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Chemistry Expertise Wanted

Previous Community Member
Not applicable
4 12 2,901

Hello fellow Senior Chemists!  I work at GFS Chemicals, managing Customer Service and Sales teams in our Call Center.  We're a small, family-owned chemical manufacturer based in central Ohio.  As a chemist, I provide technical support for our products, discussing subjects like purity, particle size, solubility and concentrations, etc.

But some customers want more than that. They want to know, "will this work for my application?"  I can't advise them on their processes or applications.  Even if it's an application that I happen to know about, I can only discuss our products and their features, because we can't accept the liability of "she told me to do it!"

I'm curious: how many Senior Chemists work as Consultants in one way or another?  How many of you share your expertise for fun or profit?

There are many unschooled amateur chemists afoot.  For example, we get requests for conc HNO3 regularly from gold miners.  Some of them live in Colorado or Alaska, but most are right next door in Everytown, America.  The new gold mines are PC boards and they are everywhere.  I always ask, "how did you hear about GFS?" and they say either Google or YouTube.  There are very many YouTube videos on extracting and purifying gold from PC boards.

Another recent question: how does KMnO4 work to detect the presence of H2S in our field operations?  What?  I have no idea.  Sorry, I can't advise you on that.

I would love to be able to send customers to a website for help.  Not YouTube or Google or Wikipedia, but a forum of experienced chemists.

What is Your Opinion?

thank you!

Kelly

12 Comments
dmanuta
New Contributor

Kelly, I'd be pleased to give it a go.

Sincerely,
 
David M. Manuta, Ph.D., FAIC
President, Manuta Chemical Consulting, Inc.
431 Gordon Avenue
Waverly, OH 45690-1208  USA
Tel: 1.740.947.7998 (Voice)
Tel: 1.740.352.2991 (Mobile)
Fax: 1.740.947.1565
http://www.dmanuta.com
E-mail: dmanuta@dmanuta.com or mc2@dmanuta.com
 
Better Business Bureau Accredited Business/A+ Rating
Fellow, Membership Chair, and President, American Institute of Chemists (AIC) Board of Directors
Member and President, Association of Consulting Chemists and Chemical Engineers (ACC&CE) Board of Directors
Member, Heritage Council, Chemical Heritage Foundation
HUBZone Reseller/Distributor of Chemicals and Supplies, ThermoFisher Scientific, LLC, No. 961249-001

chelonia
New Contributor

The idea may sound like a good one but it isn't.  My background is 40+ years in extractive metallurgy and 20 years as a consulting chemist.  Anyone  looking for nitric acid so they can recover gold is worse that just an amateur.  They are ignorant to the point of hopelessness.  Anyone who thinks that nitric acid would be something useful for the extractive metallurgy of gold has obviously not done a Google search or checked with Wikipedia.  I wouldn't worry to much about these people.  There are too many of them.  One could point out to them that it is much easier and certainly more likely that some amateur in a basement laboratory will find a new blood pressure reducing drug.  A better suggestion would be that they start their chemistry education at the high school level and then proceed to the college general chemistry level.  Being practical is nice but many people don't like that approach to their problems.  Getting back to gold, gold is used as the junction between metal electrical wires and semi-conductors.  Gold does not poison the semi-conductor because it does not diffuse into the semi-conductor like other metals.  For just over 100 years gold metal has been dissolved in water by oxidation with oxygen in air and the formation of soluble cyanide complexes.  In addition to air and sodium cyanide a little base in the form of sodium hydroxide or lime is useful for pH control.  The amateur needs to understand pH from a process kinetics point of view and a generation of hydrogen cyanide gas point of view.  Now for the punch line.  The real problem is one of entropy.  Yes there is gold in all that electronic trash.  But the amount is very small and it is scattered all over the place.  The effort to concentrate the gold in this resource is very large.  Many people have tried to over come this entropy effect by trying to get people to pay for disposal of electronic waste.  This can have unforeseen consequences.  One of my own making done for the education of my grand daughter involved aluminum soda cans.  Whenever she comes for a visit we go to the store and get a pack of soda (4 packs for $12).  When she leaves we take our used cans to the recycle place.  It is 15 miles away and we use my pickup truck.  A  short cold start trip.will only get half of the mileage of a long trip on cruise control.  We use maybe 3 gallons of gas to over come 15 miles worth of entropy for the residue of a 3 dollar item.  I am not sure I could help the would be gold miner.  But my grand daughter is now 16 and taking chemistry in high school.  I figure that she is just about ready to pull the plug on the recycling trips.  

John Gerlach

email:  cheloniajg@gmail.com

pgwuts
New Contributor

I have been working as a chemistry consultant since retiring from the lab bench a few years ago and would be happy to help out.

Peter Wuts

Wuts Chemistry Consulting

Website: petergmwuts.com

pgmwut@gmail.com

Joe_Sabol
New Contributor III

Hi Kelly,

For answers to questions about basic oxidation-reduction chemistry, I recommend your customers consider the textbooks.

As far as liability for "she told me to do it", easy and effective methods to limit your liability exist; much of it is public knowledge about contracts and terms of service, but some of it (that I use) is my intellectual property, proprietary.

Consultants are not limited to Senior Chemists and many ACS members provide chemical consulting as a business, i.e., for profit, but if simply for fun, it should be for no liability - and, you get what you pay for. I'll spend 15-30 minutes or more discussing a project with a potential client, but when I realize they are simply looking for free advice, I move on. Some projects are a simple discussion, with tangible compensation, but because of the technical nature, written requests/reports are warranted; the deliverable needs to be consistent with the ask. I recommend GFS consider preparing a list of consultants that it can refer customers to and I'd be pleased to help GFS set that up. Of course, the ACS Division of Small Chemical Businesses (SCHB) has a member directory www.acs-schb.org, including consultants, and other third-party agencies and directories are available. Just like looking for an attorney or other professional for help, search and evaluate who is competent. Generally, if somebody cannot afford a few hundred dollars, they don't have a problem. That being said, I have helped schools and non-profit organizations that really have no budget and they really need help. That's my pro bono.

If anybody is trying to make a business of extracting gold from circuit boards, I recommend they consider preparing a business model and plan to do this and evaluate the potential for profit and resource recovery -and the risks. Whether GFS acids/chemicals can dissolve gold or other metals should not be the issue, but, as John said, is it worth it? There really is a value stream in metals recovery, but not necessarily in a garage in a residential area. Also, issues of SARA Title III, ss. 311-312 arise.

At this time, I'm negotiating with a company in Asia on a project to recover metals from semiconductor wafers and I've completed other projects on metal solvation/passivation and seek future challenging projects.

Feel free to refer me to your customers who need technical advice. Do not hesitate to contact me if you have any other questions about consultants.

Best Regards,

Joe

-------------------------

Joseph E. Sabol, Ph.D. 
CHEMICAL CONSULTANT
P.O.Box 085198
Racine, WI 53408-5198 USA
+1 906-228-4010 phone
+1 262-498-8005 mobile
jsabol@chem-consult.com
www.chem-consult.com
Providing chemical analysis and research and development services since 1999.
bocsci11
Contributor

Kelly, our experienced chemical experts at BOC Sciences may help you regarding this issue.

Regards,

jhlauterbach
New Contributor

Providing advice in the chemical sciences is not without risk to those providing the advice.  While my business deals mainly with regulatory chemistry and toxicology, we only provide advice to firms that have signed our consulting agreement and paid the required deposit.  Occasionally, we get inquires dealing with chemicals/processes that are outside of our areas of expertise.  We refer those asking the questions to other consultants that we know or to firms such as Cecon that pair consultants with clients.

John Lauterbach, Ph.D, DABT

Lauterbach & Associates, LLC

john@lauterbachandassociates.com

edakin
New Contributor

Hello Kelly,

The good news is that the question of “will this work for my application?” is common. The bad news is that it takes a great deal of specialty work to answer these questions, and they are not easy to answer because each application is different. 

I have been working in the oilfield as a chemist for almost 30 years and have worked on large projects such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the amount of truly technical people that can answer this seemingly simple question is scarce. Your right, as the liability for making recommendations in an industrial setting is quite high.

The customer/client wants to know the answer immediately, and its takes much time and energy to physically go through each possibility. This time and energy comes at a cost to answer these questions, which also has a monetary cost. If the person or business is serious about the question, then they will expect that the correct answer will require funds and time. 

Being a chemical consultant is difficult because you will also need to understand business, have good soft skills, and be very technical, which is a rare commodity. I used to be a consultant and it is much easier and stable to have a full-time career. Knowledgeable expertise is usually not offered for free, and there is a tongue-in-cheek joke that is circulating around the internet that goes something like this “If you think a professional is expensive, then just wait until you hire an amateur”.

KMnO4 reacts with H2S in an oxidation-reduction reaction in the field, and turns everything to a wonderful purple colour, and has a very limited application in the oilfield.

Unfortunately, I do not know of a place where experienced chemists can be searched, and most work seems to be through word-of-mouth and reputation. A professional consultant should be able to provide documented proof of their previous work and success.

Warm regards,

Eugene Dakin MBA, Ph.D., P.Chem.

mfisherginG
New Contributor

Kelly,

I manage a global science and engineering consultant network (www.cecon.com) started by DuPont retirees, and we have about 100 chemists in our network.  Let me know if we can help. 302-994-8000.  Mike Fisher

dmanuta
New Contributor

Kelly,

I'd like to piggy back on some of the recent comments.  We have to be extremely patient dealing with lay persons who generally do not have the expertise that those of us who have responded clearly do.  Reviewing (Material) Safety Data Sheets is a preliminary step that most of us routinely take, but this is not something that the lay person will do (unless directed to do so).

Moreover, we generally will not be present when they are doing what they are planning to do, so it is critical that there be sufficient instruction provided, lest something terrible happen.  As all of us who have commented know, nitric acid is not to be trifled with.

Another important issue is that key non-proprietary information is needed from the requester.  This can guide the discussion and it can enable good decisions to be made relatively quickly.

Many of these otherwise well-meaning people simply do not realize that consultancies are for-profit enterprises.  If there is a lot of babble in the first fifteen (15) minutes or so, then there isn't any reason to expend additional time with the requester.  The requester needs to be focused on communicating relevant information and is willing to listen to us about doing a job safely.

Sincerely,

David M. Manuta, Ph.D., FAIC
President, Manuta Chemical Consulting, Inc.
431 Gordon Avenue
Waverly, OH 45690-1208  USA
Tel: 1.740.947.7998 (Voice)
Tel: 1.740.352.2991 (Mobile)
Fax: 1.740.947.1565
http://www.dmanuta.com
E-mail: dmanuta@dmanuta.com or mc2@dmanuta.com

Better Business Bureau Accredited Business/A+ Rating
Fellow, Membership Chair, and President, American Institute of Chemists (AIC) Board of Directors
Member and President, Association of Consulting Chemists and Chemical Engineers (ACC&CE) Board of Directors
Member, Heritage Council, Chemical Heritage Foundation
HUBZone Reseller/Distributor of Chemicals and Supplies, ThermoFisher Scientific, LLC, No. 961249-001

dasch
New Contributor II

Kelly,

I am a consultant with expertise in the chemistry and applications of industrial and specialty borates. I answer routine and one-off questions for free, but charge for services requiring much in the way of searching of my extensive library of information, performing calculations or troubleshooting industrial processes. The question "will this work for my application" may or may not have a simple answer, depending on what the application is. I often work with people on product or process development projects, but get paid for my time. 

Although I worked in the borate industry for 28 years and another 6 years as a academic boron chemist, I don't consider myself a "senior chemist" just yet. I've not yet reached a reasonable retirement age and am still actively teaching at university, doing research, presenting and publishing, so maybe "experienced chemist" is more fitting.

David Schubert, PhD

AvidChem LLC

david.schubert@avidchem.com 

Richardgoodman
New Contributor

I am a member of an organization called the Association of Consulting Chemists and Chemical Engineers.  We have a website for people who have inquiries and are seeking consulting advice; www.chemconsult.org.  I suggest you point people towards that. 
Richard M. Goodman

Previous Community Member
Not applicable

Thank you everyone!  Great comments and good food for thought.  Yes, I understand the difficulties with providing advice to amateurs.  There are a lot of them out there!  The YouTube videos for gold extraction show lots of nitric-stained fingers.  Where to start?

Two questions from this week were:

Josh is trying to optimize Cold Patch Asphalt with SBS polymer mixture, thinks he needs toluene but wants to avoid using such a toxic solvent.  He's at Josh@paversinc.net and understands that if someone from ACS can help him, they will probably charge a fee.  "That's fine," he said.  "I just need some help."

A new entrepreneur of a 'health sauna' shop wants to know how to mix chemicals together.  I haven't spoken with her yet.

I always ask intended use of products.  Several months ago we had a request for a reagent grade oxidizer from a bakery.  She was going to use it to bleach over-browned breads.  We don't sell Food Grade or USP, so that was an easy Sorry but No on the phone, and has me looking twice at small businesses.

Thank you everyone!  Maybe we should have a list of consultancies and what they specialize in?  Please let us know your ideas.

Thank you!

Kelly