Dow Chemical and Sustainability

The Dow Chemical complex in Freeport was established in the 40's to provide magnesium for the war effort. The company has grown enormously, but still finds itself using chemistry to help create sustainable solutions to global challenges. Ed Mayberry had more.
Dow Chemical now consists of multiple businesses spread out over complexes in and around Freeport. Gary Hockstra is site director for Dow's Texas operations.

"And so we have to facilitate the interaction of the businesses. We have to facilitate the successful operations of the businesses on this site, on this business park." Ed: "And how many businesses, I heard like 75, something?" "Seventy-five individual manufacturing plants on the site, that's correct--1500 products is what comes out of those 75 plants."

The entire complex is controlled by a master facility, as Dow's Jherico Ferreras explains.

"What you see here is the Dow op stations, where from one of these controllers, you know, the one board guy can control anything and everything in the plant. From these screens you can view every pressure, every temperature, manipulate the control valves."

A real-time optimizer looks at the price of feeds, energy and other factors to help decide the highest profit direction for the company at any one time. A big part of Dow's efforts are in research and development. Hong Peng works in the XLA fabric R&D facility at Dow, which develops fibers for making clothes that, for example, need less ironing or that stretch a certain way.

"When this one comes out, it's melted, like a stream. Very, very hot, so you have to cool it down. So when you cool it down, it is solidified and becomes a fiber. So this is air, the colder air will come here, cool down the fiber, so the fiber you can go and run into your spools."

Sherryl Murray works in research and development. Plastics are tested for their physical characteristics. Some are used in food packaging, and must not influence the flavor of the food or drink.

"So what we have in this building is a lab so people can do the testing. And we mainly soak plastic and water and then we taste the water. You know, there's the fresh produce, the breathable bag. A lot of design in something as simple as that."

Dow's Gary Hockstra says with globalization, the cost of doing business has increased.

"We started here because there was a competitive advantage for being here on the Gulf Coast. We were able to get the magnesium from the sea water, and we had energy sources that were fairly, fairly economical at the time. Now, 70 years later, we're now in a position where we've invested across the entire globe--pricing is global, we're trading globally, our products go global--but at the same time our location here in Freeport has been facing significant challenges from the cost of feedstock and energy to the point where it's actually disadvantaged relative to some of our other sites around the world."

Hockstra says Dow has been on an energy efficiency drive for many years.

"That actually makes good business sense as well as it's very, very green because it reduces our energy costs, so ultimately it makes it cheaper for us to do business. So we're not only pushing from an energy reduction and an energy efficiency standpoint and yield improvements, but we're also making products like insulation products and things that actually go into the building industry that reduce energy consumption and improve energy efficiency for the entire construction industry."

Ed Mayberry. KUHF- Houston Public Radio News.
Bio photo of Ed Mayberry

Ed Mayberry

Local Anchor, All Things Considered

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with many of those years spent on the rock 'n' roll disc jockey side of the business...