Chemical Engineer

Chemical engineers design, plan and manage plants and factories where chemicals and raw materials are processed into products with enhanced value. Chemical engineers are responsible for producing a range of materials, from plastics to pharmaceutical drugs from fertilisers to food.

Chemical engineers are involved in all phases of chemical products and chemical production. Some chemical engineers work in research, designing and performing experiments and then analysing the results. Others help to design and construct manufacturing facilities, occasionally having to first design a pilot plant (or a miniature version) then follow through to constructing the actual plant, as the final step.

Chemical engineers may work in crude oil refineries, the coal and gas industry and renewable energy sector; they may work in the mining and metallurgy industry and industries involved in the production of food, textiles, plastics, explosives and cement, etc. The work include: selecting the process and type of equipment, compiling mass and energy balances; calculating the capacity and dimensions of the equipment required for the operation of units such as reactors; heating and cooling systems, and eventually selecting the control system of the plant to control rate of flow, temperature, pressure and concentration.

Determining flow rate and energy usage and analysing potential hazards to ensure a safe working environment is crucial in ensuring the viability of a plant or manufacturing process. 

Chemical engineers impact our lives and benefit societies directly through the improvement which they make: 

  • Increases to the quantity and quality of available food production through improvements to seed quality, fertilizers and weed control.
  • Improvements to the procedures for the production of fibres, yarns and textiles in the production of clothes and household fabrics making materials and clothes more comfortable, durable and water resistant.
  • Developing methods to mass-produce drugs, making them more affordable; and they create safer, more efficient methods of refining petroleum products, making energy and chemical sources more productive and cost effective.
  • Improved efficiencies and processes in the management of waste, effluent and pollutants into our air and water in creating solutions to environmental problems.

Chemical engineers may be found in a wide variety of work settings ranging from classrooms, as teachers and lecturers, to research laboratories or construction sites. The actual work setting depends on the type of work and on the size, location and financial resources of the employer.

Chemical Engineering Technician

Chemical engineering technicians use their knowledge of engineering and chemistry to operate and improve chemical processes in an efficient, and a safe and profitable way.

They work in close liaison with chemical engineers to design and develop and operate processes for the large-scale production of chemicals, plastics, synthetic fibres, minerals and other useful commodities. They act as a link between plant operators and chemical engineers and spend a good deal of their time in factory production areas.

Chemical engineering technicians collect information related to a chemical process by taking measurements and consulting the operators. They analyse samples in chemical laboratories. They also make calculations and prepare reports required by factory managers.

They may be involved in the building of experimental plants, testing the processes concerned, solving technical problems and could also be involved in determining the economic viability of projects.

Chemical Engineering Technologist

Chemical engineering technologists work with chemical engineers and chemical engineering technicians, using chemicals and related equipment and products for research and development and also for the manufacture of medical and pharmaceutical preparations.

Chemical engineering technologists test products for strength, durability and purity and also produce compounds through complex organic synthesis. Using sophisticated laboratory equipment, they assist chemical engineers in the design, manufacture and operation of chemical plants for the production of plastics, synthetic fibres, minerals and other useful commodities.

They also perform tests for industry, agriculture and medicine. As laboratory instrumentation and procedures become more complex, the roles of chemical engineering technologists in research and development are expanding. They also develop and adapt laboratory procedures to achieve the best results, and they interpret data and devise solutions to problems under the direction of scientists.

Personal Requirements

  • curious, alert and open-minded
  • an aptitude for Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics
  • able to communicate ideas clearly in speech and in writing
  • enjoy working as part of a team
  • get along well with others
  • responsible
  • managerial and organisational skills

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Science 
Recommended subjects: Engineering and Graphic Design 

What to Study

Degree: The B degree in Chemical Engineering - UCT, UKZN, NWU, UP, US, UNISA, UJ and Wits.

Practical undergraduate students gain practical experience by working with an approved employer during university vacations. This is a prerequisite at all universities. After completion of a B. degree in Engineering, the graduate students register at the
Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) as an engineer in training. They then go through a training period of 3 years at an approved employer. After successful completion of this training period, they can register as professional engineers with ECSA.


  • chemical manufacturers and other industries such as: petroleum refining, synthetic fuel manufacture, food processing, brewing, minerals processing, paper and pulp, pollution control, manufacture of synthetic fibres, fertilisers and explosives
  • such organisations as: CSIR, AECI, Eskom, Sasol, NECSA, Sentrachem
  • Atomic Energy Board 
  • Council for Mineral Technology (Mintek)
  • government departments
  • universities

Further Information

Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) 
1st Floor, Waterview Corner Building
2 Ernest Oppenheimer Avenue
Bruma Lake Office Park, Bruma
Johannesburg, 2198 
Tel: (011) 607-9500

South African Institute of Chemical Engineers (SAIChE
P O Box 2125
North Riding, 2162
Tel: (011) 704-5915

Additional website:

Getting Started

  • join science or hobby clubs
  • arrange to talk to chemists and engineers and visit chemical processing plants to observe the work tasks

Programmes by Study Institutions


Related Occupations

Chemical Engineering at TUT

Chemical Engineering at Stellenbosch University

How to register as a Professional Engineer with ECSA

A PACE Career Centre Product. © All rights reserved | Developed by Netgen (Pty) Ltd. Disclaimer: Please see disclaimer