What you need to know
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. They design processes and equipment for large-scale manufacturing, plan and test production methods and byproducts treatment, and direct facility operations.
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.
Some of the things a chemical engineer might do:
- 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
- Analytical skills: Chemical engineers must troubleshoot designs that do not work as planned. They must ask the right questions and then find answers that work.
- Creativity: Chemical engineers must explore new ways of applying engineering principles. They work to invent new materials, advanced manufacturing techniques, and new applications in chemical and biomedical engineering.
- Ingenuity: Chemical engineers learn the broad concepts of chemical engineering, but their work requires them to apply those concepts to specific production problems.
- Interpersonal skills: Because their role is to put scientific principles into practice in manufacturing industries, chemical engineers must develop good working relationships with other workers involved in production processes.
- Math skills: Chemical engineers use the principles of advanced math topics such as calculus for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.
- Problem-solving skills: In designing equipment and processes for manufacturing, these engineers must be able to anticipate and identify problems, including such issues as workers’ safety and problems related to manufacturing and environmental protection.
The average pay for chemical engineers in the United States ranges from $62,230 to $169,080.
The specific pay depends on factors such as level of experience, education and training, geographic location, and specific industry.
Employment of chemical engineers is projected to grow 8 percent from 2016 to 2026, 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.
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.
Discover some of the courses you will take pursuing a degree in Chemical Engineering.