Thom Johnson began his career at the Dow Chemical Company as a Research Chemist nearly 30 years ago and has worked extensively in the field of corrosion in water treatment, industrial coatings and fiber-reinforced composites. He holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Central Michigan University and a MBA from DePaul University. He currently manages the corrosion resistant and fire retardant composites business for Ashland and is the committee chair for ACMA’s Chemical Processing Symposium, taking place May 23-24 in Houston.
How does your work apply to the composites industry?
My current focus is on corrosion resistant materials at Ashland, particularly composites and how they relate to corrosion resistant structures, which is a significant business at Ashland and the composites industry as a whole. When we look at corrosion resistant materials, we are mostly evaluating carbon steel and alloys like stainless steel, versus composites for economy and durability.
How do composites fit into the corrosion industry?
The rule of thumb within corrosion resistant structures is that when choosing materials, whether they be carbon steel, metal alloys or composites, if carbon steel is suitable, i.e. it’s not a demanding or highly corrosive environment (an environment with a lot of chlorine, hydrochloric acid or sea water), then by all means use it. Composites are rarely competitive against straight carbon steel. However, as you move from carbon steel to higher nickel alloys, cost climbs significantly and composites become much more competitive. They are really gaining a foothold in corrosive environments, mainly because FRP (fiber reinforced polymers) is inherently more resistant to many corrosive materials than is carbon steel or stainless steel. So, in environments where stainless or more corrosion resistant alloys are required, composites become a compelling economical alternative as they are half the price to build equally durable equipment such as piping, storage tanks, ducting and chemical scrubbers.
What are you most looking forward to in the coming year?
We’re seeing a slow economic recovery in North American but certain markets are rebounding at a higher rate. One of the sectors rebounding strongly is chemical processing, much more than others because the affordable cost of natural gas is having a positive effect—low cost energy costs and low cost chemical feedstocks to make needed derivatives. Most of the major chemical processing players are investing in capacity and equipment upgrades because the business climate has improved significantly.