"With chemistry, the future is a place of wonder", says EPCA President Tom Crotty
Over the last 50 years, chemistry has greatly contributed to improve our lives through better distribution of, and access to, resources and information.
And to continue to respond to the challenges ahead, it needs to keep harnessing our talents. “Talent and technology drivers of innovation in the chemical industry” is the theme of this year meeting, where inGenious has been invited to explore new links with education.
What are today the main challenges facing the petrochemical industry?
"Green energy, to start with: petrochemicals are heavily involved in renewable sources, by producing materials and lubricants that make them possible.
Even more exciting are the developments into energy and fuels from waste materials. INEOS has just commissioned the world’s first bio-refinery in America taking carbon waste (in this case vegetative waste, but it could be from plastics or any other carbon based waste normally dumped or burned) to be converted into bio-ethanol and energy. We can convert waste into fuel to run our cars.
Finally, one of the biggest challenges that we could imagine ahead of us would be how to develop a complete artificial photosynthesis to harness the sun's energy more efficiently. It would be complete new chemistry, and very exciting for our industry..."
"With chemistry the future is a place of wonder, where science fiction can become science fact: who would have imagined we could one day share our thoughts istantantly with thousands of people all over the world?"
What is the petrochemical industry in simple words?
"An industry whose products today touch everybodys life: plastics in your Lego bricks, polycarbonates for high performance CDs, DVDs and blue ray discs, our computer components, and fibres in almost all our clothes..."
What is your job?
I work for INEOS, a company based in Switzerland with operations worldwide, where I am Responsible for Corporate affairs, meaning all the interaction with the outside world in government and the media. At the same time, I sit on different industry groups : I am President of EPCA, Vice President of PlasticsEurope, a member of the CEFICBoard and I sit on the UK’s Climate Change Board and the UK Government's Green Economy Council.
How did you get there? Did you study chemistry or public communications...?
Neither of them. My degree is in Agriculture, then since my graduation in the UK I have done a lot of different jobs, always within the Chemistry sector.
Is there a common career path to work in your industry?
You would be surprised how many people are in this business who do not have a chemistry background, but something associated, like me with agriculture, or even art degrees.
Chemistry is such a wide sector that your qualifications do not restrict your access or your recruitment opportunities.
What brought you to chemistry?
Honestly, it started by chance. I remember I promised myself, like many young people do, to stop and change if I had ever found myself doing something I did not enjoy: but in 33 years that has never happened. Not only is chemistry a challenging and diversified sector but I honestly believe it does a huge amount of good: if well managed, the benefits for society are enormous.
Still the petrochemical industry is most often associated with risks than with opportunities.
"This is unfortunate, and as an industry we need to keep working on this and provide more information on the safety of our products and processes. We do an enormous amount of good. Improvements in the longevity of the world population over the last 50 years comes from chemical industry achievements in water, food and medicine."
Not an obscure force but a force of good?
"More than people can even realise. Water, for example, is an increasingly crucial resource due to shortages in the distribution system.
It may not be as glamorous as developing materials for aeroplanes and cars, but through investing in polymers for water pipelines, we have been able to produce more robust and cheaper pipelines and so make water more accessible."
What motivates EPCA involvement in education?
There are 2 main reasons: on the one hand, whether people get involved or not in a chemistry career, we would like them to understand what chemistry really is and its crucial positive role in our lives. On the other, of course, we want to nurture talent for our industry by explaining how we can offer a hugely enjoyable and challenging career, where you can improve the world.