In this article we will discuss about the roles and responsibilities of chemical engineers.
Many chemical engineers design and operate large-scale and complex chemical production facilities supplying diverse chemical products to society. In performing these functions, a chemical engineer will likely assume a number of roles during a career. The engineer may become involved in raw materials extraction, intermediate materials processing, or production of pure chemical substances; in each activity, the minimisation and management of waste streams will have important economic and environmental consequences.
Chemical engineers are involved in the production of bulk and speciality chemicals, petrochemicals, integrated circuits, pulp and paper, consumer products, minerals and pharmaceuticals. Chemical engineers also find employment in research, consulting organisations and educational institutions. The engineer may perform functions such as process and production engineering, process design, process control, technical sales and marketing, community relations and management.
As engineers assume such diverse roles, it is increasingly important that they be aware of their responsibilities to the general public, colleagues and employers, the environment, and also to their profession. One of the central roles of chemical engineers is to design and operate chemical processes yielding chemical products that meet customer specifications and that are profitable. Another important role is to maintain safe conditions for operating personnel and for residents in the immediate vicinity of a production facility.
Finally, chemical process designs need to be protective of the environment and of human health. Environmental issues must be considered not only within the context of chemical production but also during other stages of a chemical’s life cycle, such as transportation, use by customers, recycling activities and ultimate disposal.
Responsibilities of Chemical Engineers for Environmental Protection:
When the method for managing environmental performance is to treat wastes, the process is designed, wastes are generated, and treatment technologies are deployed. The design method for meeting environmental objectives is sequential. In contrast, if the primary design, rather than the design of peripheral waste treatment units, is to be modified to meet environmental objectives, a key question to answer is ‘At what stage in the design should environmental considerations be considered?’
Designs for new processes and retrofitting of existing procedures are multistep procedures. The first step is the definition of a primitive problem, such as identifying the chemical to be produced and the annual quantity. This is followed by a process creation step that includes choosing reaction chemistry, the use of design heuristics to identify process equipment and operating conditions, development of a base case flow-sheet, and process simulation.
The third step is a more detailed process synthesis of separation trains and a heat/power integration analysis. What follows is a detailed design and simulation of the flow-sheet, profitability analysis, and optimisation. The final steps include a plant-wide controllability assessment, startup assessment, and reliability and safety analysis.
As part of their professional responsibilities, engineers should, through their designs, continuously improve the environmental performance of chemical processes. Recently the chemical manufacturers association (CMA, now American chemistry council) has adopted the pollution prevention code of management practice, which outlines tangible steps along a path to continuous reductions in the amounts of all contaminants released to air, water, and soil.
A set of management practices will aid engineers and other decision makers in achieving pollution prevention objectives. These practices demonstrate a clear commitment by senior management, a path to quantify waste generation and prioritise waste reduction, a preference for source reduction and reuse/recycle rather than pollution control, and a plan to measure and report on progress in achieving reduction goals.
Process safety and environmental protection are not the only responsibilities of professional engineers. Engineers also have responsibilities to clients, to colleagues, and to the profession. The American institute of chemical engineers has assembled a Code of Ethics that highlights the main issues in the area of professional conduct.
Some of the responses dealt with putting health, safety, and environmental issues ahead of profits; placing self- respect as professionals above loyalty to companies; working within organisations versus whistleblowing to promote ethical behaviour; and taking career risks in order to get a company to do the right thing.