Meet Process Engineer Derick Badgley

37/37   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, or any process-intensive industry.

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This month, we introduce you to Derick Badgley, who works as a process engineering consultant at Corteva. He discusses his accomplishments as a process engineer, overcoming challenges and the importance of his work.

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

I started my career with Dupont working in Kevlar® R&D and Teflon® manufacturing. I later moved to a polysilicon refinery as a process design engineer. In my process design role, I became more involved with process simulation and using Aspen Plus. In this role I saw the value that process simulation creates by optimizing capital decisions early on in a project.

Energy efficiency became a critical sustainability goal for the polysilicon industry and I saw the need to further improve the accuracy of our process simulations. I worked with thermodynamicists and chemists to develop better physical property methods and used the COSMO-RS method to generate a wide spectrum of binary interaction parameters.

With these improved physical property models, we were able to solve distillation challenges that had existed for decades. I joined Corteva as a process engineer working on capital projects for the agriculture chemicals industry and continued to refine my interest in process simulation. My current role is in the Corteva Consulting and Sustainability group as a process simulation subject matter expert.

Why did you become a process engineer?

As a young child I was exposed to many hands-on experiences that I believe cultivated my interest in engineering. By the time I started working in the family brick laying business at the age of 12, I had already been doing activities such as arc welding, pipe fitting, operating heavy machinery, farm work, re-building gasoline engines, etc.

With each skilled trade I worked on, I could see the variables that went into my work and thought there must be way to predict and optimize these things—like how a batch of mortar should be mixed or controlling the strength of a weld.

It was my chemistry class during my freshmen year of high school that opened my eyes to the world of chemistry, and for the first time, I saw that there was a way to describe the things that I saw happening around me.

My father was a maintenance worker in a local water treatment plant. I was able to go to work with my dad one day for “Take Your Kid to Work Day.” I had the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the drinking water treatment process. Our job assignment that day was to install a safety shower/eyewash station. Thinking back to those experiences I can see how I eventually shaped my interests into the profession of process engineering.

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

Management of change is the most challenging thing I have experienced across the various industries I have worked in. I would like to believe that once I solve a problem, it is done. All I need to do is maintain the same set of conditions, and my solution will work indefinitely. Experience has shown me that optimization is not a static solution.

I have been involved in projects that are driven by the need to adapt to rapidly changing environmental restrictions and litigations. Economic pressure from a global economy can suddenly drive a product from a specialty chemical status into a commodity market. Changes in energy costs and raw material availability can upset a company’s business model almost overnight.

I have seen the workforce turn over in waves, causing a sudden loss of organizational knowledge. Knowledge that you didn’t know was there until it was gone. Each of these changes can bring about multiple challenges and even heartache. It is up to the engineers to figure out how to safely, practically, and sustainably adapt to these technical changes. A company may have 50-plus years of knowledge in its process technology manuals and it is still not enough to be the most viable business.

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

My current role is process simulation subject matter expert. I have found simulation tools for modeling chemical processes to be an essential tool for the chemical industry to adapt to a constantly changing business environment. Simulation software can be used to address complex problems, whether it be for exploring novel concepts or simply organizing one’s thoughts into a way that is easier to display.

I provide simulation support for R&D, capital projects, and troubleshooting existing manufacturing facilities. Producing a good process simulation is more than just understanding the software tools; it involves understanding the quality of the information being fed into the simulation.

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

Sustainability is the most important role that I play in the projects I work on. I take pride in the projects where I was able to reduce or eliminate a waste stream from being incinerated and recover the material as a sellable product. I have worked on several projects that were focused on energy savings; a single capital improvement project reduced the load on the electrical grid by more than 1 MW.

The concept of inherently safe designs is also part of a sustainable process. Less time and energy spent managing safety risks will have a long-term benefit for the business.

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