What Are the Job Duties of a Chemical Engineer?

The job duties of a chemical engineer vary wildly depending on the industry they work in. Most chemical engineers work for employers in the chemical industry or in companies producing hydrocarbon-based fuels, food and consumer products, biotechnology products, medical products, and electronics. Schools offering Engineering & Technology Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Overview

Chemical engineers can work in a variety of industries. All of them utilize their knowledge of chemistry, physics, biology, and math in order to facilitate the production or use of materials such as chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and food. Chemical engineers are part of the design process for the manufacturing of new products, work to test existing processes for safety and efficiency, and often serve in a supervisory capacity.

Important Facts About This Occupation

Required Education Bachelor's degree in chemical engineering
Licensure Voluntary professional engineer (PE) designation available; must pass Fundamentals of Engineering and Professional Engineering exam
Key Skills Analytical, problem-solving, math and interpersonal skills; ingenuity and creativity
Work Environment Office or laboratory setting
Similar Occupations Biomedical engineer, chemical technician, nuclear engineer

Chemical Industry and Materials

Chemical engineers employed in the chemical industry typically work on developing, creating, and testing new materials that can be used in new consumer or industrial products. This includes working on the chemical reactions associated with plastics, metals, ceramics, and various composites, and developing and analyzing suitable catalysts to more efficiently produce chemical products.

Fuels

Chemical engineers who work with fuels are usually employed by oil companies. Their job duties include chemically altering crude oil for different purposes. They may work on manufacturing such products as diesel fuel, kerosene, gasoline, liquid petroleum gas, lubricating oils, tar, and paraffin wax.

Food and Consumer Products

Chemical engineers employed in the food industry and in other consumer products companies work on creating more practical and desirable products. Job duties may include chemical experiments to produce more useful products, such as creating new plastics. In the food industry, chemical engineers may experiment combining food and chemical products to create new food products as well as to improve existing products.

Biotechnology

Chemical engineers working in biotechnology typically work in agriculture and medicine. Such jobs include altering the genetics of a biological product to increase its agricultural yield or its useful applications. This can include genetic alteration of crops to make them hardier or more nutritious.

Medicine

Chemical engineers working in the medical field can work on pharmaceuticals or medical products, such as drug delivery systems or monitoring devices. The job duties of a pharmaceuticals worker involve finding new medicines and medical solutions to diseases and other medical conditions. A researcher may use chemical engineering to advance procedures in genetic testing and gene therapy.

Electronics

Chemical engineers who choose a career in electronics work on the chemical components of electronic devices. Job duties may include working on the chemical composition of materials, electronic reactions and chemical reactions. One example of a chemical engineering contribution to electronics includes analyzing and improving the chemical reactions occurring in batteries to increase their power, their lifespan, and the time between chargings.

Employment and Salary

The median salary earned by chemical engineers in May 2014 was reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov) as $96,940. Engineers employed by oil and gas extraction firms, company and enterprise management, and employment services earned the most money in 2014, averaging more than $130,000 a year. The employment of all kinds of chemical engineers is expected to increase by about four percent between 2012 and 2022, per the BLS.

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