Run a safe, reliable operation. This is the mantra of Paresh Bhakta who serves as site director of the Celanese plant in Clear Lake, Texas. It is with this phrase he leads the plant, but he also instills it in the approximately 400 employees he oversees. Bhakta is dedicated to the safety and health of his employees, running the plant in a manner that protects the environment and benefits the community surrounding it.
The Celanese facility in Clear Lake, which produces acetic acid and vinyl acetate monomer, is considered one of the company’s larger-sized plants and sits on nearly 1,000 acres. While the site was constructed in 1967, Bhakta began his journey with Celanese 15 years ago. He graduated from the University of Texas with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and was hired upon graduation. During Bhakta’s time with Celanese, he’s held numerous roles from process engineer to investor relations manager before finally becoming site director at the Clear Lake plant in January 2012. Bhakta said each role at Celanese has added to his skill set and prepared him for the duties he has today.
“I manage the chemical plant from a technical and business standpoint,” Bhakta said. “Being able to understand all the economics and engineering enables me to have a holistic picture of how to run the plant. I also need to balance multiple, conflicting goals on any given day while never losing sight of the well-being of the employees and the environment.”
Celanese is a global technology leader in the production of differentiated chemistry solutions and specialty materials used in most major industries and consumer applications. With sales almost equally divided among North America, Europe and Asia, the company uses the full breadth of its global chemistry, technology and business expertise to create value for customers and the corporation. Based in Dallas, Celanese employs approximately 7,600 employees worldwide.
Evolving the overall culture
At Celanese, Bhakta strives to run a flat organization, meaning employees are all treated fairly and equally no matter what their title is.
“Everyone at the plant is necessary to achieve our goals and maintain safe operations,” Bhakta said. “I run a very flat organization that isn’t a hierarchy. We understand who the leaders are, but we don’t put them on a pedestal. At the end of the day, I’m just one of 400 people on site. We all look out for one another and we treat each other equally.”
Since Bhakta has been in Clear Lake, he has been focused on changing the overall culture at the plant to a closer-knit, family type atmosphere. Bhakta is also changing the safety culture on site to drive and maintain zero OSHA recordable incidents.
“My top priority is the health and safety of the employees,” Bhakta said. “We want to create a mindset to always look and focus on the hazards surrounding you first. Our culture is evolving to behavior based instead of conditional.”
Changing the overall safety culture at the plant is one challenge Bhakta is facing but he said the biggest concern throughout the chemical industry right now is the issue of a work force shortage. Celanese and the Clear Lake plant are working to acquire and develop the right employees to combat this shortage.
“Developing your own talent is the best way to build a sustainable and effective team for the long term,” Bhakta said. “Not only recruiting talent but retaining it is another main priority of ours. We are creating a culture where people feel valued and want to stay here. Our employees want to work together to achieve the highest possible results and contribute to long-term performance that earns Celanese its distinct recognition.”
New methanol facility
The Celanese Clear Lake facility is in the process of constructing a new methanol facility, which will utilize abundant, low-cost natural gas in the Gulf Coast as a feedstock. The planned methanol facility will have an annual capacity of 1.3 million tons and is expected to begin operations in mid-2015.
Bhakta said he is excited the Clear Lake plant is expanding its operations to include the strategic upstream production of methanol.
“The favorable economics of natural gas in the Gulf Coast, combined with the plant’s existing infrastructure, provides us with this unique expansion opportunity,” he said. “It’s gratifying to see these types of expansions being made, which bring investment and jobs into the surrounding communities.”
The total shared capital and expense investment in the facility is estimated to be approximately $800 million. Celanese’s portion of the investment is estimated to be approximately $300 million, in addition to the previously invested assets at the Clear Lake facility.
Celanese recently developed its TCX® Technology, an innovative ethanol process that can help meet growing global transportation fuel needs by creating a low-cost ethanol fuel option that uses abundant local hydrocarbon resources rather than corn or sugarcane. In August 2012, Celanese opened in Clear Lake a TCX Technology Development Unit that uses natural gas as its primary hydrocarbon feedstock for the production of fuel-grade and industrial-grade ethanol. Bhakta said the Celanese TCX ethanol production process is feedstock flexible, has lower water consumption, is energy-efficient and helps meet the world’s energy challenges.
“Celanese researchers developed the TCX Technology in Clear Lake to create a fuel that helps countries reduce the need to import oil and gas by using domestically available hydrocarbons such as natural gas, coal and pet coke,” Bhakta said. “TCX ethanol can function as a fuel additive to operate vehicles, and it can also be used in industrial-grade applications like manufacturing paints, coatings, inks and pharmaceuticals.”
Prospects for ethanol
Bhakta said Celanese is pursuing opportunities to apply its TCX ethanol production technology to full-scale production of fuel ethanol. According to Celanese, ethanol legislation enacted prior to the availability of TCX Technology focused on supporting then-available technologies, and current regulations continue to favor these technologies. Bhakta believes TCX Technology can help contribute to meeting U.S. energy independence without impacting arable land, food or feed prices.
“Currently, the United States has the Clean Air Act, which mandates the blended ethanol in your gas tank comes from a bio-based feedstock,” Bhakta said. “Celanese is working with those in Washington to allow the utilization of hydrocarbon-based ethanol for fuel so we can have a level playing field.”
Celanese is asking Congress to amend the law to allow for a competitive choice and permit the use of natural gas-based ethanol as part of the U.S. fuel supply. Bhakta said a simple expansion of the federal law — to allow oil refiners to use natural gas-based ethanol as well as corn-based ethanol — is all that is necessary to give the U.S. market a choice of an identical ethanol product.
Celanese and the community
Celanese partners with customers to solve their most critical needs while making a positive impact on its communities and the world. Bhakta said it’s important to support and benefit the surrounding Clear Lake community because it’s also home to the plant’s employees.
“We are all part of the same community and breathe the same air,” Bhakta said. “So it’s important we are open and transparent about the plant’s operations and that our employees give back to the community.”
Celanese employees at the Clear Lake plant donate their time and money to various organizations and events throughout the year including Habitat for Humanity, United Way, Pasadena Livestock Show and Rodeo, Pasadena Strawberry Festival, the Galveston Bay Foundation’s Bay Day and Bike Around The Bay, and Trash Bash. Celanese also holds a beeping Easter egg hunt for blind children and Bhakta gives demonstrations at local elementary schools where he discusses chemistry.
“These classrooms are filled with kids who can be influenced by chemistry,” Bhakta said. “I help them start to think about how important chemistry is to our sustainability and their future.”
9502 Bayport Blvd.
Pasadena, TX 77507
Employees: Approximately 400
Products: Acetic acid and vinyl acetate monomer