Chemical Engineering at IIT Bombay
This content is prepared by students of IIT Bombay, describing the programmes offered at IIT Bombay based on our experience at IITB. The description of each programme is focused on how it is structured at IIT Bombay and the nature of similar programmes offered at other colleges might be different.
Course Code – B4107
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Chemical Engineering is a field of engineering which uses physical or life sciences like physics, chemistry, biology and combines them with intensive use of mathematics and economics to process raw materials into substances which are useful, valuable or desired. Chemical engineering is a service-oriented field which serves to provide raw materials to other industries like FMCGs, while other fields Mechanical, Aerospace, Electrical and Computer Science Engineering are product oriented. The discipline of Chemical Engineering has dramatically evolved in the past decades and covers diverse fields ranging from oil and energy to pharmaceutics and biotechnology to semiconductors and electronics development. The domain of Chemical Engineers is enormous and encompasses synthesis, design and maintenance of large scale manufacturing processes.
Difference between a Chemist and a Chemical Engineer
Chemical Engineering is not equal to chemistry. Chemical engineers do study chemistry, but we apply the engineering so that the chemistry that chemists come up with, can be transformed into large scale manufacturing. As a matter of fact, chemical engineers focus more on physics and maths rather than chemistry.
Traditionally, the study of Chemical Engineering majorly relies on 5 pillars of –
Thermodynamics – Chemical engineering thermodynamics, considered to be one of the five “pillars” of the subject, builds upon the thermodynamics learnt upto now. The concepts covered include the laws of thermodynamics, the Carnot cycle, mass and energy transfer, fugacity, properties of mixtures, vapour-liquid equilibrium, azeotropes, etc. Using these, you can solve complex design problems encountered often in industrial applications. For example, given the physical and chemical properties of two substances in a mixture, what is the required operating temperature and pressure to separate them?
Heat and mass transfer – Heat and Mass transfer is the area of Chemical Engineering which determines quantity/rate of energy and material moved from one location to the other. Mass and energy balance is one of the key concepts one learns in the curriculum of Chemical Engineering and one can solve a variety of problems using this basic tool. Concepts like conduction, convection, radiation and diffusion are handled both from the theoretical aspect as well as practical. Their importance is such that industrial grade equipment like heat exchangers, boilers etc. and complex processes like separation of materials can all be designed using just these fundamental ideas.
Fluid mechanics – Fluid mechanics is a field of general mechanics which deals with the motion of gas and liquid molecules. It is an essential part of chemical engineering as most of the Chemical processes occur in partial or complete fluid phase. ‘In a nutshell, it equips chemical engineers to understand and predict any kind of fluid flow – be it sulfuric acid in a chemical plant, or natural gas in a cross-country pipeline or even blood flow inside the human body!
Chemical Reaction engineering – Chemical Reaction Engineering is an integral part of Chemical engineering which deals with the design of a Chemical reactor. In fact, it is the one subject that differentiates Chemical Engineering from all other branches of engineering. It focusses more on the understanding, modeling and designing of reactors and the control theory that goes along rather than the chemistry of the involved reactions. What chemists do on a lab-scale to produce chemicals, chemical engineers scale-up to an industrial scale; and this is the subject that equips them with the know-how to perform that.
Control theory – Control theory is as such a huge field in itself and is of major importance in Chemical Engineering. In chemical engineering, we majorly study Process control which concerns with the designing and implementation of devices that maintain the parameters of the system at certain pre-defined values. Process control is used extensively in mass production of products produced using a continuous process in the Chemical Engineering industry. This enables industries to automate the whole process with the system taking regulatory action for natural changes in process variables.
Over the years, Chemical Engineering has evolved and has encompassed broader field of subjects which were not traditionally considered part of Core chemical engineering, and are now becoming increasingly relevant.
Materials Science – Materials Science is an active area of research and development in Chemical Engineering. The aspects of Materials Science from the point of view of a chemical engineer are discovering and creating materials which display desired characteristics needed for an application, designing and engineering systems to produce these materials in commercial-scale quantities and fabrication of revolutionary products using these materials in a cost-effective manner. Major material categories involve Polymers, Ceramics, Metals etc.
Biology – Biology is associated with Chemical engineering in the form of Biochemistry and Biochemical Engineering. This field of study is concerned with the production of various chemicals, fuels (ethanol, butanol, biodiesel), pharmaceuticals etc. by the use of bioreactors which involves the use of biological organisms or molecules. A good amount of the study also deals with the common biological processes and their modelling. With a lot of work being performed in this field, biochemical engineering offers the potential for a lot of interesting research work.
Apart from these, a major chunk of all the design process involves serious economic considerations as that is what decides if running a plant is viable or not.
Economics – No technically feasible design can be accepted unless it generates some economic value. Hence, the curriculum also involves rigorous concepts of economic analysis of Chemical Processes which are taken into account before the actual design of the plant. Optimisation is one of the most powerful tools that engineers use while designing their plants to generate the maximum revenue.
The Chemical Engineering Department of IIT Bombay encourages students to take up research projects. The research at the department combines both theoretical and applied aspects of chemical engineering. The department is home to several interdisciplinary research centers and also houses state-of-the art research facilities.
Students can take up research projects during the semester or during the winter or summer vacations. You can take up a BTP(B.Tech Project) which is available to B.Tech and SLP(Supervised Learning Project) for Dual Degree students apart from the compulsory DDP(Dual Degree Project).
The major areas of research that the professors have undertaken here are:
Biological Systems Engineering
Energy & Environment
Process Systems Engineering
Transport Phenomena and Complex Fluids
Apart from these students have projects in programing on Aakash Tablet, setting up a pilot-plant of Biodiesel and a lot of projects in modelling through various languages like Fortran, Matlab etc.
Chemical engineers work in a diverse range of responsibilities- manufacturing, supply chain, R&D, consulting, etc. They look after the functioning of the plant and often work as designing and troubleshooting engineers. In general, a Chemical Engineer is one who applies principles of Chemical Engineering in any of its various practical applications which often include
1) design, manufacture, and operation of plants and machinery in industrial chemical and related processes
2) development of new or adapted substances for products ranging from foods and beverages to cosmetics to cleaners to pharmaceutical ingredients, among many other products
3) development of new technologies such as fuel cells, hydrogen power and nanotechnology, as well as working in fields wholly or partially derived from Chemical Engineering such as materials science, polymer engineering, and biomedical engineering.
The curriculum at IIT Bombay focuses equally on theoretical aspects as well as the practical applications of the topics taught. This equips the students for careers in industrial settings as well as in the field of Research & Development. With active ongoing research taking place in so many various disciplines of Chemical Engineering, the student is well placed to pursue research and innovation in a wide variety of fields.