When you say silica, most of us picture the tiny paper bag of granules that come in the pockets of new clothes or in packs of chips. Not only will we uncover the mystery of these tiny particles today, but Menze de Boer, manager of quality and regulatory affairs in the Delfzijl silica plant, will also introduce us to fields where silica is helping us every day.
PPG was one of the first companies to bring precipitated silica products to the market back in 1937. As part of our Specialty Coatings and Materials (SCM) business, today the industry recognizes our company for having one of the broadest and most trusted portfolios of precipitated silica products in the world. Thanks to the Delfzijl team, these products were also introduced in Europe and are currently very relevant in the tire, battery, coating and food industries.
Menze de Boer and Jan Zuidema at the alligator trail near Lake Charles in June 1993 vs. at the Delfzijl 30 years plant anniversary celebration in March 2023
Once a Chemist, Always a Chemist
Two weeks before he started his career with us, Menze got a phone call that on his first workday, he shouldn't go to the new plant in Delfzijl, but to the airport. It was at the airport where Menze got to know Jan Zuidema, his new colleague and production supervisor at that time.
They were flown straight to Lake Charles in Louisiana, U.S., to study silica at the local plant. At the time, that was one of the two silica plants we had in North America, the other one being in Barberton, Ohio.
"We spent the first week at the production site together to learn the process and the logistics. I then moved on to the quality control lab to learn all there was about silica analysis."
During his first time in Lake Charles, Menze absorbed a lot of knowledge and got intensely trained specifically in silica chemistry. He highlights that Tom Krivak, silicas R&D Manager was his biggest "silica guru" at that time. "He knew absolutely everything about silica, just like a walking encyclopedia."
Delfzijl: From a Pilot Plant to a Real Silica Authority
The Delfzijl plant was opened in 1993. Back then, it had around 35 employees and it was mostly used as a pilot plant for test batches, because it had a smaller production capacity than the larger plants in the U.S. By producing only a few metric tons of silica and sending that to customers, the production could be easily scaled up if the reactions were positive.
Menze remembers the first silica batch produced in Delfzijl being one of the most exciting days of his career:
I was there to help with the process analysis and sampling. I wanted to oversee it to prevent unnecessary errors. I left for home at midnight after the washing process started. But I knew that in five hours, the first sample of silica would come out of the spray drier, so I couldn't get any sleep! I was back at the plant at 5 am, I was so excited to see our first product be born.
Where Is Silica Used?
Silica is a versatile porous material that has a wide range of applications in different industries.
- It is used often in the rubber industry, notably in tire production. When added to rubber, it improves tire properties, including wet traction, fuel efficiency and treadwear. "That means you can drive safer and for a longer distance with the same amount of energy needed to keep your car in motion."
- Silica is not only used in the rubber industry but also in the production of coatings and other fields. The small particles of silica in paints act as a flattening agent, thickening agent and anti-corrosive agent. "SCM has a special mill to make silica particles the size in the order of microns, which are even used in our own coatings and resins."
- Silica's absorptive abilities make it useful in the food and feed industry as well, for instance, in garlic powder and other seasonings and spices, it prevents caking. Thanks to its absorption properties, silica is indispensable in membranes in batteries.
- PPG TESLIN® Substrate (synthetic paper) was developed within the silicas research group and contains mainly silica.
Calm, Collected and #PPGProud
As a person, Menze always remains serene. "It's what you need with all I am responsible for. Besides, already my grandfather told me that whenever there's an obstacle, a solution will emerge tomorrow." Menze lives up to his grandfather's wisdom, he learned to keep calm and face any issues cool-headed.
He might have a quiet nature, but Menze's eyes light up whenever he speaks about Delfzijl, which has accompanied him for most of his career.
I'm so proud of what we create in our plant. Silica is present in many products around us, making them work better.
Despite being part of the chemical industry for so many years, Menze highlights that he is still learning something new every day.
In his spare time, Menze enjoys spending time in his countryside home with his dog and horses. He also takes great pleasure in music, not just listening to it, but also playing - especially the diatonic accordion. "But if I am to name my greatest hobby, it is chemistry. And it has been, for my whole school time and career!"