What is Chemical Engineering all about? Discover the scope of Chemical Engineering

Chemical Engineering is one of those engineering courses that got pushed to the sidelines due to the electronics and software boom in India. Most students who study Chemical Engineering are the ones who like chemistry and prefer an engineering degree over a basic sciences degree in chemistry. However, it is important to understand that there is so much more to this field than just chemistry and that this field offers excellent opportunities in terms of jobs and higher studies. Read on to discover the scope of Chemical Engineering and its various prospects.

Chemical Engineering was originally developed for the production of chemicals on an industrial scale. However, from then to now, Chemical Engineering has sure come a long way. Today, other than chemicals, Chemical Engineering techniques are used for the production of usable, high quality products such as fibres, fabrics, paints, medical drugs, biomaterials, gasoline, lubricants etc used in various industries such as textile, food, plastics, automotive, aerospace, petroleum, oil and gas, biomedical, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, thereby increasing the scope of Chemical Engineering. Chemical engineers design, maintain and operate large scale machinery, industrial plants and chemical processes required for the production of various usable products as mentioned above. Therefore, this field is not just related to chemistry. In order to design the equipments and scale up the products from lab to industrial scale manufacturing, you will be studying a lot of concepts in physics, mathematics and economics as well.

India is home to some excellent programs in Chemical Engineering and some of the Indian institutions are world renowned for their work in Chemical Engineering. Since Chemical Engineering is based on the fundamentals of physics, mathematics and chemistry, students have to excel in the basics in order to grasp advanced Chemical Engineering concepts in college and further. In India, Chemical Engineering students either pursue higher studies or find jobs in sectors such as chemicals, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, oil and gas etc. upon completion of their B.Tech degree.

B.Tech: A B.Tech/B.E (4 years duration) in Chemical Engineering is offered by numerous private and government universities across India.

Integrated M.Tech: This is a 5-year dual degree course and offered by the IITs, NITs, ICT-Mumbai and a few other universities. At the IITs, along with a B.Tech in Chemical Engineering, you can get your M.Tech in Chemical Engineering or a specialized field of Chemical Engineering such as computer applications in Chemical Engineering, process systems design and engineering, hydrocarbon engineering.

The first year will be common for all engineering disciplines and students will be studying basic subjects in both sciences and engineering such as chemistry, physics, mathematics, engineering mechanics, basics of programming, energy and environmental engineering, engineering graphics, basic civil engineering, basic mechanical engineering, electrical and electronics engineering etc.

The second year will introduce students to core Chemical Engineering courses such as inorganic chemical technology, momentum transfer, process calculation, organic chemical technology, physical chemistry, transforms and partial differential equations, Chemical Engineering thermodynamics, particulate science and technology, environmental engineering, fluid mechanics lab, physical chemistry lab. Apart from the core courses, there will also be a few courses from other disciplines such as advanced programming languages, electrical engineering lab and mechanical engineering lab.

Third year will have a lot of core and advanced courses that forms the core of Chemical Engineering such as chemical reaction engineering - I & II, material science and technology, mass transfer, heat transfer, bioChemical Engineering, process equipment design and drawing, heat transfer lab and chemical reaction engineering lab. There will also be a couple of electives where you can choose courses based on which area of Chemical Engineering you would like to specialize in.

The fourth year introduces students to a few courses related to management and economics such as process engineering economics, industrial economics and management. Students will also have a few electives to choose and a final year project that ranges from 6 months to one year based on the university’s curriculum.

Considering that there is no proper accredited ranking system for engineering in India, we chose to use a popular world ranking system to find universities in India that are recognised globally for their work in Chemical Engineering. The QS World University Rankings are annual university rankings published by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) which provides overall rankings as well as ranking for individual subjects. The QS World University Rankings is regarded as one of the three most influential and widely observed international university rankings, along with the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the Academic Ranking of World Universities. The following universities from India appeared in the QS world ranking for top 200 universities in the world for Chemical Engineering (In no particular order).

  • IISc, Bangalore
  • IIT - Delhi, Bombay, Kharagpur, Madras, Kanpur, Roorkee and Guwahati
  • Mumbai University

The following universities from India appeared in the QS world ranking for top 200 universities in Asia for Chemical Engineering. (In no particular order)

  • IISc, Bangalore
  • IIT Delhi, Bombay, Kharagpur, Madras, Kanpur, Roorkee, Guwahati
  • Delhi University
  • Mumbai University
  • Pune University
  • Calcutta University

ICT, Mumbai is another world renowned institute for Chemical Engineering and the university is entirely devoted towards training, research and development in Chemical Engineering and allied areas. Apart from the above mentioned universities, other prestigious universities in India such as the NITs, BITs Pilani, Delhi university, CEG-Guindy etc are renowned for Chemical engineering. If you are unable to get a seat in any of the reputed universities, try working with professors in these universities for your summer internships and final year projects. This will give you the much needed practical and quality work experience that will help during job search and further studies.

  • Like every other engineering discipline, Chemical Engineering is based on the fundamentals of mathematics, physics and chemistry. Therefore, you must have an aptitude in these subjects in order to excel as a chemical engineer.
  • Chemical engineers are very well paid but finding a good core job is not smooth sailing as this field does not have as many job openings as software and management sectors. Also, most core companies go only to prestigious institutions for campus placements. If your college is not reputed nationally or within your state, do not expect any core companies to come for placements. You will have to try for jobs through off-campus placements.
  • Depending upon your job profile, you will be expected to work in remote places. For example, if you are working in petrochemical or oil and gas companies, you will be expected to work offshore on oil rigs for specific durations.
  • Chemical engineering students who are interesting in working or specializing in other related sectors such biomedical, nanotechnology, environmental engineering and biotechnology will have more opportunities abroad as these sectors are still developing in India.

Taking mathematics, physics and chemistry in 11th & 12th will be ideal for a future career in Chemical Engineering. As for the elective subject, either computer science or biology will be perfect.

Role of CS in Chemical Engineering: Over the past two decades, Computer Science has become an integral part of almost every field, including Chemical Engineering. Programming knowledge not only looks impressive on your resume, but it also helps while you are specializing in areas such as fluid dynamics that involves a lot of simulations. Process engineering uses a lot of MATLAB for studying, modeling and controlling processes. Therefore, good coding skills will help you in all stages of your career.

Role of Biology in Chemical Engineering: Chemical engineering plays an integral role in biotechnology, biomedical engineering, nanotechnology and pharmaceuticals, to name a few. If you are interested in specializing in any of these areas, a good knowledge of biology will be very helpful for your career as you will be able to understand the bigger picture of complex problems and challenges that requires knowledge and expertise in both life sciences as well as engineering.

Upon completion of your undergraduate studies, you have two options ahead of you - find a job or pursue higher studies in Chemical Engineering.

Jobs: If you take a look at the placement statistics of most universities, except for the IITs, NITs and other institutions of national repute, there are hardly very few companies coming to hire Chemical Engineering graduates during placement sessions. This is because Chemical Engineering job vacancies are not as high as software and IT industry, so most companies prefer to hire from top universities as they need only a handful of graduates for filling their vacant spots. The current scenario is such that in universities where core companies do not come for placements, most students end up joining software and IT industry. However, if you are really keen on getting a job in a core company, work hard by creating good networks and contacts through internships and projects, maintain a good GPA and be prepared to persevere to find a core job in Chemical Engineering. Chemical engineers find work not just in chemicals industry, but also in pharmaceuticals, oil and gas and manufacturing sectors. Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) companies, which are contractors who complete projects from start to finish for their clients, routinely hire chemical engineers for design related jobs such as designing petrochemical, industrial plants, refineries etc using various software tools. If you are not interested in working in an industrial setting, you can try for jobs in EPC companies. Electronics companies also hire chemical engineers for jobs such as material development, production and process control equipment design. Many students also join banks or analytics companies as these sectors require students with excellent analytical and quantitative skills for their financial modeling and quantitative research work. Following is a list of companies from various sectors that hire Chemical Engineering students in India.

Oil and Gas, Energy: Reliance Industries Ltd, Schlumberger, Shell, Cairn, BP, Chevron, Exxonmobil, Technip, Schneider Electric
Manufacturing and consumer goods: Asian paints, HUL, Procter & Gamble, ITC Ltd, MRF Ltd, Renault Nissan Technologies, TVS Motors.
Pharmaceuticals: Dr.Reddys Labs, Biocon
Chemicals: TATA chemicals, Galaxy Surfactants Ltd, Sumitomo Chemical Ltd, Va Tech Wabag, Zuari fertilizers and cements
Consulting firms: Frost & Sullivan

Salaries: As per the placement statistics at IIT-Madras, the salary for Chemical Engineering freshers ranged from Rs. 3.9 lakhs to Rs. 21.85 lakhs per annum for the 2012-2013 batch. However, the salary will vary based on your academic profile, the reputation of your university and the recruiting companies.

Studies: Chemical engineering students have a plethora of options for higher studies. They can do their MS, MBA, M.Tech or PhD from India and abroad. For MS and M.Tech degrees, students can do their master’s in Chemical Engineering while specializing in any one of it’s sub disciplines such as catalysis and reaction engineering, polymers and complex fluids, molecular simulations, biochemical and bioprocess engineering etc. Many Chemical Engineering students also do their MS in allied fields such as environmental engineering, industrial engineering, engineering management, biotechnology etc. MBA is another great alternative as Chemical Engineering students have strong quantitative and critical reasoning skills, thereby making them an asset to the banking, finance and management world.

Oil and gas, manufacturing and energy sectors are very vulnerable to recession. However, since Chemical Engineering is a very broad field and finds its applications in multiple sectors, if recession hits one sector, chemical engineers are qualified to find jobs in other areas such as pharmaceuticals, electronics and chemicals industry.

As of 2014, due to global issues such as climate change, it is speculated that there will be a surge in demand for qualified chemical engineers in areas such as renewable resources, sustainablility etc.