On Wednesday, June 15th, the 2016 CWNC STEM Careers Tour visited Nova Chemicals’ Beaver Valley plant. Nova Chemicals is a leading producers of plastics and chemicals. They develop and manufacture materials for customers worldwide who produce consumer, packaging and industrial products. The Beaver Valley site manufactures expandable polystyrene (EPS) resins and advanced foam resins. It is located in Monaca, Pennsylvania, about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. The site was build by the U.S. government in 1942 as part of the United State Synthetic Rubber Program during World War II and was used for producing synthetic rubber raw materials. In 1955 the site began producing expandable polystyrene resins and in 1983 advanced foam resins. It has transferred through various owners through the years and today, the Nova Chemicals plant is part of the International Petroleum Investment Company of Abu Dhabi. There are about 250 people employed in the manufacturing, technology and commercial departments at Nova Chemicals’ Beaver Valley site.
In an effort to see all of the Nova Chemicals plant, we toured the facility on our bus with our host, Dan Depenhart, the Site Operations Leader. After watching a brief safety video, we drove around the plant as Dan explained the sites. Scattered throughout the plan were large storage tanks, cylindrical and spherical, that are used to store the plant’s primary raw materials of styrene and pentane.
The spherical tanks are used to hold the high pressure liquids because they can evenly distribute the stresses on the vessel along the sphere’s surface. We learned that all of the water used for production at the plant is sourced from the Ohio River, which borders the site. We saw the water treatment facility within the plant, and learned that any water returned to the Ohio River is cleaner than when it was removed. To make the resins, we learned that the styrene is converted into polystyrene beads through polymerization. The beads are melted, the pentane blowing agent is added, and the bead are extruded. Lastly they are heated, expanded, and allowed to cure. The facility has the capacity to produce 250 million pounds of plastic resins per year! The polystyrene and advanced foam resin products are packaged in 1 ton supersacks and 1000 pound cartons to be transported to customers by truck, rail and sea bulk containers. Customers of the expandable polystyrene resins use the product for foam packaging and insulation, where higher grades are used in the manufacturing of cups and food service containers. The advanced foam resins are used for manufacturing high-end electronics packaging because it can be molded in complex forms; is resistant to punctures, tears, and breaking; and it is lightweight which reduces freight and shipping costs.
During our tour we also learned that Nova Chemicals is committed to the principles of the Responsible Care program. Responsible Care is a global, voluntary initiative developed by the chemical industry to improve health, safety and environmental performance. As a Responsible Care company, Nova Chemicals works to safely manage their chemical products throughout their life cycle from the planning of new products, through their manufacture, distribution, use, and disposal.
At the end of our tour, Dan provided some advice for the students….study hard, and never stop learning. Focus on teamwork and have integrity.