Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry, biology, physics, and math to solve problems that involve the production or use of chemicals, fuel, drugs, food, and many other products.
What they do
They design processes and equipment for large-scale manufacturing, plan and test production methods and byproducts treatment, and direct facility operations.
Chemical engineers typically do the following:
- Conduct research to develop new and improved manufacturing processes
- Establish safety procedures for those working with dangerous chemicals
- Develop processes for separating components of liquids and gases, or for generating electrical currents, by using controlled chemical processes
- Design and plan the layout of equipment
- Conduct tests and monitor the performance of processes throughout production
- Troubleshoot problems with manufacturing processes
- Evaluate equipment and processes to ensure compliance with safety and environmental regulations
- Estimate production costs for management
Chemical engineers work mostly in offices or laboratories. They may spend time at industrial plants, refineries, and other locations, where they monitor or direct operations or solve onsite problems. Chemical engineers must be able to work with those who design other systems and with the technicians and mechanics who put the designs into practice.
How to become a Chemical Engineer
Chemical engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering or a related field. Employers also value practical experience, so internships and cooperative engineering programs, in which students earn college credit and experience, can be helpful.
Chemical engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering or a related field. Programs in chemical engineering usually take 4 years to complete and include classroom, laboratory, and field studies. High school students interested in studying chemical engineering will benefit from taking science courses, such as chemistry, physics, and biology. They also should take math courses, including algebra, trigonometry, and calculus.
At some universities, students can opt to enroll in 5-year engineering programs that lead to both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. A graduate degree, which may include a degree up to the Ph.D. level, allows an engineer to work in research and development or as a postsecondary teacher.
Some colleges and universities offer internships and/or cooperative programs in partnership with industry. In these programs, students gain practical experience while completing their education.
The median annual wage for chemical engineers was $108,770 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $66,810, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $176,090.
Nearly all chemical engineers work full time. Occasionally, they may have to work additional hours to meet production targets and design standards or to troubleshoot problems with manufacturing processes. Some chemical engineers work more than 40 hours per week.
Employment of chemical engineers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Demand for chemical engineers’ services depends largely on demand for the products of various manufacturing industries. The ability of these engineers to stay on the forefront of new emerging technologies will sustain employment growth.
Similar Job Titles
Chemical Engineer, Development Engineer, Engineer, Engineering Scientist, Process Control Engineer, Process Engineer, Project Engineer, Refinery Process Engineer, Research Chemical Engineer, Scientist, Absorption and Adsorption Engineer
Agricultural Engineers, Fire-Prevention and Protection Engineers, Mining and Geological Engineers, Mining Safety Engineers, Biochemical Engineers, Energy Engineers
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Association for the Advancement of Science - The AAAS seeks to advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people. Membership is open to anyone who shares our goals and belief that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics can help solve many of the challenges the world faces today. For students, review some of the many program and scholarship options offered by AAAS.
- American Chemical Society - This is one of the world’s largest scientific organizations with more than 152,000 members in 140+ countries. ACS’ mission is to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and its people. Their vision is to improve people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry. For students, take a look at the Discover Chemistry section of the website.
- American Institute of Chemical Engineers - AIChE is the world's leading organization for chemical engineering professionals, with more than 60,000 members from more than 110 countries. AIChE has the breadth of resources and expertise you need whether you are in core process industries or emerging areas, such as translational medicine. The AIChE Academy will help you get a start on your interest in a career in this field.
- American Society for Engineering Education - This association recognizes the term “engineering education” to encompass the full academic spectrum of instruction, research, scholarship, practice, and service. ASEE also has an enduring commitment to continuous improvement. A course catalog provides options for career interest and/or advancement.
Magazines and Publications
- AAAS Science Journals
- ACS Publications (list)
- CEP Magazine
- Chemical Engineering Online Magazine
- The Chemical Engineer
- Chemical and Engineering News
The chemical engineer, wearing trademark white lab coat and goggles, pouring strange liquids from beaker to flask, is an image straight out of science fiction. However, the reality is that chemical engineers are an essential part of 21st century manufacturing-designing processes for the production and use of chemicals, fuels, food, drugs, and more. The ultimate tinkerers, these engineers continually conduct research to develop new ways to separate components of liquids and gases, or to generate electrical currents using chemistry. They must use not only their science and math skills, but also creative problem-solving and troubleshooting, especially when designs don't work the first time. Chemical engineers design equipment to produce everything from tires to asphalt. Their teammates are the technicians and mechanics who put designs into practice. They work in offices and labs at industrial plants, and at coal or oil refineries to oversee operations. Some engineers travel extensively to oversee their designs onsite; improving safety, productivity, and arranging manufacturing operations. These engineers must have a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering. Employers value graduates with practical experience, such as internships and cooperative engineering programs. A Professional Engineering license may increase advancement possibilities. A graduate degree is needed for teaching or to lead research and development.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org