Meet Process Engineer Atul Choudhari

62/63   in the series Meet the Process Engineers

Welcome to the latest in a series of AIChE blog posts profiling process engineers, a diverse group of professionals spanning multiple industries and regions. In this series, we profile process engineers who work in a wide range of fields, including petrochemicals, pharma, bulk chemicals, food, and other process-intensive industries.

Are you a member and process engineer interested in being profiled? We’d love to hear from you via this volunteer opportunity. Please also check out our online discussion group specifically for process engineers. You can find out about these initiatives and join our efforts by visiting aiche.org/cpe.

This month, we introduce you to Atul Choudhari, Chief Technology Officer at Tata Consulting Engineers Limited, Mumbai. He discusses the path that led to his career in process engineering, overcoming challenges, and the importance of his work. 

Tell us a bit about your work as a process engineer.  

I have over 30 years of experience as a process engineer and process engineering manager, having worked on several projects in the refinery and petrochemicals field. Throughout my career, I have been involved in all stages of the project lifecycle, from basic engineering to FEED engineering and detailed engineering. As a process engineer, I find it exciting to contribute to process intensification and work on flowsheet simulation, synthesis, and optimization. I have had the opportunity to simulate flowsheets and have shared some interesting case studies in reputed chemical engineering journals. 

In addition, I have chaired several Hazop sessions and worked on enhancing overall process safety and deriving risk mitigation strategies at the design stage as a part of process safety management. Currently, my focus is on technology evaluation, selection, and roadmap studies of lean energy transition technologies such as hydrogen, biofuels, methanol, ammonia, green chemicals, and decarbonizing hard-to-abate industries such as steel. 

I believe I can positively impact society by solving problems related to areas such as sustainable energy use, mitigating global warming challenges, and innovating how to produce new chemicals and commodities for the betterment of society.

Why did you become a process engineer?

Chemical processes are the fundamental building blocks for the growth of society. Chemicals significantly impact every aspect of life, and related technologies always help improve human lives. The chemical process engineering community is proud to convert laboratory inventions into valuable products most efficiently and safely. My motivation for becoming a process engineer is driven by the fact that it provides an opportunity to make a difference in the communities we live in. 

I believe I can positively impact society by solving problems related to areas such as sustainable energy use, mitigating global warming challenges, and innovating how to produce new chemicals and commodities for the betterment of society. Choosing a career in process engineering was also influenced by the fact that chemical process engineers have the opportunity to work across several technologies in diverse fields, which can positively impact our daily lives. Such fields include petroleum refining, petrochemicals, oil and gas processing, fine chemicals, construction chemicals, pesticides, agrochemicals, biotechnology, food, pharma, and more.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your role as a process engineer?

The digital revolution and technological advancements have significantly changed various industries, including process engineering. However, I faced a major challenge when it came to choosing between professional growth and earning potential while continuing in process engineering or switching to the computer/IT industry. 

Despite the vast potential for systematic application of process engineering design, I noticed that small and medium-scale industries tend to prefer off-the-shelf solutions rather than investing in scientific analysis and optimization by professional process engineers. 

Therefore, there is a need to improve overall efficiencies and optimize many areas of chemical process industries. Adopting more sustainable technologies — such as water electrolysis for hydrogen generation or e-methanol, carbon capture, etc. — comes with high initial costs and requires the right policy, social, economic, and R&D support, which is currently a challenge for global process engineers.

How is your work as a process engineer critical to your particular job assignment or industry?

Working in the engineering field, the role of process engineers is critical in project initiation and definition. The process engineering team is responsible for issuing basic deliverables (such as flow diagrams, P&I diagrams, equipment and instrumentation data sheets, utilities and flare summaries), which serve as the starting point for multidisciplinary engineering teams working on the project. Any delay or error in these fundamental documents can adversely impact the project, making the process engineer’s role crucial. 

By virtue of their domain, process engineers can anticipate possible operational or maintenance-related issues and develop design solutions that consider unforeseen emergencies that may arise while operating the plant. The most significant responsibility is having a detailed understanding of the fluids being handled and designing a safe plant while dealing with the flammable, explosive, toxic, and corrosive nature of various chemicals.

What do you think is most important about what you do as a process engineer?

As a process engineer, it is important to protect the environment and promote social awareness on various issues, such as responsible use of plastic, recycling, waste reduction, optimal use of natural resources, water and energy management, and more. In the process design field, it is vastly important to use simulation technologies that optimize and contribute to process intensification. 

Another vital element is designing process plants for ultra-safe operations in the most energy-efficient way, using modern instrumentation and control systems. I have continuously contributed to value engineering by proposing alternate process flow schemes that involve better energy integration or simpler operations.

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