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What Do Chemical Engineers Do and How Much Do They Make?

Job Profile and Career Information for Chemical Engineers

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Chemical engineers can work anywhere in the world.

Chemical engineers supervise the central pumping station at the Yukos Oil and Gas company in Nefteyugansk, Siberia. Chemical engineers can work anywhere in the world.

Getty Images Chemical engineers design, construct and operate chemical plants, such as this distillation plant.

Chemical engineers design, construct and operate chemical plants, such as this distillation plant.

Luigi Chiesa

Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemical engineering to identify and solve technical problems. Chemical engineers work mainly within the chemical and petrochemical industries.

What Is a Chemical Engineer?

Chemical engineers use math, physics, and economics to solve practical problems. The difference between chemical engineers and other types of engineers is that they apply a knowledge of chemistry in addition to other engineering disciplines. Chemical engineers may be called 'universal engineers' because their scientific and technical mastery is so extensive.

What Do Chemical Engineers Do?

Some chemical engineers make designs and invent new processes. Some construct instruments and facilities. Some plan and operate facilities. Chemical engineers have helped develop atomic science, polymers, paper, dyes, drugs, plastics, fertilizers, foods, textiles, and chemicals. They devise ways to make products from raw materials and ways to convert one material into another useful form. Chemical engineers can make processes more cost effective or more environmentally friendly or more efficient. A chemical engineer can find a niche in any scientific or engineering field.

Chemical Engineer Employment & Salaries

In 2006, the US Department of Labor estimated there were 30,000 chemical engineers in the United States. At the time of the survey, the average hourly wage for a chemical engineer was $39.23 per hour, ranging from $24.07 to $57.05 per hour. The median annual salary for a chemical engineer was $78,860. The middle 80 percent of chemical engineers made $50,060 to $118,670 annually.

In 2006, the Institution of Chemical Engineers Salary Survey reported the average salary for a chemical engineer in the UK was £53,000, with a starting salary for a graduate averaging £24,000. College graduates with a chemical engineering degree typical gain high salaries even for first employment.

Educational Requirements for Chemical Engineers

An entry-level chemical engineering job typically requires a college bachelor's degree in engineering. Sometimes a bachelor's degree in chemistry or math or another type of engineering will suffice. A master's degree is helpful.

Additional Requirements for Engineers

In the US, engineers who offer their services directly to the public need to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary, but in general an engineer must have a degree from a program that is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), four years of relevant work experience, and must pass a state examination.

Job Outlook for Chemical Engineers

Employment of chemical engineers (as well other types of engineers and chemists) is expected to grow at the average growth rate for all occupations through 2016. The related field of environmental engineering is expected to grow at a much faster rate.

Career Advancement in Chemical Engineering

Entry level chemical engineers advance as they assume more independence and responsibility. As they gain experience, solve problems, and develop designs they may move into supervisory positions or may become technical specialists. Some engineers start their own companies. Some move into sales. Others become team leaders and managers.

More About Engineering

What Is the Difference Between a Scientist and an Engineer?
Why Study Engineering?
Typical Chemical Engineering Courses

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