Listen to Victoria and Kevin’s Conversation Here:


Get an insider’s view of sustainability in the chemical industry with Kevin Norfleet, Global Sustainability Director at Celanese, as he joins Victoria Meyer on The Chemical Show®. Kevin shares his journey from chemical engineering to spearheading sustainability efforts at Celanese, including the company’s innovative initiatives like the large-scale carbon capture and utilization project for methanol production in Texas. 

Victoria and Kevin delve into the evolving demands for sustainable products, discussing which market segments are leading the charge and how companies can offer competitive and impactful eco-friendly solutions. Additionally, Kevin touches on the importance of sustainability in talent recruitment and career development within the chemical industry, offering valuable advice for aspiring professionals. 

This episode was recorded at the American Chemistry Council’s Responsible Care® and Sustainability Conference. 

 

Don’t miss the following topics this week:

  • Methanol as a scalable building block for sustainability
  • Investing in Carbon Capture & Utilization (CCU) to reduce carbon footprint
  • Viewing sustainability through a customer’s lens
  • Sustainability as an employee value proposition
  • The importance of agility in career success

 

Killer Quote:We see sustainability as really an exciting opportunity for our business… looking at sustainability both as the right thing to do, but also something that’s good business.” – Kevin Norfleet


Watch Victoria and Kevin Discuss Carbon Capture and Sustainability Here:


Carbon Capture and Customer Value with Kevin Norfleet of Celanese

Hi, I’m Victoria Meyer. Welcome back to The Chemical Show. Today, I am speaking with Kevin Norfleet from Celanese, who is the Global Sustainability Director. We are here at ACC’s Responsible Care® and Sustainability Conference, and I got a chance to meet with Kevin live, in real life, which doesn’t always happen on our Chemical Show podcasts, so I’m really happy to do that. Kevin, welcome to The Chemical Show.

Thank you. Good to be here.

Thank you. So, let’s just start with this, how’d you get interested in the chemical industry and then ultimately into sustainability?

Yeah, so I’ve been with Celanese for 16 years. So really my entire career and I was a chemical engineer as an undergraduate. I like chemistry. I like math. It seemed like a logical connection.

That’s the story for most people.

It’s been a great journey. I’ve been able to do a lot of different things with Celanese over the past 16 years, really starting about five years ago, we started to say there’s this emerging theme of sustainability. Why don’t you go take a look at it and kind of see what the next emerging market trend is, and I frankly never got to anything else. I’ve really just spent the last five years working on sustainability and it’s just grown and grown and grown in terms of a really impactful area to us.

chemical factory machines, carbon capture

Yeah, absolutely and certainly this is the decade of sustainability, right? It seems like since the pandemic, everyone’s sustainability efforts have accelerated. It’s gotten more interest in the general public, and the chemical industry and to our customers. When you think about Celanese, what’s the role of sustainability at Celanese? What part does it play in your products and your investments and your strategies?

Yeah, absolutely. We see sustainability as an exciting opportunity for our business. So, Celanese as a company, we are one of the largest non fuel users of methanol in the world. Methanol is a really interesting building block for sustainability. You can get to sustainable methanol in a lot of different ways, and you can do it frankly, in ways that are more scalable and in many ways more economical than a lot of other chemical pathways. So that creates really compelling options for our business to be able to deliver sustainability to our customers in a way that’s very effective and has a cost advantage so that we can give sustainability competitiveness in a lot of of different chemistries. So from that perspective, we see it as a really great business opportunity and maybe just one part of that to highlight, we recently were able to start up what we believe is one of the largest carbon capture and utilization projects in the world to be able to make methanol to really create an engine to drive sustainability into most of our company.

Got it. So where’s the CCU located?

So it’s at our plant in Clear Lake, Texas, which is just outside of Houston. We have an existing methanol unit there. That’s a part of a joint venture we have with Mitsui and company. We started that up at the beginning of the year.

That’s interesting. Did you guys anticipate the carbon capture being part of this methanol project? Cause that plant is not that old. Was it part of the development expectation or is this something that really came into bear as technologies advanced and this recognition that we really needed to do something with carbon?

It was something that really has developed in the last couple of years as we’ve looked at that unit and looked at, how can we do more? How can we really create opportunities and options for our business? This is again, a great example of looking at sustainability both as the right thing to do, but also something that’s good business. I think that’s exactly what this project is, really looking at what we had there and saying, “Hey, there’s this really interesting opportunity where we can do carbon capture and utilization and do it in a way that’s economical.”

carbon capture, factory smoke

Cool. So sustainability, one of the topics we talk about is whether customers really want it, like who really cares, who cares and who’s paying for it? Because it feels like everybody cares until the money discussion comes in because it’s not cheap. I mean, building a carbon capture unit is not free. There’s an investment involved, there’s an ongoing operating cost. So when you think about sustainability as it relates to customer and you think about how it fits into your product and customer portfolio, what’s the value driver there? Are customers asking for this? Are they valuing it? How do you see its importance?

Yeah. That’s a big question, that’s the million dollar question. I mean, how do you figure that out? There are customers in market segments that are really ahead of the curve and really driving it, and frankly willing to pay a premium. That said, when you talk about sustainability, you got to keep in mind, you’re not just competing against your own direct competitors.

You’re really competing against what customers and companies want to spend money on within their entire value chain, and you have to think about sustainability in a way where it’s competitive, not just in your space, but against all the other places where they can spend that sustainability dollar as well. So, there’s definitely places where there’s openness. I would love it if there were more people with that openness. It’s definitely a journey. Some sub-market segments are very far along. Some are just starting out, but we do see it as a trend that’s probably only gonna continue to go in one direction, and that’s where we are.

That’s cool. I hadn’t really thought about it from a customer portfolio perspective, that your customers have certain areas that have a higher priority to be more sustainable products or to make that investment even from a supplier, versus others. So figuring out that you’re not just competing with yourself and with other competitive products, it’s completely different products, in terms of where the money is.

Yeah, at the end of the day, part of what we say is, we want customers to see the most value from spending that dollar on sustainability with us versus other places. That’s a big part of how we’ve tried to present our offerings. We’ve really developed these eco product options across now almost our entire portfolio where we have eco CC products based on our carbon capture and utilization. We have eco B based on bio. So again, really this idea of making sure we’re putting in place good options for our customers. Customers that are both impactful but also attractive because like you said at the beginning, you’ve got to have a conversation about the cost too. I mean, you have to start with that.

A Science Beaker in the laboratory on a table white and light blue background. laboratory equipment out of focus. AI Generative carbon capture

Yeah. Makes sense, do you get involved in recruiting at all? I know every chemical company is always looking at bringing up the next generation. Is this a value proposition for future employees? Is it something that you’re future employees are looking for this commitment to sustainability and the investment in sustainability. Does it help make your employee value proposition better?

Absolutely. This topic is an important one to Celanese, we spend a lot of time and effort on it. It’s part of how we ensure a license to operate and exactly what you said. It’s something that people look at when they decide what kind of a company they want to work for and spend a career with. So yeah, it’s absolutely a key piece of how we want to present ourselves.

All right. So, leadership and career question, if you were going to advise somebody in terms of creating a career in chemicals, what’s the most critical thing? What’s the learning along the way that you’ve had that you think helps create a successful career?

So I would say, you need to be prepared to be agile and be very open to learning, career paths aren’t linear. You have to be willing to move side to side, to gather extra experiences. Looking back on my career, there were times where I did jobs that maybe I didn’t love as much, but then years later, looking back at it, I say, that was just an incredible experience and I’m so glad I did that. Having that flexibility, willingness to learn, willingness to try new things, willingness to sometimes move sideways and move to a different division and things like that, where it’s not always a straight line, but I think that’s one of the most important parts in terms of developing yourself.

Awesome. Well, thank you for taking the time out of the conference to meet with me today. I really appreciate it.

Appreciate it.

Absolutely, and thanks everyone for listening. Keep listening. Keep following. Keep sharing and we will talk with you again soon.


About Kevin Norfleet:

Kevin Norfleet, Global Sustainability Director, at Celanese leads global sustainability efforts for the Acetyl Chain business and focuses on driving sustainable solutions to help customers lower the carbon footprints of their products while moving toward a more circular economy. In particular, Kevin recently led the launch of one of the largest Carbon Capture and Utilization projects, offering a wide range of solutions that reduce the need for fossil fuels by using CO2 emissions to produce adhesives, packaging, paints and coatings, consumer goods and more.

Kevin has been with Celanese for nearly 16 years and has held various technical and commercial roles. Before leading global sustainability for the Acetyl Chain division, he led sustainability for the Engineered Materials business, launching the first mass-balance options within Celanese.   Kevin earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from Virginia Tech and is an active member of the advisory board for the Virginia Tech Department of Chemical Engineering.