What would a typical chemical engineer's project look like? I know now that it has to do with designing plants to run chemical reactions - so, to me it sounds like the making of some sort of blueprint which attempts to achieve maximum yield of a product, which essentially another company is selling. This is reminding me of how sea salt is extracted from seawater - I recall watching the extraction process while I was away for vacation. Would that process be something that would be designed by a chemical engineer? What do you guys, as chemical engineers, typically find yourselves working on?
In terms of areas, some of the big employers are: Petroleum Refining, Pharma,Plastics, Bulk Chemicals, Fine Chemicals, Food Processing.
About types of projects, some types:
*Expanding the capacity of a current process. This can be by changing reaction conditions, optimizing existing equipment or simply buying a larger machine at the bottleneck.
*Designing the Process for a totally new chemical or drug
*Making an existing product via a new route. Deciding the relative feasibility among of several routes. (Can't be left to a Chemist!
). Often, it is not just the yields; but the cost of capital equipment. e.g. Corrosive reagents or high pressures may need Exotic Materials of Construction.
*Safety or pollution oriented changes to existing plant. Complying with the hundreds of regulations and inspectors out there. Documentation. Audits.
(Sorry, this part isn't very glamorous)
*Changing batch operations to continuous ones. Deciding optimum scheduling and blending operations.
*Scaling up: A chemist might have made 100 gm of the drug in a flask and we get to figure how to make 10 tons in a plant.
Another way to look at it is along the lifecycle of a typical project:
Deciding if a project makes sense monetarily; Then choosing the basic route and reaction conditions (e.g. steps, reagents, temperatures, Pressures, Seperation scheme etc.) This part is where the Chemists are kings and get to boss around.
After that comes a detailed design where every piece of equipment is sized. Suitable control schemes and automation is decided. Followed up by the mechanical and piping design. This is the stage you get to work with many other experts like Mechanical, Civil, Electrical Engineers etc.
Then come the part where equipment is actually ordered; lots of contracts get made. Project engineers then install and commission all the equipment. Startup can be an exciting time.
Then comes the routine operation and maintainance of an ( hopefully ) well-running plant.