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Distilled news

Distilled News: The Top Chemical Industry Stories for the Week of March 31

April 8, 2024
A look back at the Baltimore bridge collapse, DOE grants for industry projects, nuclear energy, Neanderthals and the annual Salary Survey.

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

We begin this episode with a look back at the tragic shipping accident that caused the Francis Scott Key bridge to collapse in Baltimore on March 26, leading to the presumed deaths of six people.

The loss of the bridge could have an impact on business supply chains, including the chemical industry, this, according to Scott Jensen, director, advocacy communications, American Chemistry Council (ACC).

U.S. chemicals trade, including exports and imports, through the Port of Baltimore was $3.2 billion in 2023, according to data from ACC’s economics team. That equals about 1.1% of total U.S. chemicals trade, or about $9 million a day.

The largest categories of chemicals moving through the Port of Baltimore were nitrogenous fertilizers; inorganic elements, oxides and salts; plastics; and metallic salts.

While the trade group hasn’t heard from any members expressing concern over potential disruptions, it’s always a concern when a major port is taken out of operation, Jensen says.

The collapse is expected to have a far-reaching effect on freight movement, FleetOwner magazine reported.

About 4,900 trucks cross the bridge daily, transporting $28 billion in goods every year, Sean McNally, vice president of public affairs and press secretary for the American Trucking Associations, told FleetOwner, a magazine published by Chemical Processing's parent company, Endeavor Business Media. 

If chemical manufacturers need to find shipping alternatives, like truck deliveries from a distant port, that will place pressure on truck availability, Jensen says.

The impact from longer shipping distances and lead times could impact pricing, depending on how long the situation persists.

ACC’s Jensen noted that the incident highlights the importance of infrastructure in the supply chain.

He reiterated that while the bridge didn’t fail due to structural issues, the incident demonstrates why it’s important to have the resources on hand for infrastructure investments.

Moving on to industrial policy …

Eight companies within the chemicals, refining and pulp and paper sector received $1.3 billion of a $6 billion Department of Energy grant to decarbonize energy-intensive industries. 

The funds, announced on March 26 are part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, and involves 33 projects across more than 20 states.

The companies receiving the grant include BASF, Dow, Exxon Mobil, ISP Chemicals, Eastman Chemical Company, Orsted, Technip Stone and Webster Process Technology and International Paper Company.

Chemical Processing reported on several of the initiatives including Dow’s plan to build an ethylene derivatives production facility on the U.S. Gulf Coast to support the lithium-ion battery supply chain.

The company will receive up to $95 million from the DOE program.

The company plans to capture and use about 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year at the plant. The amount of CO2 collected would account for more than 90% of the carbon dioxide from the ethylene oxide manufacturing process.

Dow is looking to increase supply of carbonate solvents, a critical material in electrolyte composition within lithium-ion batteries. Electrolytes charge and discharge batteries by transferring ions between electrodes.

BASF will receive up to $75 million to recycle liquid byproducts from existing production processes into low-carbon syngas. The company plans to do this through electrically powered reformation. By employing energy from renewable resources, this technology aims to decrease CO2 emissions and support circular value creation at BASF's Freeport Verbund site. The low-carbon syngas would be used as feedstock in Freeport’s downstream production.

To read more about the other projects, including Exxon Mobil’s plan to use hydrogen at its Baytown, Texas, in place of natural gas for ethylene production, visit

Another technology that is gaining increasing attention from the process industry as it looks for ways to decarbonize is nuclear power.

Several U.S. oil companies are following in the footsteps of Dow by announcing their plans to utilize small nuclear reactors to meet their electricity requirements, Bloomberg reported April 1.

Diamondback Energy Inc., an independent oil and gas company based in Midland, Texas, is looking at deploying nuclear reactors to drilling sites, according to the Bloomberg article.

Diamondback has signed a nonbinding letter of intent with Oklo Inc., a company that develops small nuclear reactors, to satisfy some of its future power needs. Oklo has engaged in discussions with other oil companies, its CEO told Bloomberg.

As Chemical Processing previously reported, Dow plans to deploy a modular nuclear reactor at its Seadrift, Texas, location by the end of the decade. The reactor, from X-energy, will occupy just under 30 acres of the 4,700-acre Seadrift site.

Tata Chemicals North America Inc. also said last year it would begin exploring the use of small-scale nuclear reactors to power its soda ash operations in Green River, Wyoming.

From the “did you know department,” CP editor at large Sean Ottwell explored the origins of adhesives in his article, “Discovery: Using Compound Adhesives, Neanderthals Were Smarter Than We Thought.”

In his article, Ottwell explains that the history of adhesives dates back 200,000 years to the times of Neanderthals, who produced a tar from the dry distillation of birch bark.

Multicomponent adhesives are thought to have appeared 40,000-50,000 years ago, often used as handles for stone tools.

A recent carried out by researchers at the University of Tübingen in Germany and published in a recent issue of Science Advances has produced an in-depth analysis of what is thought to be the oldest multicomponent adhesive ever found in Europe: a sophisticated mixture of bitumen and the ferric oxide-based earth clay ochre.

In their article, the team notes how important this work is for our understanding of the economy and technology of foragers during this period:

“They invested time and effort in making compound adhesives and had the cognitive capacities needed. This technology provided new materials with specific and desirable material properties. This capacity and the willingness to invest in tools that represented an elevated cost documents the complexity of late Middle Paleolithic hominin behavior,” according to the article

The project, called Ancient Adhesives, runs until January 2025 with €1.5 million ($1.6 million) of funding provided by the European Research Council. 

Its overall aim is to create the first reliable method to compare the complexity of Neanderthal and modern human technologies. 

And finally, Chemical Processing has opened its annual Job Satisfaction and Salary Survey on April 3 to participants. With a large enough pool of respondents, the survey results offer an accurate view of industry salaries, bonuses, employment outlook and workforce shortages. 

The survey, introduced in 2005 and launched each year in the spring, allows respondents the unique opportunity to share the satisfying aspects of their careers and what areas bring frustration. Over the years, the results reveal dynamic industry trends such as increased job outsourcing, hiring freezes and pay cuts followed by high demand for jobs post-pandemic, the retirement boom and knowledge gaps among other workforce challenges. 

The survey, which takes roughly 10 minutes to complete, is open to anyone who works in the chemical industry. Chemical Processing staff will verify the validity of respondents to ensure accurate results. Data will be tallied and shared in an exclusive Salary Survey Report ebook later this year. All information submitted in the survey is private and respondents remain anonymous in the final report. 

Anyone interested in taking the salary survey can find it in the top right hand corner of the menu bar on 

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

Visit 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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