Chemical engineers produced the first high-octane gasoline in 1937 using catalytic cracking.

Achievements in Generating Energy

Algae that will be converted into biofuel are grown in these ponds using a paddle-wheel process to circulate the needed nutrients. Courtesy Shell Photographic Services/Shell International Ltd.

Because of their multifaceted expertise, chemical engineers have been at the forefront of innovation in the generation of energy. They have devised methods for use of renewable as well as nonrenewable feedstocks. A vast array of chemical-engineering principles is used to generate electricity and to produce different types of fuel for transportation, industrial, and residential purposes.

Traditional refining

Crude oil, or petroleum, is of little use in its raw state. Its value to society lies in the broad slate of products that can be created from it. Refineries use complex chemical separation and conversion processes to turn crude oil into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, kerosene, lubricating oils, and numerous other end products. Learn more >>

Synthetic liquid fuels

In order to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, chemical engineers have been working vigorously to develop, scale up, and commercialize new processes to produce synthetic liquid fuels. Coal and oil shale are used as the primary feedstocks, and both are still in abundant supply in the United States. Learn more >>


Chemical engineers are involved with developing technologies to convert renewable biomaterials into electricity and transportation fuels, just as they have been with nonrenewable fossil fuels. Corn and sugar are now widely used to produce ethanol, a gasoline substitute. And soybeans are being used to produce diesel fuel. Learn more >>

Electricity from coal

Coal fueled the Industrial Revolution and for years was the primary power-plant fuel. Chemical engineers have been working to provide greener options for generating electricity from coal. Some power plants now generate power by using coal gasification as an intermediate step instead of coal combustion, with significant environmental benefits. Learn more >>