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School of Chemical Engineering

The University of Adelaide Australia

What do Chemical Engineers do?

Chemical or process engineers turn great ideas discovered in laboratories into practical devices and processes that:

  • improve our quality of life
  • protect the environment
  • ensure products and services we purchase are cheaper and of better quality
  • that industry increases competitiveness, thereby protecting and creating jobs and wealth for communities

Chemical engineers do this using a combination of biology, biochemistry and/or chemistry with math (as well as a bit of economics and finance) to predict how these ideas will work on a larger-scale outside the laboratory in the real world, and then building and operating the equipment needed to bring these ideas to life. For example, chemical engineers have helped do this by performing "research and development" or by "design and operation" of processes that:

  • Manufacture pharmaceuticals, making them cheaper and safe for people to use
  • Refine oil into petrol, keeping petrol prices low and improving petrol quality so it doesn't pollute the air
  • Generate electricity in the most efficient fashion to preserve our natural resources and protect the environment
  • Create renewable fuels and energy sources to replace coal, petrol and gas
  • Produce safe drinking water from rivers, groundwater or the sea for city, rural and remote aboriginal communities
  • Safely treat toxic hazardous industrial wastes so their disposal does not harm the environment
  • Help the wine industry make premium wines for export more consistently and at lower cost
  • Improve mining techniques, so they minimise environmental damage and cost less

Chemical engineering is very "multi-disciplinary": its principles are widely applied to a diverse range of everyday things that people do, and in almost every product and service we use. In fact almost everything that you see and touch around you has, at one time or another, been created by a process invented, designed and/or operated by a chemical engineer.

Chemical engineers have the opportunity to enjoy a diverse career, and there are a range of different jobs from which to choose. You can work in a laboratory, in an office, in the outdoors or on an industrial plant, or combination of all of these in the one job. Some industries and careers that chemical engineers are involved in include:

  • Biotechnology & pharmaceutical industries
  • Wine-making
  • Food production (e.g. beer, milk, cheese)
  • Petrochemicals (e.g. gold, rare earths, oil refining, natural gas, plastics)
  • Industrial Chemicals (e.g. detergents & soaps, chlorine, explosives)
  • Mining and minerals processing (e.g. iron ore, steel manufacture, aluminium)
  • Environmental engineering (i.e. air pollution control, water and waste-water treatment, waste disposal, resource management)
  • Semi-conductors & microelectronics (many chemical engineers work in these areas)
  • Nanotechnology (an emerging scientific area utilising very small particles for diverse applications)
  • Management consulting (i.e. engineering business and financial management).

Many chemical engineers go on to manage companies, or even start their own business

For further examples please visit Graduate Profiles and IChemE page.