Q&A- Emerging Opportunities for Composites and the Chemical Processing Industry

August 22, 2013

Thom Johnson, industry manager for Ashland Performance Materials’ Corrosion Resistant Composites Business.

“Chemical industry professionals are hungry for a venue where they can learn about best practices in material science for corrosive chemical service. The 2013 Chemical Processing Symposium will fulfill that need,” says Thom Johnson, industry manager for Ashland Performance Materials’ Corrosion Resistant Composites Business.

The 2013 Chemical Processing Symposium (CPS) – Managing Corrosion with Non-Metallics – will be held at the Galveston Island Convention Center on November 6-7 in Galveston, Texas. Johnson serves as chair of the 2013 CPS committee. After beginning his career with Dow Chemical as a research chemist about 35 years ago, Johnson has spent the last eight years with Ashland.

“We will get a very good turnout of suppliers and fabricators at this symposium because of its title and content,” says Johnson. The Symposium will be the perfect opportunity for this group to network with process engineers and material specifiers in the chemical processing industry. For more information, visit acmanet.org/meetings and be sure to register for the Symposium today!

How is the price of energy/gas affecting the chemical market and offering opportunities for composites?

There is a major upheaval in the North American energy market. The arrival of shale gas is significantly reducing energy costs across the continent. This is particularly significant in the chemical process sector where energy costs directly affect the competitiveness of the North American chemical industry relative to foreign suppliers. Shale gas also provides chemical companies easy access to low cost ethylene, a basic building block for a large number of downstream chemical derivatives. As a result, the chemical process industry, which – only a few years ago – was in decline, is now a growth market. Growth means more capital for maintenance budgets and capacity expansion. This affords a great many opportunities for composite products that have faithfully served this industry for more than half a century.

What are some of the major opportunities for composites in the chemical processing industry?

The chemical process industry (CPI) is a very demanding market for corrosion resistant materials. Processes conducted in this industry frequently incorporate strong acids, alkalies and halogenated materials (e.g., HCl, NaOH, bleach and brine) that are highly corrosive to metals but readily handled by fiber reinforced plastics (FRP) or dual laminates. Many of our best resin chemistries and FRP designs were invented to meet the demands of this industry. Often, properly designed FRP based piping, storage tanks, process vessels and scrubbers will significantly outlast more expensive metal alloy alternatives at a fraction of the cost.

How will the 2013 Chemical Processing Symposium be different from the previous symposium?

This is our second annual Chemical Processing Symposium. We learned last year that there is really nothing else like this in the chemical industry. We have strengthened an already outstanding program from last year and we have worked diligently to create greater awareness of this fine program in the chemical and mechanical engineering community. This symposium also provides professional engineers with much needed professional development hours (PDHs) to maintain their licenses. And if that wasn’t already enough, we have added a golf outing at the Galveston Country Club so that fabricators and suppliers have yet another opportunity to network with corrosion industry professionals and inspectors.

Educating chemical companies about the use of composites for chemical processing is the main focus of the symposium. Where do you see the future of composites for the chemical processing market?

There is a surprising amount of FRP and dual laminates already in use in the chemical processing industry. Most seasoned engineers are well aware of its many benefits and how well it performs in a variety of chemical environments. We need to bring that same level of understanding to the next generation of asset integrity specialists and project engineers. Management is constantly pushing for higher value, greater durability and reduced downtime for maintenance in chemical process equipment. Composites deliver on that value proposition. Symposiums like this one provide much needed knowledge from chemical professionals to chemical professionals.  Come and listen to your peers talk about their experiences in their chemical plants with this uniquely corrosion-resistant technology.

Your presentation on Nov. 7 will focus on composites in chemical processing. What are you hoping individuals will take away from it?

There are a lot of great presentations in this symposium by a number of very knowledgeable and experienced corrosion-resistant materials experts.  I’m delighted to be associated with the event. The first day is intended to provide an extensive mix of chemical processing case studies in a variety of environments followed by an industry expert panel discussion for Q&A with the audience.  The second day is dedicated to educating the attendee on how to select and design FRP materials for corrosion service as well as how to inspect this equipment on receipt and in service. My presentation kicks off the second day. It is intended to give the listener a high level overview of where and why FRP is used in chemical service.  I hope to deliver a bit of an “eye opening” talk which should impress the audience with unusual applications and dispel misconceptions on this unique technology.

Of all the presentations and networking events, what are you most looking forward to at the symposium?

That’s a tough choice. We have a lot going on. It’s going to be a great week. After a full day of captivating presentations and a tour of the exhibit floor, I’m looking forward to unwinding with my peers at the networking events. The networking events – the breakfast, receptions and golf outing – are great places to build relationships with industry partners and to catch up with clients and potential prospects.

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