What the Heck Happened? Past, Present & Future Disruptions to the Chemical/Fuels Business

Tuesday, October 30, 2018, 11:00am-1:30pm EDT

This session will focus on major disruption forces since the 60's and their impact on the chemical business and chemical engineering.

Session Chairs:

  • Cliff Kowall, The Lubrizol Corporation (Berkshire Hathaway)
  • J. Karl Johnson, University of Pittsburgh


  • Scott Mitchell, Global Catalysis Leader, Innovation and Technology, Braskem
  • Antonis Papadourakis, President and CEO, LANXESS Corporation
  • Joseph Powell, Chief Scientist - Chemical Engineering, Shell
  • Jeff Siirola, Professor of Engineering Practice, Purdue University & Carnegie Mellon University
  • David West, Corporate Fellow, SABIC

Supported by the generous donors of the AIChE® Foundation

Session Schedule:

Time Presentation Title Speaker
11:00am - 11:05am Introduction Cliff Kowall, The Lubrizol Corporation (Berkshire Hathaway)
11:05am - 11:25am The Impact of Shale Gas and Oil on the Chemical Industry Jeffrey J. Siirola, Purdue University
11:25am - 11:45am   Sustainable Energy and Chemicals:  Past, Present, and Future Joseph B. Powell, Shell
11:45am - 12:05pm Disruptions: What the Future May Hold Scott F. Mitchell, Braskem
12:05pm - 12:25pm Geopolitical Factors Influencing the Evolution of the Chemical Industry David West, SABIC
12:25pm - 12:45pm  Agility & Resilience: How to Maintain Career Competitiveness in the Changing Chemical Industry Antonis Papadourakis, LANXESS
12:45pm - 1:30pm Panel Discussion  


The Impact of Shale Gas and Oil on the Chemical Industry

Jeffrey J. Siirola, Purdue University

Lower alkanes and aromatics are very useful as both fuels and chemical raw materials.  Occasionally supply disruptions constrained availability but also encouraged investigation of alternative feedstocks and chemistries.  Recent new technologies for the production of unconventional gas and oil sources from tight shale formations significantly increased availability of both methane and condensate, radically altered process economics, resulted in the construction of much new intermediates capacity, and multiplied the ways traditional and alternative chemistries might be exploited.  This presentation will outline historically how natural gas components became useful as chemical feedstocks, how government regulations occasionally led to perturbations in availability and price, how supply crises led to the development of alternative chemistries, catalysts, and ultimately the exploitation of shale resources.  More specifically, will be discussed how excess coproducts, especially condensate, from increasing shale gas and oil production for energy are having significant unexpected impacts on the chemical process industries and opportunities for new process chemistry research.

Sustainable Energy and Chemicals:  Past, Present, and Future

Joseph B. Powell, Shell

The last 40 years has seen the U.S. energy situation vacillate from gasoline rationing and concerns over Peak Oil, to projected energy and feedstock prices that were noncompetitive in global markets for chemicals production, to the economic revolution of frack gas and light tight oil.    The importance of low cost energy and feedstocks in driving economic opportunity will be discussed relative to this history, along with the importance of sustainability in decision making to gain stakeholder buy-in and acceptance.  Strategies for managing career paths and competencies despite changing targets and high uncertainty will be addressed.

Disruptions: What the Future May Hold

Scott F. Mitchell, Braskem

Disruptive forces are all around us.  They change the way we communicate and work.  They change the way we develop goods and services.  They also change the types of products that are manufactured.  Examples such as the way in which we produce and consume energy or the feedstocks we use to produce product have seen many changes over the course of the last few decades, and these disruptions are expected to continue.  The chemical engineering discipline and the expectations for a chemical engineer’s skills has also changed and adapted as a result of these disruptive forces.   A discussion of the broad themes associated with these forces and the implications that they may have to chemical engineers in the future will be discussed.

Geopolitical Factors Influencing the Evolution of the Chemical Industry

David West, SABIC

The basic chemicals and plastics industry is built on a simple principle: find a cheap feedstock and convert it into something more valuable. However, the right feedstock depends on place and time. Certain policies and actions of various governments have influenced the evolution and profitability of the chemical industry during the past 50 years, sometimes in surprising ways.  For example, high oil prices and US government funding encouraged the development and commercialization of coal gasification technology during the late 1970s and early 1980s. This enabled China to develop a competitive basic chemical industry using coal as a feedstock during the last 25 years. Similarly, an abrupt increase in oil prices during the first decade of the 21st century encouraged the present shale gas revolution, causing a major shift in the economy of producing basic chemicals and polymers in the US. If history is our guide, then what governments choose to fund and regulate may be as important as market forces in determining the shape of our industry and profession in the future.

Agility & Resilience: How to Maintain Career Competitiveness in the Changing Chemical Industry

Antonis Papadourakis, LANXESS

The world around is changing. The shift to protectionism, global instability and price volatility of raw materials and feedstocks has the potential to wreak havoc on the chemical industry. With the revolution of shale gas in North America and the sudden drop in feedstock costs, the chemical sector in the US has reasserted its historic dominance. Learn how the role of a chemical engineer can contribute to industry growth and resilience, while adapting to allow for personal agility throughout the career life cycle. 

Scott F. Mitchell

Scott F. Mitchell is currently Global Catalysis Leader for Braskem and has responsibility for catalyst development within the company.  Prior to Braskem, Scott held several research management positions within SABIC. He has also worked in a research capacity for companies such as DuPont, Huntsman, Monsanto and Union Carbide.

Scott holds a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from University of Pennsylvania and a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh.  He is the inventor on several U.S. patents in catalyst synthesis and use, as well as...Read more

Antonis Papadourakis

Antonis was born in Athens, Greece in 1957.  He earned a degree from the University of Thessaloniki in 1981 and a Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1985, both in Chemical Engineering. 

After a year with the Greek Armed Forces, he joined Rohm and Haas in Bristol, PA, USA. He held positions of increasing responsibility, including Sr. Chemical Engineer, Group Leader of the Process Economics Center and Process Control Manager for Polymers & Resins worldwide.  Antonis became a US citizen in May of 1995.

In 1997 Antonis moved to London,...Read more

Joseph B. Powell

Joe Powell is Fellow and Director of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and Shell's Chief Scientist - Chemical Engineering since 2006. He has led R&D programs in new chemical processes, biofuels, enhanced oil recovery, and currently advises R&D for energy transition to a net-zero carbon economy. Dr. Powell is co-inventor on more than 125 patent applications (60 granted), has received AIChE / ACS / R&D Magazine awards for Innovation, Service, and Practice, and is co-author of Sustainable Development in the Process Industries: Cases and Impact (2010). Ph.D. U...Read more

Jeffrey J. Siirola

Jeff Siirola retired in 2011 as a Technology Fellow at Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport Tennessee where he had been for more than 39 years. He now holds half time positions as Professor of Engineering Practice at Purdue University and Distinguished Service Professor of Sustainable Energy Systems at Carnegie Mellon University. Siirola received a BS in chemical engineering from the University of Utah in 1967 and a PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1970. His areas of interest include chemical process synthesis, computer-aided conceptual process...Read more

David H. West

David West is a Corporate Fellow at SABIC focused on the development of new process technologies and differentiated products.  He joined SABIC in 2012 after 31 years with The Dow Chemical Company.  While at Dow, David contributed to the development of a variety of process technologies and new products which became the basis for several new manufacturing plants. He held various technical and leadership positions in Business and Corporate R&D labs.  His interests include development of new materials, reaction engineering, fluid dynamics, transport phenomena, and non-linear...Read more