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New focus on lower carbon technologies at Imperial Oil, says plant manager

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Cathy Dobson

Recent trials to replace up to 10% of fossil fuel with canola oil in the refinery process have been successful at Imperial Oil’s Sarnia and Nanticoke sites, said Sarnia plant manager Kim Haas at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon Thursday.

“It’s a clear demonstration that we’re creating lower carbon intense fuel,” she told about 50 women gathered at The Insignia Hotel in downtown Sarnia.

Haas not only manages the Sarnia complex, but is also vice president of Imperial Oil Chemicals in Canada.

The company’s commitment to find lower carbon technologies has never been stronger, she said.

“I’m fortunate to be working in the petrochemical industry during a time of incredible transformation, as we work through the energy transition.

 “Imperial is committed to playing a big part by providing energy solutions in a way that helps protect people and the environment,” she said.

Imperial’s other lower carbon initiatives in Sarnia include:

• blending Fatty Acid Methyl Ester (FAME) into ultra-low sulphur diesel; and

• construction nearly complete on the largest private storage battery in North America, a 20-megawatt system, that reduces the refinery’s draw on the province’s grid as well as greenhouse gas emissions.

Imperial Oil and its parent company ExxonMobil are also working on advanced recycling systems to handle plastic waste, Haas said.

Imperial’s chemical plant in Sarnia makes polyethylene, the plastic commonly used in everything from cars to facemasks. But nearly 80% of all post-consumer plastic in Canada ends up in landfill.

In December, ExxonMobil started up one of North America’s largest plastic waste advanced recycling facilities at its complex in Baytown, Texas. The company is considering the same recycling technology at its Sarnia site, said Haas.

Advanced recycling breaks down hard-to-recycle plastics and transforms them into raw materials for new products.  It is possible to process more than 80 million pounds of plastic waste per year, helping to divert significant amounts of plastic waste now going to landfill.

Haas became Imperial’s Sarnia plant manager in 2020, having previously served in the U.S. Army, the Michigan National Guard and worked for 16 years for ExxonMobil, most recently in Texas.

At the Imperial Sarnia site, the operations and technical managers reporting to Haas are both women, she said Thursday. “This would have been unheard of just a couple of decades ago.”

For the first time in Imperial’s history, the three Canadian manufacturing sites in Sarnia, Nanticoke and Strathcona, have female site managers.

“When I reflect on my career, what has helped me the most has been letting go of fear and stretching outside of my comfort zone,” Haas said, referring to the fear of making a mistake or failing. 

“When I was able to let go of the fear, my confidence grew and suddenly I was dreaming bigger for myself.”

That same strategy – to stretch outside its comfort zone – is being adopted by the petrochemical industry as it transitions to a lower carbon future, Haas told her audience.

“We’re looking at new opportunities, new technologies and new ways of doing things in a lower carbon world.

“We’ve had to let go of the fear that some of these new approaches may not work.  In an industry made up of engineers, scientists and business leaders, that’s not an easy thing to do,” Haas said.

“…there will be learnings along the way, things we didn’t get perfect the first time around.  It doesn’t mean we’ve failed,” she said.  “It means we tried, we learned, and we continue to move on to find the right solutions that work.”

Haas was guest speaker at a Women in Business luncheon, hosted by the Sarnia-Lambton Chamber of Commerce on the last Thursday of every month.

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