Industrial chemistry and chemical engineering

We are surrounded by plastics, disposable drinks bottles, and clothing made of synthetic materials such as polyesters. But, where do these materials come from? The common notion would be chemical engineering. The answer is correct, but what is chemical engineering?


Chemical engineering is a discipline that evolved from industrial chemistry in the early 1900s. Specifically, industrial chemistry seeks to increase and scale up the production of useful materials and products from the chemistry lab to industrial production capacity for the benefit of all humanity. However, in attempting to scale up production, chemists realized that it is no longer sufficient to use chemistry concepts for increasing production, as better ways are needed for producing high purity chemicals safely, and at scales beyond the reach of lab reactors. Hence, the discipline of chemical engineering was born.


Imbued with mathematical concepts and techniques from the engineering sciences and physics, chemical engineering uses rational principles in scaling production from recipes refined in the chemistry laboratory. By introducing new concepts where there was none, chemical engineering innovates to develop a standardized analytical toolkit to help engineers troubleshoot problems as well as solve new challenges in the chemical plant. Hence, it is not a coincidence that a modern chemical engineering plant is well organized with pipelines in a logical order. These new concepts and implementations are the fruits of labour of a holistic systematic thinking using concepts such as control volume and unit operations that help engineers isolate specific areas of the plant for more detailed analysis.


Hence, chemical engineering takes precedence from industrial chemistry in the modern era, where industrial chemistry is no longer practiced. In exchange, chemists work closely with chemical engineers in designing and refining chemical processes, where thereafter, the chemical engineers would develop a full scale design outlining the flow of materials and energy necessary to take a concept from the lab into large scale production in an environmentally benign and safe manner.


Category: chemical engineering, chemistry,

Tags: industrial chemistry, chemical engineering, unit operations, control volume, materials flow, scale up,


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