TLDR: Chemical engineering is a field of engineering that focuses on designing and operating chemical plants and improving production methods. It combines principles from chemistry, physics, biology, and economics to efficiently use and transform energy and materials.
Chemical engineering is all about finding ways to turn raw materials into useful products. This can involve anything from developing new processes in a laboratory to designing large-scale industrial operations. Chemical engineers are involved in every step of the process, from safety assessments to process design and analysis.
To become a chemical engineer, you typically need a degree in Chemical Engineering or Process Engineering. Many chemical engineers also have professional certifications and are members of professional organizations like the Institution of Chemical Engineers or the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.
The term "chemical engineering" was first mentioned in relation to the production of sulfuric acid in 1839. However, it was an English consultant named George E. Davis who is credited with coining the term. The field of chemical engineering became more widely recognized in the late 19th century and early 20th century.
In the 1940s, there was a shift in focus within chemical engineering towards transport phenomena, which includes fluid dynamics, heat transfer, and mass transfer. This led to the development of new concepts like process systems engineering and a greater emphasis on analytical and synthetic approaches.
Safety and environmental concerns became more prominent in the field of chemical engineering after incidents like the Flixborough disaster in 1974 and the Bhopal disaster in 1984. As a result, process safety became a specific discipline within chemical engineering.
Recent progress in chemical engineering has been driven by advancements in computer science and the completion of the Human Genome Project. Chemical engineers now use computers to design and manage plants, and they have also made significant contributions to genetic engineering and genomics.
In terms of applications, chemical engineers are involved in a wide range of industries, including pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, and plastics. They use their knowledge of chemistry and engineering to create efficient and safe production methods. They also play a role in waste management and research.
Some key concepts in chemical engineering include plant design and construction, process design and analysis, and transport phenomena. Plant design involves creating plans and specifications for new plants or modifications to existing ones. Process design focuses on selecting equipment and materials for a plant, while transport phenomena deals with fluid dynamics, heat transfer, and mass transfer.
Overall, chemical engineering is a diverse and important field that combines scientific knowledge with engineering principles to create innovative solutions for the production of useful products.