Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics 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 methods of manufacturing products and treating byproducts, and supervise production.

Duties

Chemical engineers typically do the following:

  • Conduct research to develop new and improved manufacturing processes
  • Develop safety procedures for those working with potentially dangerous chemicals
  • Develop processes to separate components of liquids and gases or to generate electrical currents using controlled chemical processes
  • Design and plan the layout of equipment
  • Do tests and monitor 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

Some chemical engineers specialize in a particular process, such as oxidation (a reaction of oxygen with chemicals to make other chemicals) or polymerization (making plastics and resins). Others specialize in a particular field, such as nanomaterials (making extremely small substances), biological engineering, or in developing specific products.

Chemical engineers also work in producing energy, electronics, food, clothing, and paper. They work in research in life sciences, biotechnology, and business services.

Chemical engineers must be aware of all aspects in the manufacturing of chemicals, drugs, or other products. They must also understand how the manufacturing process affects the environment and the safety of workers and consumers.

Is This the Right Career for You?

Not sure how to choose the best career for you? Now, you can predict which career will satisfy you in the long term by taking a scientifically validated career test. Gain the clarity and confidence that comes from understanding your strengths, talents, and preferences, and knowing which path is truly right for you.

Take The Test

 

 

 

 

 

Work Environment

Chemical engineers held about 33,300 jobs in 2012.

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 professionals who design other systems and with the technicians and mechanics who put the designs into practice.

Some engineers travel extensively to plants or worksites both domestically and abroad.

The industries that employed the most chemical engineers in 2012 were as follows:

Architectural, engineering, and related services 17%
Basic chemical manufacturing 13
Scientific research and development services 10
Resin, synthetic rubber, and artificial synthetic fibers and filaments manufacturing 6
Petroleum and coal products manufacturing 6

Work Schedules

Nearly all chemical engineers work full time.

Education and Training

Chemical engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. Employers also value practical experience, so cooperative engineering programs, in which students earn college credit for structured job experience, are valuable as well.

Education

Chemical engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. Programs 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.

At some universities, a student can opt to enroll in a 5-year program that leads to both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. A graduate degree, which may include a degree up to the Ph.D. level, allows an engineer to work in research and development or as a postsecondary teacher.

Some colleges and universities offer cooperative programs where students gain practical experience while completing their education. Cooperative programs combine classroom study with practical work, permitting students to gain valuable experience and to finance part of their education.

Engineering programs should be accredited by ABET. ABET-accredited programs in chemical engineering include courses in chemistry, physics, and biology. These programs also include applying the sciences to the design, analysis, and control of chemical, physical, and biological processes.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Licensure for chemical engineers is not as common as it is for other engineering occupations, but it is encouraged for professional advancement. Chemical engineers who become licensed carry the designation of professional engineers (PEs). Licensure generally requires the following:

  • A degree from an engineering program accredited by ABET
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam

The initial Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam can be taken right after graduation. Engineers who pass this exam commonly are called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After they get work experience, EITs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam.

Several states require engineers to take continuing education to keep their license. Most states recognize licensure from other states, if the licensing state’s requirements meet or exceed their own licensure requirements.

Advancement

Entry-level engineers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers. In large companies, new engineers may also receive formal training in classrooms or seminars. As beginning engineers gain knowledge and experience, they move to more difficult projects with greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions.

Eventually, chemical engineers may advance to supervise a team of engineers and technicians. Some may become architectural and engineering managers. However, preparing for management positions usually requires working under the guidance of a more experienced chemical engineer.

An engineering background enables chemical engineers to discuss a product's technical aspects and assist in product planning and use. For more information, see the profile on sales engineers.

Personality and Interests

Chemical engineers typically have an interest in the Building and Thinking interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking interest which might fit with a career as a chemical engineer, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Chemical engineers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Analytical skills. Chemical engineers must be able to figure out why a particular design does not work as planned. They must be able to ask the right questions and then find answers that work.

Creativity. Chemical engineers must be able to 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. Chemical engineers must develop good working relationships with people in production because their role is to put scientific principles into practice in manufacturing industries.

Math skills. Chemical engineers use the principals of calculus and other advanced topics in mathematics for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.

Problem-solving skills. In designing equipment and processes for manufacturing, these engineers strive to solve several problems at once, including such issues as workers’ safety and problems related to manufacturing and environmental protection. They must also be able to anticipate and identify problems to prevent losses for their employers, safeguard workers’ health, and prevent environmental damage.

Pay

The median annual wage for chemical engineers was $94,350 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $58,830, and the top 10 percent earned more than $154,840.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for chemical engineers in the top five industries employing these engineers were as follows:

Petroleum and coal products manufacturing $105,310
Basic chemical manufacturing 99,510
Scientific research and development services 97,880
Resin, synthetic rubber, and artificial synthetic fibers
and filaments manufacturing
94,810
Architectural, engineering, and related services 93,390

A June 2013 salary survey by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers of their members reported that graduates of bachelor’s degree programs in 2011 had a median yearly salary of $67,800. The survey also noted that many chemical engineers receive benefits such as stock options or profit-sharing awards.

Nearly all chemical engineers work full time.

Job Outlook

Employment of chemical engineers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Demand for chemical engineers’ services depends largely on demand for the products of various manufacturing industries. Employment growth will be sustained by the ability of these engineers to stay on the forefront of new, emerging technologies.

Many chemical engineers work in industries that have output sought by many manufacturing firms. For instance, they work for firms that manufacture plastic resins, used to increase fuel efficiency in automobiles. Increased availability of domestically produced natural gas should increase manufacturing potential in the industries employing these engineers.

In addition, chemical engineering is also migrating into new fields, such as nanotechnology, alternative energies, and biotechnology, which will help to sustain demand for engineering services in many manufacturing industries.

However, overall growth of employment will be tempered by a decline in employment in manufacturing sectors, including chemical manufacturing.

Job Prospects

Chemical engineers should have favorable job prospects as many workers in the occupation reach retirement age from 2012 to 2022.

For More Information

For more information on becoming a chemical engineer, visit

American Institute of Chemical Engineers

For information about general engineering education and career resources, visit

American Society for Engineering Education

Technology Student Association

For more information about licensure as a professional engineer, visit

National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying

National Society of Professional Engineers

For information about accredited engineering programs, visit

ABET

FAQ

Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

I would like to cite this page for a report. Who is the author?

There is no published author for this page. Please use citation guidelines for webpages without an author available. 

I think I have found an error or innacurate information on this page. Who should I contact?

This information is taken directly from the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Truity does not editorialize the information, including changing information that our readers believe is inaccurate, because we consider the BLS to be the authority on occupational information. However, if you would like to correct a typo or other technical error, you can reach us at help@truity.com.

I am not sure if this career is right for me. How can I decide?

There are many excellent tools available that will allow you to measure your interests, profile your personality, and match these traits with appropriate careers. We recommend the Career Personality Profiler assessment ($29), the Holland Code assessment ($19), or the Photo Career Quiz (free).