My chemical engineering career revolved around understanding intricate production systems and making them work better.
Complex chemical processes can take years to design, build, and troubleshoot. I had the opportunity to go through two such design-build-startup cycles in my days.
Double, triple, and quadruple checks were called for. And I'm pleased to say that when I took early retirement, I left behind two working plants.
But it was my very first assignment that still stands out to me. The process I was working on made nitrogen oxides (NOx) as part of the offgas.
To minimize the amount of NOx sent in the atmosphere, the plant had an evaporation tower where water would flow down from the top over a series of horizontal trays in the tower and would absorb the NOx from the gas stream flowing up from the bottom of the tower.
My job was to figure out why the tower wasn't taking out as much NOx as needed.
I did what any good engineer would – I studied the design parameters of the tower to see if I could uncover any parameters that were off. Everything was correct, so there were no performance problems there.
It wasn't until I left the office and climbed the tower itself that I found the answer.