How I Make Every Molecule Matter: Kenny Limmer

How I integrate plant management values of safety, quality and delivery to create better catalysts

Kenny Limmer discusses his journey from chemical engineering to plant management, the importance of diversity and inclusion in building teams.

By Kenny Limmer – Plant Manager, Michigan City, Indiana, Shell Catalysts & Technologies on Nov 14, 2022

Kenny Limmer is the Plant Manager at Shell Catalysts & Technologies’ Michigan City, Indiana facility. He has worked at Shell for more than 25 years and in the industry for over 37 years.

In this interview on “How I Make Every Molecule Matter”, Kenny discusses his journey from chemical engineering to plant management, the importance of diversity and inclusion in building teams and why Shell Catalysts & Technologies’ manufacturing facilities focus on safety, quality and delivery.

1.How does your current work support energy transition initiatives now and in the future?

I’m the site manager for the Shell Catalysts & Technologies plant in Michigan City, Indiana. Our company manufactures catalysts utilized in both refining and chemical industries. The SC&T Michigan City Site produces alumina powder, a substance that is foundational in nearly all catalysts we produce. In fact, our facility is the leading provider of alumina powder to other Shell Catalysts & Technologies manufacturing facilities.

Other plants and facilities within the industry use the catalysts we manufacture to help create more and cleaner energy and produce other products, which are supplied to our customers worldwide. The materials we make at the Michigan City plant are critical to providing solutions to support the energy transition.

Catalysts are one way we help our customers work toward achieving their net-zero emission goals. At Shell Catalysts & Technologies, we help guide customers on their transition to renewable energy and renewable fuels that can help reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. For example, we help smaller refiner start producing biofuel by commercializing co-processing solutions and our Shell Renewable Refining Process, a two-stage, HVO-type process.

Download the white paper: Renewable fuels roadmap

2.Can you describe your journey to becoming a plant manager?

I started my career as a chemical engineer – graduating from Texas A&M University in the 1980s. I began working with a catalyst manufacturing company, performing research and pilot plant testing in both hydroprocessing and fluidized catalytic cracking (FCC) catalysts. After 12 years, I transitioned to Criterion Catalysts & Technologies, L.P. which is now Shell Catalysts & Technologies, L.P.

When I came to Shell, I continued my journey, starting in the Manufacturing Technical Services group who was considered the liaison between research and development (R&D) and the manufacturing sites. I studied catalyst development and lead pilot plant scale-up projects of the next generation of catalysts. Additionally, I supported a variety of other plants and facilities within the organization, helping to bring new products and technology for producing advanced catalysts around the world. Eventually, I transitioned to the management side. My technical background, experience and engineering perspective have been a valuable asset in this regard.

I’ve found that working with people has been immensely rewarding. Looking forward, we must be inclusive and bring as many diverse backgrounds to the table as we can. Diversity and inclusion allow us to create engagement and feedback opportunities among our people to help drive the development of our current products and spur innovation of new products. As a plant manager, I want to hear as many perspectives as possible to help move the needle for our organization and our customers and support our Powering Progress strategy to accelerate the transition of our business to net-zero emissions.

 

3.What makes the team at the Michigan City facility unique?

The people at the site and those who support it are part of a fantastic team, which is ultimately what makes this facility unique and successful within the company.  Besides the people aspects, we focus on three key pillars: safety, quality and delivery. All three are integral parts of how we work.

Safety is, first and foremost, our highest priority. We will not forego safety for anything else. Our Goal Zero ambition underlines our Powering Progress Strategy: we deliver energy responsibly and safely while also preventing harm whether it be to our employees, contractors, customers, community or the environment.

Concerning quality, I always say to people, ‘You know, you don’t go to the grocery store to buy cereal and expect to get burnt flakes in the box’. Customers come to Shell Catalysts & Technologies to buy high quality products. We focus heavily on improving product quality at the Michigan City plant and within our company so that our customers receive world-class products.

Quality products start with quality raw materials. With our production formulas, we want every molecule we create to go out the door and be ready for use by a customer.  In this way, every molecule matters, and there is no waste.

Regarding delivery, we want to deliver world-class products that meet high standards while helping our customers maximize efficiency and generate less waste.

 

4.How are catalysts important to support our customers’ energy transition initiatives?

We must start with what a catalyst does for our customers. Under the right design conditions, it can reduce pollutant precursors and improve fuel quality for reduced emissions.

Take crude oil, for instance. Because of its importance in transportation and because it is a building block for the petrochemical industry, crude oil will continue to be used throughout the energy transition. That said before customers can use it, crude oil must be processed to remove nitrogen, sulphur, certain metals, etc. The utilisation of catalysts to initiate reactions for the removal of various elements like sulfur, nitrogen, and heavy metals and create different chemical formulations can help lower emissions and increase fuel economy.

We also develop catalysts, which we call environmental catalysts, that help plant operators meet clean air regulations by better removing carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, volatile organic compounds and even remove trace contaminants from CO2 streams.  One example would be our DeNOx catalysts produced by SC&T that converts the various undesirable NOx gases typically generated and emitted as a waste stream into elemental N2 and O2 gases, which is in the air that we breathe every day.

 Chemical molecules will need to be converted into forms that are safe, manageable and practical in order to make the energy transition.  In our business as a catalyst manufacturer, this is one way we can assist customers with this transition by providing the solutions through the use of catalysts.  With the examples mentioned above, these are just a few ways catalysts play an essential part in the energy transition.

5.How is the Michigan City facility working to reduce its own CO2 emissions?

Like our customers, we are on a CO2 reduction journey.

We are actively working on innovations and projects to help lower CO2 emissions. We are doing large and small projects internally. As an example, we modified our air compressor system, which was utilizing older, less efficient motors. We worked with a partner to install new, energy-efficient motors. This helps lowering the scope 2 emissions from the plant by reducing the site’s grid power consumption.

One area we are really interested in is finding a way to use renewable energy to provide electricity to this site and others. The Michigan City facility is in the Midwestern United States. This area experiences harsh winters, which creates a challenge in utilising solar power. However, we do receive a high amount of wind. That is why we are evaluating the potential use of wind power for our plant.

There are a variety of options we are evaluating and working on across the Michigan City plant to determine how we should go about energy production and CO2 reduction in the future.

Reducing our operational emissions while helping Shell Catalysts & Technologies customers decarbonise with innovative products are both necessary to enable a net zero energy future.

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