Chemical engineering thermodynamics is primarily concerned with the application of thermodynamics to phase equilibria and reaction equilibria in multi'component systems and to the calculation of extrema in the work involved in separation processes. Of secondary importance in this context is its application to heat'work inter'conversion devices, which are studied in detail by mechanical engineers. Phase and reaction equilibria involving two or more solid phases are of primary interest to metallurgists.
Thermodynamics plays a supervisory and often intangible role in engineering. Its applications are obvious in the design of Chemical engineering equipment in processes in which approach to equilibrium is nearly one hundred percent in practice. Even in those cases where the processes are governed by rate considerations, thermodynamics sets the boundaries of design. It plays a fundamental role in transport theory in which rate processes are treated as departures from equilibrium. The mathematical abilities required for applying thermodynamics to practical problems are generally of second year undergraduate level.
Classical thermodynamics is generally taught without reference to molecular structure of matter. The incorporation of concepts from molecular theory is indeed of great help in clarifying some of the concepts in classical thermodynamics. However the quantitative use of molecular theory is a skill that can be acquired only after considerable concerted effort on the part of the student. It is therefore impractical to try to include molecular theory for use as a quantitative tool as part of an undergraduate classical thermodynamics course.
A course on thermodynamics is logically divided into three parts: theory, properties of matter and applications. Thermodynamic theory is based on the two laws that represent un'contradicted experience and is elegant and rigorous. Every application of the theory requires the knowledge of the properties of the specific system of interest. Until now any mismatch between a theoretical prediction and the experimental observation has been attributable to our incomplete knowledge of the system properties.