Chemicals play a role in industries of all kinds, from feed and medication to fuel and manufacturing. Chemical engineers are the professionals who use their knowledge of chemistry, engineering, physics, biology and math to solve problems and design new processes, safety procedures and equipment.
Chemical engineers research manufacturing processes and innovate new processes and equipment to streamline the production process. These processes include the making of plastic, the separation of the liquid and gas chemicals found in solutions, the creation of electrical currents and chemical reactions to oxygen. Chemical engineers plan the layout of the equipment used in a process, monitor the efficiency of the process and handle any problems that arise. While their chemical and engineering knowledge is what’s important for designing these processes, chemical engineers must have a thorough understanding of manufacturing processes as a whole, including the costs, environmental impact and safety concerns. They figure out how much production will cost using their processes, how to ensure the process complies with environmental regulations and how to protect worker safety.
A bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering is a requirement for aspiring chemical engineers. It’s important that students make sure that the degree program they choose is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Otherwise, they could run into problems when they begin the process of earning a professional engineer license, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported.
An accredited undergraduate chemical engineering degree program will include coursework in biology, chemistry, and physics. Besides learning in the classroom, students will spend much of their education gaining knowledge in laboratories and through field work. Internships, cooperative programs and extracurricular programs often give chemical engineering students the opportunity to apply their engineering knowledge to solve real-live problems and gain valuable work experience.
Earning a college degree is an important step toward a career in chemical engineering. Licenses aren’t necessary for all chemical engineering positions. In fact, they’re less common in this discipline than in other fields of engineering, according to the BLS. However, having a license can demonstrate a chemical engineer’s professional achievement and improve their opportunities for advancement. In addition to holding a degree from an accredited program, candidates must also pass two exams and meet a minimum work experience requirement to earn a professional engineer’s license.
Chemical engineers earn a median salary of $94,350 per year, higher than the $86,200 median salary for engineers of all disciplines, the BLS reported. Earning potential is higher in certain industries. Chemical engineers in petroleum and coal products manufacturing command the highest salaries, with a median wage of $105,310 per year. The BLS currently expects chemical engineer job opportunities to increase by just four percent over a decade, in part due to employment declines in manufacturing across several industries. However, chemical engineer opportunities will likely appear in industries related to emerging technologies, including alternative energies, biotechnology and nanotechnology.
Chemical engineers use their knowledge of chemistry, engineering and science to research, develop and implement new processes and equipment for producing and manufacturing across many industries, including food, fuel sources and medicine.