4 emerging career paths for chemical engineers
Chemical engineers are known for their significant presence in refineries and petrochemical plants. However, a big challenge lies ahead of them. What after fossil fuels?
Chemical engineering is a fascinating discipline encompassing multidisciplinary principles. This enables chemical engineers to explore opportunities in diverse fields ranging from the food and pharmaceutical industry to rural development. One such opportunity presented itself recently when the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi announced an ambitious target of blending 20% ethanol in gasoline by 2025. He was speaking at the release of ethanol blending road map 2020-25 on the occasion of World Environment Day.
To achieve this target, India needs to focus on grain-based distilleries. The challenges and opportunities exist for chemical engineers to develop the process for cost-efficient production from these distilleries. Chemical engineers are already working in many areas such as alternative energy, drug delivery, environmental problems, and rural development to make life better with sustainable solutions.
Chemical engineers are known for their significant presence in refineries and petrochemical plants. However, a big challenge lies ahead of them. What after fossil fuels? This shifts the role of chemical engineers towards cleaner and renewable energy sources. Biomass to energy conversion is gaining importance as the feedstock is renewable, and therefore, a sustainable solution to the energy needs for the development of our nation. Efficient conversion technologies need to be developed to compete with fossil fuels. Another fuel that has the potential to solve the energy problem is hydrogen. Handling and storage of hydrogen is one major challenge that requires the efforts of chemical engineering to realise the potential.
Designing processes in Pharmaceutical Research
One of the emerging roles of a chemical engineer is in the field of pharmaceutical research. The principles of chemical engineering such as heat and mass balance, thermodynamics, chemical reactor design have several applications in the pharmaceutical industry.
Pharmaceutical industries are energy-intensive and the development of energy-efficient processes is the major challenge. In the material balance of the pharmaceutical industry, 70-80% are organic solvents, which are used to process the active pharmaceutical ingredients (API). Chemical engineers are leading to design the process that will have less amount of solvent such as based upon supercritical fluids. At the same time, particle size reduction of pharmaceutical compounds to enhance the dissolution rate and aqueous solubility are done in various milling unit operations, which are highly energy inefficient. Energy-efficient technique such as liquid-antisolvent process is the alternative to the milling process.
Separating mixtures for various uses
One of the major applications of chemical engineering is to separate a mixture into its component for different applications. We all know the crisis we faced during the pandemic due to the scarcity of oxygen. A chemical engineer learns the basics of these operations, which helps him/her to design the process.
Finding sustainable solutions to environmental concerns
The principles of chemical engineering can be applied to find sustainable solutions for environmental problems. The classical topic in chemical engineering such as mass transfer enables a chemical engineer to design the process for removal of pollutants from a gaseous or aquatic stream. Another area of chemical engineering is to develop cost-effective sustainable processes for the extraction of valuable compounds from agricultural products.
Aiding farmers to increase their income
India is a country where the majority of the population lives in villages. Generating incomes at the village level is one of the major requirements. This can be done by setting up value-added industries in the villages. The world is moving toward natural products. However, the extraction of these products is a major challenge. A chemical engineer can focus on developing a cost-effective sustainable process to process the agricultural output and subsequently increase the incomes of farmers.
Development of nation
In summary, a chemical engineer can play a significant role in the sustainable development of the nation. The new opportunities for a chemical engineer are emerging at an unprecedented level in the present scenario. The need of the hour is to train aspiring chemical engineers in a robust manner so they become a part of this development journey and serve society. The undergraduate, post-graduate, and doctoral programs under UPES School of Engineering aim to do that and more.
(The writer is Assistant Professor, Chemical Engineering Department, UPES School of Engineering)