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John & Penny: AmSty Engineers Tuned In To Sustainable Solutions

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Penny Williams and John Brownhill are working in lockstep to help revolutionize the way plastics are made – and remade.

Both engineers at AmSty's Allyn's Point facility in Gales Ferry, Connecticut, this isn't the first time they've teamed up to do great things.

The two met in college where you could say their friendship started on a high note.

While studying chemical engineering at the University of Virginia, Penny and John met in the marching band.

"I heard that chemical engineering is very challenging, and I just wanted to challenge myself and do something that was difficult. Marching band was also very time consuming," said Penny, who was the drum major, conducting the band.

"You have to be able to command a group of 300 people to perform a show," said John, a production engineer at Amsty. "It's a challenging and difficult leadership role and she did very well."

Penny's college experiences gave her the skillset to land a vital engineering role at AmSty in August 2017, her first job after graduating in May of that year.

"As a process safety engineer, I focus on keeping chemicals in the pipes, making sure our chemical storage units are maintained safely and that chemical reactions are done safely, and that the environment, community and people who work here are safe," she said.

Two years later, when her boss asked if she knew a good chemical engineer to fill a key job opening, Penny didn't miss a beat – recommending her friend and former bandmate.

"Penny reached out to me and I was happy to jump at the opportunity," said John. "My job as a production engineer is to produce our products as efficiently as possible."

The duo is now helping AmSty advance the circular economy for plastics by creating new plastics made with PCR, or post-consumer recycled material. These are plastics that have reached the end of their initial lives and are being made into new plastics with the same quality and durability as the original, instead of ending up in a landfill, an incinerator or in our environment.

"You can think of PCR like sugar being dissolved into iced tea. That liquid is then fed into a reaction train where a liquid turns into a solid again," said John. "So you have a circular cycle of used plastic turning into a liquid and then back into a solid again."

Earlier this year, John and Penny were featured in the America's Change Makers video series from the American Chemistry Council, where they had a chance to tell the story of their college connection and important work at AmSty.

"It was great to spotlight the work that is being done here at Allyn's Point," said John. "There are so many talented people doing great work at the plant. While I'm not sure I'm cut out for show business, the experience shooting the video was really enjoyable."

"It was such an exciting and interesting experience to be involved in creating this video. I'm really impressed with the finished product," said Penny. "It's also nice to have something to share with my family and friends that shows how we are working toward a more sustainable world every day."

While both know creating a circular economy with continuously recyclable polystyrene won't be a quick fix, they're stepping up to meet the challenge.

"The big challenge from a chemical engineering standpoint is taking production from lab scale to commercial scale. But we're doing it. We're producing PCR, recycled material, at a commercial scale and actually having physical products that people are buying that contain PCR," said Penny.

"Finding the right technology to be able to recycle all the different kinds of plastics is really important," said John. "It's a big opportunity, a great challenge to solve and we're looking forward to evolving the technology."

Each one is playing their part and proud to be on the frontlines of creating a more sustainable future – a mission that's music to their ears. 

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