A chemical process plant is an industrial environment where chemicals can be manufactured. In some plants, existing chemicals are processed into new materials. The range of chemicals and products produced in such facilities is broad. Different chemical processes are often required.
The process that is employed at a chemical process plant normally involves steps known as unit operations. Each unit operation is usually carried out in a separate unit, or area, of the chemical process plant. The units are usually connected to one another in a way that allows materials that be transported to the next unit when each operation is complete.
Chemicals and chemical-based products need to originate from other things. The first unit operation in a chemical process plant is usually the input of raw materials, also known as feedstocks. A feedstock not only refers to the first raw materials introduced into the process, but can also refer to material that is entering a certain unit.
Output in a chemical process plant can refer to matter that has completed a unit operation and is leaving a specific unit. It can also refer to matter that has completed the entire chemical process and is ready to leave the plant. A product or chemical completed at one chemical process plant may still be only in its first stages. Output from one plant is often feedstock for another.
The unit operations that occur between the input of feedstocks and final output vary. The approach taken will depend heavily on what is being produced. Even within a general of area of chemical processing, such as petrochemical production, the processes can vary greatly.
The facilities where these chemical processes are employed are usually designed by chemical engineers. Building a chemical process plant is not as simple as employing people to erect the structure and connect pipes and electricity. Unlike other structures, such as stores or office buildings, there is a lot more consideration that needs to be taken with chemical process plants.
The feedstocks and output from these industrial facilities may be hazardous or toxic. Serious damage to the environment or human and animal health could occur if the chemical process is not properly contained. To ensure safety, chemical engineers must assess how certain chemical processes will affect the materials they interact with. Chemical engineers must also assess the configuration that will allow the chemical process to achieve its goals.
Since the chemical processes employed vary and the desired outputs vary, there is no standard chemical process plant. Designs often differ based on a number of factors, including temperature and location. Maintaining a certain temperature can be very important in a chemical process plant. In hotter areas, for example, a primary focus of design may be cooling.
Most chemical process plants have chemical engineers on their staffs even once the facility is built. As in any business, the people who run a chemical process plant tend to continually look for new ways to work more effectively and efficiently. Chemical engineers are important in this regard. They are also essential in maintaining the infrastructure of the chemical process plant.