Chemical engineering FAQs

What is chemical engineering?


There are numerous definitions of Chemical Engineering, but the one on Wikipedia serves very well: “Chemical engineering is the branch of engineering that deals with the application of physical science (e.g. chemistry and physics), and life sciences (e.g. biology, microbiology and biochemistry) with mathematics, to the process of converting raw materials or chemicals into more useful or valuable forms. In addition to producing useful materials, modern chemical engineering is also concerned with pioneering valuable new materials and techniques - such as nanotechnology, fuel cells and biomedical engineering. A person employed in this field is called a chemical engineer.”


What types of job do Chemical Engineers have?


There can be involvement in: fundamental or applied research, product design, plant management, economic analysis, construction, commissioning & decommissioning, operation, safety analysis, process development, pollution control & prevention, consultancy, technical sales & marketing, management, business & finance, and education. Chemical Engineers work from design and construction to commissioning and production.


What products do Chemical Engineers make?


Chemical Engineers are involved in a broad range of industries, leading to their contribution to the production of a wide range of products. Some examples include: plastics, bulk chemicals, fine & speciality chemicals, pharmaceuticals, healthcare products, synthetic fibres, clean water, energy, oil products, advanced materials, fertilisers, food, confectionery & dairy products, beer & other beverages, and artificial organs.


Where do Chemical Engineers work?


The largest employer of Chemical Engineers is the Oil and Gas Sector (about 20%); Chemicals & Allied Products employ about 17%; Contracting Companies are at 12%, the same as Pharmaceuticals & Healthcare; Business & Finance are at 10%; Consultancies employ 8%; Energy (gas, coal and nuclear) employs 6%; Food & Drink is at 5%; the Water industry at 4%; Process Equipment Manufacturers employ 4%; and the remaining 3% work in the Education Sector.


What do Chemical Engineers earn?


Chemical engineering graduates in the UK or Ireland can expect to earn an average starting salary of £26,000 – ranking third only to Medicine and Dentistry. The 2008 IChemE Salary Survey ( suggests graduates are most likely to begin their career in the oil sector, where average starting salaries are £31,000. It doesn’t take long for the salaries to grow in UK chemical engineering. The average wage for chemical engineers aged 25–29 is £33,700, rising to £47,500 for those in their 30s. Chemical engineers in their 40s will earn on average £60,500 and £68,000 in their 50s. For those aged 60–65, who have typically risen to very senior positions, the average salary is £70,500. And for those engineers eagerly anticipating the joys of retirement, perhaps it’s time to think again. The few who choose to work past 65 in the UK and Ireland earn an average salary of £100,000.


Why become a Chartered Chemical Engineer?


Becoming a Chartered Engineer demonstrates professional recognition of your expertise. You will get a pay rise of typically £5,000 per year once you become chartered. As a Chartered Engineer, your career earnings will be at least 25% higher compared to someone who is not chartered.


How do I become a Chartered Engineer?


Firstly you need to obtain an accredited degree, an MEng degree programme is the direct route, or you can follow a BEng degree programme, but this requires further academic qualification at the Masters level (MSc). Then you need to spend 4 or 5 years developing your professional experience and skills in industry, supervised by a Chartered Engineer – one year might be on placement during your degree. During this period you will need to complete some required and elective assignments. Finally you submit a report on your experience and need to pass a panel interview.


What can Chemical Engineering bring for the future?


In the biochemical engineering area, developments are leading to better health care products, safer disposal of toxic wastes, and both cheaper and safer production of industrial chemicals. Exciting new examples of this at the research level are the development of artificial organs and prosthetics through tissue engineering. Researchers are trying to grow human tissue, such as bone, veins, arteries and cartilage for use in replacement surgery.


In chemical engineering advances are being made in the development of more efficient catalysts, novel materials for hydrogen storage, applications in electronics and communications like Blu-ray DVD, carbon capture technologies, and in the area of fuel cells and remote or portable sources of power. The impact of climate change is a matter of international concern and it will be chemical and process engineers who are responsible for finding the solutions.
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