History Of Chemical Engineering

Chemical engineering evolved by the merger of two different disciplines that is, chemistry and mechanical engineering. With the advent of mass production of chemicals, there was a serious need for process engineers. Soda ash (NaOH) was the first chemical produced in bulk. It is used in the production of glass and soaps. Mechanical engineers had the background in knowledge of process operations but had no chemistry knowledge whereas chemists knew the chemistry of the process but lacked the knowledge of process operations. And both of them lacked the knowledge of separation principles which is essential in the chemical industry. 

The First Chemical Process

The first mass production of soda ash was done in Great Britain in 1823, followed by the production of dyes from coal as organic chemistry advanced. This was followed by many other processes that were being commercialized. 

Offering Chemical Engineering for the First time

In 1887, a series of lectures were delivered on the topic of chemical engineering and industrial chemistry in England. This affected the American environment and MIT designed a course curriculum for chemical engineering for the first time in 1888. Later on, chemical engineering was offered by other universities in America as well. American Institute of Chemical Engineers was established in 1908 which worked and is currently working for the wellbeing of Chemical Engineers.

Advent of cars and the boost of the Petroleum Industry

The advent of cars boosted the Chemical Process Industry because it needed gasoline to run. The crude obtained from oil wells needed processing to be converted into gasoline at a greater scale. The invention of Fluidized Catalytic Cracking was one of the advances in this industry. In this process, the catalyst was suspended by an incoming gas. Reactants passed through the catalyst and reaction occurred. Cracking is an endothermic reaction, therefore, heat was provided to this process. Residual Carbon depositions on the catalyst highly reduced its performance. Therefore, it was sent to a regeneration section where the residual carbon was oxidized releasing energy. This energy was used to heat the cracking reactor. This was a highly energy-efficient process. This resulted in the production of high octane fuel.  The market for chemical engineers further boosted.

Nineteenth Cetury’s Chemical Engineer

At that time, there were few analytical instruments and chemical engineers used intuition to make decisions for the chemical process. Nomographs were used for calculations and operational analysis. These graphs are sort of property sheets of some physical property(maybe steam tables type). Nomographs were also used to solve complex equations. This was the time from 1930 to 1940s.

Today’s Chemical Engineer

Computer technology was introduced in the 1960s and it began integrating in the chemical process industries. Computer-aided designs were introduced in the 1970s and easy process design was enabled with minimum possible information. All the complex calculations were done by computer in a short period of time. In the next decade, chemical process industries flourished with the advent of innovative ideas which resulted in the production of economic and safer products.

Later on, chemical engineers started advancement on the molecular level and connected the molecular and macromolecular word through microelectronics, fermentation and biotechnology and the pharmaceutical industry and finally to nanotechnology.