What is Chemical Engineering?

Two female students working in a lab

What is Chemical Engineering?

Chemical engineering deals with the use and transformation of raw materials and energy.

Chemical engineering is applying principles of math, physics, and chemistry to re-engineer products the world relies on. Chemical engineers create global solutions to a wide range of industrial, environmental, and societal problems in safe, sustainable, and energy-efficient ways. Whether you’re creating the next generation of life-saving pharmaceuticals, cybernetic systems, or alternative energy, as a chemical engineer you’ll be contributing to the betterment of society.

Waterloo's chemical engineering program lets you explore emerging areas like biotechnology, advanced materials, novel recycling techniques, biomedical applications, zero-emissions technologies, and more. With experience gained through co-op work placements, you'll see the practical side of theories discussed in classes. And, through undergraduate student exchange programs, you have the opportunity to learn about new cultures and gain valuable experience internationally.

What's the Difference Between Chemical Engineers and Chemists?

There's definitely a difference, but there are also some similarities. Consider the following:

  • Chemical engineers are, first and foremost, engineers who understand chemistry, materials and energy. Like all engineers, they are professionals, regulated and licensed under provincial laws.
  • Chemical engineers know and use the scientific method where possible or necessary; more frequently, they employ the "engineering method." Engineering method uses heuristics, a combination of experience, estimates, calculation, theory and guidelines, to cause the best change in an incompletely-understood situation with the time, money and materials available.
  • Above all things chemical engineers design, control and optimize chemical processes for the conversion of raw materials to useful products at industrial scale.

Chemical Engineering Careers

Chemical engineering provides a challenging and satisfying career path that leads to senior-level technical and managerial positions in almost every industry.  

Working hours are typically 9am to 5pm, with some extra hours from time to time. Jobs in processing and manufacturing may involve shift work, including evenings and weekends.

As a chemical engineer, you can work in a variety of industries including

  • Renewable Energy
  • Agriculture and Food Processing
  • Biotechnology and Biomedical
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Environmental Remediation
  • Cosmetics/Beauty Industry
  • Water Treatment 

Chemical engineering focuses on pioneering new materials and techniques for

  • Nanotechnology
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Fuel Cells
  • Vaccines
  • Drinking Water

Our graduates have pursued a wide range of careers, including the following:

On average, chemical engineering is among the highest-paid of the engineering disciplines. Salaries vary according to the location, sector, size and nature of the industry.

Chemical Engineering Licensure

The first step to obtaining a degree in chemical engineering is receiving a high school diploma with a high average in STEM courses, such as chemistry (organic, physical), physics and mathematics (calculus, trigonometry, algebra and geometry). 

The next step is to obtain a Bachelor's degree, usually a Bachelor's of Applied Science (BASc), in chemical engineering. It takes approximately 4-5 years of classroom, laboratory and field studies to gain the knowledge and practical experience required to attain this degree. At Waterloo, you'll also benefit from the hands-on work experience you gain through co-op work terms. You can apply up to 12 months of this professional work experience towards your PEng license.

For more advanced or managerial positions, you may require a Master's (MASc) or Doctoral (PhD) degree in chemical engineering.

To be credited a Professional Engineer, you will require a PEng. In Ontario, PEng candidates are required to:

  • hold an undergraduate engineering degree from a Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board (CEAB)-accredited program, or possess equivalent qualifications
  • demonstrate at least 48 months of verifiable, acceptable engineering experience, at least 12 months of which must be acquired in a Canadian jurisdiction under a licensed professional engineer
  • successfully complete the Professional Practice Examination (PPE) 

For more information regarding PEng, please visit Professional Engineers Ontario.

Chemical Engineering Skills and Duties


  • an understanding of engineering principles and mathematics
  • an aptitude for and interest in chemistry
  • project management skills
  • resource management skills
  • oral and written communication skills
  • analytical and problem-solving ability
  • the ability to work as part of a team
  • the capacity to motivate and lead a team
  • strong IT skills
  • a careful and methodical approach with good attention to detail
  • commercial and business awareness
  • creativity and innovation


  • Develop and optimize production processes
  • Manage chemical, biochemical, pharmaceutical and materials processing plants
  • Troubleshoot problems within industrial process plants
  • Design, test and operate quality and environmental control systems
  • Select the most suitable instruments for measuring pressure, temperature, flow rate and composition
  • Design and develop new equipment to improve the processes involved in converting raw materials into products
  • Ensure the plant and plant personnel operate in a safe and efficient manner
  • Identify cost effective options for production by conducting economic evaluations