typically needs a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering or a closely related field. Some positions, particularly in research or academia, may require a master’s or doctoral degree. Chemical engineering programs typically cover subjects such as thermodynamics, transport phenomena, reaction engineering, and process control. Internships or co-op experiences are often recommended to gain practical experience and enhance job prospects.
In some cases, chemical engineers may need to obtain a professional engineer (PE) license to offer their services directly to the public or work in certain industries. Licensure requirements vary by state but typically include a degree from an accredited program, relevant work experience, and passing a series of exams.
Chemical Engineer Salary Data
According to the BLS, the median annual wage for chemical engineers was $108,540 in May 2020. The lowest 10% earned less than $68,430, and the highest 10% earned more than $162,750. The median hourly wage for chemical engineers was $52.18 in the same period.
Popular Colleges for Chemical Engineer
Some popular colleges for pursuing a degree in chemical engineering are:
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
- California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
- Stanford University
- University of California, Berkeley
- University of Texas at Austin
Job Growth Projections And Forecast for Chemical Engineers
As of 2019, the BLS reports that there were 32,600 chemical engineers employed in the United States. With the projected 4% growth rate from 2019 to 2029, it is estimated that there will be around 1,300 new jobs in the field. The job growth may be influenced by factors such as technological advancements, government regulations, and the need for sustainable and environmentally friendly processes in various industries.