Jacob compares used plastics to batteries.
“We have all this material that has already been made. My boss and I actually joke that it’s almost like a battery that’s ready to be turned on and turned back into what we need.”
He’s talking about a new way to reuse plastics. Used plastics that until recently often headed straight for landfills. Or worse, our environment.
“One of the biggest ways we’re solving that problem is we’re helping to create a pathway for that plastic waste to get back into a feedstock that we can use in our plants. We can actually turn it back into the products that we make. So, it truly is circular going from plastic waste all the way back to the plastics that we make for our customers.”
Jacob works in the emerging world of advanced recycling, using technologies that can break down used plastics into their building blocks to be remade into brand new plastics.
“I think advanced recycling is huge. I really see it as something that has the potential to change the way we look at our plastics industry. We have all this material that has already been made that can be reused.”
And Jacob can help ensure that it gets reused. As senior sustainability engineer at Chevron Phillips Chemical’s Kingwood, TX, facility, he’s helping realize one of his company’s sustainability targets: the large-scale production of “circular” polyethylene plastic using new, advanced technologies.
Meet Jacob. One of America’s Change Makers.
Quickly scaling up innovative technologies is not easy.
“It sounds simple, but there are definitely difficulties when it comes to a circular economy. We’re having to deal with contaminants in used plastics, we’re having to deal with difficult-to-recycle plastics. But what I do at CPChem is I’m a problem solver. Being in chemical engineering, we solve problems. We’re confronted with a problem, and we try to come up with inventive solutions.”
Fortunately, Jacob’s company gives him a lot of latitude and backs him up.
“One of my favorite things about my current job is I’m allowed to create, to come up with ideas and test them. And we’re allowed to fail, and then we’re allowed to come up with something that maybe does work this time. So, it’s really fun to get to create and do something new and inventive that really could change our industry.”
Chemical engineers solve problems.
And he’s working on a big one. In a company that’s serious about helping society develop a sustainable future.
“Plastic waste is a global problem. And it’s something that affects a lot of communities. That can change. I agree that plastic waste shouldn’t be just going to landfills. I agree that plastic waste shouldn’t be ending up in the wrong places. I think we can find a home for it. And that’s what we’re working on.”
“And actually, that makes me really proud to be able to say that. CPChem is one of the first companies to be commercially successful in converting used plastic into a feedstock to produce circular polyethylene. There’s just something about being on the front edge, and being out in front, to look at your family and friends and say, well, this is what we’re bringing to the table. This is how we’re trying to be inventive. This is how we’re trying to make a change that needs to happen.”
And he foresees that change happening quickly as his company and others embrace this new way of making plastics.
“If you look at the advanced recycling announcements out there, companies are moving quickly and setting ambitious goals going forward. So really, over the next 8 to 10 years, I think you’re going to see large growth in this area. Just based on these last couple of years with how quickly things have moved, I really think that’s going to continue to accelerate.”
He’s watching a mature, well-established industry change. At the same time he’s helping change it.
“My family is very much involved in the industry. I grew up in a chemical industry town. My dad worked in the chemical industry. Being able to have conversations with people in this industry to say, hey, we all need to be successful in this. We all need to be able to show what we’re bringing to society. It’s kind of a fun conversation to have.”
Keep the conversation going, Jacob.