Kevin Norfleet, 35
Senior Program Manager, Sustainable Products, Celanese
Kevin Norfleet was born in Richmond, Va., and graduated from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering. His first job after graduation was at Celanese working with cellulose acetate.
"In many ways it was the original plastic material in history so I consider that my first exposure as I was involved in many efforts to look at new ways to use the material, including some technology that came to fruition many years later," said the senior program manager, sustainable products.
Norfleet previously held positions as research and development engineer in cellulose acetate in Narrows, Va., strategic sourcing leader in Irving, Texas, commercial manager for cellulose acetate, senior sales manager for cellulose acetate and senior business manager for nylon.
"Leading the development and launch of a new business line for Celanese BlueRidge Cellulosic Pellets as a more sustainable material alternative for hard-to-recycle single-use plastic applications [has been a greatest achievement]," Norfleet said. "This material takes Celanese expertise in the plastics industry and combines it with historic strength in cellulose acetate to make a new material that can be processed just like conventional plastics but is ultimately able to offer broad biodegradability and potential home compostability while also offering improved mechanical and thermal properties. To get to turn an idea that has the potential to really impact a problem like single-use plastic waste and turn it into something real was a great feeling."
People are beginning to recognize the "value of sustainability in ways it has not before," which has created opportunity in the plastics industry for innovation and creativity, according to Norfleet.
"In my current role at Celanese, I look for how to create product offerings that help customers improve. I've been thrilled to get to launch bio-based, biodegradable material for hard-to-recycle single-use items (BlueRidge) and a mass-balance bio-based option on one of our largest product lines (POM ECO-B)," he said.
Norfleet is an advisory board member of the chemical engineering department at Virginia Tech. In his free time, he likes spending time with his wife and 1-year-old son, Brooks, playing soccer and cycling.
Q: Who is your mentor or someone you look up to?
Norfleet: My dad. He spent his career as a mechanical engineer for an electricity provider but has always been an excellent resource for advice and encouragement.
Q: What should the plastics industry do to expand its efforts in diversity and inclusion?
Norfleet: Focus on engagement and conversations in your community. Celanese has been very intentional about offering numerous ways to both engage with our communities but also to foster meaningful conversations that I think makes the workplace more welcome and opening to everyone.
Q: What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the plastics industry?
Norfleet: You'll have the ability to impact society in the world in more ways than you could imagine. Plastics are everywhere [and they] aren't going away, but the world is going to shift to more sustainable plastic solutions and that's going to make for incredible opportunity for the next generation.
Q: What is your current challenge at work?
Norfleet: Getting a new product line off the ground in the middle of a pandemic is a definite challenge. Trials and experiments become much more complicated when engineers and experts can't be physically present.
Q: What has been the biggest impact/challenge on your career from the coronavirus pandemic?
Norfleet: Celanese like most companies was uncertain in the early days of the pandemic what was going to happen. Working on a new product concept in an environment like that is challenging and can feel a bit risky though it ultimately has worked out very well.