Monday, July 9, 2018

Ah, To Be Working Again

Ask any retiree, and he or she will tell you retirement is a mixed bag. Money is often an issue and health always is. Family problems mount as everyone gets older. Sleeping late and lazing about and lying on the beach get old after about six months.

Studies have shown 78% of retirees feel an emptiness when no longer working, no longer pulling their weight, making a difference. We compensate by joining civic organizations, throwing ourselves into charity work. Some old-timers even run for public office. You hear a lot of talk about "giving back."

But suppose we could rewind our biological clocks? What would we do if we had our old jobs back? If we were twenty years younger, how would we direct our energies in today's world? What would our priorities be?

It would vary, of course, depending on education and background. In my case, as a chemist and alumnus of two major corporations, I would encounter a market reshaped by technology, environmental concerns and new energy sources -- all offering a ton of opportunities.

So if I were still directing a research operation, what would I do? First off, I would jump on the fracking bandwagon and ride it for all its worth. I would design green chemicals for suspending the sand, lubricating the high-pressure frack, killing the microbes. I would adapt adsorptive resins for capturing errant methane. I would design in situ gelants for corralling the recovered fracking fluids. All big-time opportunities.

The second thing I would do is direct research toward making chemicals and plastics from renewable sources. In the past and still today, most synthetic chemicals come from petroleum. Replacing petroleum as a starting material would be a big step toward curbing carbon emissions. And the business upside is huge.

Advances are reported every month. Vegetable oil and cooking oil wastes are used for manufacturing polyethylene and polypropylene. Hair dyes are being sourced from blackcurrants. A Danish firm is piloting a fermentation process for making Lego-type plastics. Soybean oil is used as a feedstock for foamed cushions. Cellulosic waste is being transformed into beverage containers. Processes are being developed for converting greenhouse gases -- carbon dioxide and methane -- into polymer building blocks. The door is wide open.

Finally, I would take advantage of the irreversible aspects of climate change -- products to deal with sea-level rise, drought-resistant crops, living in arid climes. How about slow-release green fertilizer? Or renewable insulation? Or gelants to guard against saltwater intrusion?

Are these the musings of an aging chemist? I'm afraid so. I'm mired in retirement. Anyway, I'm probably out of touch with the real world, which I suspect has no place for old idealists.

It's a good thing people are tolerant of us retirees and our cluttered attempts to make things better. And it's good there are enough civic groups to accommodate us all.

Once again, I call this meeting to order ...

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