Chemical engineers are known as ‘universal engineers’. They make things happen efficiently on a massive, industrial manufacturing scale, aiming to get the best results at the least cost and with the lowest possible impact on the environment.
As a chemical engineer, you could find yourself working on the following activities:
- Design and development of chemical processes and equipment
- Optimisation and control of industrial operations
- Plant operation and management
- Fundamental and applied research from the molecular level to full industrial scale
- Environmental management, monitoring and pollution control
What Do Chemical Engineers Do?
Chemical engineers design, create and optimise the systems and equipment used in chemical, industrial, biological and environmental processes. They produce a range of materials, from fuels and fertilisers to processed foods, beer and wine, polymers and pharmaceuticals. They also design and operate large-scale chemical process equipment and factories, and play an important role in making industries safer, more efficient and cleaner.
Chemical engineers mostly work standard hours, but from time to time they may be required to meet demanding deadlines – especially when there is an important project to get off the ground. Chemical engineers may sometimes even need to be on call 24 hours a day. Some may work shifts during the commissioning of new plants.
Because consumers have high expectations of the things they pay money for, they expect the same experience every time. Chemical engineering ensures customers receive an identical end product while minimising waste in a time of increasing environmental concerns.
Where Do Chemical Engineers Work?
Chemical engineers work in laboratories, processing plants, engineering design offices, corporate head offices and research institutions.
Companies that employ chemical engineers include those that produce food, plastics, ceramics, pharmaceuticals, metals and glass. You’ll find chemical engineers working in environmental protection organisations, cleaning up contaminated sites or in water treatment. They work in research laboratories, chemical plants and petroleum refineries. Not to forget iron and steel product manufacturers, producers of organic chemicals and the mining and minerals processing industries.
Chemical engineers can work as any of the following:
- Combustion engineers
- Petroleum engineers
- Smelting engineers
- Water treatment engineers
- Production engineers
- Biochemical engineers
- Process control engineers
- Pharmaceutical engineers
Chemical Engineering Fields
A chemical engineer could use skills in science and maths to find employment in many different industries, doing many different things. Here are some example areas you could find yourself working in.
Bio-processes: Working in pharmaceuticals and the food and drink industries.
Chemical Processes: Involving the fertiliser industry, including pesticides and herbicides, caustic soda, glass and specialty chemicals.
Combustion: Large industrial furnaces such as those for steel manufacture or for power generation from coal or gas, or the recovery of valuable energy from waste.
Environmental: Waste and water treatment, environmental regulations and recycling. Recovering and reusing valuable materials instead of dumping them.
Minerals: Major industries such as alumina/aluminium, steel, copper, lead and gold.
Petrochemicals: Converting oil and gas into plastics, synthetic rubber and other things.
Process Control: Instrumentation and control systems which make a manufacturing process run smoothly, safely and efficiently.
Petroleum: Producing oil, gas and LPG from onshore and offshore fields.
Project Delivery: Converting the design of a process plant into an efficient, safe operating plant.
Our UNSW graduates have been employed within these companies and industries:
- Caltex/Shell (Petroleum)
- ANSTO (Nuclear Science and Technology)
- Siemens Water Systems (Membrane Purification)
- Port Jackson Partners (Engineering Consultants)
- Orica (Mining and Explosives)
- BOC (Gases)
Chemical engineers are some of the most flexible and highly employable graduates from UNSW, working across many industries. This degree not only provides students with valuable technical skills, but also the necessary analytical and problem-solving abilities to help them work effectively as part of any team. Take this degree alone or you can combine it with a second degree.
What Do Chemical Engineers Learn?
When you are studying chemical engineering, you’ll focus on ways to put chemicals to work and improve outcomes. You’ll learn skills in:
- Engineering and technology
- Production and processing
- Computers and electronics
- Machines and mechanics
What Skills Do I Need to Become a Chemical Engineer?
- Problem-solving skills
- A love of maths and chemistry
- Ability to approach problems using logic and reasoning
- Technical and practical aptitude
- Ability to analyse how things work
- Accuracy, with an eye for detail
- Ability to work to strict safety standards
- The desire to succeed and work hard to do so