What is Chemical or Process Engineering?

Chemical or Process Engineering is a branch of engineering which applies the knowledge of chemistry, mathematics, physics, biology, and other scopes of science to develop economical technologies and industrial processes that can transform raw materials into useful products and energy to enhance the quality of human life (College Grad, 2021; Stanford University, 2021).

Chemical engineers also referred to as “universal engineers” are proficient in designing processes (developing new production technologies processes or improving existing processes to create useful products) and operation of chemical plants for managing resources.

Chemical engineers are the main brains behind the manufacturing of a wide range of products, such as plastics, paper, dyes, medicines, cosmetics, glass, metals, ceramic, polymers, fertilizers, petrochemicals, foods, and beverages, and many more products we use in our everyday lives (Career Explorer, 2021; Stanford University, 2021).

The Birth of Chemical Engineering

Chemical Engineering was born as a separate field of study in the late 19th century.

It involves the application of principles of chemistry, physics, and mathematics to design and operate processes that convert raw materials into useful products.

The father of Chemical Engineering is considered to be George Davis (1850-1906) who studied at the Slough Mechanics Institute and the Royal School of Mines now Imperial College in London.

He worked as a consultant for many chemical industries around Manchester with a job profile of visiting the various chemical plants to inspect their operations.

Whilst undertaking his job duties, he found several similarities in the operation processes in the various units of the different plants so he conducted a comprehensive study of all the various processes in the plants and highlighted the fundamental principles on which these processes were based which formed the basis of the Handbook of Chemical Engineering.

Davis’s contribution is seen in how he organized the basic operations common to the different industries of solid, liquid, and gas transportation, distillation, crystallization, evaporation, and other engineering processes and the observation of the fundamental similarities led to the introduction of the concept of unit operations reactors, separators; which provided a framework,  for understanding and describing processes operating on similar principles in industries.

What You Will Study for Chemical Engineering as a Degree?

A degree in chemical engineering is directly linked with all of the other engineering disciplines, to various extents and the program usually takes 4 years to complete and includes classroom, laboratory, and field studies.

Ultimately, the curriculum of the Chemical Engineering Department includes the study of;

  • applied mathematics, physics, chemistry, material and energy balances,
  • thermodynamics,
  • fluid mechanics,
  • energy and mass transfer,
  • separations technologies,
  • chemical reaction kinetics,
  • reactor design and process design.

These are the essential and core elements of chemical process engineering degrees.

Undertaking chemical engineering as a study program, one will learn;

  • how to design the reactors for raw material transformation into useful products,
  • fluid transport phenomenon through pipes and pumps that get materials to and from the reactors,
  • the separation and purification of materials based on equilibrium processes or mass transfer and other techniques to ensure safe waste material treatment and disposal.

Also, one will get to study;

  • heat transfer equipment and technologies to maintain the desired temperatures for reactors,
  • the application of the knowledge of thermodynamics and reaction engineering to determine if chemical reactions will occur and the design of control systems for the smooth operation of plants (University of Michigan, 2021; Mendeley Careers, 2020; College Grad, 2021; Stanford University, 2021).

The principles of chemical engineering have a broad application in the biological and medical fields by applying the understanding of how diffusion occurs through a system in tissue engineering, such as determining how far apart blood vessels need to be to make sure that oxygen can diffuse to all parts of a tissue.

In the same way the understanding of fluid dynamics and flow through pipes can help a chemical engineer explain how blood moves through a blood vessel.

This overlapping application of chemical engineering in biology and medicine allows chemical engineers to make unique contributions to these fields (University of Michigan, 2021).

In Ghana, Chemical Engineering as a programme is offered in two tertiary institutions:

  • Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) and
  • Kumasi Technical University (KsTU).

In KNUST, the Department of Chemical Engineering runs three Chemical Engineering programmes which are;

  • BSC (Bachelor of Science),
  • MPhil (Master of Philosophy) and
  • Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy).

In KsTU, the programmes offered are

  • HND (Higher National Diploma),
  • BTech (Bachelor of Technology) and
  • MTech (Master of Technology).

To be enrolled in Chemical Engineering in these universities, a student must take General Science at the Senior High School level and must obtain credit (A1 – C6) in Physics, Chemistry, and Elective Mathematics as well as in three core subjects: English, Mathematics, and Integrated Science with a total aggregate of 24 or better.

Admissions are competitive based on the performance of qualifying applicants and the number of students the universities can accommodate.

Chemical Engineering in Everyday Life

Chemical engineering plays a crucial role in our daily lives, from the production of household products like cleaning agents, food, and drinks, to the development of medicines and medical equipment.

Chemical Engineers understand techniques to synthesize substances, design devices and manufacture items we use as part of our daily life.

When starting your day;

  • the mattress you wake up from made from blends of different latexes,
  • the cement used for the building you slept in,
  • the toothpaste and toothbrush (bristles and the handle) for brushing your teeth,
  • the cosmetic products you use,
  • the fuel (petrol or diesel) in your vehicles,
  • the paper you write on,
  • the ink in your pen,
  • the canned food and beverages you consume,
  • the liquified petroleum gas (LPG) used for domestic cooking in households which is a mixture of propane and butane,
  • the fabrics,
  • glass,
  • plastics and
  • metal materials
  • and other numerous products you use in your home are processed and made by chemical engineers.

Usually, we use these products without thinking about the process by which they are made or how the composition of products is determined.

Similarly, different electronic devices and chips used in computers and other electronic gadgets are all manufactured using chemical engineering principles and the chemical engineer is not only concerned about the manufacture of these products but also improving their quality to ensure they do not have any negative impact on public health and the environment.

Chemical Engineering Career Opportunities

Chemical engineering career and employment opportunities often overlap with many other engineering fields and chemical engineering graduates work in industries such as

  • pharmaceuticals and cosmetics,
  • energy sector,
  • oil and gas refineries,
  • nuclear,
  • atomic and nanotechnology industries,
  • health and safety sectors,
  • agriculture processing,
  • food and beverages,
  • chemical processing,
  • academia,
  • mining and mineral processing,
  • water treatment consulting and research,
  • medicine,
  • finance, and other fields.

They are also employed by environmental engineering firms where they develop processes to prevent;

  • pollution,
  • safely dispose of toxic waste,
  • or manage a sewage treatment plant,

In Ghana, chemical engineers can be found in industries and companies such as;

  • Unilever,
  • Nestle Ghana Ltd,
  • Kasapreko Company Ltd,
  • Fan Milk Ghana Ltd,
  • Coca-Cola Company,
  • Tullow Oil,
  • Schlumberger Ghana.
  • Ghana National Gas Company,
  • Nutrifoods Ghana Ltd,
  • Wilmar Africa Ltd,
  • Volta Aluminum Company Limited (VALCO),
  • Tema Oil Refinery (TOR),
  • GHACEM Ltd,
  • Newmont Ghana Ltd,
  • Kosmos Energy,
  • Genser Energy,
  • Cargill,
  • Olam Ghana Ltd,
  • Takoradi Thermal Power Station,
  • Ernest Chemist Limited,
  • Accra Compost and Recycling Plant (ACARP),
  • Sewage Systems Ghana Limited,
  • ZOIL,
  • Vester Oil Mill,
  • Ghana Nuts,
  • Ghana Standard Authority (GSA),
  • Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC)
  • Food and Drugs Authority (FDA),
  • Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR),
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),
  • National Petroleum Agency (NPA) and many other organizations and economic fields.

Ghanaian chemical engineers are significantly impacting the socio-economic lives of people in Ghana and it is always proud to know that the Gas Processing Plant of the Ghana National Gas Company, the producer of purified methane gas and Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG), used for cooking in our homes was designed and constructed from scratch by Ghanaian chemical engineers.

The plant is also fully operated by Ghanaian chemical engineers with Dr. Ben K. Asante as the Chief Executive Officer who happens to be a well-celebrated alumnus of the Department of Chemical Engineering, KNUST.


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