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Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology

 

Solving global challenges

Chemical engineers are needed to develop processes and products that address some of the problems facing humanity. These include the energy transition away from fossil fuels, the need for sustainable food and water supplies as climate changes, and the provision of improved healthcare. 

Producing valuable materials

Chemical engineers design and operate industrial processes that convert raw materials into valuable chemical products. The term 'chemical products' includes traditional petrochemicals, materials and pharmaceuticals, but also includes consumer products such as detergents, shampoo, and toothpaste, because these are mixtures of chemicals. 

 

It also includes foodstuffs such as chocolate bars, ice cream and beer because these are mixtures of chemicals. 

It also includes chemical products that are made using biological organisms – this is one area of biotechnology. 

Scaling up innovative processes

Chemical engineers need to develop processes for making these chemical products at a large scale. Society wants tonnes of these products to be made – so many people have access to them – rather than perhaps a milligram of material in a test tube. 

Knowing how to scale up operations is a key attribute of chemical engineering.  

The processes involve chemical or biochemical reactions, changes in physical state (e.g. melting and boiling), mixing and separating. 

They may involve mature technology – such as stirred tanks, distillation columns, heat exchangers and chromatography columns. 

But they often involve new technology too – membrane reactors, supercritical fluids as solvents, and genetic manipulation of organisms. 

Society wants sophisticated chemical products made by sustainable processes and so chemical engineers are in great demand. There is particular interest in the environment, energy and healthcare sectors.