A 1996 British Journal for the History of Science article cites James F. Donnelly for mentioning an 1839 reference to chemical engineering in relation to the production of sulfuric acid. In the same paper however, George E. Davis, an English consultant, was credited for having coined the term. The History of Science in United States: An Encyclopedia puts this at around 1890. “Chemical engineering”, describing the use of mechanical equipment in the chemical industry, became common vocabulary in England after 1850. By 1910, the profession, “chemical engineer,” was already in common use in Britain and the United States.
Chemical engineering involves the application of several principles. Key concepts are presented below. Chemical reaction engineering Main article: Chemical reaction engineering Chemical engineering involves managing plant processes and conditions to ensure optimal plant operation. Chemical reaction engineers construct models for reactor analysis and design using laboratory data and physical parameters, such as chemical thermodynamics, to solve problems and predict reactor performance. Plant design Chemical engineering design concerns the creation of plans, specification, and economic analyses for new plants or plant modifications. Design engineers often work in a consulting role, designing plants to meet clients’ needs. Design is limited by a number of factors, including funding, government regulations and safety standards. These constraints dictate a plant’s choice of process, materials and equipment. Process design Main article: Process design A unit operation is a physical step in an individual chemical engineering process. Unit operations (such as crystallization, drying and evaporation) are used to prepare reactants, purifying and separating its products, recycling unspent reactants, and controlling energy transfer in reactors. On the other hand, a unit process is the chemical equivalent of a unit operation. Along with unit operations, unit processes constitute a process operation. Unit processes (such as nitration and oxidation) involve the conversion of material by biochemical, thermochemical and other means. Chemical engineers responsible for these are called process engineers. Transport phenomena Main article: Transport phenomena Transport phenomena occur frequently in industrial problems. These include fluid dynamics, heat transfer and mass transfer, which mainly concern momentum transfer, energy transfer and transport of chemical species respectively. Basic equations for describing the three phenomena in the macroscopic, microscopic and molecular levels are very similar. Thus, understanding transport phenomena requires thorough understanding of mathematics.