Introduction

Chemical engineers deal with the transformation of raw materials into useful products that have an impact on virtually every facet of human life. Many of these products are commodities obtained from oil and natural gas, such as soaps, detergents, cosmetics, liquid and gaseous fuels, synthetic fibers and plastics. Chemical engineers work out the processes to make all these products, while also helping to manage the world's resources, protect the environment and ensure health and safety standards are met.

Difference between a Chemist and a Chemical Engineer

Chemical Engineering is NOT equal to chemistry. Yes, we do study chemistry, and yes, the engineering is applied so that the chemistry that chemists (not engineers) come up with can be transformed into large scale manufacturing.

As Prof. M.S. Ananth rightly said: A chemical engineer is someone who knows enough physics/mechanics to confuse a chemist, enough chemistry to confuse a physicist/mechanical engineer, and enough mathematics to confuse himself.

What is Chemical Engineering all about?

Chemical Engineering involves the scaling up the reactions performed in a chemistry laboratory to produce the desired chemical on an industrial scale. However, this requires an understanding of principles of micro, meso and macro scale processes which are dealt with while doing the courses.

Within Chemical Engineering, there are two broad subgroups. One of them deals with the design, manufacture, and operation of plants and machinery in industrial chemical and related processes ("chemical process engineers") while the other deals with the development of new or adapted substances for products ranging from foods and beverages to cosmetics to cleaners to pharmaceutical ingredients, among many other products ("chemical product engineers").

B.Tech Program

The curriculum in B.Tech Chemical Engineering is designed to give you an exposure to a wide variety of fields. Core courses in Transport Phenomena, Fluid Mechanics, Thermodynamics, Chemical Reaction Engineering, and Control Theory help give a BTech student an overview of all areas in Chemical Engineering department. Further, by pursuing an Honors degree or undertaking the final year project, B.Tech students have the opportunity to specialize, to some extent, in the area of their interest. In addition to theory courses, laboratory courses also make sure that the student gets a hands-on experience, and they supplement the theoretical knowledge gained in the classroom. The undergraduate students can also undertake various research projects either through Undergraduate Research Award (URA) or through the B.Tech project (BTP).

Honors in Chemical Engineering

A B.Tech. student is said to have “Graduated with Honors in Chemical Engineering” when s/he has taken 24 extra credits (4 additional courses, comprising of 2 compulsory courses, and 2 electives) in the department, over and above the normal credit requirement. This is meant for students who wish to explore more about the Chemical Engineering field.

Dual Degree (DD) Program

B.Tech students with a CPI > 7 are given an option to convert to a Dual Degree (DD) Program. Students interested in the DD program should register for and complete the additional Honors courses, and apply for the conversion at the end of the seventh semester. A DD Programme gives you a B.Tech + M.Tech degree in 5 years. DD students have to do one extra course every semester (which is easily manageable) and a yearlong project in their 5th year.

B. Tech Project (BTP)

Previously a mandatory component of the B. Tech curriculum, the B. Tech project (BTP) is now optional. The BTP is a yearlong project that allows you to have a taste of research at the undergraduate level. You can choose any sub-field in Chemical Engineering that interests you the most and work on a new, unsolved research problem under the guidance of a professor.

Undergraduate Research Award (URA01)

This is recognition of a small research/developmental effort, successfully completed by a student in the first, second or third year of an undergraduate program. A faculty member must agree to supervise the student for the URA01 project. The student works with this faculty member, with the approval of the DUGC, for a duration of 4-6 months. If the faculty member is satisfied with the quantum and quality of work done, at any stage, s/he may recommend the award of URA01 to the student.

What kind of courses do you have to do?

Chemical engineering has courses that cover almost all genres of engineering. It is basically industrial engineering. So, you study everything that you would be required to apply in an industry. Traditionally, the study of Chemical Engineering majorly relies on the 5 pillars of Thermodynamics, Heat and Mass Transfer, Fluid Mechanics, Chemical Reaction Engineering and Process Control. In your second third and third years, you would basically encounter a few courses from each subfield. The fourth year involves incorporating all of these disciplines and designing chemical processes. The rest of the coursework involves electives. Through these electives, you can choose to study advanced topics in any of the subfields mentioned.

Core specializations

Let us walk through the core specializations through a story.

X is a chemical engineer. A chemical engineer par excellence. One fine day, he is summoned by his boss and given a new assignment. The chemists of the company have found that if reactants A and B are mixed, then the valuable product P will be formed. X's boss tells him to engineer this reaction into being. And so X sets to work.

Thermodynamics and Kinetics

Being a healthy skeptic, X is not entirely convinced about the chemists' calculations. So he first studies the thermodynamics of the process to understand the conditions at which it would be feasible to carry out the reaction. Temperature, pressure, composition, solvent nature ... all are variables which X can adapt and fine-tune to the process at hand. He also understands the factors that affect the reaction rate to use them favorably. Apart from the reaction being feasible and fast, he also has to worry about side reactions, stability of all concerned species and phase homogeneity. These are complex calculations and so he uses computational techniques and software to help him in making decisions. He also requests the chemists to double-check his results in some lab experiments.

Reactor Design

Once X is satisfied that the reaction can be implemented, he turns to the heart of the process, the reactor. He has briefly looked at possible catalysts when studying the kinetics, but this time he goes deeper. He plays around with some molecular simulation tools to find what catalyst could give the best results in terms of conversion, yield and selectivity. He also factors in the catalyst stability into his calculations. Once he's done on this front, he wonders what reactor design to use. A fixed bed? A fluidized bed? A stirred tank? A membrane reactor? Is it advantageous to use multiple reactors? How large should these reactors be? Of what material should they be made? He pays special attention to the physical phases and chemical natures of the participating species while making this decision.

Equipment Design

X realizes early on that just the reactor isn't sufficient. Unfortunately, A and B are not obtained in very pure form and so he must do some 'pre processing'. He considers a variety of techniques such as washing with a solvent, selective chemical reactions, filtration, crystallization, distillation, and chooses the one that is the most suitable. These processes need special equipment and he designs them accordingly. There's also some 'post processing' he has to accomplish, for P is not the sole product obtained. So depending on the exact requirements, he installs equipment like absorbers, adsorbers or liquefiers. To simplify his task, he uses a computer which returns him the design once he specifies the layout.

Piping and Instrumentation

To avoid high levels of unconsumed reactants, X considers the possibility of having a recycle stream for multiple runs. A purge stream might also be needed to avoid accumulation of inert substances and impurities. He also explores methods to transport the reaction mixture from one equipment unit to another. This could be achieved by gravity or using pumps or perhaps even conveyor belts. He designs these as well and optimizes the connecting pipes on the basis of pressure drop and space considerations. He also sets up measuring devices to monitor important parameters like the temperature, pressure, flow rate and composition during operation, most of which he has designed himself too. These are all compiled into a piping and instrumentation diagram (P&ID), and X is always immensely proud of these!

Control and Automation

It's important to ensure that the system conditions stay within certain limits for stable operation. This is why X implements a large number of sensors and actuators which enable him to control the process. He has a large number of options here as well, with different types and mechanisms of controllers (PID, Adaptive, Fuzzy logic etc.) as well as a variety of valves with different configurations. Also, X decides how much of this control should be automated and how much of it should be manually operated. During this process, he keeps in mind his motto, "Safety first", for it's better to be safe than sorry every time.

Environmental Concerns

X is an environmentally-sensitive engineer. And so he makes sure that no potentially harmful substances are released into the environment. This requires special units or isolation measures - he could employ methods like chemical treatment, electrostatic precipitation, combustion-dispersal or controlled dumping. If possible, he also tries to find a use within his own industry for any toxic products that are produced.

New Materials

Another of X's colleagues has enlightened him about new materials. He has to come to learn of new membranes that can filter better and improved materials that increase adsorption efficiency. Polymers have found their way into his dictionary and he is learning to take advantage of their different properties. Bio-inspired materials are also growing in prominence by adapting the systems already in existence in nature and X keenly reads the latest research on these.

Nanotechnology

X has also been alerted to the advantages of using very fine particles for industrial applications. Nanoemulsions and nanoparticle catalysts are hot areas in the modern day. These particles also have the ability to act as supports or carriers for other chemicals as well as dispersing agents. He carries out many simulations on these systems using diverse types of nanosystems.

Microfluidics

Having taken a cue from some of his chemist friends, X is now thinking of microfluidic reactors. Using small tubes in a controlled fashion can be advantageous in many ways, especially for testing purposes. The dynamics in such systems might also be very different from that at the larger scales, so he is actively studying the phenomenon observed in microchannels and chips.

Packaging and Delivery

Now the product P is obtained, but it needs to be converted to the appropriate form and delivered. Perhaps it needs to be made into tablets, perhaps it needs to be packaged as a powder, perhaps it needs to be compressed as a gas. X calls the shots and ensures proper formulation, handling and delivery. He also expresses his sentiments about the product appeal and target group to the designers and promoters.

Moral of the Story: Chemical engineering is a diverse field which transcends boundaries by incorporating elements from many disciplines. A chemical engineer could be devising or characterizing catalysts, designing new and more efficient plant equipment, improving control strategies, formulating new fuels and energy sources, ameliorating packaging and transport, and much more.

What after you are a Chemical Engineer?

There is a lot research going on in the fields mentioned above. The curriculum allows students to explore the areas through electives and projects. Quite a lot of students who are interested in research go for MS/PhD in their area of interest at prestigious universities.

The core sector involves FMCGs, PSUs, refineries, etc. Therefore, those who wish to get some industry exposure choose to take jobs in core sector which are available through placements. You could also make the switch to the non-core sector which involves finance, management, consultancy, etc.

Department alumni


Paridhi Agrawal, B.Tech, 2016

I am a recent graduate from the Chemical Engineering Department at IITB and am looking forward to join the PhD program in Chemical Engineering at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities this Fall. To be honest, my decision of joining an undergraduate program in Chemical Engineering was not so well-informed. All I knew at the time of my JEE counseling was that this department is very diverse, unlike a few others which help you specialize in a particular field. Physics, Math and Physical Chemistry excited me, and seeing that Chemical Engineering offered a study of these subjects and not traditional Chemistry, I had a vague feeling at that time that I would enjoy studying these subjects. As a freshman, I knew only so much about any branch, and I believe it is fair, given our scope of knowledge at the time of JEE counseling.

To my surprise, the four year study turned out to be exactly as I was told in the beginning – analytical, involving a lot of concepts which can be used in very diverse fields and new and exciting at every stage. The kind of subjects we are taught here, although it wouldn’t make much sense to you right now, include Thermodynamics, Fluid Mechanics, Heat and Mass Transfer, Numerical Analysis, Process Systems Engineering etc. The initial years of Chemical Engineering curriculum are designed to lay a strong foundation of fundamental concepts, and the latter half concentrates on training us as a traditional Chemical Engineer, the lot who designs Chemical Process Plants and sets up factories and industries.

Now there are many people who don’t like to enter into traditional ChemE, such as me. For folks like us, the Department offers a wide range of electives which are more inclined towards study of new and innovative Chemical Engineering topics, the ones that usually lead us to research. The Department is diverse for this particular reason – it offers you a set career in traditional ChemE, as well as an opportunity to indulge in upcoming fields such as Biochemical Engineering. You can be a scientist, a technician or an engineer! The various sectors where one can find a career after Chemical Engineering study include FMCG, Petrochemicals, Energy, Electronics, Biopharmaceutical etc.

As far as the Department at IITB is concerned, we have an active student body under ChEA (Chemical Engineering Association), the Department Symposium – AZeotropy and the student-run Biodiesel Plant – BioSynth. The best asset that our Department has is the Professors! We have an excellent set of faculty who are driven by quality research and teach very well. There are many learning opportunities for students who like to explore various fields in the form of projects offered by faculty. I have been actively involved in two projects during my Undergrad, and I believe that has played a major role in motivating me towards pursuing a career in research. Students also do major internships at the end of their third year, in companies like HUL, PnG, ITC, some in the non-core sector and a few in universities abroad.

In the end, I believe you need to put your heart in what you choose to study. If you find a slight inclination towards any branch at the time of counseling, talk to a few seniors and find out more details about that field. If you are motivated to study what you have chosen as your branch, the odds of enjoying the course of your study are going to be in your favour. Good luck to all of you!

Student activity


AZEOTROPY



AZeotropy popularly known as AZeo is an annual Chemical Engineering Symposium organized by students of Chemical Engineering Department, IIT Bombay. It runs over a span of two days in March with a footfall of over 3000 from more than 100 colleges of Chemical Engineering across India. It is a non-profit student run organization started in 2007 primarily to cater to the chemical engineering enthusiasts by providing them with a competitive as well as learning platform. In Chemical Engineering terminology, Azeotrope is a mixture of two or more liquids whose proportions cannot be altered by simple distillation. On similar lines, the name AZeotropy signifies the goal of achieving a terrific, indestructible relation between the chemical industry and the curriculum for chemical engineering. It aims to manifest the very spirit of Chemical Engineering in young students from all corners of India. It involves a blend of Chemical engineering based competitions, lectures, exhibitions, workshops and many fun-with-learning events