Women Behind Innovation: Tina Arrowood

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As a teenager, Tina Arrowood aspired for a more lucrative and “relaxed” life style and chose to pursue her bachelor’s degree in Chemistry at University of Wisconsin River Falls (1994) and later a PhD in Organic Chemistry at University of Minnesota (1999).  Upon graduation she joined the Union Carbide Corporation’s Amines R&D group, which became Dow Amines R&D after Dow Chemial merged with Union Carbide in 2001, where Arrowood worked as a process chemist supporting world scale Amines manufacturing processes.  After seven years, she transferred to Dow’s Core R&D Chemistry and Catalysis group where she explored new catalyst and reaction technology in support of the Glycol Ethers and Epoxy businesses among others.  Four years later Arrowood transitioned to her current area of research as a membrane scientist in the Dow Water and Process Solutions business developing new reverse osmosis and nanofiltration membrane technology.

The Edison Awards recently spoke with Arrowood about her interest in innovation, what misconceptions she feels people have about the fields and some of her career highlights. Here’s what she had to say:(edited for brevity and clarity)

When did your interest in science begin?

My interest in science sparked after completing a high school chemistry lab exercise called “Identify the unknowns.”  I was impressed by the fact that each experiment provided a clue, which served to narrow the possible answers.   It was a matter of completing enough experiments until the answer became certain.  This process remains true regardless of the problems that I have confronted in my career.  It gives me the confidence to take risk and think outside-the-box during innovation brainstorm sessions knowing that with a few experiments new ideas can be screened to narrow in on the most promising.

What was it like to be a woman studying in your field?

I would like to say that science is gender-neutral, but this is not true.  Science benefits from the diversity of the people who are asking the questions and formulating the experiments to find answers. Being a woman is one of many attributes which contribute to my unique perspective in problem solving and style in leading teams.

Did you have a network of people to reach out to?

Certainly, I have run into situations where my research style is not agreeable with others.   These are times when I lean on my support network including my family, peers, leaders, past colleagues and mentors for encouragement, suggestions for improvement or simply to lend an ear to listen.  I always strive to learn from these situations for personal development but also for experiential guidance to those in my network when they need my support.

Share with us some of your career highlights.

The most rewarding projects that immediately come to mind have one thing in common:  they use science to develop practical solutions that affect people every day. For example, my contribution as a process chemist to improve reaction selectivity, conversion costs and product quality of our world scale Ethanolamine and Ethyleneamine production facilities translates to the ability to meet the ever changing supply and demand forecasts and ensure low cost, reliable supply and superior product quality for customers using these materials in a variety of products such as shampoos, paper towels, herbicides, and lubricants.  The discovery of regio-selective alkoxylation catalysts provides patent protected routes to liquid epoxy resin products free of bound chloride and also opens options for improving the manufacturing efficiency for certain DOWANOL™ product production.  And finally, patented technology was used to development the first FILMTEC™ reverse osmosis and nanofiltration products designed exclusively for challenging water treatment applications.  These products reduce the cost of wastewater treatment and recycle by up to 60% for industries in water scarce regions such as Northern China and India where zero-liquid discharge is being mandated.

How is your company bringing innovation to the forefront?

Innovation begins when Dow scientists meet with customers to clearly understand and define unmet needs, from which suitable technology to fill these needs can be identified and new products can be developed.  Dow’s >120 year history of innovating technology has provided a launch pad for researchers to accelerate the development and commercialization of new generations of products to solve customers’ problems.  Speed to innovate the solution is increased when carefully framed problems are shared across Dow’s R&D community. This opens access to some of the most talented scientists and state of the art equipment in the world including high throughput tools, state of the art analytical capabilities, computational resources as well as prototyping and scale up abilities.   Cross collaboration and team work among talented scientist equipped with state of the art tools becomes the competitive advantage for speed to innovate.  Dow’s scientists are at the intersection of identifying the customer’s unmet needs, defining the technology gap to address, innovating the solution, and developing the product.

To date, what project is your greatest success, and what is the story behind that innovation?

The innovation, development and commercial launch of the DOW FILMTEC FORTILIFE™ family of reverse osmosis (RO) elements is my most rewarding career achievement to date. The need for these products stems from the global water shortage and the necessity for industrial manufacturing plants to practice more sustainable water management.  Recycling and reusing their own wastewater and/or sourcing water from local municipal wastewater treatment plants is becoming the only available water for some industries in water scarce regions of China and India.  These waters, however, are generally higher in organic contamination and salinity than ground water or surface waters and thus create a membrane fouling challenge when employing standard reverse osmosis membrane technology.  When fouling occurs, systems are shut down and cleaned.  High frequency of cleanings lead to lost productivity, high cleaning chemical use, reduced membrane lifetime, and higher labor costs.  The DOW FILMTEC FORTILIFE™ elements are designed with fouling resistant technology to reduce the frequency of cleanings of water treatment systems by up to 30-50%.  Not only does this improve the system’s operating costs, but also provides system operators the confidence to push the treatment plant to recover and reuse more water from their wastewater streams.  This is especially important for plants requiring zero-liquid discharge since these membranes can be used to reduce the amount of water requiring expensive thermal treatment and provide up to 60% savings compared to standard thermal treatment methods.

The technology included in these elements was a result of a multi-year fundamental research effort studying biological and organic fouling of RO elements.  At the start, not only did the team need to develop technology, but also establish testing capability to evaluate the performance of these technologies at reducing fouling.  Dow’s Tarragona Water Technology Center in Tarragona, Spain is a state of the art water treatment laboratory with access to Mediterranean Seawater, Ebro River Water and secondary treated wastewater from a nearby municipal wastewater treatment plant.  Using the access to these naturally fouling water types, more than seven assets ranging from full scale element testing to small scale membrane fouling simulators were commissioned with established fouling test protocols. In parallel, a team of chemists in Dow’s Core R&D group developed high throughput methods to prepare and characterize membrane chemistries with a wide range of properties in order to explore the impact of variables such as charge, hydrophilicity, and roughness on controlling fouling.  Likewise a team of engineers used hydrodynamic modeling tools to define module designs to improve the control of fouling.   Supplier partnerships were used to secure samples of raw materials to assemble these new module configurations to test the performance under the various fouling environments.  Membrane chemistry and module design exploration and the development of testing capabilities were each essential for cycling through our hypotheses and narrowing in on the most effective RO element design.  With a narrowed set of product prototypes, final performance validation required our regional development teams in China and India to partner with end users to demonstrate the performance in the representative industrial wastewater treatment systems with severe fouling issues.  In the end, our team was confident we had a set of products that worked.  This confidence was backed with robust scientific data and more over with proof under operating environments our customers could understand.

I rank this project as my greatest success because it applied science to help people and the planet.  We developed solutions for sustainable industrial wastewater management to allow continued industrial and economic development in countries such as China and India while preserving their water resources for future generations.

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