TCC News

Texas Legislature Studying Water Desalination

By Hector L. Rivero, President & CEO, Texas Chemical Council and Association of Chemical Industry of Texas

The Texas Legislature’s Joint Interim Committee to Study Water Desalination recently held a series of hearings across the state, and the Texas Chemical Council was invited to provide testimony.

The joint interim committee, co-chaired by Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) and Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi), held public hearings in Austin, Corpus Christi (with a special focus on ocean water desalination) and Wichita Falls (with special focus on brackish groundwater desalination). 

I testified before the committee in Austin and emphasized the chemical manufacturing industry’s dependence on water, and the importance of a sustainable source of water to protect our industry’s current and future investments and the economic benefits to the state. The current drought has wreaked havoc across our state and threatens the viability of billions in economic investment opportunities within our industry, as well as our state’s public water supply for the foreseeable future.

The chemical industry needs a sustainable supply of process water and has made significant strides in conservation, reuse and recycling. However, there have already been instances where member company facilities have been challenged in securing the water they are legally entitled to. As a result, our industry is very supportive of the state’s interest in looking across the spectrum of water technologies that might help ensure a sustainable water supply for our state’s growing population and thriving manufacturing sector.

Desalination involves the removal of salts and dissolved solids from saline water (brackish or seawater). In addition to the removal of minerals, the process removes most biological or organic chemical compounds. Most desalination processes are based either on thermal distillation or membrane separation technologies. A desalination plant essentially separates saline water into a stream with a low concentration of dissolved salts (the fresh water stream) and a stream containing the remaining dissolved salts (the concentrate or brine stream).

Desalination is a viable technology that is already in use within our industry, and there are numerous process technologies developed and used by our member companies for desalination and in their water treatment processes.

When considering industry as a water customer, it is important to note the vast majority of our water use is for cooling and heating purposes and does not require the same drinking water quality standards that exist for municipal drinking water supplies.

Therefore, stakeholders must understand industries may be looking for a cheaper alternative to that which may be needed for a municipal water supply. As the shale economy has created a manufacturing renaissance within our industry, an assured water supply is the common goal for all, and the chemical industry looks forward to working with the Texas Legislature to examine how desalination and other water strategies — like conservation, reuse, recycling and reducing evaporation — may be viable for both the state and industry. 

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Meet the Chairman of the Board: DuPont’s Bobby Laughlin

In his more than 35-year career with just one company – E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company (DuPont) – recently elected Texas Chemical Council Board of Directors Chairman John R. “Bobby” Laughlin has held many roles throughout the company: plant operations, supply chain, corporate operations, and human resources management.

And through his time at DuPont, Laughlin has credited the company’s corporate culture to “create an environment for employees to thrive and be creative to meet objectives,” Laughlin said he wants our people to “enjoy coming to work” by creating an organization “where they see value in their role, both short term and long term and know they are making a difference in the world.”

A native Texan born and raised in Seguin, Laughlin received his Bachelor’s Degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Bobby began his career in 1978 with DuPont in Victoria. He was Plant Manager at DuPont’s Yerkes site in Buffalo (NY) for five years. Bobby returned to Texas in 2006 as Plant Manager at DuPont’s LaPorte site near Houston.

In 2010 he became Site Manager at DuPont’s Sabine River Works located in Orange, Texas and recently assumed the additional role of North American Operations Director for the DuPont Packaging and Industrial Polymers business.

Laughlin cites DuPont’s core values to strive toward perfect behavior in each of four areas: Safety & Health, Environmental Stewardship, Respect for People, and Highest Ethical Standards.

He also credits a culture of constant communications to manage their business and share the company vision through, 1) shift start and daily morning cross functional meetings, 2) annual safety kickoffs as well as monthly safety meetings, and 3) monthly updates of unit and business performance.  In addition Laughlin meets several times a month with differing groups of 10 employees from around the site to “understand what is working well, understand concerns, and share information so they can better understand our complex business and see how the products we produce help make people’s lives better, safer, and healthier,” said Laughlin. 

Bobby previously served as Chair of the Texas Chemical Council’s Occupational Safety Committee for several years, and credits this time as “having been very rewarding and helpful to interact with my industry peers,” he said.

“I like the concept of a group of industry professionals coming together from plants across Texas to improve our industry’s safety performance to new levels through sharing of best practices,” Laughlin said.

Laughlin said he is also proud of the growth of TCC/ACIT Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) Seminar. “It’s profoundly impactful to drive industry to better and better outcomes,” he said, “and I’m proud of my peers… especially the increased participation by plant managers.”

Several years ago, EHS Seminar organizers recognized that more site leaders needed to attend, so they began offering a free day for all plant managers to attend. Ever since, attendance has grown substantially.  A plant manager’s track was started last year so that managers can learn from the experiences of their peers.

“And, the EHS Award ceremony is always a delight to see industry recognize outstanding performance,” Laughlin said, “especially for our industry’s very complex plants with highly-hazardous operations.

Laughlin also serves on the University of Texas Chemical Engineering External Advisory Council. And locally, he serves on the Orange County United Way Board of Directors and the Lutcher Theater Board of Directors.

“It’s so important to work with outside groups in the community,” he said, “so that employees understand how fortunate we are and the needs of others.” Laughlin is passionate about serving on the Lutcher Theater board because attracting talent for industry often means helping make communities robust in culture, not just outdoor activities like hunting and fishing.

Another key community partnership for Laughlin is his company’s work in support of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) by partnering with schools through the DuPont Science SuperStars Program, which served more than 3,000 elementary students in 2013 alone.

The Science SuperStars Program, led by outstanding science educator Michael Hoke, provides training in science concepts and presentation techniques to 8th grade students from local schools. After being qualified as “Science SuperStars”, the students then present hands-on science shows to elementary students in the area, as well as to local community groups. Additionally, the Program provides opportunities for middle school and elementary school teachers to improve their understanding of science concepts and presentation of the concepts.

Laughlin said, “It’s so important to plant the seeds – early on – that science is fun.” Getting young students wanting to do well, then “to connect the concept of science with future careers.”

Bobby and his wife Karen, who is also a graduate of the University of Texas and is a pharmacist, have two children. Their daughter Devon will graduate from Drexel University in Philadelphia this spring and will be start medical school this fall. Their son Sean is attending the University of Texas at Austin studying Aerospace Engineering.

Laughlin said it’s “it’s important to put family first as well as finding time for theater, entertainment, and golf. Karen and I really enjoy the Mardi Gras Krewe we belong to and doing community service activities with them.”

Now that both kids have gone off to college, Laughlin said that finding the right balance with work and family can be a challenge, “especially when you truly enjoy your work,” he said.

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