Chemical Engineering Overview

Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry to solve problems involving the production or use of chemicals and biochemicals. They design equipment and processes for large-scale chemical manufacturing, plan and test methods of manufacturing products and treating byproducts, and supervise production. Chemical engineers also work in a variety of manufacturing industries other than chemical manufacturing, such as those producing energy, electronics, food, clothing, and paper. They also work in healthcare, biotechnology, and business services. Chemical engineers apply principles of chemistry, physics, mathematics, and mechanical and electrical engineering. (See chemists and materials scientists, physicists and astronomers, and mathematicians elsewhere in the Handbook.) Some may specialize in a particular chemical process, such as oxidation or polymerization. Others specialize in a particular field, such as materials science, or in the development of specific products. They must be aware of all aspects of chemicals manufacturing and how the manufacturing process affects the environment and the safety of workers and consumers.

Job Outlook

Chemical engineers are expected to have employment growth about as fast as the average (9% - 17%) for all occupations though 2014. Although overall employment in the chemical manufacturing industry is expected to decline, chemical companies will continue to research and develop new chemicals and more efficient processes to increase output of existing chemicals. Among manufacturing industries, pharmaceuticals may provide the best opportunities for jobseekers. However, most employment growth for chemical engineers will be in service industries such as scientific research and development services, particularly in energy and the developing fields of biotechnology and nanotechnology.

Earning Potential

Median annual earnings of chemical engineers were $72,490 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $58,320 and $88,830. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $48,450, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $107,520.

According to a 2003 salary survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, bachelor's degree candidates in chemical engineering received starting offers averaging $52,384 a year, master's degree candidates averaged $57,857, and Ph.D. candidates averaged $70,729.

* This material is reprinted from the Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics





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