Breaking Bad: A Clueless Review
Sep30

Breaking Bad: A Clueless Review

The biggest thing to happen in the world of chemistry this week was the final episode of Breaking Bad. The Chemical Notebook never saw the show, and for the last several years has felt left out of the fun that most of the chemical world was having watching it every week. I considered seeing the show before, but getting caught up would take more than 50 hours. It doesn’t seem important enough to invest that kind of time. Instead, I just jumped into the final episode. Technically, I watched a little bit of the second to last episode, but most of that time was spent telling the kids to stop playing in front of the television. Here’s my review of the last episode: [[SPOILER ALERT: People may have recorded the show on VHS or whatever.]] The main character is Walter White. He’s played by the dad from Malcolm in the Middle. I’m pretty sure the shows occur in different universes. Walter White makes drugs, probably methamphetamine, using science. In fact, many references in the final episode leave me with the impression that he was once a reputable scientist. Most likely he was a chemist because I know chemists enjoy the show and they wouldn’t like it as much if it was about a renegade geologist. White may have done other bad things besides making drugs, but that isn’t 100% clear from just the last episode. He seems like a nice man, as far as drug makers go, so I have my doubts. Walter has some kind of disease that makes him cough a lot. Also, he’s a fugitive. He has a wife. I didn’t catch her name. She smokes. He also has a son, who walks around with crutches. He is very angry with his father about the drugs and other things he may or may not have done. Oh, and a baby. There’s a baby in house. I’m not sure how it got there. The wife smokes in the house even though there’s a baby. Maybe she just smokes in the kitchen. I should mention Jesse. I think he used to be friends with Walter White. He was making drugs while tethered to a thing. He used to make nice boxes out of wood. The show has a lot of characters. I can’t get into them all. A woman who drinks tea a lot seems like she was important for the last few episodes at least. Walter kills her with chemistry. Also there were two rich people with a nice fireplace, apparently two former businesses associates of White. They said bad things about him on Charlie Rose. This...

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Observations About The CMAI And DeWitt Conferences
Mar25

Observations About The CMAI And DeWitt Conferences

I’m in Houston for the DeWitt and CMAI petrochemical conferences. According to modern journalist practice, I should have had a live Twitter feed from the conferences. I don’t do that. I’m not particularly ashamed. Feel free to cut and paste these observations into your own Tweets. 1) DeWitt was held at the Hotel ZaZa in the Museum district, an artsy hotel with giant booking photos of Frank Sinatra on the walls and stuff. There were about 40 attendees, not including speakers and journalists. 2) CMAI had about 950 or so, by my reckoning, if you don’t include the petrochemical workshop they put on the day before the actual conference. Overall figures were more than 1,000, and I think, a record. They held it at the Hilton Americas, a perfectly normal hotel near the convention center. 3) When I started going to these a decade ago, both were held in the Galleria area. In fact, you could shuttle through the mall between talks. Attendance was closer to even at the time. 4) The biggest theme at the conferences was the cheap natural gas in North America and the strong international advantage North American producers have by cracking ethane into ethylene. Some 25% or 30% of U.S. output of some petrochemicals is being exported, CMAI president Gary Adams said. It is being shipped, “not to Columbus, Ohio, or Houston, Texas, but to conversion facilities around the world.” 5) A big topic of conversation on the sidelines was who might invest in a new cracker in the U.S. and where. (Perhaps I was just bringing it up to people I talked to. I have such tendencies, being a reporter and all.) The juiciest thing I heard is that it would be a “foreign” firm. Whether that narrows it down depends on what is meant by foreign. Reliance Industries is foreign, but technically, so is LyondellBasell. Though I think the more foreign sense of foreign was meant. 6) Investments in chemicals other than ethylene is likely for the U.S. Dewey Johnson, who covers syngas chemicals for CMAI, said in his talk that new acetic acid capacity is needed in the U.S. Tison Keel, who leads ethylene oxide and derivative studies at CMAI, said ethylene oxide purification capacity for derivatives (as opposed to ethylene glycol, which is a different animal) might be needed. That’s nothing to sneeze at; EO purification costs tens of millions, if not upwards of a hundred million, dollars to install. 7) The World Makes, China Takes: The other big theme at the conference was that the booming Chinese economy will buy up all the excess tons of chemicals the world...

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Nexant Releases Polyolefins Forecast
May05

Nexant Releases Polyolefins Forecast

The chemical consultancy Nexant has released its market forecast for polyolefins. A few main points: Demand for polyolefins—polypropylene and various kinds of polyethylene—decreased only 0.14% last year despite a 2.1% decline in the global GDP. Nexant estimates polyolefins demand last year was 111 million metric tons. Nexant forcasts linear low-density polyethylene will grow at a 6.2% rate through 2015 while polypropylene and high-density polyethylene consumption increases at 5.7% and 5.5%, respectively. One neat thing about Nexant's forecast that you can see from the graph is that there is a lull in demand growth towards the end of the decade. Nexant must have an economic downturn in its model. Most forecasts that you see around the chemical industry don't seem to build in future downturns and thus forecast growth as as straight trendline. Working in a slowdown, like Nexant does, is more realistic, given that recessions occur every eight to ten years. 7 million tons of capacity came onstream in 2009. Nexant expects 9 million tons of polyethylene and 6 million tons of polypropylene capacity will come online in 2010. Most of the new capacity will start up in the Middle East and Asia. The onslaught of new capacity will reduce operating rates for existing polyethylene...

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