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Distilled News

Podcast: Distilled News Roundup February 2024

Feb. 28, 2024
Exxon looks to balance fossil fuels with sustainability, Didion execs sentenced and yellow snow for battery recycling.

Welcome to Distilled News, a Chemical Processing production where we review some of the latest articles trending on ChemicalProcessing.com. I’m your host, Jonathan Katz, executive editor of Chemical Processing magazine.

Exxon Mobil's Balancing Act: Fossil Fuels Meet Low-Carbon Solutions” (Publication Date: Feb 6, 2024)

Exxon Mobil Corp. isn't bidding farewell to fossil fuels, but the company is executing a strategy that blends traditional oil and gas activities with low-carbon solutions.

Wade Maxwell, vice president of engineering at Exxon Mobil Technology and Engineering Co. commented on the company’s efforts around sustainability during his keynote address at the ARC Advisory Group Forum on Feb. 6 in Orlando.

Exxon Mobil announced three agreements in 2023 to capture and store CO2 from third parties, including fertilizer, steel and industrial gas producers, on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Maxwell said the first of those projects will begin in 2025.

He also alluded to the company’s July 2023 acquisition of CO2 pipeline operator Denbury for $4.9 billion as another key development in its carbon-capture and storage efforts.

Direct air capture, or DAC, is another technology that Maxwell highlighted as a potential game-changer for industrial emissions. This technology overcomes the constraints of conventional carbon-capture methods by extracting CO2 directly from the atmosphere from any location, not just at the point of emissions.

Maxwell said the primary challenge with DAC is cost. Exxon Mobil completed construction of a DAC pilot plant at its Baytown, Texas, complex late last year. The company is working with researchers and engineers to commercialize DAC and lower the technology cost.

Maxwell also highlighted the role of digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence, in the development of sustainable solutions.

Exxon Mobil has deployed AI to create subsurface models and is using it to optimize carbon sequestration at injection sites. Maxwell said Generative AI is another technology in the mix, helping the company leverage data more effectively. 

Judge Hands Down Prison Sentence to Didion Milling Vice President” (Publication Date: Feb. 19, 2024)

As we turn to environmental health and safety, a U.S. District Court judge recently sentenced three Didion Milling officials, including Vice President of Operations Derrick Clark, to prison for their role in a fatal explosion at a mill operated by the company.

On May 31, 2017, a fire at the corn mill in Cambria, Wisconsin, led to a series of combustible dust explosions in the facility, killing five workers and seriously injuring others.

Judge James D. Peterson for the Western District of Wisconsin sentenced Clark to two years in prison, a year of supervised release and a $5,000 fine. Clark was convicted for conspiring to falsify documents and certifications relating to dust-cleaning practices in the mill.

Also sentenced, were former environmental manager Joseph Winch who received two years in prison, two years of supervised release and a $10,000 fine for conspiring to falsify Didion’s environmental compliance certifications.

And former food safety Superintendent Shawn Mesner who also received a two-year sentence and a year of supervised release for conspiring to commit fraud and to falsify Didion’s sanitation log.

Judge Peterson also sentenced three former Didion shift superintendents – Anthony Hess, Joel Niemeyer and Michael Bright – who were convicted of crimes relating to falsification of Didion’s sanitation log. 

Study: Harmful Chemicals in Plastics Drive U.S. Healthcare Costs Beyond $250 Billion in 2018(Publication Date: Jan. 16, 2024)

More studies on the harmful effects of plastic waste continue to catch the attention of environmentalists and industry groups. Plastics containing harmful chemicals, including bisphenols and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or (PFAS), resulted in approximately $250 billion in increased health care costs for the U.S. in 2018. This was according to a study released last month by the National Institute of Health and the environmental nonprofit Passport Foundation. 

The costs are equivalent to 1.22% of the gross domestic product in the U.S., the study’s authors note. 

The study, published Jan. 11 in the Journal of the Endocrine Society, shows that endocrine-disrupting chemicals, (EDCs), in plastics are linked to cancer, diabetes, and various endocrine diseases. The chemicals can leach and contaminate humans and the environment, according to the report. 

The authors called on Global Plastics Treaty stakeholders to include interventions that reduce EDC exposure to protect public health and the environment.

Batteries, Bladders and a Golden Stream of Innovation(Publication Date: Feb. 23, 2024)

And, on the research front, Frank Zappa once warned people not to eat the yellow snow. But researchers from Linnaeus University in Sweden and the Indian Institute of Technology Madras in India say urine could hold the key to battery recycling. The process involves a solvent composed of two chemicals, one sourced from urea found naturally in urine and the other derived from acetic acid.

The primary advantage of the new solvent, in contrast to commonly employed techniques for cobalt recycling, lies in its ability to operate at significantly lower temperature -- 180 degrees Celsius versus 1,400 degrees Celsius for conventional commercial options, says Ian Nicholls, professor of chemistry at Linnaeus University.

Cobalt is in high demand and is projected to continue its upward trend, according to the news release. But the recycling rate for discarded batteries remains quite low.

The research team says their process can recover about 97% of the cobalt in a lithium-ion battery.

That’s it for this month’s edition of Distilled News.

Visit chemicalprocessing.com for more insights, and don't forget to register for our Morning Briefing and Chemical Processing Weekly newsletters. Until next time, stay informed, stay inspired, and let's shape the future of chemistry together. Thank you, and goodbye.

About the Author

Jonathan Katz | Executive Editor

Jonathan Katz, executive editor, brings nearly two decades of experience as a B2B journalist to Chemical Processing magazine. He has expertise on a wide range of industrial topics. Jon previously served as the managing editor for IndustryWeek magazine and, most recently, as a freelance writer specializing in content marketing for the manufacturing sector.

His knowledge areas include industrial safety, environmental compliance/sustainability, lean manufacturing/continuous improvement, Industry 4.0/automation and many other topics of interest to the Chemical Processing audience.

When he’s not working, Jon enjoys fishing, hiking and music, including a small but growing vinyl collection.

Jon resides in the Cleveland, Ohio, area.

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