Where do Chemical Engineers Work?

Chemical engineers — including our graduates from Rice University — are employed in many industries representing a diverse range of products, employers, and services:

Advanced Materials

Industries in the category of advanced materials use chemical engineers to help develop materials with different properties such as weight, strength, heat transfer, reflectivity, and purity. Industries that employ chemical engineers for these purposes include:

  • Aerospace
  • Automotive
  • Glass
  • Ceramics
  • Electronics
  • Metals
  • Nanotechnology
  • Photographic Products
Biotechnology

The biotechnology industry uses living cells and materials produced by cells, and biological techniques developed through research, to create products for use in other industries. Work in the field of biotechnology has produced antibiotics, insulin, interferon, artificial organs, recombinant DNA, techniques for waste reduction and recycling, and hybrid plants that are insect-resistant. Chemical engineers in the biotechnology industry develop and design the processes to grow, handle, and harvest living organisms and their byproducts.

Chemical Process Industries (CPI)

The CPI's focus is on the development, extraction, isolation, combination, and use of chemicals and chemical byproducts. Chemical engineers in the CPI design and operate the processes and systems to transform, transport, separate, handle, recycle, and store chemicals and their byproducts. Specialty areas include:

  • Agricultural Chemicals
  • Catalysts
  • Specialty Chemicals
  • Industrial Gases
  • Paints, Varnishes, Lacquers, Pigments, and Inks
  • Petrochemicals
  • Petroleum Products
  • Plastics, Synthetic Resins, and Composites
  • Polymers
  • Pulp and Paper
  • Rubber and Rubber Products
  • Soaps, Detergents, Perfumes, Fats, Oils, and Cosmetics
  • Synthetic Fibers, Textiles, and Films
Design and Construction

The design and construction industry works with all other industry sectors to design and build the facilities, specify the machinery, and design and troubleshoot processes that will allow companies to operate safe and efficient plants. Chemical engineers in the design and construction industry are involved with process design and project management, and work closely with other engineering disciplines.

Electronics

Chemical engineers in the electronics industry are involved with material development and production, and process control equipment design. Knowing how process equipment in a chemical plant, for example, is supposed to function gives the chemical engineer an advantage in designing control equipment to monitor each process. Chemical engineers are also involved in the manufacturing of microchips and intricate circuitry, using their training to develop the materials and processes that allow such circuits to be properly assembled. Chemical engineers' contributions to the field include producing components that better dissipate heat and operate faster.

Energy and Fuels

Those industries that fall under the category of fuels include petroleum and petroleum products production, and refining, as well as nuclear and synthetic fuels. Typically known for their work in refineries, chemical engineers are also involved in developing alternative energy sources, e.g. fuel cells. Chemical engineers in the fuels industries work on production processes, environmental monitoring, research and development, and process safety.

Environmental, Safety and Health

In almost every industry, chemical engineers are involved in areas that concern the environment, waste minimization, and personal health and safety. With every process that involves the use and manipulation of raw materials, some byproducts are produced. The chemical engineer is employed to minimize the production of byproducts, if they are of no use, or find an appropriate use for them. Chemical engineers help minimize waste through process monitoring and control, and by designing new processes that are more efficient. This category also includes those chemical engineers who are involved in waste treatment and disposal, and process safety and loss prevention. Process safety involves how people safely work with and handle certain materials.

Food

The food and beverage industry includes the handling, processing, preparation, packaging, and preservation of food and beverages. Chemical engineers in the food and beverages industry formulate new products to meet consumer demand, change ingredients for better flavor, change handling processes for more consistent texture, and freeze dry products or design aseptic packaging to ensure a longer shelf life.

Other

Chemical engineers are not limited to those industries that produce products made by combining, refining, or processing chemicals. The technical training that chemical engineers receive also makes them well suited for work in the following areas:

  • Business, Finance and Insurance: Chemical engineers can use their training to manage, analyze, and insure businesses in the chemical process industries.
  • Law: Chemical engineers can work as patent attorneys, applying their knowledge to intellectual property.
  • Education: Chemical engineers who hold Ph.D. degrees can work as university professors to teach and do research in a variety of exciting areas.
  • Government: Within the government, the US Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, US Navy, NASA, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Department of Agriculture, to name a few, all employ chemical engineers.