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Chat 1: Chemistry is all about you

Welcome everybody,

Hello everybody and welcome to the first Xperimania V chat in collaboration with inGenious.

I’m Barbara Schwarzenbacher, pedagogical adviser at European Schoolnet and in charge of coordinating the online chats. The topic of this chat today is “Chemistry is all about you”.

We are now in Brussels in the office of European Schoolnet, and we have with us 4 industry representatives Aniouta Belevitch, Wouter Bleukx, Pierre de Kettenis and Christian Koulic. Welcome to them and to all of you the students and to your teachers who are here today for this chat.

The industry representatives will be available for the next 1:30 hour to answer as many of your questions as possible.First of all let’s ask the industry representatives to introduce themselves .

Aniouta Belevitch (AB): Hello everybody, my name is Aniouta Belevitch and I work for Total and more specifically for Total Petrochemicals and Refining. I am an economist and I don’t know anything about Chemistry. Nevertheless I have a commercial background and during my career I went from finance to crude oil trading, procurement and petrochemicals where I am currently a commercial manager handling some products that we produce at Total.

My name is Wouter Bleukx (WB): I am an agricultural engineer with a speciality in food chemistry. I started in a real chemical job in research and development, responsible for supply chain activities.Today as a Product Manager I am more in a commercial job, and although I started in a real chemical job, also in a chemical company there is a lot of room to move into other disciplines and do other jobs.

Good afternoon everyone, my name is Christian Koulic (CK), I work for Total as well as Aniouta, and I am based here in Brussels. I am a polymechanist by training, so I started in a Lab in the University making plastics and then I decided to move to the industry and I started within Total as a Research and Development Chemist, in the development of new plastics for packaging, piping and different types of applications. For the past five years I have moved into more business development activities so you see that chemistry leads to almost everything. I am now in charge within Total of business development related to new technologies especially related to bio-based chemistry.

Good afternoon everybody, my name is Pierre de Kettenis (PdK). I am also working in Brussels for the European industry trade association. I am a biologist by background, but as you know, Chemistry is one of the fundamental sciences of life, so I started my career in research, I moved later to industry as a sales person and then in product management, business development, sales and marketing at international level, and after almost 20 years in the industry, I decided to join the industry federation which offered the opportunity to talk on behalf of industry with decision makers at member states and at European level. So we have a role of focal points to represent industry but also trying to manage close contacts and relationships between authorities and industry to encourage positive economic framework for the development of the industry.

BS: Ok, thank you very much for this introduction. This is very interesting; we have some scientists by background and some with an economic background. As you can see you can work in industry with any kind of background. Now let’s start the questions. We have the first questionfrom Estonia: “If oil supplies are exhausted, what are the future raw materials for plastics?”

AB: I will try to answer the question. First of all I don’t think we are any close to the end of oil supplies. First of all thanks to new technologies we constantly discover different types of oil. It is getting more and more complex and complicated, but reserves are basically there. On the other hand plastics will definitely not exhaust the oil reserves but help us not to do so. Because in fact it helps the world consumes less hydrocarbon. Basically with plastics on one side and more oil reserves on the other side, we can definitely go into a world where the oil will be transformed rather than being burnt. And at the end of the day, the purpose is to transform as much as we can and then recycle, not only one but several times. When we have gone through the whole life cycle of plastics then we can burn the waste and get the energy from there. So if we all work together on that, we will have oil reserves for quite a number of years.

BS: Thank you very much for this great answer, I think it answers the questions extensively. Now the next question comes from Croatia: “Tell us more of re-use of waste-materials.”

WB: I would like to answer this question with a few examples. We know that the population in this world is growing and the industry needs to to look for solutions to use all kinds of waste-materials. Let’s take the example of gelatine. Gelatine is a protein which will look more familiar to you if I mention gummy bears. Another example is medicines in capsules. Both in gummy bears and in capsules of medicine we have gelatine. Gelatine is coming from a waste material, which you find in bones and skins of pork and cattle. The bones and skins are re-used as a raw material for the production of gelatine. It is used in pharmaceutical applications like capsules which are a highly controlled and very important ingredient. This is a very nice example for the re-use of waste materials. Another example is old iron, which you find in everything when you go to the container park and you see old refrigerators for example. All these things are re-used. They take the iron out and turn it into iron chloride. So iron chloride is a chemical product which is made of waste of the old iron, but this iron chloride is then used in water purification plants. So you see with old crap of old materials at the end it becomes a product that you can re-use for the purification of drinking water. That proves that the industry has to look for good solutions to re-use the waste. We have to be inventive so that we can re-use the waste and make new applications with it.

BS: Thank you very much Wouter. I just learned something myself. The next question comes from the UK: “What are benzene rings?”

PdK: Benzene rings are natural components that are extracted either from biological base or from fossil material like coal or petroleum. Each ring has six carbons and six hydrogens, but it is one of the fundamental building blocks to make a lot of well-known materials, such as styrene, which is used to make polystyrene, one of the main packaging material and also well known in isolation material for energy performance. It can also be used in the nylon production. Through cyclohexane manufacturing you can produce nylon fibres which are well known by all of you in the textile and fabrics industry. These rings are essential for manufacturing of many compounds. They are used also in pharmaceuticals. They can in fact be used in hundreds of different applications.

So, they are currently mainly extracted from fossil material, but in fact they also form the basis of the majority of natural aromatic scents, which are combined aromatic strings extracted directly from plants.​