What do chemical engineers do?

Chemical, process and biochemical engineers are involved in the design, modification and operation of processes to produce the things we rely on everyday - electricity, petrol, chocolate, cosmetics, cars, aspirin, the list is endless...

Due to the transferable skills chemical engineers learn at university, they're employed across a huge range of sectors including energy, healthcare, food, water and many more.

Chemical engineers often work in multi-disciplinary teams with mechanical, electrical and other types of engineer as projects benefit from different perspectives and areas of expertise. They need to make decisions concerning:

  • which reaction pathway should be used to make the product
  • how to purify the desired product
  • how to control the process and ensure it's safe
  • how to make the process cost effective
  • what should be done with any by-products formed
  • how to reduce the amounts of unwanted by-products
  • what to do with unreacted raw materials
  • how to recycle energy within the process.

Job roles

The knowledge and transferable skills you learn at university will allow you to work in many different roles across a huge number of industries. Here are just a few examples of possible job descriptions:

Chemical engineer in the water industry

Your functions include the design and development of the wide range of physical, chemical and biological unit operations needed to remove contaminants economically from water and wastewater.

You will project manage new works construction, and the management and operation of treatment plant and distribution networks.

You need to understand new technologies which will enable us to meet new legislative quality standards for water supply and wastewater discharge, and to minimise waste streams from treatment processes.

Bioproduct engineer

You are required to understand and keep up-to-date with developments in diverse areas of technology such as tissue culture, genetics, biochemistry and biochemical engineering.

Working with medical specialists, lab-based bioscientists and manufacturing specialists, you are required to translate very specific scientific concepts into practical bioproduct specifications.

Your products will range from fundamental research through product development to highly targeted technical sales activities.

You may work in diverse environments including academic, small technology-based enterprises, or large research-led companies.

Food processing engineer

Your key skill is in understanding the application of heat transfer and fluid flow principles to the manufacture of foods.

Processes generally require measurement and analysis at the design or troubleshooting stage.

You need to understand the role that food science and microbiology play in the design, manufacture and distribution of food products to meet consumer expectation.

You’ll use simulation tools to aid design and process optimisation, and will often work as part of a larger team of engineers and scientists.

Consultant in the pharmaceutical industry

You need to understand the technologies behind biochemical engineering to provide the services that our biopharmaceutical clients expect.

You have to understand production and regulatory issues together with the commercial constraints on products.

You’ll often work on pharmaceutical projects based on other technologies. Your projects will range from small consultancy questions to the design, commissioning and validation of large pharmaceutical production facilities.

You will work with our clients, and with the multidisciplinary teams needed to complete large projects.

Process engineer in the energy industry

As a process engineer working in the energy industry you need to understand the energy supply and demand requirements, and the implications of our usage of it. This means keeping up-to-date with the technology that affects this balance, and understanding how and when it can be implemented.

Your work involves providing services to design, procure or operate energy infrastructure. You also evaluate energy needs for clients and help them source energy supplies, advise on appropriate methods of extracting and supplying their energy products.

You’ll forecast future requirements for both the supply and demand side, and the clients can vary from conventional operating companies to financial companies operating in the commodity markets.

Additional information