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Chemical Engineering

Chemical Engineering Economics

This is where technology meets business:  Chemical engineers working in industry have to know about money and markets, capital investments, cost estimation, budgeting, business plans, and more.   Yet the tools used for finding business and market information are quite different from those used for technical information.  Please see also the Business Resarch Center guide for much more detail on these aspects of engineering.

Here is the most important fact to know:  There is no single, authoritative source of prices for bulk chemicals.

The highest quality market analyses are compiled for industry subscribers and tend to be quite expensive, and are not available to an educational audience. Some trade publications (see Trade Magazines tab) offer subscription-based pricing products to individuals and companies. Otherwise, students must gather pricing information piecemeal from various publications and web searches. See the Web Resources tab for a selection of potentially helpful sites.

Some points to remember:

  • Some prices are volatile and change daily; others may be quite stable over long periods of time. For estimation purposes you should consider trends over a period of time.
  • Prices for a commodity differ according to manufacturer, location, quantity, grade, delivery mode, time of year, and other variables. Long term contract prices are often lower than spot prices.
  • In some cases a direct quote from a supplier will be the only source of price information.
  • Do not use research-quantity prices for plant estimation purposes!

You can search in Business Source Complete (see box to right) for current news reports about commodity chemical markets and pricing, but it's hit or miss. 

Trade publications report the news from the industry.  Articles are not peer reviewed. 

For bulk prices, ICIS Chemical Business and IHS Chemical Week are the magazines most focused on domestic and world chemical markets with some price data available to subscribers. 

The links in this section are to the home pages of these publications; direct access to most content requires a personal subscription. Some full text can be found via Business Source Complete, where noted in the descriptions.  The Library maintains print subscriptions to most of these titles:  click the PRINT ISSUES link to go to the Catalog entry.

Cost indexes are used to estimate future construction costs, based on algorithms that track inflation/deflation applied to known past capital cost figures. 

The principal indexes used to estimate plant construction costs are:

  • CE Plant Cost Index (CEPCI, published monthly in Chemical Engineering; subscription required for web version)
  • Intratec IC (subscription required for full data)
  • Nelson-Farrar (monthly in Oil & Gas Journal; primarily for refineries and petrochemical plants)
  • ENR CCI (in ENR)

Since publishers have monetized this information online, consulting the latest print issue of the given trade magazines is necessary.  See also the Wikipedia entry on chemical plant cost indexes.  Note:  The Marshall & Swift Equipment Cost Index is no longer available. 

There are many books available on chemical process design and economics. Search the Library Catalog by keywords or by the subject heading Chemical plants -- Design and construction. Or you may just browse the shelves in the Chemistry collection at TP 155.5, where most books on this topic are located.  (The Chemistry Collection is currently located on the 6th floor of PCL, in sections 6AA-6BB.)

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Searching Trade Literature

Articles about chemical pricing and business are best searched in business-related databases, not technical databases such as SciFinder. 

Chemistry Librarian

David Flaxbart's picture
David Flaxbart
Mallet Chemistry Library
University of Texas Libraries

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