Gabriel Rodríguez Garrido Executive Director, ARGENTINE PETROCHEMICAL INSTITUTE (IPA)
"The fuels of the energy transition will be petrochemicals: ammonia, methanol and green hydrogen all have direct petrochemical components."
What have been the most evident trends in the Argentinian petrochemical market in the last 12 months?
In 2022 there has been renewed interest in the opportunities of developing Argentina’s Vaca Muerta natural gas reserves, which had dimmed for a few years ago, but has come into focus considering the war in Ukraine and increased commodity prices. A gas pipeline was recently tendered to bring more development to the region, for example. The petrochemical industry is a multiplier, not only for investments, but also for local industry and workforce. Hence, IPA is working to develop talented professionals to support development.
We are working on one of the most critical challenges facing the industry – the circular economy of plastics. IPA had a central role in developing a consortium for the development of chemical recycling of plastics. A new law is being considered which would provide more incentives for industries to recycle. IPA, in association with ECOPLAS and CONICET, is leading this group to develop these disruptive technologies.
How could the development of Vaca Muerta improve energy sovereignty in Argentina?
Argentina has the second largest non-conventional gas reserve in the world, which has enormous potential value. Gas will be a protagonist in reducing climate change. The world clearly requires more energy, especially sustainable energy, and in the transition towards renewable energy, which is the end goal, gas is a natural resource with a lower carbon impact than coal and oil. Gas pipelines also bring relief by reducing imports. Argentina has the resources, the only thing missing are the correct macroeconomic and investment conditions.
We also believe that the petrochemical industry can add significant value to gas.
What role can the petrochemical industry play in the energy transition?
The fuels of the energy transition will be petrochemicals: ammonia, methanol and green hydrogen all have direct petrochemical components. However, in the energy transition, the sector has two big challenges. The first is the circularity of plastics. The advantages of plastics are clear, but we all have a responsibility to give plastic that have already fulfilled its lifetime another lifetime, so it does not end up in the environment. Industries need to see plastic waste as a source of feedstock. We also need to achieve a neutral or even negative carbon footprint. The industry is working towards that, such as talk surrounding net-zero crackers. Renewable energies are being introduced to petrochemical sites, and Argentina has advantages in this area with wind in the south and sun in the north.
In June 2022, you led a panel at Austral University on the subject of talent development in the petrochemical sector. What were the main points covered in the discussion?
One of IPA’s main areas of focus has been to develop strategic alliances in education, for example, with Austral University we developed a certification course for the petrochemical businesses, which in August 2022 runs its third installment. The other alliance we have developed is with Plapiqui, a well-renowned institution in Bahía Blanca’s petrochemical town where we developed a whole platform of virtual courses, named P-virtual, which serve as a platform to train plant workers in the industry.
The discussion revolved around how in this new scene, we prepare to attract, retain, and develop talent. We talked about how professionals can develop their abilities and accelerate knowledge so they can improve practices in the plants.
IPA has also developed a diversity and inclusion network for the chemical and petrochemical industry that we invite all companies to take part in. We began with all the companies associated to IPA, but more companies from the value chain are now coming in. This network aims to foster a culture that is fundamental to attract and retain talent. New workers need to know they are working in a good company and a good industry to stay in it. It is the industry’s responsibility to be inclusive with every minority, not just regarding gender, but also sexual orientation and ethnicity. We can see this initiative paying off already.