Friday, October 8, 2021

Member Spotlight: Timothy Abraham

Timothy Abraham

Dr. Timothy Abraham has been an AOCS member since 2005. He served as the secretary-treasurer of the AOCS Industrial Oil Products (IOP) Division from 2016–2019 and as the chair from 2019–2021.

Dr. Abraham is from Sri Lanka, where he received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He attended graduate school at the University of Minnesota, receiving his Ph.D. in organic/bioorganic chemistry in 1991. 

Following post-doctoral studies in medicinal chemistry at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Abraham joined Ambion Inc., the RNA company, in Austin, Texas. He moved back to Minnesota to join Cargill Inc. in 2000 as a senior scientist. Since joining Cargill, he has worked on various projects spanning food, feed and industrial applications. He was promoted to principal scientist in 2004, and subsequently became the new product development manager for Cargill’s biobased polyurethanes business. He moved back into corporate research, joining the engineering R&D function, where he was promoted to senior principal scientist in 2015. He was appointed a Cargill Corporate Fellow in 2019. He has 35 granted US patents and several more pending applications.

Dr. Abraham was a member of the team that won the EPA’s Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award in 2007 for “Biobased Polyols” and subsequently served on the judging panel for these awards. He has also won several awards at Cargill, including the Chairman’s Award and the prestigious "Bassy Award". The "Bassy Award" recognizes and honors individuals who consistently exemplify the attributes of the Cargill Leadership Model and have over their career provided significant contributions to the company.

Dr. Abraham has been serving on the External Advisory Board for the Department of Chemistry at the University of Minnesota since 2016. Mentoring and volunteering are two of his passions, which include mentoring students in middle school, high school, and college, and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, Loaves & Fishes, and Kids Against Hunger.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Member Spotlight: Mike Martinez

Mike Martinez
Mike Martinez is the newly elected chairperson of the AOCS Processing (PRO) Division.

Shortly after completing his B.S. in chemistry at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, Mike joined the staff at Natural Plant Products. In 2010, he assumed the position of CEO for both Natural Plant Products and its parent company, OMG, a cooperative of Oregon farms. In this capacity, he is responsible for all operations from crop production to finished product distribution in the personal care industry. In addition to his studies in chemistry, Mike completed an MBA at Willamette University with a focus on strategy and sustainability. A native of Seal Beach, CA, Mike is now proud to call himself an Oregonian and has adopted the requisite habits of running, the pursuit of pinot noir and the habitual avoidance of umbrellas.

For those not familiar with Natural Plant Products, the company markets meadowfoam oil and other specialty oils to the global personal care and cosmetics industries. Meadowfoam oil is derived from the seeds of Limnanthes alba, a winter annual that was commercialized in Oregon’s Willamette Valley during the 1980s. Though native to California, the crop filled a critical rotational role in Oregon’s grass seed industry. Both Oregon State University and the USDA-ARS were instrumental in the development of meadowfoam as a specialty crop. This unique oil is known for its high oxidative stability relative to other seed oils. The stability stems from the unique C20 and C22 fatty acids that compose the oil. An internet search can provide more detail or visit www.meadowfoam.com.

What do you wish you would had known when you first started?

The financial models that exist for specialty oils are different than those for familiar commodities like soy, palm and cotton. For example, meadowfoam’s value is concentrated almost entirely in the oil (99%+), as usages for meal and cake are restricted by pesticide and feed regulations. As I have gained understanding of the markets for oils such as cotton, almond and canola, I have been able to apply those fundamentals to our current operations and integrate them into our strategic planning.

What is the most challenging issue that you have personally faced in oilseeds?

Consolidation within the oilseed industry has reduced the number of plants available for toll processing. The advances in technology allowing for ever larger plants has further reduced the number of plants that are of reasonable size for specialty seeds that trade exclusively in the cosmetics space. Our cooperative farms in a region with high land values and a climate not suited to most oilseeds. The identification of oilseeds that would interest cosmetics brands and identifying a secure path to manufacturing has been the largest challenge I have faced in the past decade. 

What is the biggest challenge you see in oilseeds today?

From my perspective in the cosmetics industry, logistics and costs are causing massive disruptions to normal operations. Ocean freight shipments are often delayed by weeks, and it is increasingly difficult to secure bookings for both imports and exports. Domestic freight costs for our materials have tripled on some freight lanes, while steel, energy and labor costs are increasing rapidly. We’ve always planned for and assumed costs will increase over time. The problem is the pace of change. I don’t think these challenges are unique to the specialty oilseed world.

Any final thoughts you would like to share?

Our company has noted an increased customer interest in supply chain transparency and sustainability. I think this provides options and challenges for both specialty and commodity oils producers. For smaller entities, securing the resources necessary to quantity environmental, social and financial impacts across a supply chain will be challenging. For larger producers or food companies, I imagine the challenge of creating identity-preserved supply chains for raw materials sourced on a global basis is top of mind. Our industry will need to drive collaboration and education, so we are prepared to answer our customers’ questions regarding impacts from seed through packaging.

Member Spotlight: Brian P. Grady

Brian P. Grady
Dr. Brian P. Grady is the Douglas and Hilda Bourne Chair in Chemical Engineering and Director, School of Chemical, Biological and Materials Engineering, at the University of Oklahoma (OU). He is also the Director of the Institute for Applied Surfactant Research at OU.

He is a member of the AOCS Surfactants and Detergents (S&D) Division.

How did you first get involved with AOCS?

As with most of you I suspect, my first interaction with AOCS was attending the AOCS Annual Meeting & Expo. My Ph.D. (Wisconsin, 1994) research area was polymer science. Although while working as a process engineer at Procter and Gamble from 1987–-1989 I did learn a bit about surfactants, even though I was making a food product. 

My first significant involvement with surfactants occurred when I started as a faculty member at the University of Oklahoma. I became interested in admicellar polymerization, which was the subject of my first successful NSF proposal! I eventually became interested more generally in surfactant adsorption at the solid-liquid interface, which naturally led me to AOCS. I attended my first AOCS Annual Meeting in Seattle in 2008 and have attended every meeting since, with only one exception. 

What do you value most about the AOCS Surfactants and Detergents Division?

In my experience, academics seem to attend meetings only with other academics, and industry people only with other industry people. The characteristic I value most about the S&D Division of AOCS is that the meeting is at the interface (pun intended 😊) of the two groups. I fully admit that I pay more attention to more talks during the S&D technical program at the AOCS Annual Meeting vs. more academic meetings because I am more likely to get research ideas from the former. 

The only international meeting I organized was on surfactants (SIS 2018, special issue in the Journal of Surfactants and Detergents!) and historically was mostly a meeting with academics. I took great pains to try to get a good mix of industrial and academic talks, modelling what AOCS does (with a little bit more academic talks; what did you expect?).

Besides the AOCS Annual Meeting, how have you been involved in AOCS?

My other significant experience has been in society governance. Once an academic achieves tenure, he/she should sit back and figure out long-term professional goals (before that, the only goal is to be awarded tenure!). 

I was very interested in professional society governance. I still have a significant interest in polymer science, so I became involved in that area first, but eventually became involved with S&D as well. First, I was Secretary-Treasurer for the S&D Division. I mostly remember how gracious our industrial representatives were to sponsor the Division. Both in this role and in my role as Chair I always tried to figure out how best to provide value for their generous donation. I never was Vice-Chair; organizing the technical sessions for the Annual Meeting is too much work for me! In my opinion, the Chair gets far more credit than he/she deserves for the smooth running of S&D, while the Vice-Chair doesn’t get enough. In my two years as Chair, I interacted with all the members of the Division, which was quite fulfilling. 

Currently, my significant involvement is organizing and chairing sessions (which I very much enjoy!) and being on the editorial board of the Journal of Surfactants and Detergents (which isn’t a ton of work but sounds impressive!).