Chemical engineers often work in industrial settings, applying their skills to the production of chemicals, biochemicals, and products that need chemical interaction as part of the manufacturing process. They also work in such industries as textiles and plastics, designing chemical processes that produce stronger composites from polymers and fabric that combines cotton with stronger synthetics. There are also chemical engineers who participate in biomedical research, working with physicians to develop new pharmaceuticals that produce a chemical reaction with certain cells or enzymes in order to control disease.
For an entry level position in an industrial setting, a bachelor's degree in chemistry or chemical engineering may be enough. In a research setting, a master's degree or better may be required, depending on the complexity of the research processes. Many chemical engineers who enter the field with a bachelor's degree obtain a master's later in their career. Sometimes the master's degree may be in business, as chemical engineering processes become a part of the decision making process for company products and capital investments in equipment.
There were approximately 30,000 chemical engineers working in the U.S. in 2006. The chemical industry is still a large industrial sector in the U.S. with chemicals being a major byproduct of the oil refining process. Many entry level opportunities for chemical engineers are with companies like DuPont that have facilities in several states. Some of the oil companies also have large petrochemical divisions.
Overall the Department of Labor projects a moderate growth rate in the chemical engineering profession. The employment opportunities will probably drop off with the traditional chemical companies and mushroom in fields such as biotechnology and related fields that combine chemistry with electronics or physics. Nanotechnology is a popular topic today and may become a popular career opportunity in the future.
Lowest 10% $53,730
Median Salary $84,680
Highest 10% $130,240