DuPont’s Noel Brandon is working on a biofuel facility
“We‘ll have our first commercial product in the next year or two, and if it’s typical of DuPont, it will be around for many years,” he says
Biofuel drives the work of Noel Brandon. He’s the business engineering leader for this initiative at DuPont (Wilmington, DE).
Brandon, who is based in Delaware, is engaged with a DuPont joint venture: the startup of a cellulosic pilot plant in Vonore, TN. The Tennessee facility will convert the cellulose in corncobs to ethanol. Brandon notes that the goal is to showcase the technology’s viability for commercialized use.
Brandon is also part of another DuPont joint venture to construct and operate a biobutanol pilot plant in Hull, England. That plant will initially convert corn into biobutanol, another proposed alternative to gasoline which Brandon says “may be the fuel of the future.” He’s also working with yet another DuPont joint venture in England to convert low-grade wheat to fuel.
“The grain and sugar to ethanol process is well established and uses fairly straightforward technologies,” Brandon says, “but biobutanol is the next generation of fuels. It uses advanced technologies. It will eventually be coupled with cellulosic fuel technology.”
Brandon has been doing this work since 2007. “It’s pretty exciting to be part of something so new,” he says. He’s a liaison between DuPont’s engineering function and joint ventures with other companies. “DuPont has a 200-year history of building industrial facilities and bringing products to market globally,” he notes.
In his nearly thirty years at DuPont, Brandon has filled various management positions. In his current job he has no direct reports, but can call on a resource pool of hundreds of engineers and other techies to support the work. “When we start to talk about a facility we decide what kind of people we need for it,” he explains.
This is the first new business venture he’s been involved with. “I’ve never been part of a business being birthed before,” he says. “We don’t have our first commercial product yet but it will be coming out in the next year or two, and if it’s typical of DuPont, it will be around for many years.”
From Jamaica to the Bronx
Brandon was born in Jamaica, BWI, where his grandfather was an engineer. Brandon lived in Jamaica until he was six, when he joined his mother and father in England. When he was ten the family moved to the Bronx, NY. Today his accent is distinctly American because he worked to make it so. His father always emphasized the importance of speaking like those around him, he says.
He went to Rutgers University (New Brunswick, NJ), partly because his father worked there. He studied mechanical and aerospace engineering because that degree touched on so many other related disciplines. He got his BS in 1981 and went to work as a project engineer for DuPont. He hasn’t looked at another company since.
He learned about the job from a recruiter at a NSBE conference. “I was sold by how well they treated me. How could I say ‘no’?” he says.
DuPont: the early years
Brandon’s first years at DuPont were “focused on technical improvement efforts.” From 1981 to 1990 he was a project and production support engineer in Parlin, NJ. Then he met his mentor, Dwayne Erdmann, a lab director. “It was a real eye-opener for me. After that relationship I placed a significant value on mentoring,” he says.
Mentoring became so important to him that for a number of years he chaired a local group of corporate representatives who worked to introduce minority high school kids, about 150 a year, to engineering and the sciences.
Films and imaging
In 1990 Brandon moved to DuPont’s silver films facility as operations supervisor. Silver films are related to film-based commercial photography applications and “That was a business at the end of its life cycle,” he notes. “But it was a good grooming experience; you’re trained to solve challenging technical problems in order to extract every bit of value.”
He became lead project engineer and project manager for DuPont’s imaging technologies in 1994, then manager of Cyrel manufacturing line ops.
Water and fuel
In 2000 Brandon became the Parlin site engineering manager as well as DuPont’s managing partner in the Duhernal water system. Duhernal Lake, in central New Jersey, is named for DuPont, Hercules and National Lead, the three companies that created it as a joint venture for groundwater pumping and land management. It was Brandon’s job to ensure continuous operation and security of the water supply to a 40,000-person municipality as well as the industrial sponsors.
Eventually he became corporate engineering operations manager, biofuels project manager, and finally business engineering leader, his current job.
Overall, he says, working all these years for DuPont has been like being part of a family. “It’s a company that values everybody, and you’re free to contribute. It’s an innovative, global company, working in seventy countries and into multiple businesses and functions.
“I’m very excited about what I’m doing now. But if I weren’t, there are other opportunities within DuPont that I would also enjoy,” he says happily.
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